Do you know that feeling where you walk into a place and feel your whole evening has just taken an epic turn? Then upon entering, you suddenly leave the world behind and enter an urban novel or movie? Two years ago, I moved back to NYC to find that feeling again, and yet, my largest complaint is that it simply never happens – until now.
Unless you are Japanese, upon entering Hachember – a bar and otsumami in the Lower East Side, you will quickly realize that you are probably the only non-Japanese amongst the clientele. This best kept secret in the Japanese-New Yorker community greets you with sassy jazz ballads and 1960s Japanese movie posters that remind you of a time where things were slower and you really could just spend a whole evening chitchatting at a restaurant in the Village.
Otsumami is a Japanese term for small foods best eaten with alcohol, which is traditionally sake but now includes wine, beer, and cocktails. In a nutshell, the food is served in portion sizes that are easy to share, always worth savoring, and best enjoyed over good conversation.
Toshi Capuccino – the Japanese owner, theater critic, and play producer – is probably one of the most attentive restaurant owners and a great character to meet. A well-groomed renaissance man, Toshi’s dress is restrained, well tailored, and his square glasses are simply never the same color – revealing just a touch of flamboyance under his strong masculine physique. Since he created the menu, Toshi talks your through each dish and accompanies your order with the appropriate beverage. Everytime I go, I’m always tickled as I see Toshi making his periodic stops at each table to join in on the conversation and make sure that his customers are enjoying everything. By the way that people protest as he leaves their tables, it is clear customers love him just as much as they love Hachember.
On my last trip, I refused to eat anything that Toshi didn’t recommend. After helping us pick our sake, he suggested that we try the okonomiyaki and his signature Keema Curry.
Okonomiyaki is essentially a pizza comprised of a savory pancake – made of egg, yam or potato, and cabbage – and topped with meat or seafood, Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce – which is like a sweeter and thicker Worcestor sauce. Hachember’s okonomiyaki does not disappoint, it causes you to salivate for more. Accompanying food with noise is rude in some cultures, but one bite made my friend and I forget this and release moans that had us laughing for two minutes before we could continue. Do not go to this place without trying some. With that and Toshi’s signature Keema Curry, which was equally salivating, my friend and I were in full-tummy heaven.
Cost can be an inhibiting factor in seeking out these transporting experiences in the city, but let all concerns about Hachember be laid to rest: for what you pay – which is more than reasonable – the service is incredible, and for what you eat, you feel even better.WHERE: Hachember 71 Clinton Street (between Stanton and Rivington) New York, New York 10002 212.533.4781
By: Mijon Zulu