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Salt + Charcoal, a new restaurant on the corner of Grand and Bedford in Williamsburg might have a simple-sounding name, but the experience of dining there is a nuanced, uniquely Japanese experience that is hiding in plain sight of an ultra trendy block.

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Skipping the clichés of creating a Japanese-style restaurant, there are no banners with calligraphy characters or a bright sushi bar along the wall. Instead, the signs are subtle. The experience is truer to what you might find at a great restaurant in Tokyo, one that’s not trying to prove how authentically Japanese it is, but instead sets itself apart through individuality, with a well-crafted menu and a beautifully composed atmosphere.

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First impressions walking in: the brick walls, high ceilings, vintage-style bar, industrial antique ambiance all shout “Brooklyn.” But then your eyes are drawn to the wealth of interesting, unfamiliar bottles behind the bar. High-end sake and shochu are the focus here, and should you strike up a conversation with the bartenders, who are well-versed in their Japanese spirits, you will not be disappointed.

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Like Salt + Charcoal itself, the selection of sakes and shochus defies cliché. Akin more to whiskey or aged mezcal, the variety and forwardness of flavors is a pleasant surprise. If you’re daring, try a flight of shochu to get a fuller introduction to the good stuff. If you’re wise, make note of their daily “buy one get one” happy hour, so to continue your education.

This is not having sake a la sushi bar for novelty—drinking at Salt + Charcoal is experiencing delicious, regional spirits that are all hard to come by in this country and a testament to the care and thoughtfulness that the restaurant’s creators have imbued into their restaurant and bar.
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Something that is very authentically Japanese: reverence of the authentic, especially the perfect adherence to tradition – whether it comes in the form of ritual, presentation or ingredients. Case in point: the menu.

Though the menu appears exhaustively long at first glance, it proves itself to be cleanly organized and purposeful. There are no bells and whistles here.

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A whole section is devoted to robata the method of “grilling” food by placing it on skewers blisteringly close to unimaginably hot coals (hence the reference to charcoal in its name).

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The food—whether meat or vegetables—though never touching the coals, still cooks in a manner of seconds. The technique creates uniquely sumptuous, tender, seared but still juicy morsels of food that can truly be obtained no other way. The key: wood that’s been imported directly from Japan – a specific type of oak called “bing cho tan” that can withstand and produce these extremely hot temperatures without immediately turning to ash.

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And though it would be possible to still cook food on skewers over a fire no matter what type of wood is used (as is done in many other robatas across the city), it is such adherence to tradition and tools that creates a deep integrity to the cuisine of Salt + Charcoal. An integrity that is carried throughout the dining experience—whether it’s an appetizer of perfectly sliced sashimi, a bento box of delightful bites, or a simple and elegant desert of toasted green tea ice cream.

– Ava Fedorov

Salt + Charcoal
171 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249
718-782-2087
[email protected]
www.saltandcharcoal.com