What the pub is to Ireland and the tapas bar is to Spain, so the izakaya is to Japan. Kevin Ordonez (already a star in our culinary firmament with Ghent’s Alkaline) modifies his ukiyo-styled ViBe spot with Baby Izakaya because it’s nano-sized, intimacy being much of its charm. Of course, not so much in a pandemic (it opened in March, the very day “national emergency declared!”), so Ordonez and his indefatigable crew rejiggered briefly for takeout, reopening officially in October with picnic tables in the light-strung backyard.
He emphasizes that “Bbiz”—born of his formative years in Japan where his dad was stationed with the U.S. Navy—is culturally inspired, not traditional. Still, grilled scallops in cashew and sunflower miso, paired with sake or a Toki highball, and pork spare ribs cured with dashi and dry-rubbed with togarashi spice transport. And the menu is fiercely researched (Ordonez spent a week studying koji under Jeremy Umansky of Larder in Cleveland, a foremost U.S. expert on the mold Asians use to season and cure).
Playfulness abounds in tempura nori chips modeled after ubiquitous snack bags in Asian grocery stores and “tiramiso” with sweet miso cream replacing mascarpone. Ordonez allows that the nearest to what you’d encounter in Japan is his twist on velvety Sapporo-style ramen, recalling his times at the Snow Festival in Haikkodo. As it heats you from within, nothing is lost in translation.
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