When it first opened back in 2003 Sake Bar Hagi was a gem of an underground izakaya. It was almost exclusively the province of Japanese office workers. That was before humble food scribes like myself and bigger names like Peter Meehan and Anthony Bourdain blew the cover of what was once Times Squares’ best kept secret sake bar. The specials always featured two or three edible oddities like the noxious homestyle squid guts and the surprisingly tasty pickled firefly squid. These days it’s still attracts a certain breed of extreme eater. As Justin Warner of Brooklyn’s Do or Dine once put it, “You don’t go to Hagi because you’re really into Japanese food; you go to Hagi because they have some really weird shit on the menu.”
These days there’s less weird stuff on the specials board at Hagi and more gaijin in the seats. One thing that hasn’t changed is a $7.50 dish that goes by the name “sweet fatty pork.” I had some there the other night after seeing Django at the AMC in Times Square. It was as good as it was a decade ago when I first started hanging out at Hagi with my pal William C. Wallis who would always order it by the Japanese name tontoro. I have never been sure whether the cut used is neck or cheek, but it is sweet, fatty and possessed of a rich porkiness. A squeeze of the accompanying lemon wedge and some green onions round out the flavors perfectly. William is the man behind the lovely chopsticks and marrow photo treatment that appears on the C+M banner. He remains as good a friend as ever just as Hagi remains as a good place to hang out as ever, even if the food isn’t quite as odd as it once was.
Sake Bar Hagi, 152 West 49th St., Manhattan, 212-764-854