Bettako Shochu Izakaya in Ikebukuro

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When going out to izakaya I always take some ヘパリーゼ Hepalize to prevent a hangover the next morning. Usually in the tablet form. But, today I forgot to bring some Hepalize pills with me from home so stopped by a convenience store and picked up this liquid form. It worked like a charm. We had lots of shōchū, but feeling great the next morning.

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ポテトサラダ Potato salad is a very popular dish at izakaya. It is often made with copious amounts of mayonnaise, boiled carrots, and sliced ham. But this version was very different. I couldn’t sense any mayonnaise. Instead, it was loosened up with possibly some dash and mixed with some sautéed onions that gave it a bit of sweetness. And, there were crunchy pieces of fried onions, reminding me of the French’s fried onions found on top of the green beans and cream of mushroom dish we often see at Thanksgiving.

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Bettako is an izakaya that specializes in shōchū. Shōchū is the distilled spirit, native to Japan, that is made with a variety of base ingredients. The good stuff, honkaku shōchū, is only distilled once. As a result, it maintains the aroma and flavor of the base ingredient, like sweet potatoes or barley. It is also usually only about 25 degrees in alcohol, and is often watered down, bringing it down to about 15 degrees. So, it’s similar to what you’ll find in a glass of wine. Shōchū is very food friendly, and can be served hot or cold.

Bettako is unique that most of the shōchū here is served maewariMaewari is where the shochu is watered down ahead of time, usually 24 hours or so ahead of time. It’s a great method that allows for the shōchū to mellow out and makes it much softer on the palate. I trained as a “shōchū advisor” and have studied this in class, but rarely do you come across a restaurant that actually serves it like this in Tokyo. I am sure in the Kyushu region, where shochu is the prominent drink, that it is much more available. The maewari shōchū was a revelation. Much softer and gentle on the palate. I will start doing this at home. Simply add water to the shōchū to taste, usually about 6 parts water to 4 parts shōchū, but it’s up to you. Also keep in mind if you will be serving it on the rocks as it will dilute even more.

The first shōchū of the evening is Ichiban Shizuku, a sweet potato shōchū (imo jōchūfrom Kagoshima. It is surprisingly smooth and ever so sweet from the sweet potatoes. Even those in the party who were not big shōchū drinkers found it palatable. The magic of maewari.

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馬刺 Basic, horse sashimi, is a specialty of Kumamoto prefecture. Kumamoto is also famous for shōchū. The lean meat is meaty and chewy. It is served with some sliced onions and grated garlic. It’s garnished with fresh sanshō berries, which make your tongue tingle. Best of all, it is served with soy sauce from Kagoshima. The soy sauce in Kyushu is very sweet. Kyushu is where both Kumamoto and Kagoshima is.

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牛タン Gyutan, beef tongue, is simply seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled. On the left side is the back part of the tongue and on the right is the front of the tongue. At Bettako it is served with some kabosu (a tart citrus) that is squeezed over the meat. The back of the tongue was softer than the meaty front part.

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The second shochu was a barley (mugi jōchū) Gojinka Tenjo. It is from Oshima, a small island south of Tokyo, that is actually a part of Tokyo. Very different from the sweet potato shōchūit has tones that are similar to whisky, drier and a bit more of an attack on the palate.

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The sashimi course today is hamachi yellowtail. It’s a great presentation as the chef serves both the back (far left) and the belly (far right). As can be expected, the belly is a bit more fattier and richer. The chopped hamachi in front was simply seasoned with some sesame seeds and thinly sliced Japanese leeks.

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Jun Kuro (pure black) Satsuma no Kaori (aroma of sweet potatoes) shōchū was next. I really love these sweet potato shōchū. Sweet potato shōchū usually goes very well with seafood, which many izakaya dishes are made out of.

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The shōchū was served in a jyōka. Is this not the greatest pot you’ve ever seen for serving? A spout on both sides. Our friend, Mizutani-san, who is a food editor and who has an amazing depth of knowledge, says that this vessel makes it easy for anyone to pour from. So, no matter which side of the table you are sitting on, you could pick up the jyōka and serve from it. You gotta love the person who thought of this design. Brilliant.

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Tsubugai (whelk) is a shellfish with a rich texture. Here it is served as sashimi with some grated daikon, myōga, and green onions. One of the chefs at our table pointed this dish and said, “atarimae“. While outside of Japan, this would be a dish you may come across at a fine-dining establishment, in Japan it goest without saying, such delicious food like this would be found in an izakaya like this.

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The interior of the restaurant is filled with old posters. It feels a bit like stepping back in time, except for the occasional rugby poster.Image

Interior shot. Look at how little room there is behind the counter seats to exit the restaurant. You could never get away with this in New York City.

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Offal soup, a perfect way to start to wrap up the evening.
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My favorite dish of the night was this pork sauteed with fresh kikuragé (wood ear) mushrooms, okahijiki – literally “hijiki of the hills” which adds a great texture, leeks, rayu chili oil and a bit of salt. Most of the time we only find dried kikuragé mushrooms in the market. The fresh kikuragé are in season at the moment. The contrast of the different textures, the bit of spiciness, and the umami from the pork brought this dish together. Image

Here is shōchū with soy milk. I’ve tried this in the past and liked it when the soy milk was paired with a sesame shōchū. Tonight it was a sweet potato shōchū.

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Finally, Gyokurō, a sweet potato shōchū made with white kōji,  which makes it a light and delicate shōchū. A great shōchū to end the evening on.

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Here is part of our group posing with the owner, Kanemoto-san. Kanemoto-san is famous in Tokyo for his selection of shōchū and for his great izakaya, Bettako. Kanemoto-san is also a big rugby fan which explains the rugby posters on the wall.ImageThe rest of our gang outside of Bettako. Bettako is a short walk from the station. It’s very popular so reservations are recommended.

Shōchūya BETTAKO

Toshima-ku, Higashi-Ikebukuro 1-42-17, Hasegawa Building

03-3987-7982

closed Sunday

 

Sanukiya – Kaiseki Udonya and Saké

Tokyo is filled with a wide variety of izakaya, places with food and saké. Recently I got together with friends, two editors from a popular food magazine, DANCYU, and a famous saké and shōchū authority for a night out. I was told that we were going to Sanukiya in Kōenji. Sanuki is a region in Japan famous for its udon noodles, not for its saké so I was a bit puzzled. Udon is a noodle that is getting a lot of attention now. So much so that DANCYU did a big spread on it last month. But, what kind of saké were we going to get at an udon shop? I wasn’t expecting much.

Sanukiya 1

Until we sat down and Atsuko Sando Sensei, the saké authority, said, “Wow, this saké list is not made up of ozeki or sekiwaké (referring to ranks of sumo wrestlers), but these are all yokozuna (the highest rank of sumo wrestlers).” I knew immediately that we were in for a great evening of saké. Just a quick look at the list above, some names jump out right away like Jikon, Kamenoo, and Juuyondai. And, if Sando Sensei was excited, then surely we were in for a treat.

Sanukiya 2

We started off with a slightly sweet saké. Perfect aperitif to begin the evening with.

Sanukiya 3

A frizzante Nabéshima Junmaiginjō from Saga prefecture was served with cod milt garnished with truffles and cured Yonezawa wagyū (imagine a cured ham, but made from wagyū).

Sanukiya 5

One of my favorite pairings was a foie gras chawanmushi (savory custard) and 10-year balsamico with Murayū Hon-nama Seishu. The saké was slightly sweet like wasanbon sugar – ideal for the foie gras and balsamico. A perfect marriage of East and West.

Sanukiya 6

We took a warm saké, Musubi Tokubetsujunmai Muroka, with kuruma shrimp, kinmédai (splendid alfonsino) and truffle, saba (Pacific mackerel) that was cured in sugar and salt, and sayori (halfbeak) with a squeeze of sudachi citrus and Mongolian salt.

Warming up a saké brings out aromas and textures that may be more subtle in a chilled saké. It also warms you up as you drink, much like gluhwein, hot mulled wine.

Sanukiya 7

Chef Yasuhiro Kondō who not only knows how to pair saké with food, is also a cookbook author. He is with Muneki Mizutani-san who is a former editor with DANCYU and is now the editor of a very cool new business magazine that is in manga form, Manga PRESIDENT.


Sanukiya 8

Jūyondai Shichi Tare Nijikkan Junmai Daiginjō was served with a tomato jelly.

Sanukiya 9

Here we had a creamy nigorizaké paired with Yonézawa wagyū in a yogurt sauce – the two creamy items were an ideal match. The saké on the right is a Kizan kōshu (aged saké) from 1999 – also perfect with the teriyaki Yonézawa wagyū.

Sanukiya 10

And, finally, the udon noodle course. With chef Kondō’s signature tsuyu dipping broth on the left and a nutty, creamy sesame dipping sauce on the right. His cookbook is based on small bites all made using tsuyuTsuyu can be made from scratch, but most homes keep a bottle of it at home for last minute udon or soba meals. Chef Kondō’s is a soy-based sauce that is made with kombu (a sea vegetable rich in natural umami), niboshi (dried sardines), bushi (dried and smoked fish flakes from both Pacific mackerel and skipjack tuna), and sugar. This flavorful sauce can be used for a wide variety of dishes, hence Chef Kondō’s cookbook.

Sanukiya 11And closing off the evening with Jikon Junmai Ginjō from Mie prefecture. This saké is subtle and elegant while still having a richness to it – perfect for the udon noodles. Sando Sensei is playing it up with Saito-san, also an editor at DANCYU. Sando Sensei has written several books.

While this was not all that we had this evening, it is the highlights of a great night out in Tokyo. I highly recommend Sanukiya in Kōenji. It’s a short trip from Shinjuku. No English.

Kōenji Sanukiya

Sugnami-ku, Kōenji Minami 4-38-7

Phone: 03-3314-4488

18:00 – 22:30 (last order)

closed Sundays

Sake no Ana in Ginza 銀座酒の穴

酒の穴

Some of my clients are interested in learning a bit about saké during their visit to Tokyo. However, finding somewhere in Tokyo that serves a wide selection of saké during lunch is challenging. Most of the tours we offer start at Tsukiji Market which is of course only takes place in the morning.
Sake no Ana 酒の穴 is in John Gauntner’s great book, The Sake Handbook. And, is conveniently located in Ginza, a short walk from Tsukiji Market.
The full menu is available during lunch. This menu features a lot of saké-friendly food. As it is winter that includes fugu kara-agé (deep-fried fugu), salted and grilled buri collar (yellowtail), shirako ponzu (milt), ika shiokara (squid innards), and aji hone-sembei (deep-fried bones of horse mackerel). The restaurant also recommends natto omelet. There is also a nice selection of set menu (teishoku) options which includes soup, rice, and a variety of side dishes.
Sake Sommelier Sakamoto-san
Saké Sommelier Sakamoto-san (photo from prior tasting)
When you arrive, ask for the saké sommelier, Sakamoto-san (sadly, no relation). He’s very knowledgeable and will bring out a variety of saké for your group to try. He always introduces a unique and often hard-t0-source saké.
Before you leave, be sure to take a look at the glass-doored refrigerators to see the selection of saké here. It is towards the back of the restaurant on your left hand side.
This day we had the following:
1. Jikon Tokubetsu Junmaishu Nigorizake Nama from Mie
而今特別純米酒 にごり酒生
http://www.syusendo-horiichi.co.jp/zikon/zikon1.htm (scroll down, it’s the cloudy one)
Slightly sweet, this unfiltered nigorizaké was the perfect aperitif. It is nama or unpasteurized, so something you’ll only find in Japan. Sakamoto-san said that this Jikon brand is a very sought after label in Japan and hard to find. It is exactly for this reason that I like to come to Sake no Ana. The collection of sake is very impressive.
2. Hiroki Junmai Ginjo from Fukushima
飛露喜 純米吟醸
http://www.hechima.co.jp/~souta/hiroki/kura_shokai.html (scroll down, half way down is Hiroki)
Medium dry, this had a nice acidity to it and a perfect transition from the nigorizaké.
3. Ooroku Junmaishu Karakuchi from Shimane
王祿純米酒 辛口
As the name says, “karakuchi” is a dry saké and a bit more bold on the palate.
4. Kokuryu Ishidaya Junmai Daiginjo 5 Nen Koshu
黒龍 石田屋 純米大吟醸 5年古酒
We were discussing koshu and aging saké at the table. Sakamoto-san overheard us talking and brought out this very interesting koshu that I’ve never seen or tried before. It is aged five years and Sakamoto-san said that the emperor of Japan is a fan of this saké. Very rich and impressive saké.
Sake no Ana 酒の穴
Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-5-8
03-3567-1133
Earlier posts on Sake no Ana:

Tokyo Izakaya and Standing Bars

Yamariki

Yamariki

Grabbing a drink after work with colleagues or friends in Tokyo is great fun as there are so many options to choose from. These are some of my favorites from Food Sake Tokyo.

Saiseisakaba

This friendly tachinomi (standing bar) is located on the back streets of Shinjuku Sanchome. Designed with Showa era items, it feels like stepping back in time. The shop features grilled innards, but you can have some items sashimi style. The brains are creamy and the yudetan (boiled tongue) is tender. If you can, grab a spot at the counter and notice how vigilant the staff is at keeping their cutting boards spotless. You can also see everything that’s being grilled and coming out of the open kitchen staffed with young, handsome men.

Saiseisakaba
Shinjuku 3-7-3, Marunaka Building 1st floor
tel: 03-3354-4829
17:00 – 24:00, no holidays
www.ishii-world.jp/brand/motsu/nihonsaisei/shinjuku3/ (Japanese)


Sasagin

Near Yoyogi-Uehara station is an upscale izakaya with a great selection of sake in the windowed refrigerator behind the long counter. The menu is diverse, including seafood, and small bites that call out to be had with nihonshu such as nuta, a vinegary miso dressing with seasonal seafood, or grilled ginko nuts.

Sasagin
Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15, Kobayashi Bldg. 1st floor
tel: 03-5454-3715
17:00 – 23:00, closed Sunday and holidays
No website


Yamariki

Since 1925, Yamariki has often been ranked as one of the top ten izakaya in the city. Located in the shitamachi district of Morishita, there is usually a line waiting to get in. There is a second shop down the street and the staff will direct you there. Their signature item is a nikomi made from cow innards, port wine, Hatcho miso, sugar, and bouquet garni. The store proudly says that they have been adding to the same nikomi for over 40 years now. The other house specialty is the yakiton or grilled pork bits on a skewer. What makes Yamariki unique is they have a wine list (French only) and a friendly sommelier, Mizukami-san, who will help you match a wine with your food, as well as, of course, sake.

Yamariki
Koto-ku, Morishita 2-18-8
tel: 03-3633-1638
17:00 – 22:00, closed Sunday and holidays
www.yamariki.com (Japanese)


Tachigui Sakaba Buri

The walls at buri are decorated with colorful cup sake from all over Japan. There are over 30 different types of sake served in individual cups. A unique sake to try is the frozen sake that is like a slush. The menu is filled with small plates of sake-friendly foods like seasonal seafood and grilled meats.

Tachigui Sakaba buri
Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-14-1
tel: 03-3496-7744
17:00 – 3:00 a.m., no holidays
www.takewaka.co.jp/buri/index.html (Japanese)


Stand Bar Maru

Maru may be one of the best bargains in the city for standing bars. Located next door to a wine shop with about 200 wines, customers can purchase a bottle and have it opened for drinking at a nominal fee. The first floor is standing only (tachinomi), but if you get there early enough, you may be able to snag a seat in the second floor restaurant. Following the tapas concept, legs of Iberico ham are shaved per order, small plates are to share, and the grilled meats are highly recommended. This shop is in an out of the way area and is always busy with local young hipsters and salary-men from the area. The staff at this fourth-generation shop is very friendly.

Stand Bar Maru
Chuo-ku, Hatchobori 3-22-10
tel: 03-3552-4477
17:00 – 23:00, closed weekends and holidays
No website

This article first appeared in the ACCJ Journal.

Tokyo’s Top Places to Drink

Izakaya 居酒屋 are literally places to have something to drink. When I was working as a sommelier at the New York Bar and Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo my shift would end late at night, well after dinner. I would often stop by a local izakaya for a beer and some small bites. What made this one so special was the friendly mama-san. I was always welcomed and the food was all made by okaasan. Good izakayas should be just this, offering good food and drinks, and making the customer feel comfortable.

Tokyo is also home to some of the world’s top mixologists at places like Star Bar Ginza  or Bar Tender. These will be covered in a separate post. For now, here are my favorite places to have a drink in Tokyo.

  1. A popular izakaya in the nostalgic shitamachi district of Morishita, Yamariki 山利喜  was introduced to me by Japan’s first Master Sommelier Ned Goodwin. Ned brought me here one night to drink French wines with izakaya cuisine. Yamariki has a sommelier on staff, Mizukami-san who will gladly pair wine with your order. One night here I ran into John Gauntner, who said the restaurant also has a great selection of nihonshu. Yamariki is also known for its nikomi, soy-simmered innards, which has been made with the same broth for over forty years. It is also known for its yakiton or grilled pork bits (like yakitori but made with pork instead of chicken). Koto-ku, Morishita 2-18-8.
  2. Sasagin 笹吟 has one of the better selections of nihonshu in the city and exquisite fare to go with it. Best of all, if you ask them to help you select interesting ones to try they will. It is very popular so reservations are highly recommended. Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15.
  3. For wine I love Maru マル because of its value. Next door to the standing bar is a wine shop. Pick up a bottle there and the corkage fee is only 500 yen at the bar. It feels a bit like a European wine bar with food like cured ham and cheese but there is also a grill station on the second floor for grilled skewers. There are also seats on the second floor. Chuo-ku, Hatchobori 3-22-10.
  4. Buri is a popular standing bar near Ebisu. I come here for the one cup sake, a selection of about 30 to choose from. Small plates to share, seasonal seafood, and some grilled meats. Ask for the frozen sake which is almost like a slushy. (I don’t think the brand I had was Hakutsuru, but this video shows you what the slushy looks like.)  Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-14-1.
  5. Everyone needs at least one reliable place for beer and my go-to bar is The Harajuku Taproom. Delicious craft beer by the talented Bryan Baird and kushiyaki (grilled meats and vegetables). It is also conveniently located just off of Takeshita Dori, a few minutes’ walk from Harajuku station. There is also a location in Naka-Meguro. To educate your palate, try small cups of a variety of his beer. You won’t be disappointed. Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 1-20-13, No Surrender Bldg. 2F
  6. Saiseisakaba 再生酒場 is the place to go if you are into innards. From sashimi to simmered to grilled, you’ll find a wide selection to choose from. My personal favorite shop is in Monzennakacho but there is also a branch at the Shin Maru Building near Tokyo station. Alternatively, the Shinjuku branch too is a lot of fun. I usually drink shochu as it is a great partner for the offal. Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-7-3. www.ishii-world.jp/brand/motsu/nihonsaisei/shinjuku3/ 
  7. Located in the heart of Ginza, Sake no Ana 酒の穴 is on John Gauntner’s great book, The Sake Handbook. I came across it as I was looking for a place to try a variety of nihonshu over lunch and this was the only place that was open. I called ahead and was told that there was a kikizakeshi (sake sommelier) on staff and that he would be there for lunch. Sakamoto-san gave us exactly what we were looking for, a variety of different nihonshu. The evening menu is also available at lunch if you ask for it. Traditional izakaya bites like grilled himono (salted and air-dried fish), natto omelet, and much more. Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-5-8.
  8. It is a bit of a journey to Ikejiri Ohashi, but well worth it to get to Tsukushinoko つくしのこ. One of my favorite nights out learning about nihonshu with beer writer (and nihonshu aficionado) Bryan Harrell. It feels very local and cozy inside and the selection of nihonshu is great. Staff are also very knowledgeable and can help guide you through a variety of sips. Typical izakaya fare – ask for a nabe (hot pot) in the winter time, you won’t be disappointed. Meguro-ku, Higashiyama 3-1-11.
  9. If you are looking for somewhere to celebrate an occasion then the New York Bar & Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo is on top of my list. Perhaps you’ll recognize it from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. The high ceilings and the spectacular views from the 52nd floor are breathtaking. My recommendation is to go just before sunset so that you can see the lights come up on the city as it sparkles below you. I used to work here, and I am even more convinced that this is one of Tokyo’s special places. Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 3-7-1-2.
  10. A good martini and burger can be found at beacon in Aoyama. One of Tokyo’s top chefs, David Chiddo not only makes a great burger, he also knows his martinis. David’s Perfect Martini is made from one of my favorite gins, Hendricks. Parent company T.Y. Express is also the owner of the brewery TY Harbor, making really good beer, which is also on the menu here at beacon. Solo diners can sit at the bar and enjoy their martini and burger. Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 1-2-5.

Five Questions for Sake Master John Gauntner

Sake Master John Gauntner

Sake Master John Gauntner

John Gauntner has done more to promote sake than any other non-Japanese in the world. John is the author of five books, an informational monthly newsletter, and for those lucky enough to be in Tokyo, he holds interesting tasting seminars at Takara.  His accomplishments are too numerous to list all of them here but some highlights include being the only non-Japanese to be certified in both the Master of Sake Tasting and as a Sake Expert Assessor. He also sits on many panels, often as the only non-Japanese, and rarely does a month go by where John is not in a Japanese magazine or newspaper. He has inspired many in the world to pursue and learn more about sake.

He has influenced my life as well. While I was working at Takashimaya’s flagship store in Nihonbashi as a sommelier in the sake department the staff were given a chance to study another beverage. The store manager encouraged me to study sake but John had done so much to promote sake that I decided my energy was better spent learning shochu. Originally from Ohio, this fellow Midwesterner also came to Japan on the JET program the same year that I did, in 1989.

John generously shares with us some with insightful tips for sake lovers visiting Tokyo. My recommendation is to time your trip with one of his sake seminars, to subscribe to his free newsletter, and pick up one of his books. My personal favorite at the moment is The Tokyo Sake Pub Guide.

1. On your website you list many of the best izakaya in the metropolis. If a visitor to Tokyo has only a limited time, could you suggest three izakaya. By visiting all three readers would have a better understanding of the izakaya scene in Japan.

This is a hard question to answer without qualifying. It all depends on whether or not one speaks Japanese. But I think one all around recommendable izakaya for food, sake, ambience and user friendliness is Sasagin. Another great and classy one on all fronts that flies under the radar a bit is Nakamura in Shibuya. Everyone that goes there is surprisingly pleased. And perhaps the ultimate gritty (in a good way) izakaya experience with great sake too is Taru-ichi in Kabukicho. Finally, the fourth of the three is Ajisen in Tsukishima: outstanding food, great sake, but very small, very popular and a bit more expensive.

But there are so many more…

2. What are good retail sake shops in Tokyo? Ideally conveniently located.

Surely the Hasegawa Saketen shop INSIDE JR Tokyo station at Gransta is the easiest and best. They have a great sake selection, English spoken (a bit) and optimally located albeit inside the wicket. Their Azabu Juban store is good too. Next would be Sakaya Kurihara in Moto Azabu, at the bottom of the hill down from the Chinese Embassy. Solid, classic collection and friendly proprietors but English may be strained. And in Shibuya, Tokyu Food Show just below Hachiko has a great selection too.

But there are so many more…

3. You have your finger on the pulse of what is happening with sake in the world. What sake trends do you see right now – either in Japan or in the world?

Domestically it is hard to see trends in a contracting industry but I do see some

-New branding, i.e. “our regular stuff sells under this old name, so let us make a new brand name for ginjo only, or junmai only.”

-Lots of young blood, i.e. younger brewers with new enthusiasm and ideas.

-Overall higher milling rates. Not necessarily a good thing, but I do see this trend.

-A second wave of muroka (not charcoal filtered) nama (unpasteurized) genshu (undiluted) sake. Personally this kind of sake lacks subtlety but it does seem to be making a comeback.

-More character-laden sake like kimoto, yamahai and naturally occurring yeast sake. Not a ton, but enough to see a trend.

4. What sake is in your fridge now? What good sake have you had recently?

In my sake fridge are about 30 sake, lots of which are “science experiments.” But most interestingly are a couple from brewers that no longer exist, like Suzuran in Iwate. The ones I most want to taste are Tensei, Mori no Kura, Sakuragawa, and a Kame no O from Niigata that is about  ten years old. Oh, and one Tatsuriki made with Toku-A Yamada Nishiki @ 35% that needs a year to open up.

5. What are some easy to find sake to look for at izakaya?

One way is to look for harigami, streamers on the wall, to see what is just in or not on the main menu! Two is to ask the proprietor not for a recommendation but rather what he or she likes now or best. Then ask for something similar if you like it or different if you do not. Some places (like Sasagin) will assess you and pick one for you. Others are more reticent to do that. Finally, ask for what you like and if they do not have it ask for something similar. And I highly recommend taking notes on what you taste!

John’s Blackbook

Sasagin 笹吟

Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15, Kobayashi Bldg.

03-5454-3715

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1318/A131811/13004599/

Nakamura 並木橋なかむら

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 3-13-5, Ipuse Shibuya 2F-B

03-6427-9580

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1303/A130301/13059986/

Taruichi 樽一

Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 1-17-12 5F

03-3208-9772

http://www.taruichi.co.jp/

Ajisen 肴や味泉

Chuo-ku, Tsukishima 1-18-10

03-3534-8483

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1313/A131302/13002247/

Hasegawa Saketen はせがわ酒店

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station, GranSta B1

03-6420-3409

http://www.hasegawasaketen.com/english/about.html

Hasegawa Saketen はせがわ酒店

Minato-ku, Azabu-Juban 2-2-7

03-5439-9399

http://www.hasegawasaketen.com/english/about.html

Sakaya Kurihara さかや栗原麻布店

Minato-ku, Moto Azabu 3-6-17

03-3408-5379

http://www.sakaya-kurihara.jp/

Tokyu Food Show Sake Department

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-24-1 B1

03-3477-3111

http://www.tokyu-dept.co.jp/foodshow/shop/liquor/

Sake no Ana: Best Place for Tasting Sake for Lunch in Tokyo – Part 2/2

Sake no Ana 酒の穴
Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-5-8
03-3567-1133
Juyondai and Denshu

Juyondai and Denshu

3. Juyondai Honjozo 十四代 本醸造
Premium sake, very hard to purchase retail. Often sold at much higher prices on E-bay (Sakamoto-san, the sake sommelier said that the bottle we had would go for 10,000 JPY even though the retail price is only about 2,500 JPY.)
From Yamagata prefecture.
http://www.yukinosake.com/juyondai.html (sake brewery site in Japanese)
rice: gohyakumangoku (somewhat popular for sake making)
nihonshudo: +2
4. Denshu Tokubetsu Junmaishu 田酒 特別純米酒
Also a premium sake from Aomori prefecture. Very hard to find outside of restaurants like this. Also sold overpriced on E-bay.
rice: Fubuki (don’t see this too often)
nihonshudo: +3
Dassai

Dassai

5. Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 獺祭 純米大吟醸
From Yamaguchi prefecture.
This is a top sake that is imported to USA. Good to look for at restaurants, and it is at most Japanese restaurants with a good sake list. This is one brand that I highly recommend.
Dassai also makes a nice nigori (unfiltered) sake that is also sparkling. Very fun to try if you get the chance.
Dassai is also famous for milling the rice down to only 23% of the original size. Dassai 23.
rice: Yamada Nishiki
nihonshudo: +3
http://www.asahishuzo.ne.jp/en/ (brewery site in English)
Kokken

Kokken

6. Kokken Yamahai Junmai Nigorizake 国権 山廃純米にごり酒
From Fukushima prefecture.
Nigorizake is unfiltered sake.
This one is also in the yamahai style where the sake ferments with naturally occurring yeasts in an open tank.
rice: Miyama Nishiki
alcohol: 14.5%
nihonshudo: +3
http://www.kokken.co.jp/eng/top.html (brewery site in English)
http://www.kokken.co.jp/eng/makingsake.html (great info on sake making process in English)
Sake no Ana

Sake no Ana

7. Sake no Ana Daiginjo 酒の穴 大吟醸
A private label daiginjo sake made for the restaurant.
From Nagano prefecture by the Ozawa brewery.
Nagano is famous for its water. The bottled water they served here was also from this brewery.
rice: Yamada Nishiki
nihonshudo: +4
Ryujin

Ryujin

8. Ryujin Daikoshu 1970 龍神 大古酒 30年
From Gunma prefecture.
Aged 30 years.
alcohol: 18-19%
Kameizumi

Kameizumi

9. Kameizumi Junmai Ginjo Namazake 亀泉 純米吟醸 生酒
From Kochi prefecture.
Made with yeast that went into outer space called CEL-24.
nihonshudo: -8

Sake no Ana: Best Place for Tasting Sake for Lunch in Tokyo – Part 1/2

Sake Sommelier Sakamoto-san

Sake Sommelier Sakamoto-san

Sake no Ana 酒の穴
Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-5-8
03-3567-1133

There are many wonderful izakaya in Tokyo, however finding one that is open for lunch is a challenge. I was in particular looking for an izakaya with a wide variety of sake by the glass that is open for lunch. All of my favorites, including Sasagin and Takara are only open for dinner.

I found this izakaya from John Gauntner’s great book, The Sake Handbook. John Gauntner’s wonderful website is also an outstanding resource that lists the top izakaya in the city. Out of all of these, only Sake no Ana is open for lunch. Sake no Ana in Ginza is an amazing place to go for lunch if you want to try many different sake by the glass. The location also can not be beat, in the heart of Ginza across the street from Matsuya department store. When I made our reservation I confirmed that a sake sommelier would be on hand to help with the tasting.

Sakamoto-san (no relation, unfortunately) was amazing. I asked him to taste us through all of the different types of sake (from honjozo, junmaishu, daiginjo) and asked him to put in some other fun stuff like nigorizake and koshu. Also, good to know that the evening menu which is full of sake-friendly bites, is available at lunch, you just need to ask for it. The restaurant is busy at lunchtime, mostly with salarymen and office ladies taking their set lunch specials, so it is not really the most conducive environment for such a tasting. But if you are in Tokyo for a limited time and want to use a lunch to explore sake, then I truly believe this is the best spot in the city. And Sakamoto-san is friendly, knowledgeable, and provided exactly what we wanted, a variety of sake.

Highlights of our tasting:

Suzune and Fukucho Purasu X

Suzune and Fukucho Purasu X

All sake below are between 15-16% alcohol unless stated.

1. Suzune すず音
Sparkling sake from Ichinokura (name of brewery) in Miyagi prefecture.
http://www.ichinokura.co.jp/syohin/t/suzune.html (picture of the bottle with notes in Japanese)
You called this the Moscato d’Asti of sake.
alcohol: 4.5 – 5.5%
nihonshudo: -70 to -90
2. Fukucho Purasu X Karakuchi Natsu Ginjoshu 福久長 プラスX 辛口夏吟醸酒
Made by Miho Imada, a female toji (sake brewer) – very rare for Japan where most sake brewers are men.
Made in Hiroshima prefecture.
Yamada Nishiki rice (most popular rice for making sake)
http://fukucho.info/?mode=f6 (sake brewery site in English) – good notes here on the sake making process
nihonshudo: +10

Ebisu Itchome Horumon 恵比寿一丁目ホルモン for Offal Cuisine

Ebisu Itchome Horumon Exterior

Ebisu Itchome Horumon Exterior

Ebisu Itchome Horumon is a few minutes’ walk from Ebisu station.

Ebisu Itchome Horumon Interior

Ebisu Itchome Horumon Interior

Gas grills are on each table with a strong exhaust pipe over each grill.

Liver Sashimi

Liver Sashimi

Our first course was a rich liver sashimi, very intense in flavor. It is garnished with sesame oil and salt.

Offal for Grilling

Offal for Grilling

A variety of innards to grill. Other tables that had this same item served had little signs in each well describing what each item was. We were told that the restaurant ran out of signs. Regardless, it is a variety of textures and flavors.

Shinji Grilling

Shinji Grilling

Shinji grills the offal. This is always fun for diners who love to cook.

Offal Hot Pot

Offal Hot Pot

Our last course was a hot pot of offal, tofu, and vegetables.

Offal Menu

Offal Menu

To help diners figure out the different parts of the cow a guide is drawn on a chalkboard.

Offal Menu

Offal Menu

The menu is also posted outside of the restaurant.

This simply designed restaurant features a power vacuum over each table’s gas grill to suck up the smoke. The staff suggested we start off with liver sashimi, which was very fresh but cut too thick. The next course of grilled naizo was our favorite, especially the fatty tontoro (neck) and hearty hatsumoto (aorta). Ebisu Itchome’s signature dish, the kopuchan nabe, is filled with vegetables to balance the fatty small intestines. The loud music explains why our phone calls went unanswered while we were lost for 45 minutes, so make sure you bring along a good map.

Ebisu Itchome Horumon 恵比寿一丁目ホルモン
Shibuya-ku, Ebisu 1-22-23 渋谷区恵比寿1-22-23

Tel: 03-6277-0777

Open daily 11:30am-3pm and 6pm-5am

Nearest stn: Ebisu, east exit

http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g431308

Shinjuku Hormone for Offal Cuisine

Personal Grill at Shinjuku Hormone

Personal Grill at Shinjuku Hormone

Shinjuku Hormone 新宿ホルモン

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-12-3 新宿区新宿3-12-3

Tel. 03-3353-4129

Hours: 17:00 – 24:00, no holidays

www.ishii-world.jp/brand/motsu/shinjuku-horumon/shinjukuhoru/ (Japanese)

Shinjuku Horumon and Saiseisakaba are part of a chain of restaurants managed by Ishii Group. They are the specialists in naizo, evident by the top quality products they serve, their knowledgeable staff and the wide variety of items on their menus.

If you are the type that loves to cook, you will love it here. Each party has their own shichirin (charcoal stove) to grill up their hormones. The sumi (charcoal) roasts better than gas and gives a better aroma to the meats. If you are curious, here you can try things like pai (breast) or sao (tip of the penis) as this shop has the most diverse menu. There is also a great poster on the walls explaining the menu.

Shinjuku Hormone

Shinjuku Hormone

The only downside to this restaurant with all of the personal grills around the restaurant is how smokey the restaurant gets. Don’ go in wearing your nice clothes for you will reek of greasy smoke for the rest of the evening. And, a good idea to take a shower after you come home.

Snout to Tail Offal

Snout to Tail Offal

Shinjuku Hormone has a long menu of offal. There is a poster on the wall with photos of the different parts of the animal. Just point at what you want to try.

Charcoal Grill Shichirin

Charcoal Grill Shichirin

The shichirin grills are not gas (like at many restaurants around the city) but filled with charcoal. The sumi charcoal produces a strong infrared heat that cooks the meat evenly and quickly.

Shinjuku Hormone is a fun evening for the adventurous diner.