Will the concept of a “Japanese bistro” stick? That’s the hope of co-owner Vincent Minchelli. Tattooed, with sparkly blue eyes and his hair pulled back in a ponytail, the hairdresser isn’t your typical Japanese restaurant owner. But he says he’s spent more time in Japan lately than in his birthplace of France. “I’m not trying to invent anything new, but I’m picking some things I’ve seen and mixing it up,” he told us.
The specialty here is okonomiyaki, which in Japan is “like mac ‘n cheese in the U.S. or a barbecue pulled pork sandwich or a burger,” per Minchelli. And because scrapple okonomiyaki is so 2014, Okiway puts various other spins on the pancake of cabbage, egg and flour (traditionally topped with kewpie mayonnaise, Japanese barbecue sauce and dancing bonito flakes). Here you can get a Mexican version with chorizo, crema, chipotle, avocado and cilantro. Or you can do barbecue pulled pork, spicy Hiroshima or build your own – all with the same base.There are also small plates like fried shrimp with sriracha, wasabi guacamole or (one of Minchelli’s favorites) sweet anchovies and capers. Or you can dig into larger dishes like clams in sake broth or pork and ginger with rice. Standard Japanese beers and sake pair well with the food, said Minchelli. If you’re curious but wary about the wasabi beer, he promises it carries a subtle flavor without the stinging heat.
Neither Minchelli nor his partner Amanda Jenkins, also a hairdresser, have owned a restaurant before, but Minchelli was raised in a family of restaurateurs, and he saw a need for Okiway in Bushwick, where’s lived for five out of his 15 years in New York. “There are not enough restaurants,” he said. “There are more bars than restaurants and I’d rather eat than drink.” Then he corrected himself with a grin: “I mean drink and eat at the same time.”
Okiway, 1006 Flushing Ave., Bushwick; open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 pm to midnight.