Izakaya Moku is No Sake Bar Hagi (But It’s Good Enough For Me)
It seems pretty likely that all of the new places that make up the recent Japanese “invasion” of Koreatown are owned and operated by Koreans rather than Japanese. Arang hides nothing with its mixed menu of Korean and Japanese foods and Haru Hana’s broad survey of all foods Japanese is a bit unusual. The latest beach head is Izakaya Moku (on 32nd btw. B’way+5th), and it has inspired much consternation among chowhounders and other seekers of authenticity. Here’s the thing: I don’t really care.
I love Japanese food. And until recently, the only option for those of us working near 34th Street was to hop the 6 train. I’ve happily checked out the other places that have popped up in K-Town, and jumped at the chance to try out Izakaya Moku.
After reading the early review on Fork in the Road, I went for the fried offerings my first time around. When I ordered the Squid Karaage ($8.95) I was thinking of crispy fried chicken with a shattering crust on the outside and a juicy chicken center. Instead, these doughy fritters left me queasy by the end of my meal and wondering if I had finally had more fried food than I could handle. The innards only had tiny bits of squid surrounded by grease-soaked batter. One or two are great, three or four area bit much. The dozen pieces that come with a full order just might kill you. Split it with a friend, for your own good.
The Tonkotsu ramen ($8.95) has the milky pork broth that makes the dish. It’s rich and wonderful and the noodles are firm and done just right. The problem is with the meat, which is in short supply. The handful of slices of pork just don’t do it.
I’d also complain that the soup spoon is tiny and not nearly up to the task of picking up as much broth and noodles as you’d like in any given spoonful. Otherwise, the big bowl of soup is deeply satisfying on a cold, gray day.
Tipping us off on the Korean roots of the restaurant, Omu Bokum Bap ($8.95) certainly doesn’t sound like any Japanese dish I’ve ever had. It’s a pile of fried rice flecked with tiny bits of beef and topped with a fried egg and decorated with ketchup hashmarks. Ketchup and eggs don’t agree with everyone, but its sweetness fit with the thin layer of fluffy egg and the savory meat and rice.
The pricing is about the norm for most lunch specials on 32nd Street. Slightly more than half of the items on the menu are under $10, most of them at $8.95 or $9.95. Among the $9.95 options is Katsu of the pork or chicken variety, but to get curry or cheese on top, you’re breaking the Midtown Lunch limits. The pork katsu doesn’t quite meet the standards of other Japanese or pseudo-Japanese places nearby, especially Arang, just across the street. The pork is thin and lean and, though it provides a great crunch, the meat within the crispy shell just doesn’t stand up.
If you want to spring a for a little something extra, Onigiri, stuffed rice balls, are available for an additional $2.
The + (What people who like about this place would say)
- I like having some good Japanese options without having to take the train.
- Since business hasn’t picked up yet during the lunch hour, I get to have the place nearly to my self.
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- What’s with all this Japanese food? If I’m in Koreatown, I want Korean food.
- I want authentic Japanese food cooked by Japanese cooks in the kitchen. This probably isn’t that.
- I was hoping for lunchtime Sake Bar Hagi, and this definitely isn’t it!
Izakaya Moku, 10 W. 32nd Street (btw. B’way+5th), second floor. 212-736-3232