Nakameguro Sumi-Grilled Yakitori

Maru, just a few minutes’ from Nakameguro station, is a great lunch spot for sumi (charcoal) grilled yakitori. The chicken, Amakusa Daiou, from Kumamoto, is called the king of chicken, and is known for it’s rich in texture and flavor.

The oyako-don (900 JPY), on the left above is a popular dish of chicken and eggs cooked in a sweet soy broth. Oyako is literally mother and child, a fun name for this dish. The sign of a good oyakodon is eggs that are just heated enough so that the whites just start to gel. The semi-scrambled eggs become a sauce for the chicken and rice.

The yakitori-don (1,200 JPY) includes three smokey skewers, grilled over charcoal: white meat, gizzard, and thighs with leeks. Two tsukune meatballs, a raw yolk, shishitō and nori round out the dish. Lunch sets include pickles, chicken soup, and a rich tiramisu.

Nakameguro is a hot area at the moment as several restaurants, including a hip City Bakery and Tsutaya bookstore have opened up under the tracks, in an area called Nakameguro Koukashita. On a recent visit the new shops were swamped, so we were happy to find quiet refuge at Maru.

Sumibiyaki Maru 炭火焼 Maru

Meguro-ku, Nakameguro 2-12-2 W. Nakameguro 1F

目黒区上目黒2-12-2 W. Nakameguro 1F

Ginza Maru 銀座圓

Maru1

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Gwen Robinson mentions a newly opened restaurant in Ginza that serves traditional Japanese lunches for only $10. She doesn’t mention the name of the restaurant in the article, but does talk about the chef, Keiji Mori, so with some research, in both English and Japanese, I found Ginza Maru. It is just off the main street of Ginza. It is a few shops down from the popular Kyushu Jangara ramen and close to a revolving sushi shop. The shop is easy to miss as it is on the second floor. Be on the lookout for the name of the shop in Japanese 圓 on a sign on the building.

The shop is a respite from the busy streets of Ginza. My girlfriend and I arrived early and were waiting outside of the shop and they kindly invited us in a bit before their opening time. There is a long counter overlooking the open kitchen and several tables. A good spot to dine solo or with a friend at the counter or come in with a group and dine at a table. We were directed to sit at a table but I asked if it would be possible to sit at the counter and were seated there.

The starters for all of the lunch sets was a creamy sesame tofu made with kuzu and a tart sunomono salad made from lotus root, young leeks, and deep-fried tofu in a karashi su miso, a classic dressing of Japanese mustard, vinegar, and sweet miso.
Maru2

Sitting at the counter allows diners to watch the chefs in action. Today the chefs were pushing cooked yurine (lily bulb) through a fine sieve and grating mountain potatoes. There is a charcoal grill with a strong exhaust vent over it where fish was skewered and grilled. Being at the counter it is also easy to interact with the chefs about ingredient provenance and cooking techniques.

Maru3

The tori-suki-nabe is a chicken dish that resembles sukiyaki which is traditionally made with thin-sliced beef. It is a generous portioned dish and included the gizzard of the chicken as well as a soft-cooked egg. It was a very dramatic presentation as the nabe is a large and flat ceramic pot and was covered when it was presented.

Maru4

The buta-kaku-ni is a pork belly that is cooked until tender and served with simmered daikon and greens in a sweet, soy kuzu sauce. The other option today at lunch was a salt-grilled Pacific mackerel.Maru5The chefs were very easy to talk to. I believe the chef on the right spoke some English as I overheard him trying to explain the menu to a foreign couple. As we finished the meal I asked the two chefs if they had seen the article in the New York Times. They had not seen it yet. I gave them the newspaper and did a quick translation of the mention of the shop in the piece. He laughed and pointed around the room and said it explained why there were so many new, foreign customers to the restaurant that day. We were there the day after the Op-Ed piece came out. When we left there were three pairs of non-Japanese dining at the restaurant. He also said that he would have to start studying more English.

Ginza Maru is a great bargain for lunch. The restaurant does not take reservations at lunch. Dinner starts at a very reasonable 6,000 JPY for a course menu. It is in the heart of Ginza and easy to find by following the map on the restaurant’s website. Definitely will be back for lunch, and look forward to trying dinner.

Ginza Maru

Chuo-ku, Ginza 6-12-15

03-5537-7420

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.