Izakaya Style

Chef Michael Schulson’s modern Japanese pub has long been a Monday night hot spot, but it also makes for a cool locale to kick off a night on the town any evening.

By Ray Schweibert
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 5, 2012

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Izakaya chef and TV personality Michael Schulson

Photo by Nick Valinote

When an establishment has the backing of a chef of Michael Schulson’s credentials, it goes without saying that the menu fare will be its primary drawing power. 

Such is the case with Izakaya, the popular Asian-style pub that debuted right around the same time Borgata unveiled its signature hotel the Water Club about four years ago. Since then, though, Izakaya — whether by design or gradually via demand — has also become a popular gathering spot prior to hitting the dance floor in a nightclub, taking in a concert or special event, or just fueling up for a night of winging it throughout the resort. 

That’s particularly true during Izakaya Monday, which started about three years ago and features a pared-down selection of delicacies from the restaurant’s much more extensive menu, and several specialty drinks like the Cucumber Cosmo, Green Apple Mojito, Sour Cherry Martini and Pomegranate Breeze. Each cocktail or Monday night menu item is $7, and drinks can also be ordered via 16- or 32-ounce carafe. Around 7pm a DJ livens up the already festive atmosphere (on a recent Monday night, Izakaya was nearly at half capacity only a half hour after opening at 5:30pm), and patrons can use their receipts (minimum $20) to gain free entry to mur.mur nightclub (which opens at 10pm Monday, Friday and Saturday) later that night. 

“A lot of girls come in and go bonkers over our drinks, and [Mondays] have become known as a day for them to stop by, have a little sushi and a pre-club drink, then go to [mur.mur] for free,” says Izakaya manager Michael Laielli. “And I can’t tell you how many regulars [guys, primarily] that I have come into the bar area and just hang out because all the good-looking girls are in here.”

Laielli was born and raised in the family restaurant business and has managed casino restaurants since 1977, but the vast majority of those he oversaw in the past specialized in Italian food. When the Borgata was in a three-month transformation stage (renovating what had been Specchio and Ombra into Fornelletto in 2008), he lent his assistance to Izakaya and has been there ever since. 

“My take on this place is that it fits a pretty big need for many people who have plans to go out and enjoy a nightclub or take a little nightlife in, but don’t want to sit down beforehand to a big dinner, so they come here and enjoy what’s similar to a club-like atmosphere,” he says. “They’ll dine in small bites or have a lighter meal before they go out on the town. Maybe they’ll get some sake and sushi and then head out. A lot of people don’t want a coursed meal — appetizer, salad, main course, dessert — and be too full to feel like going out, or maybe not be able to finish the whole thing and worry about having to take a doggie bag with them. 

“It seems like a lot of this business revolves around nightlife and entertainment — you don’t want to eat so much that you’re exhausted [and] not have enough energy to still see a show, go dancing, or whatever you like.”

Bartenders Daniella Cano and Annamarie Macchione serve up specialty drinks during Izakaya Monday. 

The only conceivable drawback to that plan, however, is how incredibly scrumptious Izakaya’s fare is. On a recent night, samples of a few of the 10 rolls on its current Monday night menu were offered to a certain AC Weekly reporter (the spicy crunchy tuna and the sweet potato tempura) as well as some Robatayaki (slowly grilled Japanese fare, which included the duck meatballs and Kobe beef sliders) that were so out of this world, one might find oneself eating for the sheer thrill of it, thereby ruining the plan of stopping before getting too full. Throw in the fact that there is a selection of about 40 different types of sake from all over the world — many of which are very hard to find elsewhere, and all served in either half bottles or two different sizes of larger bottles — and your plans for the evening could begin and end at Izakaya.

“The sushi, sake and robatayaki — it’s small-portion, share-everything, meant-for-conversation fare in an upbeat atmosphere,” says Laielli. “Bringing in a great chef like Mike Schulson from a great food city like Philadelphia was sort of the Borgata’s way of saying ‘we want this to be very much about the food.’”

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