The quintessential modern izakaya
Claim to fame: A pioneer elevating the izakaya experience
Reason to go: The delightfully convivial atmosphere
To look out for: A seat at the counter
You know you’re going to like Onogi from the moment you step though the entrance and see the uprooted tree over the staircase, suspended in segments by fishing wire like a giant piece of modernist ikebana. Those beguiling, naked branches encapsulate chef Shigeki Onogi’s product-driven style of cooking: natural, pure, and sublime. His sophisticated izakaya fare strikes the perfect balance between creative and comforting, and the intimate, open-kitchen space makes you feel right at home.
The à la carte menu combines dainty small plates and jazzed-up rice dishes meant for sharing at the end of the meal, but you can also go with the reasonably priced omakase option. A neat pile of sliced raw kawahagi filefish is dressed with a creamy paste of fish liver and drizzled with ponzu; umami-rich uni adds a touch of decadence. Griddled wagyu beef and seasonal vegetables come with Onogi’s original miso dips, smooth and concentrated purées made from vegetables such as tomatoes and cabbage. The chef stays true to the flavors of Japan but is not afraid to work in some cream or butter if his palate dictates, as evidenced by the buttery lobster rice, which is cooked in a cast-iron pot so that the bottom forms a crisp crust.
The nicely edited drinks list features solid, if not terribly surprising, choices for sake and wine, with one or two craft beers among the usual suspects. They deserve extra points, however, for serving a mean whisky high ball. The warmly lit wooden interior, with its mix of counter- and table seating, plus a small private room, encourages lingering. The clean, modern-retro design feels both of the moment and out of time.