Tokyo Food Guide

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photo by Olen Peterson

We can demystify Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest seafood market,

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and introduce you to a new sushi neta, like kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) that is pink, slightly sweet, and is succulent.

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Introduce you to a wide variety of Japanese pickles.

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Lead you to a special bar where cocktails are made with seasonal fruit and vegetables,

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or to a bar serving craft beer and sweet potato chips.

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Explore the unique izakaya culture from smoky grilled meat joints
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to saké specialty restaurants and discover the subtle nuances of saké through flights of saké,

shochu

or through the native distilled spirit, shōchū. Yukari was the first non-Japanese to pass the shōchū advisor exam.

DSCN5688Explore street food on the side streets of Tokyo,
depachika sugar grapesphoto by Nancy Matsumoto

or to my old stomping grounds, Takashimaya depachika, to discover sugar-coated muscat grapes and

depachika sashimi matsumoto

photo by Nancy Matsumoto

seasonal sashimi.

Food Sake Tokyo guides are a chef and Japanese fishmonger. We are Tokyo’s food guides. Please contact us here for more information on our market tours.

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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.


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

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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.

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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:

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 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.

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

Ramen Trends for 2011

The food trends with ramen are interesting this year. Most of it is evident by the recent posts on popular and new shops in Tokyo. To wrap it all up, following are a list of five trends that Shokuraku magazine (February 2011) issue highlights below. I have included the name of some of the restaurants where you can find these ramen. If you do a search on this blog the restaurant information should come up as they have been mentioned in a prior posting.

1. Clear soup made from chicken or pork bones.  These are often cloudy or murky but these clear soups are rich in umami and flavor.  Shops serving this style ramen include: Ramenya 69’N’Roll One, Menya Itou, Baisen Shio Soba Dokoro Kinjitou, Hongare Chuka Soba Gyorai, Ramen Hajime, and Niboshi Iwashi Ramen En.

2. Niku soba. Ramen packed with lots of meat on top, usually cha shu. In the case of Ramenya 69’N’Roll One in Sagamihara, Iberico pork. Shops include New Old Style Niku Soba Keisuke, and Mensoken Kanade Kurenai.

3. A big contrast from trend number one, the clear soups, are dorokei, or thick soups, almost like mud. These are often made from pork or chicken. Shops include Muteppou Tokyo Nakano Ten.

4. Tsukemen, the noodles and soup are served in separate bowls. The noodles are then dipped into the soup, much like some soba dishes are served. With tsukemen the noodles are usually thick and the soup is often very rich in flavor. Shops include Chuka Soba Tomita.

5. This final trend is very interesting. It is that more and more izakaya (Japanese pubs) are serving better and better ramen. While izakaya have been selling ramen for a long time what has changed is their sourcing for materials. As restaurants throughout Japan have been suffering recently some ramen shops have begun selling their noodles and soup to izakaya so that good quality ramen can be sold at their restaurants.

One shop that looks interesting to have a good bowl of ramen at an izakaya is called Shin. It specializes in the local food  of Kumamoto prefecture from the southern island of Kyushu. This izakaya is all about shochu, the local distilled spirit. Kumamoto is known for its komejochu or rice-based shochu. It is light on the palate and very food-friendly. One good brand to look for is called Shiro, and I suggest having it mizuwari, mixed with water and on the rocks. The soup is made from horse bones instead of pork bones.

Shin しん

Shibuya-ku, Ebisu Minami 1-16-5, Tachimura Bldg. South B1

03-6663-8731

18:00 – 22:30, closed Sunday

I hope this information is of help to readers of this blog. I come across so much interesting information on Japanese food, most of it in Japanese, that I would like to help get the word out in English.