The Izakaya According to Kenta Goto

John Surico

Kenta Goto knows his way around bar food and drinks. A few years ago, the award-winning mixologist from Tokyo helped turn the Pegu Club into a New York City drinking destination with his Japanese-style cocktails. In 2015, Goto branched out on his own with Bar Goto, where his menu of izakaya-influenced Japanese comfort food like miso chicken wings, plum-vinegared octopus with seaweed, and five types of okonomiyaki (from pork belly to a fisherman’s version with squid and shrimp) is paired with his delicately balanced yuzu, sake and sochu cocktails.

What influence has the Japanese izakaya had on Bar Goto and your style of cooking?

To be clear, Bar Goto is not an izakaya; we are a bar. Our food menu is not as wide as the ones at a typical izakaya. But the izakaya itself is typically a laid-back, homey and festive place, where people drink while nibbling on small plates. And that was the feeling I wanted to create at Bar Goto.

What was your experience with izakayas before you opened Bar Goto?

My mother had a restaurant specializing in okonomiyaki [savory Japanese pancakes] back in Japan. When I was growing up, I helped her with lots of different tasks, from cutting veggies and cleaning fish to taking care of the customers. I always knew I wanted to serve okonomiyaki at my bar even before it was open, and that’s become our most popular dish. Bar Goto’s menu also includes other izakaya specialties, like gobo French fries and the tako sashimi. But what stands out is our kombu celery ($8, recipe). It’s so simple, but the proportions of each seasoning are balanced, so it’s very flavorful. An extra pinch of red shiso flakes or toasted sesame seeds could throw everything off balance. Many people have never eaten celery like that before.

It seems like izakaya-inspired food is having a moment. Why is that?

In general, you can get pretty much everything from pickled veggies, sashimi and fried chicken to a bento box and ramen at an izakaya. You go to an izakaya to drink, but you can have dinner at the same time if you want. I think people are enjoying the convenience and flexibility of the izakaya.

As for snacking, do you prefer salty, sour or sweet?

Salty. But I don’t know—I like all flavors.

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