Editor's note: We just found out that Shochu Bar Hatchan suffered a fire this week. We hope everyone at the restaurant is OK, and will keep you posted as soon as we find out anything new.
Shochu Bar Hatchen is an unassuming watering hole where salarymen comfortably drink solo. Just under two years old, it's kept a low-profile but stays perpetually busy.
Yakitori and sushi are served from the adjoining restaurant Yakitori East. The restaurant features weeknight specials. Certain nights are stick-meat extravaganzas, and on such evenings, the kitchen serves up yaki specials at 50 percent off.
True to its name, Hatchan's shochu selection is extensive. Shochu is a clear, distilled spirit roughly 25 percent alcohol or more. It shares the kind of mild bite and easy-drinking versatility as that other fire water, vodka. But shochu's alcoholic content is lower, making it a smoother drink to enjoy neat or on the rocks. It goes well with the bolder flavors of grilled food, as a San Francisco Chronicle piece pointed out last year.
At Hatchan, you'll find varieties distilled from barley, rice, buckwheat, potato, brown sugar, date, sesame, wasabi, tea, or citrus. Friends and I split several flights. Since Hatchan offers tastings of three shochu for $15, the flights are a quick way to get acquainted with Hatchan's selection.
A summary of impressions, ordered roughly by preference:
Beniotome, a sesame-distilled shochu, is surprisingly nutty.
Torikai, of rice, is light, refined, and accessible all-around.
Zuisen, an Awamori shochu, is smooth, neutral, and crisp. The closest to water of the shochu we tried.
Mizuho, another Awamori shochu, tastes slightly of wasabi and has a dry, powdery finish.
Satoh, of potato, tastes like a sweet potato fry.
Hitotsubu No Mugi, of barley, tastes sweet. Or of jellybeans.
Yufuin, of barley, is a popular shochu with obvious floral notes. Probably my least favorite of the bunch.
The bar food at Hatchan is mostly good with some instances of average.
The jumbo tsukune is a broad meat popsicle, made mostly of chicken. It's brushed with tare (a sweet yakitori sauce), grilled, and served with a dip of raw egg yolk, lending extra richness.
Sanmo are salty, briny, bony Pacific saury. They're shio-grilled with their guts intact and the bitterness is distinct. The dish is served with citrus and a dab of oroshi (grated daikon) as complements to the run of gut meat.
By comparison, shishamo are smaller smelt with skewers run through the mouth. The fish seem to be comprised of mostly filigree bones and eggs. The pregnant fish, in fact, are fit to burst with eggs. But it's the beady little roe that marries salted flesh with the sweet taste of grill.
Grilled onigiri is rice pressed and grilled. The smoky, durable crust belies a steamy, moist interior. At Hatchan, the shiso onigiri is pleasantly herbaceous but in contrast, the yaki onigiri is dull.
The Kurobuta sausage ("black hog") are made with Berkshire pork. They taste like any other cocktail weiner. Grilled with yam and broccoli, they are merely OK.
The salmon isn't quite fresh, which makes the salmon and scallion yaki a skip.
Shishito are mild peppers. Brushed with oil and grilled, they are a little bitter, sweet, and smoky.
The asu maki (or asupara maki*) is asparagus rolled in beef. Here, the skewer suffers from overcooking and the beef is tough.
Uzura bacon maki is a skewer of soft-boiled quail egg, swaddled in bacon. It's like breakfast on a stick. Novel but not delicious as it's also overcooked.
Tatsuta age is made by marinating chicken meat, dredging it in potato starch, and deep-frying. At Hatchan, unfortunately, the crust lacks any semblance to crisp. The meat is dry and uniquely tough.
Food flaws aside, Hatchan is a civil little bar—where well-mannered wage-slaves sip before slumber. Unlike restaurants of the Totto empire, you won't find hype, loud bass, or chicken monomania here. The brisk manners of cheerful bartendresse reassure that at Hatchan, the focus is efficient inebriation, uninhibited by scene.
Shochu Bar Hatchan
* Special thanks to Kayoko at Umamimart for confirming that asu maki is not just a Japanese upskirt fetish.