[Photos: Hideki Kato]
Jeffrey Chodorow's Tanuki Tavern recently replaced Ono in the Hotel Gansevoort. I was particularly jazzed to try it since the food at the "Japanese gastropub and sushi bar" is inspired by one of my favorite types of Japanese joints—the izakaya, or sake bar. Tanuki takes its name from the Japanese raccoon dog, but also refers to a mythical Japanese trickster figure that graces bars and restaurants in the form of a statue. It's typically depicted as a huge-testicled raccoon sporting a straw hat with a bottle of sake in one hand and a promissory note in the other.
Tanuki forgoes the typical izakaya snacks of skewered meats and veggies. That's okay with me, though, because it has something I've never seen in a sake bar before: beef marrow bones. Or, to be more specific: Beef marrow bone, a single femur split vertically down the middle and braised with miso and served with black lava sea salt and toast ($8). The chance to eat rich, unctuous marrow bones sliced in this manner while seated at a bar is a pleasure that's been missed since cowboy chef Tim Love shut down Lonesome Dove and left town.
Edamame are a staple snack at izakaya from Tokyo to St. Mark's Place. Tanuki dusts the boiled soybean pods ($5) with sea salt and red pepper. They're served with a side car of sweet, nutty kuromame, or black soy beans.
There's a decent sake list too, including an aged one. What really got my attention though was Ginga Kogen Premium Unfiltered Beer ($10). It's a delicious, fruity hefeweizen, or wheat beer. The brewery's name means "plateau of the galaxy," a reference to Iwate prefecture's Mount Wagadake known for its heavy snowfalls, which result in clean cold water used to brew Ginga Kogen. That water coupled with the time the brewers spent training in Germany results in one mighty fine brew.
The tricky raccoon also offers fourteen kind of sushi rolls ranging from the somewhat staid California roll to new inventions like the Ikasu Roll (half $9, whole $16). The colorful maki combines wild salmon, tuna toro, avocado, shishito peppers, asparagus and kimchi mayo. A friend tells me ikasu means "groovy". It's an apt description for the interplay of rich fish, spicy green peppers, and crunchy asparagus. Feeling gangster? Try the Yakuza Roll (half $7, whole $12). Broiled eel, avocado and Boursin cheese are topped with spicy masago (smelt roe) and an eel sauce drizzle.
Since tavern is part of the name, it's not surprising Tanuki has a burger ($16). Topped with pickled purple onion, kimchi relish and served on an Eli's potato bun, it's far cry from standard pub burger. The meat in this juicy patty comes from everybody's favorite burger blender, Pat La Frieda. It's a mix of 10% aged brisket, 30% prime brisket, and 60% prime chuck with a 70/30 meat to fat ratio. I don't profess to know as much about the aforementioned stats as my colleague Adam Kuban, but I do know a tasty burger when it crosses my lips.
When I stopped in a week ago the restaurant was so new there was scarcely a Tanuki in sight. Several are being designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakimi. I hope at least one of them is as bizarre as the huge statue he did in Rockefeller Center several years ago.
18 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10014 (map) 212-660-6766