Maison O In Nolita

The Japanese chef goes izakaya

"As a child I'd go to izakayas with my father," says the Japanese chef Tadashi Ono. "But I could only eat and sit by watching my father drink."

Now Ono is old enough to eat and drink anything he wants and he's created the perfect place to do it.

Tadashi Ono | The gyoza

Maison O is the most fun, tasty and over-the-top izakaya in town. Everything about the place is amped up, from the seizure-inducing website (click with caution) to the burrito-sized gyoza ($10). The mega-potstickers are filled with ground lamb, ginger, chives and garlic and spiked with yuzu kosho.

Ono calls that spicy fermented yuzu-and-chile paste "my secret ingredient" and finds smart uses for it all over the menu: as a marinade for lamb chops ($13), in the yellowtail hand rolls ($8) and the salmon tartare ($12).

The long yakitori grill turns out the full panoply of skewered-poultry options: gizzard, heart, leg and tsukune (minced, marinated meatballs). This, too, is Ono's tribute to the tastes and smells of formative yearnings. 

"There was a takeout yakitori joint was just around the corner from where I grew up," Ono recalls. "The smoke and char that you smelled as you walked by was irresistible."

Smoke may not be flooding out of the doors at Maison O, but you should still follow your nose to Nolita.