New York’s cocktail game is so strong nowadays, that bar openings can be every bit as buzzy as the debut of celebrity chef-driven restaurants. That’s also owed to the fact that an elite crew of mixologists are frequently becoming every bit as respected as top toques, working their way through the ranks (or bouncing back and forth between) drinking institutions, like Clover Club, PDT, Milk & Honey, and the Pegu Club.
And Kenta Goto is only the latest star-tender to emerge from the latter establishment, following in the footsteps of Phil Ward (Death & Co.), St. John Frizell (Fort Defiance), Del Pedro (Tooker Alley), and Jim Kearns (The Happiest Hour), to open his very own industry-approved speakeasy. Called Bar Goto, the Lower East Side spot hones in on his Japanese heritage, with cocktails made with sake, shochu, and shiso, alongside an extensive selection of izakaya fare.
Priced at $15 each, libations include an elegant, shell-pink “Sakura Martini;” featuring a tender-petaled cherry blossom floating on a pond of sake, gin and maraschino. The “Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler” is an ideal summer sipper, muddled with lemon, lime and gin and rimmed with wasabi salt, although the “Far East Side” is equally refreshing — containing sake, tequila, shiso and elderflower, tinged with lemon and yuzu bitters. The “Umami Mary” is practically a meal in itself, showcasing vodka-spiked tomato and Clamato juices, given a musky, savory jolt from shitake mushrooms and miso, and the “Matcha Milk Punch” can easily substitute for an (especially boozy) dessert, made with matcha, sencha, vodka and cream.
That being said, you’ll want to save room for chef Kiyo Shinoki’s Japanese small plates, which run the gamut from Pickles brined in yuzu-pepper paste, to fresh Octopus Sashimi with wakame seaweed, to miso-slicked Chicken Wings and Gobo French Fries — vegetal lengths of deep-fried burdock root, dusted with pepper and sea salt. But the bulk of the food menu is devoted to Okonomiyaki (eggy cabbage pancakes), five different kinds in fact — including a classic version with pork belly, calamari and rock shrimp, the “Herbivore” with shitake and shimeji mushrooms, leeks, carrots and scallions, and even the “Grilled Cheese;” bombed with white cheddar, parmesan and gruyere, and studded with beech mushrooms and ruby ribbons of sundried tomato.
Craft shochu cocktails paired with pork-topped, kewpie mayo-slicked pancakes? We can’t wait to see what talent the esteemed Pegu Club breeds next.