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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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