An izakaya is a Japanese pub, and izakayas represent the third wave of Japanese food trends to be adopted full heartedly in NYC—the first being sushi, the second, ramen. Some describe izakayas as Japanese tapas restaurant, but this misses the main point: the izakaya is primarily about drinking and the bar bites are there to soak up the alcohol. So, let’s say I’m determined to miss the point: Japanese pub grub is tempting to me, so savory and umami!
A friend tipped me off to Izakaya Nomad where I went on a lovely spring evening after I’d been writing at a green metal table in Madison Square Park. The interior is low-key, with lots of of worn wood and rusted metal. Even with thumping pop music, the place has a laid back vibe. I went at five, which turns out to be toddler time! A few families were eating with their kiddies in booster seats. What child doesn’t like to eat tidbits off skewers or won’t eat a vegetable totally encrusted in panko batter
I ordered a mug of Kirin ($5.00), so cold that slivers of ice were floating on the head (“Ugh,” says the Chef who drinks room temperature cask conditioned ales ONLY). But it was refreshing to me as I read my novel and waited for my enoki mushrooms wrapped in smoked bacon ($5.50), my Japanese eggplant and a chicken breast skewer ($3.95). A word to the “hangry” or impatient: Order several skewers at once since they are a long time coming. I sat at the bar where a fellow patiently turned skewers over a bed of charcoal.
There are no fussy tricks to Nomad’s offerings. The grilled vegetables are just that. My bacon wrapped enoki mushrooms—those delicate sprays that look like bean sprouts—packed the flavor entirely in the smoked pork, but wow, what flavor. I don’t know what yuan sauce, moromiso and shiso are, but they were dribbled liberally over my cubes of chicken breast, accompanied by colourful pickled radish and carrot and a lemon segment to squeeze over the top. When I come back with the Chef, I’ll try the sushi and tempura—especially the assorted veggie tempura that includes shishito peppers, lotus root and sweet pumpkin or one of the “Nomad Dishes,” that the menu sweetly says are “Meant to be shared, friend it with a drink!” And friends who like to eat, drink and share should check out the lovely front room where a long communal table with wabi sabi imperfections in the wood looks out onto 26th street—a study of contrasts, the calm Japanese vibe within and the honking cars and bustling perfume and garden district outside.