Skip the Sushi: Izakaya on Smith

09/28/2011 4:00 AM |

Izakaya on smith

176 Smith St, Cobble Hill
Rating: Four out of 5 L’s

Good news, adventurous eaters: you can now consume chicken hearts on Smith Street. This restaurant row already has its share of Japanese sushi spots—and you don’t have to be a food nerd to know your toro from your tamago—but the yakitori and kushiyaki menu at Izakaya on Smith introduces the vocabulary of Japanese grilled meat. Think kawa (spicy chicken skin, $2 per skewer), sunazuri (rich chicken gizzard, $2), and hatsu (yup, chicken heart, $2.50). Or savory bacon-wrapped quail eggs ($2.50), pork belly (butabara, $3) and beef tongue (gyutan, $2.50), too, along with a couple of vegetarian options, like smoky shiitake mushrooms ($2). Of course, there’s nothing groundbreaking about the cuisine. Yakitori is sake-slamming or beer-drinking food, Japan’s version of wings and brews, but in this neighborhood, meat on a stick feels like something new.

The menu is overwhelmingly long, so just skip over the dishes you could order elsewhere—the ramen, various noodle bowls, and sushi entrees—and zero in on specialties like takoyaki (pan-fried octopus balls, $6), tatsua age (crisp, boneless fried chicken $6), and kinpira gobo (burdock root braised in a sweet-salty sauce, $4). For a more substantial snack, try the okonomiyaki ($8). The heavy, pizza-like Japanese pancake is piled with pork, vegetables, cheese, sweet brown sauce, mayo-based sauce, and dried bonito flakes that flutter from the heat of the oven. It’s a blessing for local fans of the comforting street food at the East Village’s Otafuku. And for those who prefer to stay in the comfort zone of the sushi menu, at least try the hoisin-sauced Peking duck roll with cucumbers and scallions ($11), which doesn’t involve any raw fish but falls in line with the rest of the playful and meaty menu.

The big question is, can a place like this last among the many ho-hum Japanese/Thai/Chinese/pan-Asian takeout spots on Smith? According to the online delivery-ordering service Grub Hub, the most popular item here is the $5 spicy tuna roll—proof that many patrons are missing the point. Though Izakaya on Smith offers quick delivery and a basic sushi menu that travels well, the most interesting dishes are the small plates that taste best when served just steps from the kitchen. And there’s a lot to love about the roomy dining area, where orbs of white paper flowers hang over dark wood tables, and slender birch trunks lined up along the brick-exposed wall add to the slightly cheesy enchanted forest appeal. Though one Yelper complains about the Fleetwood Mac and 80s Madonna on the stereo, we wonder what could be more delightfully Japanese than lite rock? We hope this izakaya sticks around.

Photo Cody Swanson