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.

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).

Offal Cuisine (Naizo or Hormone Ryori)

Saiseisakaba Shinjuku Sanchome

Saiseisakaba Shinjuku Sanchome

One unique cuisine that is a must-try for adventurous foodies is offal cuisine. This article which first appeared in Metropolis magazine includes several popular restaurants in Tokyo for naizo ryori.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/785/localflavors.asp (text follows)

Tokyo’s horumon boom has been going strong for two years now—and shows no signs of letting up. Horumon ryori, a.k.a. naizo, ranges from an animal’s mouth (tongue) to its tail (literally), including all the organs and pipes in-between. Though it may seem intimidating at first, fresh and well-prepared horumon is a dining adventure unlike no other—who knew you could even eat body parts like nodochinko (uvula) or fuwa (lungs)? Textures range from creamy brains to kori kori (chewy) intestines, and the food goes well with most alcoholic beverages, which helps account for its increasing popularity among salarymen and OLs. Here are some of our favorite places around town.

Birdland
While horumon refers to innards taken from cows and pigs, a good place to start may be with chickens. Birdland, one of Tokyo’s most famous yakitori restaurants, has chicken so fresh that it can be eaten rare. Bonbochi is the fatty bits near the tail, grilled up to juicy, savory bombs. Liver is rich and tender, sunagimo (gizzard) is chewy, hatsu (heart) has a nice mouthfeel, while nankotsu (cartilage; below) gives your jaws a workout.

B1, 4-2-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5250-1081. Open Tue-Sat 5-9:30pm, closed Sun-Mon & hols. Nearest stn: Yurakucho.

Yamariki
A shitamachi institution, Yamariki’s original restaurant is undergoing renovation, but the shinkan is still open. This izakaya’s signature nikomi of cow intestines is slow-simmered until tender—the cooks have used the same broth continuously for close to 40 years. Yamariki is known for its yakiton, or grilled bits from pork, including juicy kashira (temples) and chewy teppo (rectum). The restaurant’s knowledgeable sommelier, Mizukami-san, can help suggest French wines to go with your meal.

1-14-6 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-5625-6685. Open Mon-Sat 5-10pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Morishita (Toei Shinjuku line). www.yamariki.com

Shinjuku Horumon
Shinjuku Horumon and Saisei Sakaba, part of a restaurant chain managed by naizo specialists Ishii Group, are notable for their top-quality products, knowledgeable staff and deep menus. If you’re the type that loves to cook, you’ll enjoy it here—each table has its own shichirin (charcoal stove), which infuses the meats with a better aroma than gas. If you’re the curious type, Shinjuku Horumon offers the most diverse menu, including pai (breast) and sao (tip of the penis). We ordered an assortment platter, and the friendly staff adeptly walked us through all of them; there is also a helpful poster on the wall explaining the menu. The only thing we didn’t like was that the small space quickly fills with smoke.

3-12-3 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3353-4129. Open daily 5pm-midnight. Nearest stn: Shinjuku, east exit. http://tinyurl.com/shin-hor

Saisei Sakaba
Located on the back streets of Shinjuku-Sanchome, this friendly tachinomiya is our hands-down favorite. The Showa-era décor calls to mind a bygone era, while the six handsome staffers squeezed in behind the counter care for the customers (pictured). We started with brain sashimi—milky and creamy like shirako (cod milt), served with sesame seeds, soy sauce and chopped negi. 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). The yudetan (tongue) is simmered all day until tender. The staff was diligent in keeping their work areas and cutting boards spotless—a reassuring sign—and the attentive servers saw that our glasses never went empty.

3-7-3 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3354-4829. Open daily 3pm-midnight. Nearest stn: Shinjuku, east exit. http://tinyurl.com/saisei

Ebisu Itchome Horumon
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.

1-22-23 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-6277-0777. Open daily 11:30am-3pm and 6pm-5am. Nearest stn: Ebisu, east exit. http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g431308 

Guide to popular horumon varieties

tan (tongue) タン
tail (tail) テール
nodochinko (uvula) のどちんこ
fuwa (lungs) フワ
burenzu (brains) ブレンズ
tecchan (large intestines) テッチャン
marucho (small intestines) マルチョウ
sunagimo (gizzard) 砂肝
hatsu (heart) ハツ
nankotsu (cartilage) なんこつ
kashira (temples) かしら
teppo (rectum) てっぽー
tontoro (neck) 豚とろ
hatsumoto (aorta) はつもと
pai (breast) ぱい
sao (tip of the penis) さお
shikin (esophagus) しきん
gatsu (guts) がつ
nodomoto (throat) のどもと
komekami (temple) こめかみ
yude-tan (simmered tongue) ゆでタン

Tachinomi in Shinbashi, Nihonbashi, and Hatchobori 立ち飲み

Tachinomi

Tachinomi

Tachinomi, or standing bars, offer drinks and small bites often at bargain prices. In this article, which fist appeared in Metropolis magazine, Alex Vega and I visit popular tachinomi in Shinbashi, Nihonbashi, and Hatchobori.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/668/localflavors.asp (text follows)

In a country famous for its reserved
populace, tachinomiya are among the few places where it’s easy to talk to strangers. That’s what makes these “standing bars” fun. As well as an obvious lack of seats, there are a few unwritten rules.

Some places are pay-as-you-go, at others you run a tab, and at others you may find a small bowl on the table where you leave your loose change; the server will take what you owe from there. Be flexible, as you may be asked to move around to accommodate newcomers. Because counter space is also limited, order your food bit by bit. And, according to one tachinomi aficionado, while it’s fine to be friendly, don’t be too friendly.

Shinbashi

One of the best places to experience standing bar culture at its most relaxed is Shinbashi, especially on a Friday night, when the salarymen celebrate the end of the work week creating a real party atmosphere in the streets.

Most of Shinbashi’s bars are on the west side of the JR station. Noyaki is one of the friendliest. It’s been around for 30 years, and it looks like nothing has changed in that time. There are seats inside, but standing out in the narrow alleyway is a good way to soak up the Shinbashi culture. The smoky aroma of nikomi (innards stew) wafts out of the window in front of the grill. The house specialty is chicken and pig bits skewered and grilled, but you may need a few beers before you can stand the gristlier bits.

Tonko is hard to miss, with a plastic pig outside that signals its specialty: pork. It’s famous for its friendly, all-female staff, and many customers seem to be regulars who go for the flirting as much as the beer. You can get every piece of the pig here, from the mimiga (ears) to the “Titanic” kakuni (soft, braised pork), to the gutsy nikomi.

Higoikini is a one of a new generation of standing bars; you might call them “gastro-tachinomi” (like the modern British “gastro-pubs”). It’s a cavernous space with long communal tables and a wall of shochu bottles. The young crowd outnumbers the salarymen. The food is self-service (the deep-fried calamari is recommended) and drinks are ordered from the cashier.

Also in the area, Heso is known for its good food, but is a male bastion of gray-haired chain smokers, so we gave it a miss. There are dozens more, so stroll around and get adventurous.

East Tokyo

In Nihonbashi, Masukyu Liquor really feels like something from another era. Every day at 5pm, this liquor store on Chuo Dori turns into a standing bar. The same goods it sells during the day (cup sake, cans and bottles of beer and shochu) can in the evening be consumed in the shop. Early birds can stand around the mama-san at the cashier; latecomers may find themselves in the office space at the back. As there is no kitchen, for food you can select from an array of snacks and canned goods: tuna, yakitori, scallops, squid—even whale. Yes, all in a can.

Another favorite that is definitely worth seeking out is Maru in Hatchobori. The bar is located next door to a wine and liquor shop. Pick up a bottle in the shop, pay for it and then take it into the bar, where they will open it for ¥500. The menu is quite extensive with European tapas such as grilled and cured meats, olives and cheese, as well as typical izakaya fare. The first floor is a tachinomi, and there are seats upstairs. Maru fills up quickly, so come early.

Address Book

Heso 2-8-2 Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3508-0466.
Higoikini 2-8-9 Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3502-3132.
Maru 3-22-10 Hatchobori, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3552-4477
Masukyu Liquor 2-7-19 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku. No phone.
Noyaki 2-8-16 Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3591-2967.
Tonko 2-9-17 Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3508-1122.

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 English Menu

Saiseisakaba English Menu

A friend went recently and sent me the new menu in English. Photo credit to Stephen McCready. Arigato Stephen!

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)