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

 

Horumon-yaki Rukuma Tokyo ホルモン焼 婁熊東京

Small bite

When I crave offal I usually head to the casual standing bar Saisei Sakaba in Shinjuku. When I was contacted by the production team for Andrew Zimmern before his trip to Tokyo I suggested this restaurant and was thrilled to see it on his program. He is seen on the program behind the counter grilling skewered offal over charcoal with one of the chefs.

On a recent night out with some fellow foodies we were introduced to a great offal restaurant by an editor from a food magazine.

Smoked Liver Salad

Offal Sashimi Course

Pork Liver with Soy Sauce Koji, Cervix, Natto Koji, and Irizake

To get to Rukuma it’s best to meet someone who knows how to get there at Ebisu station and have them guide you there. That’s how it is for many restaurants in this city without street names. I know Ebisu fairly well and even I’m not sure if I could find my way back here. A short walk from the station along a busy street passing a ramen shop with a long line, several standing bars, and a few izakaya. At a stoplight our “guide” Mizutani-san, takes a right and then a left along the Yamanote line and we walk along the tracks until he says that we’ve arrived.

I knew we were in for a treat when one of the first dishes we had included unique ingredients like cervix and natto koji. Offal is appreciated for its texture and flavor. The chef was very creative to make his own natto koji and other ingredients you’ll see below.

Nikomi Simmered Offal with Salt-Cured Cambodian Fresh Black Peppers

The salt-cured fresh black peppers from Cambodia was another new ingredient that a fellow chef at the table also was impressed with. The chef suggested having the peppers with the food, but also to try it on its own. Salty with a pepper bite and a great texture like a hard caper berry.

Charcoal Grill

At this point the staff pull down the exhaust vent from the ceiling and bring a charcoal grill to the table. Maybe you recognize Japan’s most famous non-Japanese ramen chef in the photo?

First Grilling Course

Gensouton Maboroshi Shimofuri Pork in Wine Lees Powder

Stomach Fat wrapped around Pork Liver with Pressed Onion Chips

Pork Hire Tenderloin with Pressed Peppers

Oppai Teats

Roast Ham

Pork Hara Diaphragm

Tongue Amazake Misozuke

Tonsoku Pig’s Feet and Liver Andouille Sausage

Hands down the favorite was the stomach fat wrapped around pork liver for its crispy outside but still raw inside. The homemade andouille sausage was also nice. And, again, amazed to find yet another new ingredient – wine lees dried to a powder then used to add umami to the meat.

Interior

Pressed Pepper

This was also a new ingredient. Dried peppercorn pressed until paper thin. Leathery texture and a peppery bite. Would love this with a steak.

Grilled Pickled Peppers

Harami with Shio Koji, Guts, Nodobue (vocal chords) with Fish Sauce, Pork Spleen, and Bacon

At this point the staff asked if we were ready for another round. We asked for a smaller serving this time around. The vocal chords were great, slightly chewy.

And a note from a fellow diner regarding the bacon: “What a great meal that was. If I had any beef (pork?) with your report, it would be that you didn’t highlite the bacon experience.  Although bacon isn’t as bizarre as most of the stuff that came out, I would’ve  liked if you had given a shout out to it because it’s the closest thing to the wonderful bacon we made from the young pigs that we raised in Massachusetts (when I was a kid) and were smoked at a Vermont smoke house.”

The power of the exhaust vent

The shop has an outstanding saké and shochu list. Some good saké that is not on the menu as well, so be sure to ask your server if there are any off the list that they have. Some that we enjoyed this evening included a saké from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima, Kikuhime from Ishikawa, and Kikuyoi from Shizuoka.

While there is a menu, it is best to just say “omakase” and let the chef send out different courses. The staff will ask you towards the end of the meal if you want to stop or if you want more. Just be sure to let them know if you have any food allergies.

Rukuma Twitter Account

Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 2-3-5, Ishii Bldg. B1

03-3464-8929

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.

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.

Saiseisakaba for Offal Ryori 再生酒場新宿三丁目

Saiseisakaba Shinjuku Sanchome

Saiseisakaba Shinjuku Sanchome

Saiseisakaba 再生酒場

Shinjuku 3-7-3, Marunaka Building 1st floor 新宿区新宿3−7−3

Tel. 03-3354-4829

17:00 – 24:00, no holidays

www.ishii-world.jp/brand/motsu/nihonsaisei/shinjuku3/ (Japanese)

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

Brain Sashimi

Brain Sashimi

Saiseisakaba has branches around the city. I first found them in Monzennakacho on Eitai Dori. There is also a location in the Shin Marunouchi Building (Shin Maru Biru) just outside of Tokyo Station. The staff are always genki and helpful.

The staff behind the counter asked us what we wanted to have and we asked him to surprise us, that we were game for unusual items. He started out with sashimi of brain. I thought Shinji would take the first bite, but he wasn’t keen on it. So I started. It was surprisingly good, almost like shirako (sperm sacs, often from cod, but from a variety of fish). It was creamy, fresh and a great way to start our evening.

Simmered Cow's Tongue

Simmered Cow's Tongue

The gyutan (cow’s tongue) is simmered gently until tender. One of my favorite dishes here.

Saiseisakaba Menu

Saiseisakaba Menu

The menu is written out in Japanese on wooden boards and posted around the bar.

Grilling Offal

Grilling Offal

Then we challenged the grill master to surprise us with five unusual skewers, and he came back with chewy shokudo (esophagus); crispy guts; hizo (spleen), which was similar to liver but with a side of fat; rubbery nodomoto (throat); and meaty komekami (temple).

If you are up for an adventurous dinner, then check out this popular tachinomi (standing bar).

Shinjuku – Saiseisakaba Standing Bar for Offal

Shinjuku Saiseisakaba

Shinjuku Saiseisakaba

Saiseisakaba in Shinjuku is one of my favorite standing bars in Tokyo. Located in Shinjuku Sanchome it is close to Isetan department store.

Brain Sashimi

Brain Sashimi

We asked the server for something unusual to start off with. He suggested brain sashimi. We were game, but when it arrived, my husband Shinji (who is a fishmonger and is accustomed to eating many weird things) was not willing to take the first bite. I dug in and actually enjoyed it, similar in texture to shirako (fish sperm sacs).

Stewed Tongue

Stewed Tongue

Moving onto something cooked we had gyutan (cow tongue) that is simmered for a long time until tender, one of my favorite dishes at Saiseisakaba.

The grill at Saiseisakaba

The grill at Saiseisakaba

This interior shot overlooking the kitchen shows the sumi (charcoal) grill. Saiseisakaba also offers a variety of different offal grilled. These foods go with beer, sake, or shochu.

Saiseisakaba 再生酒場

Shinjuku 3-7-3, Marunaka Building 1st floor 新宿区新宿3−7−3、丸中ビル1階

Tel. 03-3354-4829

17:00 – 24:00, no holidays

www.ishii-world.jp/brand/motsu/nihonsaisei/shinjuku3/ (Japanese)