Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Christy’s Irish Pub, may she rest in peace, overwhelmed the senses. Its replacement, Hachiroku Shokudo & Sake Bar, refines them. From the richness of simple surfaces—brick, wood, metal, plaster—to fussy-unfussy plates and pours, the vibe inside is monastic yet sumptuous, a paradox that gets you thinking. Hidden in the name is a playfulness that could explain the restaurant’s conceptual dexterity, as “hachiroku” means “eighty-six,” an endearing and ironic ode to restaurant lingo meaning “out of stock.” “Shokudo,” meanwhile, implies a casual yet intimate dining room and speaks to a style of eating you’d more likely find in Japan.

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Hachiroku’s eating spans small and large plates, salads and sides of pickles and edamame. As described by co-owner Yuta Kamori, who works the front of house, the food menu is meant to be enjoyed “tapas-style” with several dishes to bounce between. Bouncing is also encouraged between sakes, via tasting flights or an a la carte selection of 20 or so options appended with tasting notes. A well-curated list of Japanese whiskies is also on offer, with a flight option as well. There are no cocktails to speak of—a stand for purity, if not purism, and a vote of confidence in both the drinks and the drinkers.

I came primarily for sake, so I immediately jumped on one of the flights ($17-$21). My first sip was the Kamonishiki Daiginjo, a premium modern-style sake that just recently gained distribution in Connecticut. Upfront notes of lychee, pear and melon dispersed into minerals on the back end, with a slight, upbeat effervescence contributing to a very clean finish. Its delicate nature makes it great pairing for sashimi, though it ended up going beautifully with the miso-cured grilled Black Cod ($18).

Next was the Nanbubijin Junmai Daiginjo, a bolder choice and a nice pivot. Aromatics of white flowers, honeydew and kiwi played well with its round and silky texture. It did something special for the Shio Ko-ji Fried Chicken ($17), which may be the most well executed karaage I’ve had, with a craggy, crispy (and gluten free!) shell and a seasoned, succulent, boneless dark meat core. In lieu of dipping sauce were salty pickles, Japanese mountain peach and a magical nest of what I believe was cured seaweed.

A short intermission of the Yokikana Junmai Ginjo was pleasant enough—though it seemed to fall flat after the Nanbubijin and fried chicken—before my last, a la carte pairing: the Isojiman Daiginjo with a daily special of mixed mushrooms including king trumpet, maitake, shimeji and oyster. Consisting of just a handful ingredients, it was one of the best things I’ve eaten in recent memory, and the tropical fruit notes of the Isojiman were a lovely contrast to the blast of umami from the mushrooms.

Hachiroku has achieved something rare for a new restaurant: a strong identity. Everything from the food and beverage to the decor felt congruent and self-assured, composed and uniquely beautiful on its own yet meant to be admired in contrast with the next thing. It’s probably not for everyone—and I get it, sometimes you want a punchy cocktail and a side of ranch with your fried chicken—but if you’re willing to open your mind to the nuance of this culinary meditation, it may have you meditating in turn.

Hachiroku Shokudo & Sake Bar
261 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Wed-Sun noon-2:30pm & 5:30-9pm
(203) 691-7984

Written and photographed by Katie Lloyd. Image 2 features Yuta Kamori.

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