Has 1221 W. 11th Street in the Heights finally found a permanent occupant? Owner Ken Bridge has cycled through concepts there for years, from Dragon Bowl to Witchcraft to the most recent, Korean restaurant Republic Diner, which became a ramen specialist before giving way to brand-new Blackbird Izakaya. If the culinary gods have any sense of justice, diners will have plenty of time to sample the skewers, raw fish, and rice dishes of Bridge and chef Billy Kin's latest project.
"This feels like Roppongi," my Japanese dining partner commented as we sat down and began looking at the menus. She ordered a whiskey, while I tried the Shiso Fine, a refreshing combo of soju, yuzu, Topo Chico and more than one of the eponymous whole shiso leaves. Other soju drinks are flavored with tea or Japanese soft drink Calpico.
Half of the dinner menu is devoted to small plates, mostly a mix of various presentations of sashimi and fried fare. The other half is given over to kushiyaki (grilled skewers, ranging from miso eggplant to whole squid) and larger rice and noodle dishes. Several of these have potential to attract a cult following—the attractive nest of uni carbonara, for example, or the hot-and-fruity curry. But I'll be returning time and again for the Foie Hot Pot.
The hot stone bowls from Republic Diner have found new life, once again filled with rice crisping on the bottom as it heads to the table. Like Korean bibimbop, there's an egg, too, but the similarities end there. Dashi gives the rice a deeply umami flavor that's hard to place beyond a scrummy, satisfying roundness. Add chunks of buttery foie gras to the proceedings, and the combination is almost too rich to handle—until the slivers of shiso illuminate the whole thing. It's a brilliant touch to a habit-forming dish. And I'll be back as soon as I don't feel full anymore for another go at the hot pot, plus all the kushiyaki I can force down my gullet.