The first stop was at Kasadela out near Avenue C, somewhat removed from the cluster of izakayas around St. Marks. We started with flash-grilled peppers. The peppers varied in heat, but all had the good fruity flavor you sometimes get in better chillis, as well as a good smoky grill flavor. Next came fried tofu in dashi. Having had lunch at Cho Dang Gol, this was my second excellent tofu experience in the day (after a life-time of disappointments with the stuff). The enjoyment here was mostly in the texturepleasingly soft in the middle, with crispy bits on the outstidebut the stock plus the oil from the frying also gave it pleasant flavor. Our last dish was the grilled chicken skin. This apparently is an Izakaya classic. I certainly enjoyed the dish, but Im not sure Ive ever had crispy chicken skin with gobs of chicken fat that I havent liked. We washed this all down with a couple glasses of sake. The first glass was the cheapest on their list and we couldnt finish it. The second was a few price notches up, and was nice and citrusy, just as promised by the menu.
Second stop was Otafuku, which is a tiny take-out counter on 9th street. We shared an order of octopus takoyaki, which are little octopus fritters topped with bonito flakes. Good, unrefined, fast food. We imagined people ordering this stuff at ball parks around Tokyo.
We then wandered through Sunrise Mart, my favorite Japanese grocery store. We picked up a couple of Hitachino Nest beers, the red rice and the 2004 New Year beer. Opening these on the street was a mistake, as a cop promptly stopped us and gave us tickets. The young cop seemed embarrassed about giving us the tickets, apologizing profusely and assuring us that the judge wouldnt fine us. He even let us keep our beer.
Next stop was a yakitori joint. The name of it never registered, but it was the first izakaya on the north side of St. Marks walking east from third ave. The atmosphere at this placeit was packed with japanese hipsters (and business men, though they sat in a private room at the back) drinking a lot of beer and vodka cocktailswas a vast improvement over Kasadela, where the dining room had been empty and was indistinguishable from a hundred other minimalist Asiany New York places (the bar had more character but was also empty; we were there early). We had a yakitori platter, with grilled chicken, beef, chicken balls and scallion, all on the skewer. My friend liked the chicken balls, which were so doughy that he described them as Japanese falaffel before he knew there was any chicken in them. The other skewers were tasty but nothing specialthe scallions and the beef were best. We also had a grilled sardine with cod roe, which was excellent. We drank Japanese vodka on the rocks. It came with half a grapefruit and a juicer on the side.
Next was a place further along St. Marks called Kenka. The food here was terrible, but it did score points for providing the best Lost in Translation atmosphere of the night. We had three dishes at Kenka, and only one was even edible. Trotters were insufficiently cooked, and were covered in a sickly sweet sauce. I spat out every bite I tried. Turkey testicles came next, and they just tasted like intense little chunks of crunchy turkey meat. My friend, who is a bit of a connoisseur, thought that they were quite a bit better than the lamb balls he had had in L.A., and we finished the two pairs that we were served. We thought the grilled clams, which seemed to be a crowd favorite, would be a safe order, but no such luck: they tasted weeks old, were extremely chewy, and again I had to spit them out. Instead of eating anything else, we finished our Hitachino Nest beers here and listened to the Japanese military marches that were playing.
Last stop was Village Yokicho, an upstairs izakaya on Stuyvesant. The food here was good, not great. Yellow tail sashimi and grilled squid tasted fresh. We also had a cold mixture of rice noodles, mountain vegetables and a little mayonnaise. Ive never been able to appreciate mayonnaise in Japanese food (and I love mayonnaise), but I liked the texture of the dish, with its blend of crunchy veggies and wet soft noodles. We tried to order some of the more expensive sake but were told it wasnt available. The waiter showed us a bottle that he recommended and we took it. It turned out to be overly sweet and otherwise characterless. On the way out, we accidentally went through an unmarked door and discovered a bar called Angels Share. Seemed like a pretty cool place.
I will definitely return to Kasadela to work through their entire menu and selection of sakes. Other return visits will be to Kenka, just to show people yet another example of the freakiness of this city (Ill order a single skewer of grilled beefcould they actually screw that up?), and to Village Yokicho, just to hang out at Angels Share.