Some of my fondest memories of my years in Japan are of balmy evenings in summertime beer gardens. Decades before pop-up restaurants hit the States, summer beer gardens would suddenly materialize throughout Tokyo, on shaded hotel patios and empty lots awaiting the next skyscraper. They were perfect for escaping sticky post-rainy-season nights over sausages, fried potatoes and Mongolian-style barbecued lamb cooked on a brazier at the table.
That’s what I was expecting from Chaya Downtown’s new beer garden, but this was different – and better. In place of the sausages and potatoes were skewers: cubes of juicy white-meat chicken sprinkled with spicy shichimi powder, beef with horseradish creme fraiche, shrimp with Argentine chimichurri sauce, and bacon-wrapped dates. Cilantro aioli dipping sauce perked up fried oysters, and stubby ribs of “coffee bbq pork” were hearty and meaty, the size of fuzzy dice.
King salmon sashimi was served over seaweed and green salad subtly perfumed with sesame oil, while flatbread came topped with shredded kimchi and a gratin of melted parmesan and asiago cheeses. My friends raved over spicy tuna stuffed inside a shishito pepper, all tempura-fried. My other favorite dish was an ear of white corn grilled, chopped into two-inch rounds and then drizzled with jalapeno mayonnaise and crumbled feta cheese. Wash it all down with sake sangria.
One thing that did feel like Japan: the great energy amid the modernist right angles of Chaya Downtown’s lantern-lit ground-floor terrace, surrounded by office buildings.
The beer garden runs Monday through Friday evenings until September 2.