Go for Lunch at Hi-Collar, the East Village's Japanese Coffee and Sake Bar
On a street dominated by specialized Japanese restaurants, newcomer Hi-Collar brings something unique to the area that you didn't realize you were missing—until you stumble upon it. Wedged next to Curry-ya, Hi-Collar is a sliver of a restaurant that's more of a bar. With only 13 stools, this place is best for solo dining or small groups.
Hi-Collar is a kissaten, a Japanese-style coffee house. Its motto of "flirting with the West" permeates the lunch menu, which consists of popular Western-inspired Japanese dishes.
What's currently selling out before mid-afternoon is the Katsu Sandwich ($8). A thick slab of berkshire pork is breaded and fried, then placed between two slices of crustless white bread with a smear of sweet tonkatsu sauce. Juicy and a little fatty, the sandwich is kept light by the soft, almost dainty, bread.
Speaking of things selling like hot cakes, they serve their own version of pancakes called, fittingly, Hot Cakes ($6.50). Two round spongy cakes are served with a dusting of powdered sugar and sides of orange marmalade and maple syrup. They're your classic pancake but with an impressively fluffy texture.
If you want eggs for the first meal of the day, you can do no wrong with the Tamago Sandwich ($6.50). A thick piece of grilled Japanese-style omelette rests on a layer of cucumber and mustard-mayo, also between slices of crustless bread. Faintly spicy mustard and buttery egg add richness, and there's a large spoonful of peach yogurt on the side to finish it off.
If you're particularly famished, order the Omurice ($9). The Western-style omelette blankets a hefty mound of rice seasoned with sweet tomato sauce and bits of pork.
There are two items that change their ingredients daily: the Daily Pasta ($8.50) and the HIC Shokudou ($13). The day I went in, the pasta was wafu-kinkoko oroshi, which roughly translates to "Japanese-style Mushroom and Grated Daikon." Cold grated daikon radish and warm marinated enoki mushrooms were served on a bed of al dente spaghetti, then topped with shredded dried seaweed and shiso leaves. Mixed together, the slightly pungent daikon countered the saltiness of the mushrooms. It's a refreshing dish served at room temperature.
The shokudou is a more formidable spread, served on a tray with multiple dishes arranged in a highly aesthetic manner (as Japanese dishes tend to be). On tone visit, the main dish was sukiyaki with miso paste. Thinly sliced beef is cooked in a red miso stew with green veggies, tofu, and an egg. The side dishes include rice, sliced daikon with seaweed, fish cakes, and a bowl of tofu miso soup.
As a kissaten, Hi-Collar takes great pride in their coffee, with specialty beans from Counter Culture, Toby's Estate, Porto Rico Co. Get the Siphon coffee for the visual theater of its chemistry set brewing method. At $5.80 it's by no means cheap, but that's a better price that you'll find at some other coffee shops. Served in worn tea cups or traditional Japanese ceramics, it's as much about the experience as the flavor.
Another kissaten staple is dessert, and Hi-Collar doesn't disappoint, offering sundaes and freshly made cakes. The best is the Chocolate Parfait ($8.50). Served in a tall glass, it comes with chocolate and vanilla gelato from Ciao Bella, coffee jelly cubes, and crunchy homemade granola.
A cafe by day and a sake bar by night, Hi-Collar brings two highlights of Japanese cuisine under one roof. There's food at dinner, but it's a different menu, so plan your visit accordingly.
About the author: Nicole Lam is based in NYC. She loves carbs, cheese, and has a vicious sweet tooth. Follow her travels and eats on Instagram @niclam