Clement Street Series: Halu Izakaya
The confluence of Beatlemania and crispy chicken skin is unlikely. But it does exist, this union between sizzling fowlic (an adjective I was forced out of necessity to create) epidermis and all things related to the well-known Liverpudlian quartet; it’s called Halu, located in the Inner Richmond.
For those not familiar with the term, an Izakaya is a type of casual eatery common in Japan wherein a series of small plates accompanied by alcohol are consumed. One of the oldest of these joints in the city (surpassed, I believe, only by Izakaya Sozai in the Inner Sunset), Halu is tiny and unassuming, barely fitting by my estimation about 25 people into its hot and cramped quarters during a typical dinner rush. As if there weren’t already a scarcity of space, any available wall and shelf space is taken up by various and sundry Beatles memorabilia. There’s a story there, no doubt, a mystery best left untapped.
In Japan, they tell me, a given Izakaya will usually specialize in one particular subset of the cuisine. The most well-known of these genres in America is Kushiyaki, a collective term referring to the cooking of various meats and vegetables over a special Robata grill. Many places will narrow their focus further and micro-specialize in Yakitori (chicken-related Kushiyaki). Yakitori cooks approach the chicken like we were told in Social Studies how the Plains Indians approached the buffalo; no part goes unused. Sure, you can get skewered chicken thigh or breast, but you can also build your jaw muscles masticating molten little chicken gizzards, or bite into the springy but succulent flesh of a horse pill-sized chicken heart. Other favorites are the aforementioned chicken skin, oyster (that amazing bit of flesh just off the thigh), and liver.
Halu is renowned for their yakitori, but like most American Izakayas, they’re unwilling or unable to traffic exclusively in chicken parts. An all-together different species of Izakaya fare available on the menu is okonomiyaki, simply described as a savory pancake, but which has as many variations as recipes for mole. It’s a stoner’s delight; almost anything can go into it and nobody is going to bitch. After this Frankenstein’s monster is cobbled together, the whole thing is slathered with rich Japanese mayonnaise and okonomi sauce. Any booze you’ve imbibed will be instantly absorbed by this bizarrely delicious, mutant flapjack. Bring friends and an appetite.
Also available: ramen, which I plan to try on my next visit.
312 8th. Ave.