Okonomi Brooklyn

New York might just be the easiest city in the world to experiment with different food cultures. For every type of cuisine available in the city, there is a multitude of branches offering twists, fusions and alternatives to the classics. Japanese cuisine has evolved to such an extent that you could spend the entire day eating it, whether it’s a countertop selling the freshest sushi in the city, a traditional izakaya (a bar that offers small plates to accompany your drinks), or a bowl of ramen as big as your face. In Brooklyn, the place we currently call home, there is enough of the stuff to keep us occupied for days. Here, the ever-selfless Pear trails the reaches of Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s coolest neighbourhood, and devises a perfect day of Japanese feasting.

BREAKFAST: OKONOMI

Okonomi is the latest venture from chef Yuji Haraguchi, famed for the success of his pop-up ramen shop, Yuji Ramen. He and co-owner/head chef Tara Norvell opened the restaurant with the plan to reinvent conventional ideas of Japanese eating by serving a traditional Ichiju Sansai breakfast with ingredients found at the market that same morning. The daily-changing menu offers rice, miso soup, fish, pickles and vegetables, and is cooked to perfection. The emphasis on this tiny 12-seat restaurant is entirely on the food, which is both delicious and wholesome. Norvell explained to us that “Japanese food is about feeling nourished, not full. More is not better.” A decidedly different breakfast experience. Expect to queue but be patient, you won’t regret it. Head to Blind Barber next door for really great coffee while you wait.

LUNCH: RAMEN YEBISU

There are a ridiculous amount of ramen restaurants studded around New York, so choosing where to pick up a bowl can sometimes be a case of just heading in and hoping for the best. From octopus to offal and every kind of belly imaginable, broth, the base of this soup, is big in the city. We’ve tried an absurd amount of ramen during our time here, and Ramen Yebisu is always a winner, ticking every box, every time. The wooden benches at this Williamsburg haunt fill up fast, night and day. The open kitchen adds a touch of the theatrical, with high-pouring soy sauce and chefs flipping flames from behind glass panels. The dense, cloudy buns are served with sticky, sweet pork and a soft boiled egg. The ramen menu is simple and concise, offering light, medium and heavy broths – ground pork, snow crab, lobster oil, the list goes on. Join the communal tables and the loyal following of Williamsburg-ites who fill them.

Japanese food is about feeling nourished, not full.

TEA STOP: MATCHA BAR

Brothers Max and Graham Fortgang are really on to something. Searching for an alternative to their ‘untenable’ coffee habits, they came upon matcha tea, the ground leaf with intense antioxidant properties that fuels Japan. In the east, the tea has been beloved for centuries for its cognitive-enhancing properties that aid meditation, and in the west it has slowly come into focus as a coffee alternative with slow-releasing energy that can support weight loss. The brothers have tapped into the New York obsession with staying wide-eyed, offering the wonder ingredient in a plethora of forms including matcha latte, Fuji apple juice matcha iced tea and even matcha biscotti. Sourced just outside of Tokyo, the tea is whipped up by barista Max, who works tirelessly to create innovative flavour combinations. The brothers told us that neither of them have touched coffee in two years, explaining that “Coffee quickly became abrasive to us, matcha offers a healthier alternative. It is an elixir, and gives you the same kick as coffee, if not more.” Pop in to this green-hued haven and challenge your coffee commitment. If it’s good enough for Japan…

DINNER: SAMURAI MAMA

The teaky, low-lit interior of this Japanese tavern features little booths and a large communal table in the centre, with sweeping dark floorboards and shelves of plump white roses. As lovely as this spot is during the day, it really comes into its own come nightfall when the three rooms are bejewelled with glowing candlelight and the entire place fills with the most Brooklyn of crowds.

The food is clean and delicious, with twists on traditional recipes. Take the crispy-skinned pork gyoza, which arrives on a piping hot skillet, or the marinated pumpkin with shitake mushrooms in a soy-sweet broth. The sushi comes as maki rolls or ‘sushi tacos,’ and the traditional chilled udon noodles with plum, shiso mint and radish offer a delicious little twist on conventional noodles. Oh-and the miso soup is the best we’ve ever had. Even in Japan. Sacrilegious, perhaps, but true. Like most popular spots in this neighbourhood, you’ll probably have to wait. Put your name down and head to the candle-flickering back room for a drink.

BAR: AKARIBA

Sharing a menu with the gorgeous Zenkichi brasserie next door, Akariba just begs you to pull up a chair and settle down for the evening with their catalogue of oysters and sake. There is no better way to tie a ribbon neatly around a Japanese meal than to enjoy a bottle of traditional rice wine. Settle into this sultry little den and chose from an extensive list, from Junmai to Honjozo, Ginjo to Daiginjo, and everything in between. And if you don’t know what any of these are, it’s high time you headed there for some valuable education.

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Photos by Issy Croker, Words by Meg Abbott

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