Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, July 22, 2017-2:49 pm
Not so long ago, Japanese izakaya—a style of restaurant featuring a variety of tidbits that are made to compliment sake, shochu, beer and other booze—were a rare sight on New York City streets. They’re still relatively uncommon, but now and then you’ll see one here and there in neighborhood pockets of the Big Apple.
Nippori is one of them.
In many ways, it’s quite welcome. Situated quietly on an unassuming block in the Theater District, the eatery doesn’t present an ostentatious front; it’s plain, casual, with a long bar near the entrance that’s populated with televisions, as well as wooden tables that showcase it’s no-nonsense attitude. For such a no-nonsense restaurant, however, it’s quite friendly, and the servers are agile, agreeable … all the things you want in an izakaya, which is made for convivial drinking. And at Nippori, that’s part of what you get.
Also what you can get: a host of creative cocktails, plus Kikusui junmai sake, which comes in a bucket filled with ice; it coats the palate and has a rolling, pleasant flavor—not too sweet and not too dry. You can also obtain Lento brown sugar shochu, which, despite its nice, sweet finish, packs a considerable punch. So it is with izakaya … you’re there to imbibe and have fun. It’s not the worst thing to let yourself go in that regard, as long as it’s not bothering anyone else. Thankfully, you don’t see that often, and for that you should be glad.
You should also be glad to munch on uni shots: small glasses filled with the rich, orangey sea urchin; underneath each portion is a velvety raw scallop. The takowasa, tiny nuggets of raw octopus in a sharp wasabi sauce, is similarly enjoyable, with the taste of the ocean apparent in each bite. Almost as successful is the hamachi jalapeno appetizer, which features mild, bland slices of yellowtail paired with the spicy, eponymous pepper. And when you arrive at the skewered kushiyaki treats, you’re in a good place, for many of them are quite delicious—including the quail eggs wrapped in bacon; the orbs are salty, oily and fatty … the right way to go for this dish, though the bacon is not as crisp as one would like. Meanwhile, the kamo negi kushiyaki of duck breast with scallions is flavorful, but the duck is overcooked, which is something of a downer. Another downer: the short ribs, which are chewy and not tender enough. And the spider roll offers a bit too much rice with its soft-shell crab, as well as a sauce that seems more like boring French dressing than anything else. Thankfully, the miso yaki niku, featuring slices of pork belly, is more palatable, with the pork being surprisingly lean and toothsome. In addition, the dried atka mackerel is a solid choice, as it’s firm, savory and plenty fishy, though you’d prefer the skin to be more crunchy. A bit of shochu helps everything go down well.
Desserts are more charming than you’d expect: sweet mochi with red bean jam, along with cappuccino truffle and “coppa” raspberry confections, which are creamy, delicate. Adding to your cheer is the bill, which features many dishes in the $10 range and above. You’re not liable to go home poor. Or thirsty, for that matter.
That is, after all, what an izakaya is all about. Good thing we have Nippori to make that happen.
Photos by April Mutuc