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First Impressions: Follow Your Nose to Hanzo, SA's Newest Izakaya


  • Jacqueline Fierro/Giant Noise
  • Hanzo's dumplings

Izakayas are pretty much ubiquitous in Japan. These casual, pub-like hangouts for drinking, dining and after-work socializing are announced by red lanterns called akachochin — and often by the smells of grilling yakitori.

You’ll have to follow your nose to Hanzo, the latest outpost in serial bar-builder Steve Mahoney’s expanding empire; as is often the case with craft-bar entrepreneurs, there’s no signage — at least for now. No red lanterns, either.
That is unless you count the sea urchin-like fixtures adorning some walls of this sleekly turned-out tavern. It’s both more colorful (consider the “scales” opposite the bar) than most Mahoney operations — and more thematically focused. And that focus snaps into special sharpness with the drinks menu created by crazy-creative cocktailian, Nick Kenna, a veteran of Dorcol Distilling Company and George’s Keep, among others. Brush up on your Asian-themed movie references (Kill Bill, for example).

For now, all drinks are served in a restrained martini glass and highlights include the Thrilla in Vanilla with Japanese whiskey and vanilla-infused sweet vermouth (not to worry — the vanilla is geisha-demure); Southern Root with tequila, mezcal, carrot, ginger yuzu and citrus (both pretty and potent); Miso Hungry (sake, shochu, miso syrup and more — just umami’d enough); Matcha Matcha Man (Kinsman Rakia and gin with matcha powder, orgeat and chocolate bitters); and the challenging but must-try The Bride with turmeric-infused vodka, sake, orgeat and habanero tincture.

At a classic izakaya, the food and the drink are given equal emphasis, and on that basis, Hanzo’s five-item “tiny meal” menu is still a work in progress. There’s apparently an extremely fancy frying device, which accounts for items such as the salty lotus root chips with an edamame/wasabi-based dip, squid rings dredged in potato starch and served with a kewpie mayo, and pork gyoza on a bed of dipping sauce-drenched cabbage. When bar action is slow, you can watch ‘tenders fashioning cubes and spheres out of large chunks of ice. When chef Justin Richardson, formerly of Brigid/Francis Bogside, has time on his hands he’s apparently working on more ambitious food offerings. Think hamachi collar and an appealing “cone” capped with an avocado scoop — also fried. Some more conventional sushi rolls are contemplated. But there’s apparently no grill, so sizzling yakitori won’t be a sensory clue. Regardless, mata kimasu: I will come back.

Hanzo is open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

7701 Broadway, Suite 124, (210) 826-1488.


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