An izakaya is basically a bar that serves food, but unlike the one we visited in New York, Sake Bar Hagi, Pabu is no mere watering hole. While the New York restaurant is dark and cramped, Pabu, located at the far end of Aliceanna Street across from the Marriott, occupies a space that is bright and spare, with lots of blonde wood and large windows. Shelves of large, nearly-identical, pottery sake vessels act as dividers that help break up the room. The bar is immediately in front of the entrance; across the room, its long shape is echoed by the sushi bar, behind which is an open kitchen.
We were seated off to one side, beyond the bar, and had a good view of the room. Because this was a media dinner*, we were presented with a special menu of the restaurant's choosing, an omakase. But before the food came, our eager and knowledgeable server suggested we try various things from the spirits menu, of which the restaurant is justifiably proud. Their sake collection is so vast (the largest in the area), it requires a special sake sommelier to keep things organized. The staff is all very well-trained, too, so feel comfortable allowing your server to make suggestions, as we did. We first tried two of the signature cocktails: the Japanese whisky-based Yakuza, with chamomile tea and yellow Chartreuse; and the Lemongrass Sour. Both were quite good, the Yakuza was surprisingly light, and easy to drink. Later, we were brought two different sakes to sample as well as a couple of special Japanese beers, one of which was made with rice, the other with sweet potato.
On to the food.
|Jako - tiny minnows, ginger, shiso, goma
|Seaweed salad - san baizu, creamy sesame
|"Happy Spoons" - oyster, uni, ikura, ponzu creme fraiche
We started off with three "cold small plates," jako, seaweed salad, and the "happy spoon." Jako is a dish of tiny minnows - teeny, bitsy, weensy minnows even - that are cooked until they become dry and chewy, not unlike jerky, and flavored with sesame, shiso, and ginger. They're fairly salty and make a good bar snack-style accompaniment to beer or sake. The seaweed salad was a lot like the kind to which we're accustomed, with the addition of a creamy sesame dressing, and the "happy spoon" was something else entirely. A small oyster, salmon caviar, uni, and tobiko rested on a bit of creme fraiche flavored with ponzu. It was meant to be eaten in one bite, and just as I popped mine and began to chew, I was distracted by someone who appeared at our table to introduce herself, and in the confusion and haste to swallow, I forgot to taste what was in my mouth. My impression, however, was of fresh brininess, and I'd love to try this bite again.
Later in the meal, Chefs Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga came over to say hello. I was thrilled to meet them, and commended them on bringing the izakaya concept to Baltimore. At least, that's what I think I said; it may merely have been starstruck gibberish. :)
|Maitake & seasonal vegetable tempura
|Maryland crab okonomiyaki - bonito flake, benishoga, karashi mayo
|Tsukune, Muniniku, Hudson Valley foie gras
|Miso with nameko mushroom, miso with fresh tofu, scallion, wakame
|Nigiri - mebachi meguro, madai, kohada, katsuo
|Sashimi - chutoro, aji, hotate
|Ken's Roll - shrimp tempura,avocado, spicy tuna, pine nuts,
chili garlic furikake, eel sauce
Finally, we had the best dessert imaginable: four dishes, two light and citrussy, two with a bit more heft. When combined, they offered the perfect combination of salty, tangy, creamy, and sweet. The salty came in the form of miso caramel under a bit of mochi-wrapped ice cream. A quenelle of green tea sorbet in a lemongrass broth with a brunoise of pineapple and melon was refreshing and so fragrant, I wanted to dab it behind my ears. The honey panna cotta topped with little pearls of yuzu gelee was both creamy and tangy, and the sweet white chocolates were filled with a whisky sauce that filled the mouth with sweetness.
725 Aliceanna St.
Baltimore, MD 21202 (410) 223-1460
* We received free food and beverages during this visit, however, all opinions in this post are ours alone and not that of the restaurant.
Posted on Minxeats.com.