A revamp of Koji Sake Lounge, Nomikai Social Food + Drinkery offers a menu of small plates and Asian fusion pizzas alongside a lengthy list of mixed drinks prepared with Asian spirits.

The establishment maintains much of a lounge feel with low tables and dimmed lighting. A colorful, backlit full bar dominates the back wall. An empty Japanese whisky bottle, serving as a vase for a stalk of bamboo, decorates each table, a reference to Nomikai’s use of Asian spirits such as Japanese whisky and soju.

My favorite cocktails are often whiskey-based but I had not yet enjoyed Japanese whisky. (Traditionally, the Japanese style closely follows the style of single malt Scotch whisky and therefore the spelling drops the “e,” unlike American-style whiskeys.) Japanese whisky appears frequently on Nomikai’s cocktail list, in drinks such as the Japanese Old Fashioned, which was noticeably smooth without being overly sweet. It did have that earthy smokiness you could expect from a Scotch. Nomikai features a Whiskey Wednesday, with specials on select whisk(e)ys.

The best way to enjoy Nomikai is in the company of several friends, as the menu lends itself to ordering several dishes to nosh on with drinks. Between myself and another friend, we started with the garlic bread and Japanese eggplant spread, sweet chili chicken wings and crispy pork belly with ginger jalapeno. Tuesday through Saturday Nomikai offers happy hour from 5:30 to 8:30pm, when all small plates are $5.

Moving on from the bold Japanese Old Fashioned to the more refreshing options, the Ringo and Mugi Mule—both featuring ginger beer—were excellent choices. The Mugi Mule was a refreshing spin on the traditional Moscow Mule with Yokaichi Mugi soju, vodka, house made ginger syrup, ginger beer and lime. Sour and sweet, the Ringo was a refreshing mix of ginger beer, apple and lemon juices, ginger syrup and whisky. Our appetizers arrived on a wooden board as we sipped and traded cocktails. The wings were crispy, with a sticky coating that was sweet and salty. The segments of pork belly came with a simple garnish of ginger jalapeno, for an unexpected blend of spicy, sweet and savory.

Also perfect for sharing over rounds of cocktails are the specialty pizzas at Nomikai. Arriving fresh from the oven in a baking sheet, the creations range from a simple trio of mushrooms to the rich and bold flavors of Chinese sausage with jalapenos, roasted garlic and soft-cooked egg. The pizza had some noticeable heat with the jalapenos. It was deliciously paired with the roasted garlic and sausage. The soft-cooked egg appeared slightly undercooked for my liking. Still, Nomikai presented plenty of cocktails and pizza options to entice a return.

Nomikai Social Food + Drinkery
48 S. First St., San Jose. 408.287.7199 or nomikaisj.com.