Stephen Lyman has written the Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks, which was published in October by Tuttle. Find out more abou the book, where to buy it, and most importantly, where to meet Stephen to get your own signed copy as he travels Japan and North America.
Fukurou is the first US outpost of a Japanese izakaya chain, but you'd never guess this was a corporate location from the experience. It's a tiny space with a few counter seats and tables that are almost always reserved by Japanese patrons or foodies.
Walking to the izakaya past Notre Dame and other sites, things seemed sketchy. I walked along narrow old cobblestone streets full of flashy restaurants with hawkers outside trying to draw in thirsty & hungry tourists. I stayed my course, and nearly grimaced as I turned the corner onto Rue de la Parcheminerie, expecting more of the same. I exhaled deeply as I saw an empty alley with a single shop, which at first glance (thanks to the wine bottles in the window), I walked past thinking it was a cave-a-manger (French wine bar). Turning back, I found myself in front of the izakaya. With a single sign in hiragana, it was easy to miss.
There are few places in New York City where you legitimately feel like you could be sitting in Tokyo. Most places are either too big or too small or the proportions of the space are just off in some subtle way. Perhaps there's a Latino bus boy or English signage. There's almost always something that gives away that we're in the U.S. At Tori Shin you have to look very, very closely and the evidence only appeared in early 2012.
Essentially an izakaya is a Japanese tavern. But it's also Japanese tapas. And it's a Japanese gastropub. So perhaps the way to think of an izakaya is as a Japanese gastro-tapas-pub. Don't plan on having a 45 minute meal before a movie. Don't plan on going and having a starter, a main, and a dessert. Go planning on having a long, lingering meal over good drinks and better conversation with a group of great friends. Make an evening of it. Once you're in that mindset the rest is easy.
There's something about some izakayas that make you fee like you're sitting in someone's home. Perhaps no place in New York has a stronger sensation of that than Sun-Chan. When you sit at the yakitori bar you're in the kitchen being entertained by the co-owner "obasan" (grandmother) as she grills chicken, fish, onigiri (rice balls), and just anything else she pleases on her single small grill. She prepares the food by feel - touching the various meets with her bare fingers to test their texture and warmth.