Masa Hayakawa, meet Guy Wong. Since the two of you had pretty much the same idea at the same time, you should know each other.
Masa, Guy is a young native Atlantan whose Chinese-American family has helped make the city's ethnic dining landscape better and more diverse. It was behind several iterations of Sam's Gourmet — once one of the few reliable, real Chinese restaurants. The family now owns Chinese Buddha on 10th Street.
Guy spent six months in Japan and fell in love with its izakaya scene. Ah yes, the izakayas. These drinking holes have long been a mainstay of Japan's mizu shobai — the so-called "water trade" of entertainment districts, where bars and clubs liquor up carousing customers. They became particularly plentiful in postwar Japan, when salarymen began leaving their offices late and needed a couple of drinks and a little food in their stomachs. While most restaurants specialized in a specific dish — sushi, grilled chicken skewers, fried noodles — izakayas developed longer, more varied menus of small dishes to sate the whims of their thirsty customers.
Guy thought tapas-happy Atlanta was ready for such a spot. So he leased a space in one of the many new mixed-use buildings popping up in the Old Fourth Ward and opened Miso Izakaya. He figured that the same folks who get their morning pastries at Parish, their pizzas at Fritti and their bar burgers at Kevin Rathbun Steak would be happy to stop in at Miso for a nice Japanese beverage and a nibble.
The problem is, Guy couldn't secure his liquor license in time and opened three months ago without one. As you know, Masa, an izakaya without liquor is like a Chick-fil-a without chicken.
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Then there was the issue of Miso Izakaya's menu, which featured lots of sushi and a small choice of crossover-friendly items like fried shrimp, spring rolls and curried lamb chops. It tried to go easy on first-time American guests, but risked getting lost in translation.
Now, Guy, meet Masa. He was for many years the chef at Haru Ichiban Restaurant. This Duluth eatery has long been favored by Atlanta's Japanese expat community not only for its sushi, but also for its lengthy menu of items not available elsewhere.
Masa had dreamed of opening the kind of new-generation izakaya he has seen springing up all over his native Japan. Unlike the so-called "old-man izakayas" of yore, these sprawling new places attract flocks of young people. Their huge menus feature color pictures of everything from grilled squid legs to fried fish bones. The drinks lists at newer izakayas go heavily into the distilled clear liquor called shochu, which is used in all kinds of fun cocktails like "Hoppy" — a mix of shochu and fruity, nonalcoholic beer. Fresh "hi sours," made with citrus squeezed at the table, are also popular.
So he opened Shoya Izakaya two weeks ago. Unlike your mod intown digs, Guy, Shoya opened in a bland and still mostly empty minimall by I-285 in Doraville that will eventually be home to a number of Japanese businesses and an Asian market.
But Shoya's location is a quick drive for the many Japanese people who live and work in Gwinnett County, and they've come in droves to check the place out. They like what they've found: a serious izakaya menu of more than 130 favorites, including all kinds of tasty things grilled or fried on sticks, rice porridge, salted squid cured in its own innards, and the savory, gooey pancake called okonomiyaki that is primo alcohol-absorption fare.
The dark wood paneling, the open kitchen, the ceramic pitchers of beer, the Hoppy. It all said izakaya.
Thankfully, Guy, you've finally gotten your liquor license for Miso Izakaya. It looks like your drinks program is right on the money. You've got all kinds of shochu and sake. You've got great cocktails. You even have those little citrus juicers so folks can make their own Hi Sours. Get people drinking.
Guy and Masa: You are on either side of the crossover divide. Wave and say "hi." Maybe between the two of you, Atlanta will get hip to izakaya culture.
Miso Izakaya: 619 Edgewood Ave., 678-701-0128.
Shoya Izakaya: 6035 Peachtree Road, Doraville. 770-457-5555.