There are two common misconceptions about Japanese food: first that it is comprised mostly of raw fish and second that it needs to be expensive. Another erroneous belief is that all sushi restaurants are actually Japanese. Unless you are with a Japanese person, it can be hard to tell the difference.
There is a style of restaurant in Japan called the ‘Izakaya’. The characters for this translate directly to ‘to sit’, ‘sake’, and ‘store’. “Sit here and buy sake and we’ll feed you stuff too” is pretty much the whole idea. The Europeans call this sort of thing ‘tapas’. There are so many little plates of so many good things to choose from, each ranging from a few dollars to maybe fifteen or twenty at the most. And let us not forget the extensive list of sakes, beers, and shochu.
You probably have not heard of shochu – it is a distilled spirit, only half as strong as our eighty proof bar favorites. It comes in a few varieties – those made from barley, rice, various potatoes, or combinations of these. Depending on which you get, it can be best served on ice, with a salty plum mushed into the bottom of the glass, mixed with citrus drinks or oolong tea, or with a simple splash of warm water to blossom the flavor.
Of course, I didn’t start the day this way. First I had to print out a pile of charts for the noon rehearsal, make calls to get a substitute for an upcoming double booking, post another plug for my Wednesday solo show, respond to an invitation for a show in the Caribbean come Spring, review the two songs for tonight’s 7:00 show, review songs for the 9:00 show, drive my wife to work, park the car, then get an 11:00 bus into Manhattan.
The noon rehearsal was wonderful. A new artist: Liz Lark Brown, new [to me] music director Nate Buccieri, new [to me] composer Joe Iconis, and a wonderful bassist I had worked with before, Matt Wigton. When the chemistry is this good from the start, I know that the end result – the show – is going to be something special.
On the way downtown I stopped in to the best shoe-shine in New York City.
It was on the way to the 6:00 sound check for the 7:00 show that I had my Izakaya experience. Yokocho happened to be right on the way. Not everyone would see it that way, as I started walking from 46th Street and 9th Avenue and walked with a forty-pound guitar case strapped on my back all the way to 9th Street and 3rd Avenue. (My wife is ten years younger than I am – I need to stay fit.) By the time I got there, I was good and hungry.
I started with a tamago suppu [beef stock with egg and spinach], then to atsubutta [broiled pork] with yuzukoshou [spicy citrus paste], then finished with a mentaiko ochazuke [spicy codfish roe with rice in a clear soup broth]. All this, a glass of my favorite shochu [with spicy plum] and a tip came out to $25. Authentic and glorious.
When I arrived at Via Della Pace, my two new friends were already waiting for me. Kevin Scott Hall and Boice-Terrel Allen are both novelists and singers. I accompanied each of them on a song before they did a reading from their new books. In this beautiful little place with a smart wine selection, the very talented and prolific young artists and their small but appreciative audience made this a great way to spend an hour in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
From there it was a short walk [by comparison] to Houston and First to the National Underground where Jonny Rose would hit the stage at 9:00. As you’ve seen by my earlier post, I love working with Jonny. He’s got the right stuff and he’s doing the right stuff to make it happen for himself and I’m confident that his star will rise. You know, in the Pop Lotto…
When all was said and done, I took the train to see my wife as she finished work at Komegashi Too, the loveliest little Japanese restaurant on the Hudson River. All in all a good Monday.