A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Friday, March 04, 2005

Mar. 4.

Bathroom and Shrimp snack

Diced octopus and Shrimp and Bamboo Shoots in Tofu

Wasabe pork shumai and Shrimp shumai


- 240 E. 9th St., East Village
Shrimp snack, diced octopus in wasabe, wasabe pork shumai, shrimp shumai, shrimp and bamboo shoots in tofu skin, edamame, bottle of Bishonen chilled sake

I love izikayas. I love how casual and fun they are, how they’re built around sharing, how they’re affordably priced, how you can linger for hours. Most of all though, I love how many different sakes and small plates you get to sample. With my appreciation for all things izikaya, it’s a good thing I live in the East Village, where there are more than sake houses in ten blocks than you’d probably find in ten Southern states.

Of the pack, Kasadela and Decibel are my favorites. The former is more adult, refined and food-focused, while the latter is younger and hipper, resembling what I imagine a dingy Tokyo basement bar would be like. With its subterranean location and roped off dining area, it could even be something out of Blade Runner or Neuromancer. Or at least Lost In Translation.

I kicked back from a long day with a bottle of chilled sake. Because I have trouble distinguishing the difference in sakes, I tried an experiment by ordering the cheapest bottle ($6) on the extensive menu. Lo and behold, I thought it was great, though considering Decibel’s other cheap prices, it probably was.

Much like tapas bar and enotecas, izikayas are all about sharing plate after plate of appetizers and having drinks. For us, this meant alternating picks and trying things we wouldn’t have otherwise. I started by choosing the diced octopus in wasabe, a bizarrely good dish of clammy and sinus-clearing spicy octopus slivers. It was the kind of dish that would turn off sushiphobes forever. Vince opted for the shrimp shumai, which were reliably good though like many other versions I’ve had. From there, we just started ordering out of turn, ending up with wasabe pork shumai, shrimp and bamboo sprouts in tofu skin, edamame and something very mysteriously named “shrimp snack.” The last one turned out to be shrimp-flavored curlicued chips of unknown origin. They tasted good though and went well with the sake, like a Japanese version of bar peanuts.

None of the food that we had was remarkable although all of it was delicious. Some was made better by the sheer sake of novelty. And strangely, it got better and better as the level of sake in my glass fell lower and lower. But really, what could improve a night of good drink, good food and good philosophical shitshooting? Therein lies the mystique of the izikaya and of Decibel especially. 7/10


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