Friday, July 1, 2011

Sake Bar Hagi: An Early Evening of Japanese Flavors

Thanks to Anthony Bourdain and his feature of Sake Bar Hagi on his television series "No Reservations" and the convenient location to Times Square, a steady stream of curious tourists adds to the cramped crowded environs of this popular restaurant.

What many would have dismissed as a hole in the wall, Hagi inhabits a basement near the corner of 59th Street and 7th Avenue and offers a casual dining take of Japanese flavors and cuisine. What looks like a dining room with bar, the restaurant appears to seat no  more than about twenty-five diners at any one time.

My usual ploy of dining early when on my own also works for myself and friends and New York City transplants Giselle and Ritchie, who recommended Hagi, as we get a table with no wait at all. Within an hour there was a line of patrons waiting at the base of the steps down to the restaurant.

Though some choices are covered with a "not available" stickers, the menu has helpful photos of the food and "recommendation" stamped on certain dishes. Our dinner consisted of the following:

Our meal starts with beer cocktails ($6) witch is a concoction of draft beer mixed a fruity flavor. Kind of reminds me of a wine cooler but with smoother taste.

It's hard to argue against anything deep fried even oysters called Kakifry with tartar sauce ($4) 

Yakitori skewers ($1.50 to $2.50) including takoyaki (octopus balls), beef, chicken, pork and onions. Simple, delicious and perfect accompaniment to any beer.

Okonomiyaki also known as Japanese pizza ($8) is a thick pancake topped with mayo and very thin shavings of tuna. Brought to the table sizzling, it has the nice balance of sauce and toppings with the soft pancake.

Arabiki sausages ($5.50) snap at every bite. Think of them as mini spicy hot dogs.

Beef tongue ($6). Ritchie ordered this. I ate one piece. It's flavor is light and not as chewy as I was expecting.

The last of our wasabi shumai ($4.50). The wasabi in each piece definitely clears the senses.

Spaghetti with spicy cod roe cream sauce ($8). Who would have thought in lieu of a tomato or cream sauce that a fish sauce would go with spaghetti.

Green tea ice cream with red bean and rice flour cake ($6). Giselle and Ritchie shared this.

My dessert was the sesame seed ice cream ($3). Very slightly spicy, it was the perfect end to this filling meal.

The food at Hagi is not high cuisine and the dishes are prepared simply with very little fuss. It's the kind of dishes anyone with basic cooking skills could make but eating these dishes at Hagi is far easier than looking for the individual ingredients. The flavors here are good and it's the kind of food I would likely be sharing over drinks with friends after a long day at work. Adding the smoky atmosphere from the food rather than ingredients, it has the air of dining somewhere else other than in Times Square.

Sake Bar Hagi is located in Midtown at 152 West 49th Street, lower level accessed via stairs. Most items range from about $5 to $10. Hours: 5:30pm-3:00am daily. No website available. A list of menu items available on

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