This blog is a constant reminder of my inability to write or edit photographs in a timely manner. I thought about the content of this post for hours before starting on it around 3 a.m. yesterday, and I rewrote this introductory paragraph three times before settling on these two middling sentences. [shoves head under a virtual lawnmower]
What I wanted to start off with was some blah blah-ing about how I ate a gabillion good meals in 2010 that never made it to this blog. That's why I didn't feel like doing a "Best of 2010"-type of post to kick off the new year: If I were only using content from my blog, it would be missing a lot of good stuff, and if I were to put in new content I'd be too daunted by the work it would take to dig out past meals from my brain's crusty fly-ridden pits that it would never get finished.
So...here's one of those bagillion good meals of 2010.
Sake Bar Hagi, a basement-level izakaya in Times Square, is one of those places I'd heard good things about but never felt compelled to eat at. ...Actually, that description applies to most of the places I eventually eat at. But Sake Bar Hagi more so because it contains the word "sake" paired with "bar," which to someone like me—a person whose reaction to the taste of alcohol usually goes something like, "Eeuuuhhhuuuuh, oh god, eeeuhhhbleeuhpoison"—doesn't scream, "EAT HERE."
But that's kind of dumb. Good alcohol is often paired with good food. And after Joyce invited me to at Sake Bar Hagi last November, I realized I've been missing out on a steady stream of awesome izakaya food for years. I'll make sure to rectify that in 2011. And then I'll be known as that annoying customer who never orders drinks.
We started with tontoro ($7) sweet, fatty chunks of pork, a bit crisp on the outside and...fatty on the inside. Yeah. Well. That description was crap. You should order this. Look at those chunks. You want those chunks.
Next, hamachi no kama ($8), grilled yellowtail collar. A difference species of fatty and tender that you too should order.
More from the family of fishy and fatty, salmon toro ($6.50), aka strip of belly meat, aka meltingly tender, sweet, and delicious.
Getting tired of pork and fish? Nope. Well. Mix it up a little with something deep fried, in particular gobo chips ($6), thinly sliced strips of deep fried burdock root, with spicy cod roe mayo on the side. What does deep fried burdock root taste like? I would tell you, but I ate this about two months ago and I don't remember. Just being honest with you. What I do remember is thinking, "I LIKE THIS A LOT. I'D EAT A HUGE BAG OF THIS STUFF. NOT THAT I SHOULD. I MEAN, I COOOUUULD." Loud thoughts, those were.
THE PORK IS NOT OVER YET. We ordered Bara Cabbage since it was stamped with a big ol' starburst declaring "Recommendation." And the stamp did not lie. This simple plate of sautéed pork belly, cabbage, and mung bean sprouts with miso sauce is a powerful thing. Of warmth and comfort. And pork fat seeping into crunchy cabbage chunks and crisp bean sprouts. The pairing of pork and cruciferous vegetables is one of my favorites—refer to bacon and brussels sprouts, one of my favorite recipes ever. I need to add miso-flavored pork belly and cabbage to my very limited cooking repertoire, featuring other greats like "defrosting frozen dumplings" and "dumping pasta in boiling water."
Joyce and I sat at the bar because they were the only seats left, but it's probably more fun to sit at the bar than a table. If there are only two of you, at least. I liked the place as soon as I sat down—warm, casual, friendly, inclusive, crowded, but not hectic, fast, but not rushed. Few places leave me with all of the above.
Considering that the menu has over 60 items, methinks I need to go back and try more. Join meeeee [waggles fingers].
Sake Bar Hagi
152 West 49th Street, Manhattan 10019 (b/n Sixth and Seventh avenues; map)