Shibuya Kotaro 高太郎

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** Note, reservations required. Kotaro is very popular and not many spots open up each month as regulars make their next reservations on their way out.

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.

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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

Kotaro menu – photo by my sommelier friend, Carrie. Arigato! Kotaro writes the menu by hand. Love this personal touch.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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. 🙂

Kotaro 高太郎

Shibuya-ku, Sakuragaokacho 28-2 渋谷区桜丘町

03-5428-5705

Closed Sunday and the first Monday of each month.

http://ameblo.jp/kotaro-info/

Deep-Fried Oysters at Tsukiji

Yachiyo is a Tsukiji shop that specializes in tonkatsu, but also does a very nice kaki furai, deep-fried oysters. It is located to the left of Sushi Dai. Oysters are just finishing off their season but will be back in the autumn. However, the days of Yachiyo and the inner market are limited.

Oysters are breaded and deep-fried until golden brown. There is a splash of Japanese karashi mustard on the side, but I prefer the Western tartar sauce that is often served with oysters and fried fish. The set meal comes with three vegetable sides of pickles, crispy julienned cabbage, and a coleslaw. It is rounded out with miso soup and rice.

Two counters line the left and right side of the shop. If you visit when oysters are out of season try some of the seafood like shrimp, scallops, or horse mackerel. The fishmongers often order eggs with pork belly (chashu eggu teishoku, available only Tue, Thu, and Sat).

Chef Ishizuka is the handsome guy in the kitchen with glasses.

Tsukiji Yachiyo 築地 八千代

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #6 中央区築地5-2-1ビル6

http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/21_yachiyo/

Sardine Lovers’ Lunch 新宿割烹中嶋

Chef Nakajima of Shinjuku Kappō Nakajima is often on television on a morning cooking show. His restaurant serves a multi-course kaiseki meal in the evening, but the lunch is a set lunch based on iwashi sardines.

For less than $10 USD (800 or 900 JPY), the menu options are sashimi, furai (breaded and deep-fried), nimono (simmered in a sweet soy sauce), or Yanagigawa (fried sardines cooked with eggs in a sweet soy sauce). The meal includes rice, miso soup, and pickles.

We sat at the counter and watched as an assistant chef continued to make the sashimi dish, which is actually tataki (photo, above left). It is a great preparation for silvery-skinned fish like sardines or horse mackerel. The sashimi is roughly chopped and mixed with ginger and sesame, which helps cut through the fishiness.

Fried sardines often include some of the bones, which you can chew and eat, but a warning if you are not used to it. The Yanagigawa is served in a shallow dish that is a nice combination of sardines with the softly cooked eggs.

The restaurant has a counter overlooking part of the kitchen and several tables. We arrived around 11:30 a.m. and snagged the last seats at the counter. When we left there was over a dozen people in line.

The restaurant is hard to find. It is on a quiet side street and signage is ridiculously small, even for Japanese readers. Look for the sign (photo, above right) and go down the stairs. The staff are very friendly and there is an English menu for this great lunch.

Shinjuku Kappō Nakajima 新宿割烹中嶋

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-32-5, Nichihara Bldg. B1     新宿区新宿3-32-5 日原ビルB1

http://www.shinjyuku-nakajima.com/

Map from the restaurant’s website

http://www.shinjyuku-nakajima.com/tenpo.html#main

iwashi いわし 鰯

kappō 割烹

Nakajima 中嶋

 

Hiroshima Oysters – Mitsukoshi Kakigoya

A trip to Hiroshima was timed around oyster season, which is just now coming to an end. Shinji has not been and for him it’s all about the seafood, so we flew to Hiroshima and traveled around the area for about two weeks.

Sadly we were told at the restaurants we did visit that they would not be serving raw oysters as the oyster farmers had said that at this time there was a high risk of getting sick. A bit disappointing, but not the end of the world, and there are plenty of great dishes made with oysters.

On the roof of Mitsukoshi department store is a pop-up restaurant, Kakigoya, an ideal place for oyster dishes in a casual setting. Plastic tables and chairs are set under a giant tarp-covered tent. Portable charcoal grills are set next to the tables for grilling oysters. Kakigoya are often found beachside near the oyster farms, so it’s a treat to have it in the city center. The smell of the grilled oysters filled the tent. The only thing missing was the sound of the waves hitting the beach. It didn’t matter, I was in oyster heaven. If you think about it, this is the winter version of the summer beer gardens on Japanese department store rooftops.

The other diners were a wide mix from salarymen drinking beer with lunch, mothers with small kids, retirees, and a couple of solo diners. It seems to be a popular spot with the locals, always a good sign.

The staff was kind enough to grill the oysters for me. He told me 3 minutes first on the flat side of the oyster and then another 3 minutes on the curved side. The oysters are rich with the minerality of the ocean and need no seasoning.

The set lunch comes with soup, salad, two side dishes, panko-crusted and fried oysters, and oysters cooked with rice. I had fried oysters a few times while in Hiroshima, and this was the best. The rice cooked with oysters is a nice dish I haven’t come across in Tokyo. The rice is seasoned with the oysters as they cook together. Oyster season is coming to an end, so put this on your radar for next season.

Kakigoya at Mitsukoshi Department Store

Hiroshima-shi, Naka-ku, Ebisu-cho 5-1 広島市中区胡町5-1

 

Yakigaki – grilled oysters

Kakimeshi – rice cooked with oysters

Kaki furai – deep-fried oysters

Isomaru Suisan 磯丸水産

A friend and I needed to grab a quick lunch before he jumped on the shinkansen to Kyoto. We popped into Isomaru Suisan near Ueno station and had colorful and fresh sashimi donburiDonburi are large bowls filled with rice and toppings, a great one-bowl meal. He had a tuna and avocado bowl and I took a chirashizushi with seasonal sashimi, roe, and tamagoyaki. Each bowl was about 800 JPY or about $7 USD. Isomaru Suisan is a reliable restaurant for quick and affordable meals made with very fresh seafood.

Isomaru Suisan was recently featured on television as it goes to great lengths to bring the freshest seafood to its stores. The chain has branches throughout Tokyo and most shops are 24 hours. There are multiple locations at the bigger stations. Shinjuku station has nine shops within walking distance. There is a menu that is in English, Chinese, and Korean complete with photos.

The interior is filled with colorful designs from tairyōbata, giant flags that are flown from fishing boats in Japan. Staff are plentiful and service is fast. This is not gourmet dining, but for the price, it offers a great value.

Many of the diners were drinking beer and saké. Many were grilling their own seafood on portable burners. It’s a fun atmosphere and a great place to come with friends, but solo diners would also feel comfortable here.

Isomaru Suisan 磯丸水産

http://www.isomaru.jp/

The shops:

http://www.isomaru.jp/shoplist/

The shop list is only in Japanese. I would suggest doing a search in English under “Isomaru Suisan” and the name of a Tokyo station.

Tsukiji Katou 築地かとう – moved to Toyosu

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*** Katou has closed with the closing of the Tsukiji Jōnai Inner Market and has moved to Toyosu Market. It is in the Suisan Nakaoroshi Uriba-to on the 3rd floor and the name changed to Ikinoya (粋のや). I believe it is being managed by Kaisendon Oedo, another popular shop that moved from Tsukiji to Toyosu. (updated 10/21/2018)

For a truly local breakfast at Tsukiji, bypass all of the sushi shops and follow the fishmongers to shops like Katou. The menu consists mostly of grilled and simmered seafood served with rice, miso soups, pickles, and a side dish.

Kinmedai, 金目鯛 splendid alfonsino, when simmered in a sweet soy broth, will melt in your mouth. I was lucky and got the head part of the fish, while my neighbor got the tail end. Dig into the head with your chopsticks to pull out small nuggets of tender meat. The eyeball is a delicacy. It is a challenge to pick up with your chopsticks. If you are successful in getting it into your mouth, suck up the tender collagen, but be sure to spit out the hard white part.

Katou’s big menu includes Saikyo miso marinated and grilled black cod, an assortment of seasonal sashimi, and seasonal whole fish simply salted and grilled. The bowl of rice is hearty, for the fishmongers who work in the market. It is impolite to leave rice in your bowl, so unless you are very hungry, it is good to ask for a small bowl of rice. In Japanese, gohan o sukuname.

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Katou かとう

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #8 中央区築地5-2-1ビル8号

This Tabelog page shows some of their other main dishes:

http://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1313/A131301/13007669/dtlphotolst/1/

Tokyo Station Sushi Sei

Sushi Sei salmon and ikura

Sushi Sei salmon and ikura

Sushi Sei is a popular sushi shop at Tsukiji Market that has a branch inside of Tokyo Station. There is often a line of salarymen outside of the shop before it opens at 7 a.m. The breakfast options include sashimi or donburi (sashimi over a large bowl of rice). There are also two versions of ochazuke. Ochazuke is a bowl of rice with toppings such as seafood or pickles that is then drenched with tea or a mix of dashi and tea. Sushi Sei has sea bream in a creamy sesame dressing or salmon belly with ikura. Above is the salmon and ikura set as it is presented.

Sushi Sei ochazuke

Sushi Sei ochazuke

The diner assembles the toppings to the rice and then pours the savory tea broth over the bowl. This breakfast is only 670 JPY. At current exchange rates I think it is about $5 USD. It is garnished with mizuna greens and arare, colorful rice crackers.

There are seats at the sushi counter, but this early in the morning the counter is not filled with seafood yet. It was busy recently on a weekday morning, and I was happy to see that most of the customers were ordering the ochazuke. It is a popular comfort food dish. I usually drink it as a last dish at an izakaya after a night out of drinking, but it is also an excellent way to start the day.

Sushi Sei first opened 120 years ago, in the original fish market, before it moved to Tsukiji.

Tsukiji Sushi Sei 築地寿司清

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station GranSta Dining 1st Floor

www.tsukijisushisay.co.jp/store/tokyo.html

Octopus Cuisine

Octopus from Tokyo Bay

Boiled Octopus

Shinji’s father has a boat on Tokyo Bay and he often goes fishing. Recently he came home with an octopus. Shinji set to work preparing the octopus by first massaging it in grated daikon. It was then boiled and here is the boiled octopus.

tako sashimi

Octopus Sashimi

Octopus, tako in Japanese, is one of my favorite seafood. It’s meaty, has a great texture, and is not very fishy. That’s important for this Japanese-American girl who was raised in Minnesota. When it is cut as sashimi it is not simply sliced, but cut with a up and down motion creating a wave-like design on the flesh. This helps to pick up the soy sauce. How brilliant are the Japanese to think about this?

deep-fried octopus

Octopus Fritters

Battered and deep-fried octopus were amazing, especially with ice cold beer. Just season with salt and pop into your mouth. Yum. I bet these would be a big hit at the Minnesota State Fair, where I first came to experience deep-fried cheese curds.

Octopus and Rice Donabe

Octopus Rice in a Donabe

We love cooking rice in a donabe pot. Shinji marinated raw octopus with soy sauce, mirin, and saké  and then added to the donabe with rice with dashi. After the rice was cooked it was garnished with julienned ginger. He made a large batch as this can be molded into small rice balls and put into the freezer. It is easy to zap in the microwave.

Octopus Rice

Octopus Rice

Tsukiji Market Takeno Shokudo 多け乃食堂

Take no Shokudo - yaki kamasu

Grilled barracuda at Take no Shokudo

It is said that there are 500 shops and restaurants at Tsukiji Market’s outer market. Finding a particular one can be a challenge. A friend had told me that I had to check out Takeno Shokudo. “It is just down one of those narrow streets just before the stoplight”, he had advised. Problem is that there are three narrow streets. We snaked our way up and down and were relieved to find it, just as our search was coming to an end. The noren, cloth banner that marks the entrance, was pushed together so the kanji was hard to decipher, but we had arrived.

Sliding open the door we asked if there were seats available. The three tables were full but we could be seated at the counter, which we preferred so we could look into the open kitchen. A cutting board was filled with boiled potatoes, which was made into potato salad, a classic izakaya side dish.

The lunch menu included tuna sashimi, seafood fried as tempura or breaded with panko and deep-fried, called “furai” in japanese, grilled fish and arani, simmered fish heads. We asked what fish they recommended for grilling and were advised either the collar of salmon which was very fatty, or kamasu, barracuda. I ordered the kamasu (1,100 JPY) and was surprised at how bit it was. It comes with some grated daikon. Pour some soy sauce onto the daikon and eat with the grilled fish. Great garnish to the simple dish.

Takeno Shokudo - arani

Fish heads simmered in soy at Take no Shokudo

Shinji, the fishmonger, ordered the arani (1,300 JPY), which was four different types of fish heads simmered in an intense sweet soy broth. The fish heads included salmon, yellowtail, and two smaller fish. Eating this dish requires dexterity with your chopsticks and lots of sucking bits and pieces from the bones. Diners must also be very careful as there are many small bones in the dish so eat with caution.

Take no Shokudo menu

Take no Shokudo menu

The meals were rounded out with a small dish of pickled cabbage and carrots, rice, and miso soup made with clams. I hear this spot is a great spot for drinking at night as there are many small plates to be ordered, mostly made with Tsukiji seafood. A shokudō is a cafeteria and often serves up home-style dishes. The walls of the shop are lined with signs listing many seafood dishes. It would be great fun to carefully peruse the selections over a beer and order dish after dish. In order to survive in a restaurant like this you not only need to be able to read Japanese, you need to know about a wide variety of seasonal Japanese seafood. Oh the fun. 🙂

Absolutely no English here, so come with a Japanese speaker. Takeno Shokudo is not open for breakfast, just lunch and dinner.

Takeno Shokudo

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 6-21-2

November Seasonal Japanese Seafood

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Salmon roe, pulled out of its sac and simply marinated in the sweet soy sauce of Kyushu, is irresistible this time of year. We love it so much it is on the table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Crabs are also coming to market. Another highlight this time of year is fresh scallops and oysters, both best when raw.

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Kawahagi may not be the most beautiful fish to look at, but when cut of its leathery skin, and served as sushi with its liver, it is heavenly.

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Shirako, or milt, is often from cod fish, but Japanese chefs I speak with say that the best milt comes from fugu. Many people who try this love its creaminess and velvety texture. But, once you tell them what it is they sometimes change their mind. Here it is steamed and then served with a tart ponzu and grated daikon with chili.

Amadai  赤甘鯛  tilefish (Branchiostegus japonicas)                                       

Ankō 鮟鱇 monkfish (Lophiomus setigerus)                     

Asaba karei 浅羽鰈  rock sole (Pleuronectes mochigarei)                                 

Chidai   血鯛  crimson sea bream (Evynnis japonica)                     

 Hata はた grouper  (Epinephelus septemfasciatus)                                    

Hata hata 鰰 sailfin sandfish (Arctoscopus japonicus)               

Higedara ひげたらsnubnose brotula (Hoplobrotuda armata)   

Hi ika ひいか winter dwarf squid  (Nipponololig (Loliolus) japonica)     

Hirame 鮃 olive flounder (Paralichthys olivaceus)                 

Hotate 帆立貝 scallops (Patinopecten yessoensis)                  

Hon kamasu 本カマス barracuda (Sphyraena pinguis)             

Hon kawahagi 本皮剥 thread-sail filefish (Stephanolepis cirrhifer)   

Ibodai 疣鯛  Japanese butterfish (Psenopsis anomala)                  

Ise ebi 伊勢海老  Japanese spiny lobster (Panulirus japonicas)                   

Ishi karei いしかれい Stone flounder (kareius bicoloratus)                                

Itoyori イトヨリGolden threadfin bream (Nemipterus virgatus)         

Kanpachi  間八 amberjack (Seriola dumerili)                       

Kou ika こういか cuttlefish (Sepia (Platysepia) esculenta)                       

Kuro karei くろかれい black plaice (Pleuronectes obscurus)              

Kurumaebi 車海老   Japanese tiger prawn (Marsupenaeus japonicas)

Kaki 牡蠣 oyster (Crassostrea gigas)                                                         

Matara 真鱈 codfish (Gadus macrocephalus)                           

Masaba  真鯖   Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus)                 

Matsuba gani  松葉蟹 spiny crab (Hypothalassia armata)           

Mebachi maguro  目鉢鮪 bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus)         

Medai  目鯛  butterfish (Hyperoglyphe japonica)                                       

Meita karei  めいたかれいfine spotted flounder (Pleuronichthys cornutus)  

Mekajiki  かじき swordfish (Xiphias gladius)                      

Mongouika  もんごういか  cuttlefish (Sepia lycidas)                               

Mutsu  むつgnomefish  (Scombrops boops)                

Nametagarei  婆鰈  slime flounder (Microstomus achne)       

Sawara  さわら Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus niphonius)

Sanma 秋刀魚  Pacific saury (Cololabis saira)             

Shiba ebi  芝海老  Shiba shrimp (Metapenaeus joyneri                   

Shiro ika  白烏賊swordtip squid (Loligo (Photololigo) edulis) or kensaki ika   

Shirosake  白鮭   chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)                

Souda katsuo  宗田鰹bullet mackerel (Auxis rochei)                                  

Sujiko  筋子  chum salmon roe                              

Sukesou tara  助宗たら pollockTheragra chalcogramma)           

Suma katsuo  すまかつお  black skipjack (Euthynnus affinis)         

Surume ika  スルメイカ Japanese flying squid (Todarodes pacificus)   

Tairagai  平貝 penshell (Atrina (Servatrina) pectinata)                 

Wakasagi  若細魚 Japanese smelt (Hypomesus nipponensis)                        

 Warasa  ワラサ  yellowtail  (Seriola quinqueradiata)            

Yoshikiri same  よしきりさめ blue shark (Prionace glauca)              

Watarigani  渡蟹   swimming crab (Portunus trituberculatus)                     

Zuwaigani  頭矮蟹  snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio)