August, 2018: NINAGAWA Macbeth finally made it to Lincoln Center this past summer, an extraordinary opportunity to catch Yukio Ninagawa’s “legendarily beautiful” Japanese-language production of Macbeth (Independent, U.K.). Its 1980 premiere was unlike anything ever seen in global theater. Setting Shakespeare’s tragedy in feudal Japan allowed the late Ninagawa to create an extraordinary portrait of power’s corrosive effects, complete with samurai, kabuki witches, a highly expressive cherry tree, and a moving musical score of Buddhist chant and western classical music. This revival, the last production overseen by Ninagawa before his death in 2016, transforms the Bard’s brutal tale of greed, ambition, and revenge into a poetic meditation on the ephemeral nature of existence.
We LOVED IT. The power of the story was immediately accessible and almost preternaturally suited to the samurai treatment. Those costumes! That interplay between eastern and western classical music! The delicate fall of cherry blossoms, as if the set itself were weeping! I realized at the end I had been holding my breath for much of the time, I was so riveted and transfixed. At curtain call we were all out of our seats in a full standing ovation. Bravo!
Here we go– an incomplete list of what we’re looking forward to, and where we’re headed next:
- Aburiya Kinnosuke
213 East 45th Street, New York, NY (212) 867-5454
A mecca we must reverently visit soon, Aburiya Kinnosuke offers a huge range of delights centered on the rabata style of Japanese grilling. Wagyu beef tongue and dried skate fin would go perfectly with the very dignified and impressive range of sake on offer here. It will be especially fun to stop in with a few Hopper dollars in our pockets for the complete $60 omakase of izakaya delights.
226 East 53rd Street, New York, NY (212) 319-3940
This place promises some truly interesting izakaya fare, with such offerings as ankimo or monkfish liver pate and kiku, literally the seminal fluid of assorted fish. Yowza, dear fellow Hoppers, we must prepare ourselves well for this undertaking…
- Bar Goto
245 Eldridge Street, New York, NY (212) 275-4411
A new option downtown points to the ongoing rage of east-meets-west fusion in the izakaya scene, but helmed here by a master of the cocktail trade (owner Kenta Goto’s pedigree hails from the Pegu Club, no less). The place looks small, intimate, interesting, and delicious– just our Hoppie Hopper speed. A range of Japanese-inflected western cocktails are on offer, as well as five kinds of okonomiyaki or alcohol-sopping pancakes, indicating a Kansai or Hiroshima bent to Goto’s culinary stylings. We’ll be in to sip, and sop, soon.
- Dojo Izakaya (no website)
38 Avenue B, New York, NY (212) 253-5311
Super tiny, this 2014-opener runs a tight ship in Alphabet City. Star standouts on the menu include beef tongue and croquettes of crab meat (kani). Yellow tail collar also comes highly recommended in this bench and low-seats spot. But no matter how uncomfortable the seating, Hoppers know how to linger when the food is good, and we know Dojo Izakaya won’t disappoint.
- Ganso Yaki
515 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (646) 927-0303
Specializing in yakatori street food classics in the heart of Brooklyn, this restaurant lists an interesting collection of suppliers, including Sendai Miso Shuzo, Kaga Miso Shuzo, Takesan Shoyu, and Matsumaeya Kombu. We’ve got our Hoppie Hopper eyes on the Kamo Kushiyaki, a duck and Japanese long-onion skewer with wasabi stem relish, as well as the Tsukune, a classic minced chicken yakitori with miso and sansho coupled with ten-thousand year glaze, quail egg, and a yakitori dipping sauce.
214 East 10th Street, New York, NY (212) 777-7018
Hi-Collar enjoys an intriguing double life: by day, a kissaten or Japanese-style coffee house boasting a well-regarded coffee and snack menu, by night a cool sake bar pairing its small cups with tasty bites. We truly can’t wait to stop by this latest take on the izakaya scene, to sample some serious coffee to help us wash down the omurice and katsu pork sandwiches.
159 East 55th Street, New York, NY (212) 355-2974
This ramen-centered place in the Japanese culinary hotbed of Midtown East has recently partnered with Ippudo to up its noodle game. We look forward to slurping a bowl here, and will be sure to pair it with standard izakaya fare on offer, including homemade tofu and plates of gyoza. Interesting desserts like the “mellow black sesame pudding” also catch our eye.
- Izakaya (no website)
326 East Sixth Street, New York, NY (917) 475-1284
Just over a year old, this place has earned the street cred and full attention of the downtown izakaya set with its off-beat selection of dishes that match its off-beat decor. Izakaya is just like hey, come here, grab a beer or some sake, some things to nibble on, and stay a while. We’re looking forward to doing just that.
- Izakaya Mew
53 West 35th Street, New York, NY (646) 368-9384
The recently opened Izakaya Mew has attracted a ton of attention in its still-short life, and we can’t wait to dip a toe in these waters to learn what all the hype is about. Mew reflects a vision of NYC-meets-Japanese pub food that is popular but certainly a departure from more traditional izakaya outlets. That being said, the extensive menu features an assortment of standard options, including aged tofu with radish in a scallion dashi and ika yaki, a grilled squid.
216 Duffield Street, Brooklyn, NY (718) 858-8940
A good looking spot with a menu that boasts a kind of whacked-out uni PB&J, and the formidable “spam sushi dog”, this place looks both beautiful (simple wood tables and chairs, gorgeous rooftop) and fun (hello, shibuya disco fries). They’re also pushing something called bulgogi tacos, but we’d just love to see what they do with izakaya standards such as takoyaki and the beloved croquette.
- Kulu Desserts (no, not strictly an izakaya but, I mean… come on)
123 West 3rd Street, New York, NY (212) 658-0865 (other locations also in Brooklyn and Queens)
Full disclosure– one Hoppie Hopper has already pulled up a stool to the Kulu Manhattan outpost and was not disappointed. Not an izakaya, of course, but a spot that takes both the lead Hoppers back to their South East Asia days, with tons of mango, pomelo, coconut pudding, and xuehua paste on offer. And the whole place reeks of durian which, in our books, is only a good thing. We’ll be back for sure.
- Kyo Ya (no website)
94 East 7th Street, New York, NY (212) 982-4140
Stop. The. Press. Both Hoppie Hoppers in residence have been to Kyo Ya and we can safely assure– this 8 year old spot is amazing. But, despite its sound reputation and ongoing, extraordinary reviews, Kyo Ya deserves repeat visits to explore the lesser known alleyways and backroads of a menu not afraid to take chances and helmed by a chef eager to explore new flavor combinations well outside the range of “traditional” Japanese fare. It’s not a fusion gimmick, it’s been truly interesting so far, and we’ve excited to see where Kyo Ya takes its famously seasonal menu next. Because the menu changes so frequently with the seasons, and because there is no website, we’re not sure what we’re looking forward to but there’s nothing we’d turn away. Standouts from a not-too-distant visit include nimono, a dish of stuffed Wakame seaweed and spring corn with ushio-dashi an, as well as helpings of tomezakana, a platter of kuzu-uchi shirauo ice fish coupled with grapefruit and basil seed vinegar.
- Nishida Sho-Ten
302 East 49th Street, New York, NY (212) 308-0791
Open most nights of the week until a glorious 4 am, we hoppers can’t wait to get insomnia again and get out to NST. Boasting an exciting range of kakuni ramen in a shop modeled after Japan’s Showa era, NST also brings an assortment of izakaya favorites to the table, including a tonkotsu omelet and fried takoyaki.
- Otafuku x Medetai
220 East 9th Street, New York, NY (646) 998-3438
Named after the Japanese Goddess of Mirth, this tiny street-side spot has kept its menu small and sticks to just a few things it does well– octopus balls doused in savory sauce, mayo, and quivering bonito flakes, and an okonomiyaki, fried to perfection and featuring cabbage, shrimp, or pork. The menu expanded in 2014 with the inclusion of medetai, a little fish-shaped pastry filled with red bean paste, hazelnut chocolate, or banana.
11 Barrow Street, New York, NY (212) 675-7775
Specializing in the cuisine of the Japanese island Kyushu, the menu at Rockmeisha centers on the flavors of southwestern Japan’s subtropical climate. All of Rockmeisha’s chicken, in its many guises and forms, comes well recommended, as do croquettes, and a custardy yakko made with silken Nakamuta tofu. The tonsoku, a dish of grilled pig toe, has been lauded for its rich flavor and collagen crunch. We need to try this place.
211 East 43rd Street, New York, NY (212) 953-7253
It’s nearly 20 years old and largely responsible for waking New Yorkers up to the glories of sake, and its powerful pairings with small dishes, so we must, must go. It will be like a pilgrimage, of sorts, but we’ll be looking to ensure the old standby does not rest on its laurels. Because when we see onsen tamago (soft boiled egg topped with sea urchin and salmon roe in cold soup) on a menu, we expect greatness.
202 East 7th Street, New York, NY (212) 614-0933
This dinosaur has been around for years but we’re keen to give it a shot and see what remains after the luster of grand New York Times reviews and long-standing notoriety of owners who also take care of that riotous basement bar Decibel. The sake selection looks extensive, with options from Shizouka and Aichi prefectures, amid a quiet, cozy atmosphere that reminds us of our college dorm rooms– in a good way. Menu options, which include simple gyoza and squid jerky with mayo-soy dipping sauce, look promising.
- Sake Bar Hagi
152 West 49th Street, New York, NY (212) 764-8549
Underground, open late, and defying all that is worst about the Times Square around it with all that is, reportedly, best of the izakaya within it– Sake Bar Hagi offers the standard meats, fried treats, and a well-regarded yellowtail collar, and some off-beat dishes all its own, including spaghetti tossed with spicy cod-row cream sauce. Can’t wait.
- Shinya Shokudo
248 East 52nd Street, New York, NY (212) 421-0052
When the clock strikes midnight, popular ramen house Totto Ramen Midtown East transforms into a little izakaya known as Shinya Shokudo. Literally translated into “midnight eatery”, this izakaya is overseen by sole staff member Chef Nakamura, who cooks and serves, among other favorites, his famous “pressed sushi”. Made with vinegar-cured Spanish mackerel and sushi rice pressed in a box, Chef Nakamura has reportedly tweaked the design by adding minced gari and shiso leaves for a refreshing kick and crisp texture. Late night chicken wings here also come, we are told, cured to perfection and perfectly succulent. We’ll hop in soon for sure.
456 Hudson Street, New York, NY (212) 414-2929
Korea meets (meats?) Japan in this cool little place run by Takashi Inoue, who grew up in Osaka eating Korean-style barbecue and brings some innovating flavors and pairings to NYC. We can’t wait to tuck into a plate of niku-uni, or the chuck flap topped with uni and wasabi that everyone keeps talking about, and then move on to a grilling experience at our table that will surely include lashings of first, second, and fourth stomach as well as tetchan– the large intestine. No part of the beast goes unloved here. Oh, can we get a plate of aorta– yeah, the bovine’s main artery– to grill too? Yes? Fantastic. And Takashi has also jumped on the late-night ramen express, offering midnight and 1 am bowls.
- Tokyo Tapas Cafe
7 Cornelia Street, New York, NY (212) 242-6333
Chef Yoichi Saito comes with some serious culinary chops, having worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Roy Yamaguchi, so we’re expecting the best in the NYC-Japan fusion scene with a reported bent toward konnyaku, the taro-based product with close to zero calories. Being the hoppie-guzzling, fried squid-ball-chomping hoppers that we are, we are a little nervous about what all this health focus this may portend, but every hopper must hop everywhere at least once…
300 East 41st Street, New York, NY (212) 599-8888
This place is blowing up the late night ramen scene with bowls churned out after midnight. Otherwise, it’ll be interesting to try their omakase, which comes very highly recommended in a town already bristling with omakase. Tsukushi reads like a full-on Japanese restaurant, but its adventurous range and late-night buzz make this a must for our list.
- Umi No Ie
86 East 3rd Street, New York, NY (646) 654-1122
Truth be told, we Hoppers have logged some time at Umi No Ie. But that was before we knew who we were, what we were doing, and how to say a polite, discreet, but emphatic “no” to that 14th shochu top-up. Not that there’s anything wrong with the 14th… well, anyway! We are eager to go back, clear of head and keen of eye, to taste again the wonders of this izakaya’s karage (fried chicken) and niku jyaga (beef and potatoes). It’s stogy fare that will help soak up all the delicious shochu that is their speciality and ensure that we Hoppers can remember enough to write a decent review the next morning…
151 Rivington Street, New York, NY (212) 777-7253
Hit the buzzer, pass through the open door of a first-floor apartment-turned-izakaya and behold one of our best, favorite spots for a long night of savoring authentic, fresh flavors and ingenious combinations, served by a knowledgable staff ready to offer great recommendations of sake and shochu based specifically on your culinary selections. We have been several times to this sister-restaurant of Azasu, we love it dearly, and it remains on our go-to list as we owe it a proper visit and complete write-up. Each time we visit is better than the last. If yopparai means “drunkard” we never want to sober up!
What are we missing? Drop us a line and let us know what you think, where you’ve been, and what’s on your radar. We’d love to hear from you. Kassai!