When Japanese sake shops finally started putting in seats so patrons could hang out and chill, they became known by a new name: Izakaya. Over time izakayas evolved to be more like taverns or even gastropubs, because progress; along with sake, they sometimes feature beer, wine, cocktails and most importantly shochu, Japan's national spirit.
Cocktail-driven riffs on izakayas have been popping up around the U.S. in recent years from Portland, Ore., to Washington, D.C. - Imbibe magazine recently published a round-up - and on March 6, one is quite literally about to pop up in Dallas, at Industry Alley.
"Essentially we're going to do traditional izakaya-style cocktails, like you would get in Japan."-- Mike Steele, Industry Alley's bar manager
The one-night-only occasion is part of the laidback cocktail joint's new "1st Sunday Soiree" series featuring guest chefs and their tasty handiwork; the series debuted on Super Bowl Sunday with Small Brewpub's Misti Norris, who just earned a James Beard Awards nomination in the up-and-coming chef category. Among other things, Norris's Industry Alley stint included chicken wing rillettes that were so good they literally brought me to tears. Or possibly that was the game, I'm not sure.
This time around, Lucia's sous chef Justin Holt will take the helm to dish up the pop-up ramen for which he's become rightly known, plus yakitori chicken skewers and a pork-based "battleship curry." The event is cash-only, and prices will run from $2 to $10. Holt will start serving at 8 pm until the food runs out, so please, girls and boys: Form an orderly queue.
Meanwhile, Industry Alley bar manager Mike Steele will do his best to izakaya-fy the bar, along with guest bartender Trina Nishimura; both were part of the pioneering crew at Dallas' Cedars Social when it opened in 2011. Does that mean you'll be sitting on tatami mats or find the doorway fronted by red lanterns? Likely not. Instead, you'll have a selection of shochu-based drinks to sho-choose from that represent both traditional izakaya-style libations and Western-style cocktails. "Essentially we're going to do traditional izakaya-style cocktails, like you would get in Japan," Steele says. "Low-proof, real chill things."
Shochu is a 50-proof liquor, packing more punch than wine or sake but less than whiskey or gin. Distilled from ingredients like sweet potatoes, barley or rice, it's light and earthy, like a hoppy green tea. "There's even a buckwheat-based one where the nose on it is like you walked into a grain factory," he says.
Steele will feature a barley-based shochu in his traditional, interactive-style drinks; for his cocktails it'll be a shochu made from white sweet potatoes cultivated especially for the spirit. The cocktails will feature components like matcha green tea syrup and dry curacao; one is light and citrusy, the other more funky and aggressive. "Once you get that third or fourth sip and that shochu gets on the palate, then these other flavor profiles start coming through," Steele says.