New York’s perplexing obsession with dearly priced small plates shows no signs of dying down. But the tide definitely appears to have turned in recent months, veering away from Spanish tapas and Mediterranean meze, in favor of sleek Japanese izakayas; casual drinking establishments serving diminutive snacks, ideally paired with light beer and sochu.
And Cherry Izakaya, a Williamsburg venture from the team behind the clubby Manhattan hotspot, Cherry at the Dream Downtown, is the latest to join the fray. Although unlike the sunny, neighborhood-y Bar Chuko (and, we would imagine, the upcoming Ganso Yaki), Cherry quickly betrays its Meatpacking District DNA, starting with the signage outside (there isn’t any), to the prohibitively heavy, wooden front door (only the most determined to see and be seen sipping Cherry Bombs—a sultry amalgam of tequila, cherry jam, black pepper and lemon—will survive!) and extending to the menu, which pushes the boundaries of traditional izakaya fare (grilled meat skewers, fried chicken bits, tofu, edamame), essentially positioning Cherry as a full Japonaiserie-style restaurant, complete with wacky maki rolls, foie gras-stuffed gyozas and $25 entrées.
Not that any of this is a bad thing, really—as long as you’re not unduly hung up on the potentially misleading name. Cherry Izakaya’s interiors—from design powerhouse hOme—are inarguably handsome, featuring a vintage Pachinko machine in the foyer, a handmade tile bar and dramatic arched ceilings made from reclaimed wood in the front room, and custom murals adorning the walls in the dining area, inspired by ukiyo-e, an ancient genre of woodblock paintings and prints depicting Japanese history, folk tales and landscapes.
It’s also hard to deny the off-beat tastiness of many of the ambitious dishes, from the Tuna Tarts—wafer-thin pizzettes of sliced fish, swiped with creamy ponzu and kissed with white truffle oil—to the seared, Duck and Kumquat, Shitake Confit and BBQ Pulled Pork Dumplings, to quirky sushi offerings like the Black Caesar, rounds of coal-colored rice supporting flags of grilled romaine and crispy bacon. Another winner is the surprisingly homey Escargot Donburi, a savory, miso béchamel-infused porridge dotted with bias-cut carrots and chewy snails, which, despite the muggy midsummer heat, might just be one of our favorite new comfort foods.
Granted, Cherry may not embody the come-as-you-are aesthetic espoused by truly traditional, Japanese izakayas, but it should do just fine in the Meatpacking-lite district of Williamsburg.
138 N 8th Street, Williamsburg