515 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
Three-year-old Ganso has always been just a couple of steps behind four-year-old Chuko, which opened its first tiny slurp shop in Prospect Heights with the mission of raising Brooklyn’s ramen game. And the duo continues to maintain similar, staggered trajectories, with Bar Chuko jump-starting the borough’s Japanese small plates craze last summer, and Ganso Yaki debuting its own drinking snacks spot just last month.
But as far as soup noodles are concerned, the two eateries have nevertheless remained on relatively equal footing; we greatly admire the thoughtfully restrained bowls at Chuko, and appreciate the sheer variety at Ganso, such as braised short rib and triple shrimp. When it comes to their izakaya adjuncts, however, Ganso Yaki needs to make up a lot of ground; compared to Bar Chuko’s effortlessly nuanced dishes, which run the gamut from achingly delicate (chilled fresh tofu) to boldly savory (kimchee, pork and mozzarella-swaddled rice cakes), the Atlantic Avenue yakitori is stuck in a flavor rut, its offerings ping-ponging from oppressively sweet to relentlessly, aggressively salty.
Like its sister location on Bond Street, the space is dominated by a glass-enclosed kitchen, where you can watch a regiment of chefs grilling duck skewers, frying chicken wings, and folding shumai. But once you bite into your first wedge of sizzling okonomiyaki—an Osaka-style, cabbage and pork belly pancake (and one of Bar Chuko’s many culinary triumphs)—you want to stay their hands, to keep them from shellacking on yet another layer of tonkatsu sauce—essentially a Japanese Worcestershire, thick with various fruits.
Liberal lashings of soy and miso also consistently overwhelm; the inky liquid is used to sauté mushrooms, braise pork intestines, drizzle atop yellowtail collar, and marinate squid, while the rich, fermented paste cures pork shoulder, coats salmon, glazes onigiri rice balls, and forms an impenetrable, brackish cap on whole grilled Spanish onions, leaving your dehydrated tastebuds gasping for another shot of sake. That’s the whole point, of course, of izakayas, which serve food perfectly calibrated to propel you towards drink after dearly priced drink. But if we’re going to drain our bank accounts on Japanese small bites and alcohol, we want to enjoy both in equal measure. So the next time we’re craving skewers of grilled meat and soju? We’re definitely sticking with Bar Chuko.