Just as Oktoberfest wrapped up in Munich, Brooklyn got its newest beer garden. You’re not gong to find any steins or barmaids donning dirndls. What you will see is a wide variety of craft Asian brews, Eastern-Americana bites, and prime views of downtown Brooklyn. That’s the gist at Kimoto Rooftop Beer Garden (216 Duffield Street, Brooklyn; 718-858-8940), the latest concept from the team behind Mira Sushi & Izakaya.
Warm white oak is featured in most of the interior space. With the goal of creating a “process of definition and erasure,” all of the custom-made furniture is composed in rectangular and circular shapes. The same forms appear on the 2,400-square-foot red-cedar outdoor deck, with long fluid benches lining the perimeter. Square tables sit in front, creating smaller, more intimate zones for guests. More than 300 Asian plants, ranging from household varieties to special bonsai species, spread pops of green throughout the inside and outside of the restaurant. “The design emphasizes a considered minimalism that seeks to transport visitors to another place,” says partner Andrew Lee. “We believe that architecture works like the soundtrack in a movie: You don’t necessarily notice it, but it affects how you feel.”
The Eastern-inspired design is punctuated by a well-curated list of specialty brews from around Asia and the States. Selections include easily recognizable lagers like Sapporo from Japan, China’s Yanjing, Tiger from Singapore, and Beerlao Dark, but the more interesting selections are the crafts, which features American takes on Asian flavors including Jonas Bronck Thai Wheat and Chateau Jiahu by Dogfish Head, a beer developed with the help of a molecular archaeologist to emulate ancient Chinese pottery. With a growing segment of craft producers in Asia, mostly in Japan, there are hard-to-find choices including Kiuchi Brewery’s local wheat- and koji- (malted rice) based Hitachino Nest Saison du Japon as well as Samurai Barley Ale by Hyouko Yashiki no Mori Brewery.
For the gluten-abstinent, head bartender Dave Danger has prepared a short list of cocktails inspired by a wide range of Asian ingredients. Peat’s Dragon ($16) is a nod to Milk and Honey’s Sasha Petraske and the bar’s Penicillin creator, Sam Ross. It mixes Iwai Japanese Whisky with Laphroaig ten-year single-malt scotch, galangal honey, and togarashi yuzu. Tranquility ($15) combines lemongrass and Vietnamese black-pepper-infused Bombay Sapphire East, King’s Ginger, Vida mezcal, matcha tea, lavender honey, and lemon. There’s also a beer cocktail (obviously, there’s wheat), the Shogun michelada ($14), made from Sapporo, tomato, unagi, sriracha, wasabi, seaweed, and shishito.
The concept focuses more on drinking and socializing, but the food is a huge draw. Chef/partner Brian Tsao has created a menu of what he likes to call “Americana through an Asian lens,” a fun mix of bar bites that blends his Asian background (his mom is Korean, his dad Taiwanese, and he spent years living in China after getting into trouble as a teen) with his American childhood. Mira Sushi’s beloved beef bulgogi tacos ($15) that Beat Bobby Flay on an episode of the show have made the cut. Layered with kimchi slaw, Asian pear, and toasted sesame, they’re a perennial favorite at Lee and Tsao’s original Flatiron spot. Uni PB&J ($15) is a play on Tsao’s favorite dish from Telepan. He did a six-month internship there and was knocked out by the foie gras with peanut butter and jelly. He knew he wanted to re-create it with a high-market Asian ingredient; uni made the most sense. He places it on a wasabi cracker with house-made hazelnut butter and concord grape jelly. It’s one of the most interesting items on the list.
The Spam sushi dog ($15) was developed with chef de cuisine Daniel Clawson. Set in a rice-lined seaweed wrap, grilled Spam is topped with smoked pineapple and furikake flakes. The processed meat is actually huge in many Asian countries due to the G.I. presence at midcentury. Originally, Tsao and Clawson tried rolling the Spam inside a wrap. It didn’t look like anything special. When they accidentally overstuffed one, so it couldn’t be rolled, Daniel asked, “Why don’t we serve it like this?” They decided to put it on the bun section of the menu.
On the to-share portion, there’s a handful of easily divided snacks. While working on the Shibuya Disco Fries ($19), Tsao and his chefs were looking to create the “most over the top” version they could. For about a year, late at night, when Tsao’s friends would come by to hang out in the kitchen, he played with decadent toppings. He loves braised meat, so he eventually settled on covering the fries with beef brisket, jalapeño pickled with rice wine and rice vinegar, daikon chile, garlic sour cream, and sriracha. Spicy wings are fried and tossed in Tsao’s house-made gluten-free gochujang (Korean fermented-chile paste). Because he couldn’t find a gluten-free version for Mira Sushi, he asked his mom and grandma for their recipes. “It’s a pain in the ass to make,” he says. “I found that it has a texture similar to miso, so I took Korean chile paste and blended it with miso and other ingredients so it wouldn’t be a problem for people who can’t eat gluten.”
For both Lee and Tsao, both of whom spent portions of their underage years living in Brooklyn, opening up shop in the still evolving downtown neighborhood feels like a homecoming. “It’s like I’m back to where I started,” says Tsao. “I wanted to bring something fun and lighthearted. When people come, I want them to get those types of feelings.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 26, 2015