Brooklyn wasn’t much of a contender in the top ramen scene before Chuko came along, which has both inspired and cultivated other local noodle stars over the last three years (we met Yuji Haraguchi at their collaborative Brooklyn Ramen dinner in 2012). So we fully expect their newest venture, Bar Chuko, to spark a borough-wide interest in the izakaya—the Japanese version of a gastropub—which, unless you count Izakaya on Smith (and we can’t currently say we do), has been sorely underrepresented outside of Manhattan. Located mere steps away from their original eatery on Vanderbilt, the light-dappled Bar Chuko is similar in style and feel to its predecessor, with floor-to-ceiling windows, blond wood, and a bustling open kitchen. But it’s at least three times Chuko’s size, with a menu to match, divided into Snacks, Bites, Raw nibbles (including oysters, spicy tuna, mackerel and surf clam), traditional, grilled Skewers, and Bowls (sweltering summer evenings cry out for the saucer of chilled fresh tofu, layered under a caramel-colored gelatin of ginger, dashi and soy).
Dishes are inventive but unfussy, and largely self-explanatory — especially if you’re familiar with Asian cuisine. Along with the reliable tumble of sticky, soy and garlic-glazed wings, there’s a homey, toasted rice congee, supporting mustard greens and a soft, disintegrating egg, a wonderfully gloppy okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancake) studded with bacon and cabbage, its crown of bonito flakes gently undulating in the cross-breeze, a progression of speared veggies and proteins, such as smoky octopus, pork jowl, beef tongue, lamb sausage and eggplant, and yes, even a single (chicken) ramen option.
But a handful of off-kilter items reveal a sense of humor, to go along with the Bar Chuko team’s serious cooking chops (after all, the three owners were mentored by Masaharu Morimoto, the king of tuna pizza and buffalo wing-inspired rock shrimp tempura). So check out the Miso Cheese, an Asian variant on cream cheese and bagels, scattered with salmon roe and served with toasts, the succulent, X.O.-sauced clams, delivered with a side of crispy ‘doughnuts,’ meant for sopping up the leftover broth, and a ceramic tureen of glutinous rice cakes, formed into barbell-shaped nubbins reminiscent of gnocchi, paved with a kimchee-infused pork bolognese and finished with a blistering topcoat of—you better believe it—mozzarella cheese.
But the best course of action might be to ditch the menu altogether and keep your eyes trained on the kitchen, where a passel of chefs fusses over fleshy hamachi collars, paired with jalapeno puree and half-moons of grilled lemon (which was quickly added to our order). And we’ll have to schedule a return trip in order to work our way through the appealing skewer section, morsels of chicken heart, stuffed shishito pepper, wagyu shortrib and chewy mushroom, plated in colorful rows and augmented with a dollop of this or a drizzle of that.
We’ll have time. The Japanese izakaya has a worthy Brooklyn ambassador in Bar Chuko.
565 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights