Our voyage across Manhattan’s underground Japanese establishments continues. Gloria’s return brought a group of us to Sakagura, an izakaya that’s literally below ground, requiring a brief trip down two sets of suffocating stairways.
The actual entrance that opens up to that stuffy stairwell is located in a jarringly bright, white office lobby on East 43rd street. Luckily, the disorienting way in will quickly settle once you reach the restaurant’s receptionist and part the noren to a surprisingly spacious seating area.
Sakagura has been around for nearly two decades, and many laud it as the pioneer of New York City’s izakaya scene, which is having a moment right now. True to tradition, it delivers an extensive sake list and nice variety of small plates. The dim lighting and decor of quirky odds and ends gives it a very old-school Japanese speakeasy feel.
My instant favorite was the classic egg custard, known as chawanmushi. My dad makes this all the time for us, and while the ingredients are simple, it requires skill to produce such a silky, soft tofu-like texture with deep brothy flavors. Sakagura does it well.
They’re also known for their individually sized cube of pork belly. The buta kakuni brings you a solid chunk of pork, coated with layers of fat, all stewing in a really aromatic sauce. Once you start shredding the block of pork, that fat will slowly melt away, whether that’s in the bowl or in your mouth. It’s heavy, so the portion is appropriate, if not even a bit much.
I’d recommend leaving out the onigiri rice balls. They’re pretty, but no much more than a warm bundle of rice with your choice of roe, plum or bonito toppings.
You don’t want to carb up anyway since desserts here are pretty great. That includes the black sesame creme brulee we shared, that was so intensely oozing this earthy black sesame flavor that you almost forget to feel guilty about indulging in such a rich creme-based dessert.
Our ordering that night barely skims the surface of the selection of eats Sakagura offers. There are bigger plates too for you soba or rice lovers. But its through their wide variety of small plates that the craft of this style of Japanese cuisine really shines, and what warrants repeat visits.