Kotaro is named after the owner and chef who prepares all of the food in an open kitchen behind a large wooden counter. I was introduced to Kotaro by a food writer who introduces me to the best spots around the city.
Selection of saké cups on the counter. Each saké is served with a different cup. It’s always interesting to try saké from different cups, and curious to see which ones the staff picks for each person as they are not always the same.
Kotaro menu – photo by my sommelier friend, Carrie. Arigato! Kotaro writes the menu by hand. Love this personal touch.
The concept behind the saké list is very simple. Kotaro has selected eight breweries that he is fond of and only serves from these eight. When I first heard this I thought it was limiting. However, the brilliance behind this is that as he has strong connections with these breweries he is able to get limited release saké for his restaurant. Many of what we had this evening will be hard to find elsewhere in Tokyo. He also likes the styles of these breweries and his cuisine works well with these.
The first course at Koutaro is always a bean dish. Again, very simple concept, but when executed correctly is very rewarding. I also loves the tableware he uses, like this intricate blue and white dish. There is katsuobushi (dried and shaved skipjack tuna) garnishing the beans, greens, and mushrooms.
Most Japanese will start the night off with a beer and then move onto saké. At izakaya with a good saké list, I like to start off with a sparkling saké, which Kotaro usually has on hand.
Otsukuri, or sashimi course.
The izakaya has a long counter facing the open kitchen, or if you come with friends you can get a table. The staff speak English and can explain the dishes. The menu is only in Japanese, so I recommend telling the staff, “omakase” (oh-mah-kah-say) and letting Kotaro serve you some of their signature dishes. Tell them if there is anything you like, and more importantly, you don’t like.
Basashi (horse meat sashimi) 馬刺し from Canada of all places. Kumamoto prefecture in Kyushu (southern Japan) is famous for basashi and I have become a big fan of it. It’s very meaty and like eating steak tartare.
Oyster on the half shell. 生牡蠣
The restaurant is popular so you have to book well in advance. You could call from overseas to place your reservation, about a month in advance. I believe the phone lines open up at 1:30 p.m. The staff can take your reservation in English.
Japanese-style potato salad is a common dish found at casual izakaya so I was surprised to find it here at Koutaro. That being said, potato salad is a comfort food that almost everyone loves. And, this one was topped with a smoked, hard-boiled egg. Something I can’t make at home. The dressing is a classic vinaigrette.
Menchi katsu is one of Kotaro’s signature dishes. Ground meat that is breaded and deep-fried. Surprisingly very good with a hearty saké.
Another tip, ask them to give you different temperatures of saké. It’s fun to try hot and cold and to see how the flavor changes as a hot saké cools down.
The last dish is his signature udon noodles that he makes each evening from scratch after the store closes. Kotaro is from Kagawa, on the island of Shikoku. This is the heart of udon country. In Tokyo, most meals end with rice, so the handmade udon noodles is a great spin.
He serves a Japanese-style carbonara with a raw egg, butter, and soy sauce. He also does a cold udon noodle simply garnished with grated daikon and soy sauce.
It’s usually a young, hip crowd here. It’s always busy. They do serve until late at night, so if you can’t get in early, try and book later in the evening.
Kotaro is a short walk from Shibuya station. It’s a bit hard to find, so make sure you have Google Maps, or go by taxi, to be safe. If you go, please tell him Yukari sent you.
Shibuya-ku, Sakuragaokacho 28-2 渋谷区桜丘町
Closed Sunday and the first Monday of each month.