Sushi Muramoto at Hilldale Mall has added an adjacent lounge area, and is serving a short bar snack menu as well as shochu cocktails.
Shochu is an earthy-tasting clear liquor with higher alcohol content than sake but less than vodka. It is served straight, warmed ($46 for a 32 oz. kettle), or on the rocks as a flavored mixed drink called chuhai. Intriguing flavoring options for the chuchais include oolong, yuzu honey and the Japanese carbonated yogurt soft drink, Calpico.
The new lounge space sports attractive dark floors, stark concrete and dramatic high ceilings. A playful and brightly lit modern painting of Japanese koi fish runs along the wall opposite the bar. The look is reminiscent of the first Muramoto space on King Street, and complements the existing restaurant.
An abbreviated five-item menu offers an excellent assorted pickle plate (think daikon and eggplant), as well as shiokara, squid fermented in its own viscera.
The fermentation lends a minerally flavor, almost like organ meat, and the squid has a briny delicateness to it. The bites are mucousy at first, but give way to become satisfyingly toothy.
Shiokara is an acquired taste, and it is okay, although not necessarily customary, to follow quickly with a shot. I began to find the dish's complex tastes and textures compelling with a slightly nutty shochu accompaniment.
An additional, more familiar cocktail menu has a number of well-made choices. Gin and Drupes ($10) stands out as a citrusy mix of Old Tom Gin, apricot, lemon, allspice and orange bitters. These are joined by umeshu, the Japanese apricot liqueur, to create a drink that is both fruity and sour.
But all of the cocktails sampled double nicely as fine viscera-chasers at this alluring and adventurous addition to Hilldale's dining scene.
The lounge is open every day of the week, 5-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 5 pm-midnight Fri.-Sat.