Monday, July 23, 2007

Izakaya Ten

July 17

Chandler and I had dinner at Izakaya Ten, a restaurant whose name should never be written Izakaya 10, as "ten" in this case is the Japanese word for “sky” or “heaven.”
Chandler was a few minutes late (it happens to all of us in Manhattan, especially when going as far west as 10th Avenue as we forget how far west that really is) so I took the time to ask my waitress about the restaurant’s name. I don’t speak Japanese, but I can get by in Mandarin Chinese, and the Japanese use Chinese characers as part of their overwrought writing system, which also includes two syllabaries, one for Japanese words and one for foreign ones, and, increasingly, romanji, or Roman letters.
(A syllabary is different from an alphabet in that each symbol — or most of them if you want to split hairs — represents a consonant-vowell combination, so one symbol would represent "ka" another "ke" and so on).
So “ten” was of course the character for “sky” or “heaven.” The middle character in Izakaya represented alcohol, which is the character the Japanese use for “sake,” and the last one was the character for “shop” or “store.” I didn’t know the first one, but my waitress said it meant “stay.” So an izakaya is either a shop where you stay for sake or a shop where sake stays, I’m not sure which. In either case it translates well as “bar,” although the folks at Izakaya Ten translate it cleverly and not inaccurately as “gastropub.”
Now Chandler, on the other hand, speaks Japanese quite well, so he chatted with the waitress about any number of things, and started to do so with the owner, Lannie Ahn, but she said, “Actually, I’m Korean.”
She sent out a bunch of food, including grilled smelt, raw octopus marinated with wasabi, and most anything else on the menu — more than I felt like writing down — plus a lot of sushi per Chandler’s request. She sent out a bunch of sakes, too, and several infused shochus.
Chandler, being The New York Times' scent critic, smelled everything.
“This smells like perfume,” he declared of one shochu. “Vanillin!” he said triumphantly.
I took a sip and wondered if that flavor that wasn’t vanilla might be shiso. Indeed, Lannie said it was, causing Chandler to look at me as though he were impressed.
We also had shochu infused with cherry and one with plum.
For dessert, three ice creams: green tea, red bean and sesame.

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