It had been too long since I’d eaten at Izakaya Minato on Washington Ave., but after just naming them restaurant of the year for 2017, I didn’t want to waste any more time before I went back. The masters of Japanese cuisine serve a variety of items, but what makes them particularly interesting to me is that they’re not totally focused on sushi, though they do have some of that available too.
We got there early on a Friday and I was thinking they might be busy even just after opening for the night. I was incorrect, and when we took our seats at the bar, we were actually the only customers in the front room of the place. The bartender quickly approached us and provided menus, at some point also firing off a few specials. We scoped out the available drinks.
Though I’m not a huge fan of gin, I decided to go with the Plum Vesper 2.0 – spicy plum sake, gin, vodka, ume boshi. Something about plums caught my attention and I figured the uniqueness of a plum drink might be fun. My wife went with a glass of the Scaia Rosato. Once the bartender started concocting those, we discussed what we might want to eat.
Our drinks came and we were ready to order the beginnings of our food. Having arrived so early, we decided to take it slowly, going with only a couple of items at a time. We started with Garlic Edamame – fried soybeans and garlic. I threw in one of the specials, Smelt Kara Age – deep fried smelts in potato starch and served with a spicy sauce and yuzu salt.
My drink looked relatively basic except that it had a toothpick bridge with the ume boshi (Japanese plum) impaled on it. I gave it a try and was immediately impressed. The drink was a little different than anything I remember having, but it was extraordinary. The botanicals of the gin were in play, but slightly muted, rather than the harsh full frontal assult on the senses that I often dislike. The drink was strong, slightly sweet, and pleasant in every way.
The first two food items came out one after the other, first edamame and then smelts. The soybeans were as good as I could imagine them ever being, which is to say they were incredible. The fried pods combined with the glut of garlic and salt tossed into them, transformed the traditional Japanese offering, making them something truly spectacular.
I had four smelts on my plate and they won me over similarly to the edemame. Fried until totally crisp, the fish was great as it was, but with a dip of the sauce, it became a spicy, flavorful app that I enjoyed immensely. Once my swimmers were gone, we ordered the Tuna Poke – sliced tuna mixed with avocado, garlic, tobiko and sesame oil – for her and the Mochi Bacon – grilled bacon-wrapped mochi, served with sweet soy – for me.
She insisted the tuna was great and ordered another glass of wine as I was preparing to try my mochi. I always find the rice paste to have great texture and brilliantly take on the flavors with which it’s paired. This one was much chewier than any other I’d had. However, the bacon and sauce added just the right amount of flavor and fat to make it a sucess despite leaving my jaw a little tired after each bite.
Next, we went with the JFC – Japanese fried chicken, boneless thigh meat and Kimchi Cha-han – kimchi fried rice as our last two pieces of the meal. The JFC was once again on another level as the super-crispy, sensationally seasoned chicken left few words able to exit my mouth. The fried rice wasn’t far behind with its own stellar flavors taking everyday fried rice to the next level. Slightly spicy and salty, it was close to perfection.
All our food was finished and we passed on dessert, though I thought twice about ordering some even though I was no longer hungry. Our meal came to $67 – close to half of which was alcohol – plus tax and tip. Izakaya Minato knocked it out of the park again. They create stunning dishes that always leave me in food-borne ecstasy, reinventing some basic Japanese to make it exponentially better, while also creating their own bold recipes that excite anyone looking for something uniquely delicious.
If you have any inclination at all to see what Izakaya Minato is all about, I highly recommend you head there without delay. They offer an incredible value, food that stands on its own merits, and an fun, enjoyable atmosphere. Their dishes are almost all made to share and everything they serve is very good, if not straight up great. While you’re there, you’ll keep asking “what’ll we have next?” When you leave, you’ll only be asking yourself how soon you can make it back.
Izakaya Minato 54 Washington Ave.
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