I have to admit that I don’t think I had even heard the term “izakaya” until about five or so years ago when I was heading to Vancouver. I’d asked a former local for some recommendations and she insisted that I check out the city’s izakaya scene as part of a true Vancouver experience (significant Japanese population there). It was also a good primer for a trip to Japan we’d be taking later that year.
When I got back to the East Coast, I discovered that there were actually several rather good ones in New York City that had never previously been on my radar. Some of my favorites are Sakagura in Midtown East (a bit on the upscale side and somewhat pricey), Sake Bar Hagi (dangerously close to Times Square, but tucked away in a secluded basement as if it’s hiding from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.-loving touristic throngs) and Umi No Ie in the East Village (which boasts some 60 different shochus to try—the staff will even keep an unfinished bottle with your name on it for the next time you stop in).
Last week on a research outing for my upcoming book, “The Year of Drinking Adventurously,” I was introduced to yet another one to which I’ll be returning frequently: Sake Bar Shigure in TriBeCa, which opened at the end of 2012. Dimly lit, with bottles of sake, shochu and Japanese beer lining the brick walls, Shigure offers a trendy, yet highly authentic experience, with pages upon pages of shochu, sake and beer to try, as well as an always-evolving list delicacies like pork belly and seared bonito with garlic and onion. Proprietor Takahiro Okada (a renowned shochu and sake expert) was kind enough to create the perfect pairings for the 4 or 5 shochus I consumed that evening. Shochu is one of the few spirits styles that has so many stylistic variations that are pronounced enough to be immediately detected by novice drinkers. A sweet potato shochu is noticeably distinct from a rice shochu, which differs from a barley shochu and a sugar cane shochu and so on.
Believe me, there are worse things to be doing with one’s time than researching a drinking book.