186-188 Victoria St Potts Point, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Tue-Wed and Sun 5.30-10pm; Thu-Sat 5.30-10.30pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8593 4567|
Here's one for everybody who likes the parson's nose, that fatty pygostyle stub at the rear end of a chicken. At Chaco Bar, newly relocated in Potts Point, you can order an entire skewer of parson's noses from the yakitori menu for $4.
It's a very respectful characteristic of Japanese culture, to elevate the humble chicken tail to the same level as its other parts – crisp, glistening chicken skin, tender chicken thigh, glistening chicken hearts, gizzards and even soft chicken cartilage.
In fact, owner/chef, Keita Abe and head chef Dinqi (Chris) Xin are both obsessed with elevating what could be cheap street food into something far greater.
So here's the low-down. Chaco Bar started in Crown Street, Darlinghurst – tiny, squeezy, cultish, with just 25 seats and a cupboard of a kitchen.
Moving into the horseshoe-shaped Jimmy Liks site in Potts Point turns it into a 75-seater and a major player. It's loud, warm and homely, the energy fuelled by sake, shochu highballs, Suntory beer and sweet staff under general manager Kei Tokiwa.
Duck through the noren curtains and you may be directed to a small table, a bench at the long communal table, or a seat at the kitchen counter facing the ranks of robata grills.
The chefs move in a sort of frenzied calm, constantly checking on the progress of each skewer; turning them only when necessary, not as a matter of course.
Faced with a jigsaw puzzle of yaki tori (chicken), yasai kushi (vegetables) and kushi yaki (other proteins) it's hard to know what to order. No, it's not, it's easy. Here you go:
Chicken livers ($4 skewer): Still pink inside, they taste like chicken liver parfait thrown on the barbie.
Chicken skin ($4 skewer): A ruffle of crisp fattiness that crackles and crunches, with a full belt of farmyard flavour.
Sashimi for two ($29): With thoughtful individual garnishes for each fish. Tonight, it's pearlescent bass groper on wakame, ocean trout with pickled apple and a touch of creme fraiche, cuttlefish with wasabi and a divine little scampi tail dusted with curry spices.
Chaco six ($27): Because it's the great all-rounder, each skewer of pork, chicken, shittake mushroom or lamb laid on a bed of cabbage, a custom from the chef's home prefecture of Fukuoka on the northern shore of the island of Kyushu.
Chicken wing gyoza ($14): Stuffed with chicken, pork and soft chicken cartilage and deep-fried until golden. When I say it's real drinking food, that's not to diminish it at all – quite the opposite.
What not to order? Maybe the coleslaw ($8), which feels overdressed.
Go for balance, as there are a lot of rich dishes, from crab chawanmushi ($12), a trembling, shimmering custard topped with a heady bisque sauce and wads of blue swimmer crab, to wagyu steak that comes with a huge marrowbone ($34).
There's a lovely whisky ice-cream with lemony granita ($12), but I'd suggest, perhaps oddly, ending with the takikomi gohan (TKG) seasoned rice ($18).
It's pure elegance, the warm bath of bonito-infused steamed rice topped with poached scallop and completely carpeted with salmon roe, which relaxes and releases its oils over the gentle heat.
The fear was that Chaco Bar would lose its Ginza back-street integrity by moving into bigger premises, but its ambition, skill and talent – and customers – have simply expanded to fill the space.
Vegetarian: Not huge: a few vegetable offerings.
Drinks: A dozen sake, 6 Japanese beers and a short and snappy wine list that leans towards riesling and pinot noir, for example, the vibrant, spicy 2016 Tasmanian Barringwood Mill Block ($15/$82).
Go-to dish: The Chaco six – assorted skewers of chicken crackling, thigh and heart, shiitake, pork belly and lamb shoulder, $27.
Pro tip: Ramen is off the menu at the new Chaco Bar, but the former Chaco Bar in Darlo is now a dedicated ramen bar, renamed Chaco Ramen.