Ganso Ramen owners and cookbook authors Harris Salat and chef Tadashi Ono are furthering their mission of exposing New Yorkers to authentic Japanese fare. Earlier this month the pair opened their second restaurant together, Ganso Yaki (515 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn; 646-927-0303), a follow-up to Ganso, their downtown-Brooklyn restaurant. This time, the pair is focusing on street food from Ono’s original home in the Shitamachi section of Tokyo.
The Shitamashi district is comparable to old Brooklyn (before the hipsters took over), or one of the outer boroughs. Translating to the town before the castle, it historically has been a working-class part of the city; the vast majority of the area’s inhabitants, known as the edokko (native Tokyo residents), have been craftsmen, fishermen, and merchants. So the food found there is the kind of straightforward fare you’d expect to find on the outskirts of any metropolis. “It’s down-to-earth, not fussy, a lot like the people who live there,” says Salat. “It’s an alive part of Tokyo, not really seen by tourists.”
Yaki (grilled meat) is the centerpiece of the menu, with an entire section dedicated to the simple specialty. Look for items like negima ($9), “street-style” chicken leg and scallion with ten-thousand-year glaze. Another is kamo kushiyaki ($13), duck and scallion skewer with wasabi-soy glaze. Surume ika ($14) combines whole grilled Japanese squid with ginger-soy marinade. Grilled meat is a big focus, but Ganso Yaki is not strictly a yakitori joint. “There’s different meat and fish we’re curing, but we don’t have 30 different kinds and chicken hearts,” says Salat.
Most of the menu consists of shareable plates. There are also yakocho, market-street-style dishes. There’s Ono’s take on the traditional pancake, okonomiyaki ($10), served in the classic Osaka style with cabbage and pork belly. Yaki shumai ($9) is a pan-fried pork-and-vegetable dumpling. The kani cream korokke ($12) is a Japanese rendition of a croquette, filled with crab meat and served with tonkatsu sauce. Tempura and vegetables are a large component, too, with options ranging from kakiage ($13) and bay scallop tempura fritter with classic dipping sauce and seasonal vegetable tempura ($14) to Agedashi tofu ($9) and gobo kinpira ($5), sautéed burdock root served chilled.
The ubiquitous ramen is not served here, but there is a concise selection of soba. Handmade noodles are served in a savory dashi broth made with kombu (dried kelp) and katsuo-bushi (dried bonito flakes). Kamo nanban ($18) adds sliced duck breast on top. The shrimp tempura ($19) and the kitsune ($13) with fried tofu are offered with the choice of vegetarian broth, for those who want it.
Just as much thought went into the beverage selection. Salat and Ono have compiled a menu with a wide selection of wine, craft beer from the U.S. and Japan (the lighter IPAs, saisons, lagers, and pilsners pair really well with the food), and lesser-known sakes, with a focus on the bold wild-yeast variations, yamahai and kimoto. To go along with the beverages, there’s a short list of sakana (bites for sake). Look for things like shiokara ($8), house-fermented squid; tsukudani ($6), sweet-savory simmered kombu and shiitake; or ei-hire, tatami iwashi, atarime ($12), a trio of dried fish with skate wing, pressed baby anchovy, and squid. “These are little bites that go with sake,” says Salat. “It really gets your whole palate ready for sake and beer. We have a great selection of drinks that reflect what we’re doing with the food.”
Opened recently, Ganso Yaki is just one element in Salat and Ono’s mission to educate Americans on authentic Japanese cuisine. For them, it’s sort of an expression of their own backgrounds. Ono, a Tokyo native, has been trained in French cooking techniques; for nine years, he worked as the executive chef of La Caravelle. Salat originally hails from South Brooklyn, near Coney Island, yet he’s traveled and written about Japan extensively. Together, the team have co-authored several Japanese cookbooks. “Tadashi is an amazing cook and authority on Japanese cuisine,” says Salat. “We wanted to share more of it; we did it through our books and now through restaurants. I think we take it very seriously, but it’s kind of fun. We’ve found great American cooks who are really into Japanese cuisine.”