Kenta Goto made a name for himself while mixing drinks at Audrey Saunders’s pioneering Pegu Club in Soho, where he introduced our city’s blossoming cadre of cocktail freaks to sips like the Far East Side, which shakes together sake, tequila, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, muddled shiso leaf, and yuzu bitters. “People were ordering it long after we took it off [the menu],” Goto tells the Voice. The consummate bartender, the Tokyo-born Goto has opened his own smartly designed watering hole, and there’s a place at the bar for the Far East Side once again. Bar Goto (245 Eldridge Street, 212-475-4411) brings the namesake barman’s fastidious, gracious style of hospitality to a quiet stretch of Eldridge Street.
Veteran bartender Mat Resler joins the man of the hour behind the stick (the two worked together at Bar Sardine). Together, they dole out Goto’s $15 creations, including the Improved Shochu Cocktail, a fascinatingly smooth swirl of barley shochu, oaked gin, and hops liqueur served in a cedar box, and a riff on the ramos gin fizz made with yuzu preserves and Calpico, a Japanese milk soda. There’s also a bloody mary, even though the bar doesn’t open until 5:30 p.m. (who wants brunch after dark?).
Evoking Canada’s favorite mollusk-accented tomato cocktail, the caesar, Goto’s bloody adds earthy shiitake mushrooms and miso for a salty, fermented kick. “It’s very savory,” Goto adds. The drink’s appearance would seem out of place at such a handsome drinking den — mirrors and natural woods against a black backdrop — if not for the kitchen’s selection of okonomiyaki.
The savory Japanese pancakes anchor Bar Goto’s food menu, which also lists raw vegetable and seafood dishes, black-sesame-covered chicken wings, and seasoned burdock-root fries. Conceived by Bohemian chef Kiyo Shinoki, you’ll find okonomiyaki incorporating pork belly and chicken, mushrooms and leeks, and a “grilled cheese” version made with sun-dried tomato. A “fisherman’s” okonomiyaki loads the eggy batter with chopped baby octopus, calamari, and sweet rock shrimp. Sitting in rectangular cast-iron pans, the bulky, soft cakes come drenched in sweet-salty okonomiyaki sauce (yes, really), their glazed exteriors painted with squiggles of Kewpie mayonnaise; on the side are bowls of weightless bonito flakes and diced pickled vegetables to spread over the top.
Goto flits back and forth between the bar and small seated dining area — the transition between serving, mixing, and hosting seemingly an easy one. He recognizes that he’s opening his bar in a saturated area, but perhaps because he came into this project with a clear vision, Bar Goto already operates with a confidence that reflects the experience of its creator.