Saturday, September 24, 2011

Memory of Shinjuku: Sake Bar Hagi, NYC

During a rainy evening while wandering in Midtown, NYC, we somehow stumbled upon a Japanese izakaya, Sake Bar Hagi.  The menu looked promising, the price point looked alright, and the place was packed, and most importantly, we were starving.  No hesitation there!  We walked in and the busy Japanese bar was reminiscent of the buzzling izakayas in the ever lively Shinjuku district, a parallel comparison to Timesquare neon central.  The menu consisted of Japanese tapas such as yakitori, deep fried dishes, noodles, as well extensive list of sake, cocktails and Japanese beer.  Could this be the real deal? Let's find out!

First to caught my eye, a list of flavoured beer.  I went for plum flavoured beer and it tasted quite exquisitely refreshing.  Sweet and tangy, like an umeshu, or plum wine, with a bubbly note.  I wish I could take this home with me!

And perhaps the plum flavoured beer was the most impressive item of the night...

Now, what was this? I believe it was the deep fried pork dumplings $5 served with a spicy aioli.  They were actually not bad; crispy, greasy, drenched in mayo. The dish did its duty.

 A "homemade"deep fried potato croquette $5, served with a sweet tonkatsu sauce a Japanese version of Worcestershire sauce. It was a mixture of mashed potato and potato chunks.  Unfortunately, I prefer the inside of the croquette softer and creamier, and it was drier than I had expected.
 Next up, Japanese style spagetti $8.50 with onion, shiitake mushroom, and garlic.  It was topped with green onion and seaweed.  While the flavours were savoury with a Japanese twist, it was a bit too watery and, although it tasted alright, it was not exactly outstanding.
 When I saw the words "tempura pizza" tantalizing me on the boards posted all over the restaurant, I didn't know what I was thinking.  Yet, somehow I thought it was going to be something real special than what it really was.  I ordered it, and it turned out it was nothing more than 2 slices of old, stale pizza battered with tempura and deep fried (with no sauce!).  Disappointing! I took a bite and left it alone.

 The mini udon pot with tempura $6 was not exactly "mini" per se.  It arrived topped with a poached egg which upped the score just a bit, but everything else was typical.  This udon noodle soup was mainly a filler and did its job as such.

 The 2 grilled skewers of tsukune, or chicken meatballs ($2 each), arrived the table.  The meatballs were chewy with a lot of flour more than the meat not to mention they were a bit a bland, and dry.

Lastly, the grilled beef tongue $6 were actually not too bad.  They were not too chewy and had a texture of a medium rare slices of steak.

The verdict: We miss GUUUUUU!!
I might be the only one out of the bunch to not have nice things to say about Sake Bar Hagi.  But after comparing to izakayas in Japan and Vancouver, Hagi still has a long long way to go and I'm just telling it like it is.  The flavoured beer was unique and a winning point for me, can't find that just anywhere.  The price point of Hagi is definitely affordable for its location in NYC.  The atmosphere is lively, however, there's always room for improvement in terms of quality of the food.  It just didn't taste authentic as it looked.

Sake Bar Hagi on Urbanspoon

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