- Griffin Swartzell
- The Neuromancer: one of many love letters from Chiba to cyberpunk culture.
There’s a mural of a cyborg against a grimy urban backdrop, courtesy of local muralist Douglas Rouse. Around the corner, mute TVs hooked into a diminutive Raspberry Pi computer show clips from ’50s sci-fi movies and ’90s anime. Bass-heavy electronic music pounds near the dance floor, but most of the bar is quiet enough for conversation.
It’s perfect for those who wish the corporate-owned, economically disparate, tech-saturated dystopian hellscape that is the 21st century had a better aesthetic sensibility. And it’s a nice bar besides, even retaining its queer-friendly roots and clientele.
The kitchen’s run by James W. Davis Jr., longtime Blue Star chef also of Springs Orleans and other ventures. “He’s like an idling Porsche in a garage,” says Carsten. Davis hasn’t run a full sushi menu before — Yoo Mae is only two doors down, for what it’s worth — but we’re impressed with his execution of the small, ever-changing menu.
The slight price bump for fresh, premium fish and real, Oregon-grown wasabi is well worth it for some slick nigiri, served with white shoyu, a more wheat-heavy cousin of soy sauce traditionally paired with lighter fish. For a frugal bite, the cucumber seaweed salad with squid’s a mere $8 next to mostly $12 to $15 plates, and it’s lovely besides.
We wish for real spice in a #1-grade tuna poke bowl, one of three sashimi rice bowls offered, but wakame seaweed sweetness and macadamia nut crunch make for a fun bite. We’re also happy with a Scottish salmon tartare bowl, paired with pineapple, a mellow mango ponzu, cucumber and seaweed.
Location Details Chiba Bar
We also try the tuna and pork, a cylinder of toothsome tuna tartare topped with avocado and flying fish roe paired with two huge pieces of chicharron made to serve as crackers. It’s cumbersome, and the chicharrones don’t add much porky flavor.
Largely, cocktails cleave to concept in name and composition, relatively affordable at $10 each, designed by Carsten with input from industry friends. The Shisojito J-type shares only lime with a mojito — it’s a complex, fruity-bitter drink made with Bombay Sapphire East gin, lychee, yuzu and flavor-leading shiso leaf, a Japanese herb that tastes like little else. We also dig the clean, complex Bitter Cup, a copper mug full of gin, Campari, yuzu, lime and cava, the Catalan cousin of prosecco and Champagne. For a classic, try a Last Word that leans sweet and fruity but within tolerances.
We taste partial success in The Neuromancer, which has a rinse of Leopold Brothers absinthe playing too strong a role with cognac, Cointreau and Suze, a bitter, earthy French liqueur flavored with gentian root. The cognac gets buried, but the Suze’s bitterness makes for a clean finish. The Saketini’s an odd duck, a mix of sake, vodka and yuzu, mildly flavored but free of any burn, with its cucumber-water ice cubes adding little flavor.
We learn the timing of our visits is fortuitous, as Carsten has planned a grand reopening for Friday, Feb. 9. With a start this solid, the future’s ironically bright.