Partners Greg Donnally, Bryan Chittenden and Andrew Nam, who founded Drift Polynesian Restaurant and Stingray Sushi, have put together another hip hangout for the carpe diem crowd, offering a rustic, Japanese tavern with a distinctly American flavor at Geisha A Go Go. It's a great place for late-night snacks, an early happy hour supper or even a party.
The scene: You don't need a PhD in linguistics to figure out that the alliterative name is code for "quirky Japanese" - a descriptor reinforced by the bank of Pachinko machines at the front door and the high-tech, Toto toilets whose seats are warm in the winter (so very Japanese). Glowing sconces and backlit Japanese shoji, incorporated into the ceiling, softly illuminate dark, weathered walls and a preserved bonsai tree in the corner.But there are plenty of American touches, too. To the left of the looping indoor-outdoor bar, giant photos of tragically hip, tragically deceased rockers Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious send the subliminal message that too much partying may be hazardous to your health.
At the hammered copper bar, you can sit outside and look in or sit inside and look out. Either way, you're in the thick of things. At the center of the feng shui-designed room stands a granite "rock garden" (a 4-foot monolith, actually) and beyond it, elevated banquette-style seating, which provides comfort and a bit more privacy. Geisha draws a young crowd, but the great music mix (which includes classic rock) makes boomers feel welcome too.
The food: Six selections from Geisha's Asian-inspired menu are offered at half price during happy hour. Browned and crisp-edged gyoza, called Go Go Dumplings here, come five to the plate in your choice of fillings: traditional pork with thin, citrusy ponzu sauce ($3.50), chicken with sweet chile sauce ($3.50) or rich duck with red chile orange sauce (my favorite, $4.50). You shouldn't miss them. Ditto for Go Go Yakitori, a traditional Japanese snack of grilled, skewered meat. Chicken with chile-ginger dipping sauce is very good ($4), but Wagyu beef, served with spicy garlic-ginger sauce, is the one you'll remember days later ($6). The charred, flavorful meat almost melts away on the tongue.
Meanwhile, a mini rack of rib tips, brushed with dark, sweet teriyaki, practically falls off the bone. Served over a bed of sticky, teriyaki-drizzled rice, they're so habit-forming that one order probably won't be enough ($5.50). Rice is also accompaniment to chicken strips enveloped in tempura batter and drizzled with teriyaki sauce. They're tasty, I suppose, but not really very exciting ($4). Lightly seared, black pepper-edged albacore tuna, anointed with tart sake-lime vinaigrette, shows the most sophistication, and an accompanying mound of julienned carrots, red onion and radish sprouts keeps this dish light and healthy ($5).
My very favorite, however, may be crispy-crunchy Go Go Wings, coated with a soy-chile sauce that's both spicy and sweet ($4). Seriously, you'll forget you ever knew Buffalo. My only complaint: some portions seem a bit small.
The drinks: The Hello Kitty cocktail ($5) is a must-sip. Served in a chilled martini glass with a fresh strawberry garnish, it's a pale pink confection of strawberry-infused shochu, Smirnoff Citrus vodka, Calpico (milky, pink, non-carbonated Japanese soda) and Sangaria (Japanese strawberry soda). Carafes of fruit-infused shochu and sake, bottles of wine and champagne, Sapporo Bombers and specialty drinks are all half off during happy hour.
The lowdown: Geisha is a terrific place to throw a party. Rent one of five private karaoke rooms in various sizes (accommodating from four to 20 people), and spend an hour - or maybe the whole evening - eating, drinking and belting out your favorite songs. If you think you're self-conscious to sing anywhere but the shower, remember, nobody but your pals can hear you, and they like you even when you're off-key. One or two drinks and songs down the road, they'll have to wrestle that mic from your hands — guaranteed. Rooms rent for $60-$150 per hour, the largest room requiring a two-hour minimum. Reserve a room during happy hour, and the price is half off. Such a deal and such a blast.