Having held court at its appealing windowed corner spot across from Fort Greene park for the past five years, Walter’s has become a reliable neighborhood mainstay for honeyed fried chicken and East Coast oysters. That is, to say, from its swarming Sunday brunch crowds to its soothingly static menu, all would seem entirely status quo unless one was to inadvertently push through an unmarked door in search of the bathroom. Because in that instance, they’d find themselves magically transported inside of an intimate, high-ceilinged hideaway, the tables arrayed with chopsticks and the illuminated bar arranged with slim bottles of sake.
Enter Karasu: the little advertised, not quite izakaya from Walter’s owners Danny Minch and Dylan Dodd, which debuted sans fanfare this past May, in the windowless back room formerly leased by a chiropractor. But despite sharing real estate, it bears little kinship with the boisterous benedict and burger slinger on the other side of the door, being bedecked with dark blue walls and kumiko screens, and offering a lineup of Kyoto-inspired small plates such as pickled radishes, hijiki salad, scallop sashimi and clam soup, executed by former Shuko apprentice, Yael Peet.
“We considered expanding Walter’s, making a speakeasy or even a sports bar, but ultimately decided to do something totally out of our comfort zone,” Dodd said. “We both really love Japanese food, and thought it would be exciting to take on something different that the neighborhood really needed.
As a contrast to Walter’s, we decided to keep the volume down by playing quiet jazz, and place an emphasis on sharing, diversity of flavors and textures and seasonal inspiration when it came to the menu.”
Karasu also boasts a serious bar program courtesy of Thomas Waugh, who, like Peet, hails from the upper echelons of Manhattan’s restaurant industry, having mixed and muddled for the Major Food Group. To complement a mighty selection of sakes, sochus and Japanese whiskies, vintage glassware-cradled cocktails include the Thrice Rice — a Far East riff on the horchata featuring nigori, scotch, rice cakes and orgeat — as well as the Negroni-esque Night Night, comprised of brandy, mezcal, umeboshi and antica vermouth.
“We visited Japan when we were researching what the restaurant should be, and we were really inspired by the cocktail culture there; the level of service and attention to craftsmanship, whether it was the distinctive shake, the meticulous measuring, or the attention to the customer’s needs,” Minch said. “We wanted to combine the earnestness of Japanese culture with the innovation of Brooklyn, and Thomas helped us execute that vision.”
And while you can’t access Karasu without breezing through Walter’s, the team aims to assert them as separate entities, that just so happen to share an address. “They are both restaurants with full dinner menus and are distinct experiences,” stresses Dodd. “But if someone wants to have a drink at the bar at one and dine at the other, either on the late or early side (outside of prime dining hours) when we can accommodate that, we more than welcome that too.”
166 Dekalb Ave, (347) 223-4811, Fort Greene
Photos by Jane Bruce