In the humid summers I seek relief in chilled fruit saké that are tart and mouthwatering. Here are two worth seeking out, lemon and natsumikan (imagine an orange pomelo). My favorite producer for these kajitsushu is Tsuru Ume from Wakayama. Their aromatic yuzushu is also one of the best made in Japan, in my opinion. On the rocks, or served straight, this is an excellent start to any meal, or a refreshing break in the afternoon.
Tsuru Ume also makes outstanding umeshu, which is no surprise as the apricots from Wakayama are a regional specialty.
I love the selection of kajitsushu at Shinbashi’s Oboro Saketen. Okuma-san, the owner, went to college in Minnesota and speaks English. Tell him Yukari sent you.
Tsurumaru is a chain of udon restaurants that I love when I need to grab a quick bite. I find myself often going to the Shinbashi branch as they are open early in the morning, from 7 a.m. It’s a great spot for a quick meal anytime of the day.
The flour for the udon noodles is from Japan. Pre-cooked noodles are boiled after each order is placed and have a nice texture and flavor. The dashi used for the broth includes katsuo (skipjack tuna), saba (Pacific mackerel), and niboshi (dried sardines). It is a delicate broth that is rich in umami.
The basic bowl of noodles is only 200 JPY. There are many types of tempura to use as toppings. I love this vegetable kakiage which is a melange of vegetables fried up in a cake. With my chopsticks I break it up and take a bit with the noodles.
As a standing restaurant there are no chairs. It takes a little while getting used to standing and slurping. Once the bowl cools down you can pick it up and slurp some of the broth. It’s a fun and very local experience.
Where to go for steak in Tokyo? If our clients ask I suggest great steakhouses like the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Especially now as an Argentine executive chef, Federico Heinzmann, is overseeing the kitchen. Ukai-tei in Ginza or Omotesando also is a crowd-pleaser. These are restaurants that we save for a special occasion and not spots we can pop into when we are craving a juicy steak.
Tachigui – stand and eat
Ikinari is a fun Japanese word that means all of the sudden or out of the blue. Ikinari Steak is a chain of tachigui, restaurants without chairs, yes, stand and eat restaurants. These are often casual spots where diners pop in for a quick and affordable meal. At meal times, usually around noon for lunch and about six p.m. for dinner, Ikinari Steak often has a line of customers waiting to get in.
The menu offers a variety of steak cuts such as filet, rib roast, or sirloin. The beef is Japan as well as the US. Diners go to the kitchen and specify which cut and which type of beef they want and then the chef puts the steak on the cutting board and asks you how thick you want the slice to be. After he cuts the meat is weighed and diners pay per gram. The steak is then grilled over charcoal and then the staff will bring the steak and any side dishes to your counter. Silverware and condiments are on the counter.
Of course this steak can’t compare to the best steakhouses in Tokyo. It does hit the spot when the craving comes for a juicy steak. It is a very casual environment and great for solo diners. This shop was in Shinbashi but there are branches throughout the city, including Ginza, Shinjuku, and Shibuya. I believe the company is expanding and the market seems to be hungry for it.
Gyū Katsu Okada is a restaurant that has been on my Go List for about a decade. It opened in 1998 and the signature dish is Australian wagyū that is breaded and deep-fried. It is a classic restaurant that has been mentioned in many food magazines over the years. The meat is cooked in 210 degrees C oil for only 30 seconds, hence the rare wagyū. It is served with two sauces, soy sauce that you can have with wasabi or an original sesame-based dressing. The lunch set comes with miso soup, rice, and a salad based on thinly julienned cabbage, as you would find at a tonkatsu restaurant. The sesame dressing is also very nice for the salad. The lunch set is 1,200 JPY.
The restaurant is in the basement of the New Shinbashi Building. While the building is called new, it is anything but. There was an excessive amount of duct tape inside on the corners of the walls. The space is dark, but I guess that is to be expected for a basement restaurant? Even the restaurant is quite tired inside, but that exactly what makes a place like this special. There are only six seats at the counter and two tables seating four. The restaurant is smoke-free, which is not always the case in the Shinbashi area.
The chef, Kenichi Okada, trained in French cuisine. He has created such a following for this dish that he is only open for a few hours for lunch only on weekdays. It is very popular and there is usually a line. I happened to come just before they closed at 2:00 p.m. and even then the restaurant was filled with salarymen in suits. I overheard one of them say to Mrs. Okada that the four of them have been trying to come to the restaurant over the years and finally got in today. She apologized for the inconvenience. How Japanese. The restaurant is scheduled to stay open until 2:00 p.m., but if they do sell out they will close early. This is the sign on the door if you have missed out.
Gyu Katsu Okada 牛かつ おか田
Minato-ku, Shinbashi 2-16-1, New Shinbashi Building B1