07By Lingzi Yang

Sake Bar Hagi, Iroha Japanese Restaurant, and Sapporo are three different Japanese restaurants located in Midtown Manhattan, and all under the same owner. Each is focused on serving a different demographic: Hagi is aimed at young people, Iroha is aimed at adults and mature people, and Sapporo is mainly focused on ramen for every age. Today I’m sharing with you my recent experience at Sake Bar Hagi.
My first impression of Hagi is as an authentic izikaya: more like a college bar than a fancy restaurant, with a loud tone of casual camaraderie. We interviewed Tatsuya Kawamoto, the general manager of all three restaurants. Having been in the restaurant business for almost 26 years, he definitely knows his stuff when it comes to Japanese restaurants. Keeping up with the “trend” is the key point of Hagi. Tatsuya says that New
York is a magical city that is full of surprises and keeps changing all the time. In order to be a successful restaurant, they have to keep up with the pace of the city and learn and invent new dishes at the same time.08
The sake menu at Hagi changes almost every week, depending on the season. As an authentic izikaya, the types of sakes are massive and flexible. There are seasonal sakes, fresh sakes, fruit sakes, sparkling sakes, and so on. If sake is not your favorite drink, you can also choose souchu (Japanese vodka), red wine, or cocktails. We tried the Dassai (Junmai Daiginjo), which is very dry, rich, smooth and tasty. If you don’t know much
about sake, here’s a quick lesson: there are two special types of sake, Ginjo and Daiginjo, that are produced from the core of the rice grains during production instead of the whole; this makes the final product purer and more nutritious. Ginjo uses 40 to 50 percent of each grain, while Daiginjo only uses 20 to 30 percent, making them rarer and more expensive. Surprisingly, the prices at Sake Bar Hagi are really friendly in comparison to other sake bars. The manager proudly told us that they’ve kept the sake price from going up since they opened, and stick to this as a general policy. This is almost definitely the lowest price for the same sake you can find in New York. Now that Japanese restaurants are open everywhere, “keep the price but change the menu” is the key point that makes Hagi stand out.09
Unlike other izikayas, the selection of food here is even more abundant and must not get overlooked. The manager introduced several special dishes to us, beginning with the Kushi Mori A-set, consisting of Tori, bara, tsukune, duck and shishito; and Jitori/Miyazaki/Sty, which is grilled free range teriyaki chicken covered in the special sweet and creamy tarutaru sauce that is very popular in Japan. Most people love to get fried dishes to drink with sake, but if you want to eat healthier, there are always good noodles and rice balls. Rice Ball Grill Style is a popular example, with three fillings to choose from: salmon, sour plum, or spicy cod fish roe. Unlike many restaurants, Hagi never uses frozen or previously frozen ingredients; everything is fresh to ensure the highest quality food.
With such a cozy, authentic, casual, and fun environment with attentive and speedy serviceand a diverse menu, Sake Bar Hagi is bound to have something for everyone. Whether you want to bring a date or come in a group, you can always have a good time at Hagi. The joint gets packed and the waits can get massive, so make sure you come early to keep yourself from waiting for long.
Located in such a hot spot and keeping reasonable prices, and most importantly, providing so many delicious seasonal foods and sakes, it’s no wonder this place is so immensely popular.