Sake Bar Hagi is an excellent Izakaya (Japanese Pub) housed in a basement space in mid-town Manhattan. The place is almost always packed after about 6:30 and it doesn’t take reservations; once all the seats are taken you have to sign up on a list and wait on the stairs or out on the street until your name is called. On any given night about half the clientele is Japanese which I think is a good sign for the bar’s bonafides . Sake Bar Hagi does an excellent Butta Kimchi (slices of pork belly sauteed with kimchi), Ei Hire (broiled dried skate wing), grilled rice ball and grilled lamb chop sewer. They also have a strong selection of Sake and have Kirin and Sapporo on draft.
The Dumplings: the menu includes traditional and deep fried takoyaki, pork gyoza, wasabi pork shumai and deep fried pork shumai.
Pork Gyoza – many Japanese restaurants in New York use frozen pork gyoza and I swear they all use the same brand – like a Mc-Gyoza. Hagi however makes their own from scratch. The gyoza had a fuller meatier texture than the typical Japanese restaurant frozen gyoza which I always find a little mushy, but the taste was a little subtler, probably because they weren’t salted and MSG-ed to hell like processed gyoza. The gyoza also had a really nice crispy sear on the bottom surface, maybe because the wrapper wasn’t still frozen when it hit the pan. Sake Bar Hagi makes a really good pork gyoza.
Takoyaki – I am trying to diet right now so I didn’t try the deep fried takoyaki and stuck with the traditional takoyaki. The takoyaki had a bigger helping of octopus inside them than I have experienced at other places, but the batter surrounding the octopus was a little undercooked. The chef also had a pretty heavy hand with the takoyaki sauce which was a little over powering. So overall these dumplings were good but not special.
The Dipping Sauce: The sauce with the pork gyoza was a typical mix of soy, vinegar and sesame oil, solid but not great.
The location. Sake Bar Hagi is on 49th street between 6th and 7th avenues in a little cluster of Sushi joints and Ramen bars. It is in a basement and doesn’t have particularly prominent signage so it is easy to miss.