Tokyo Izakaya and Standing Bars

Yamariki

Yamariki

Grabbing a drink after work with colleagues or friends in Tokyo is great fun as there are so many options to choose from. These are some of my favorites from Food Sake Tokyo.

Saiseisakaba

This friendly tachinomi (standing bar) is located on the back streets of Shinjuku Sanchome. Designed with Showa era items, it feels like stepping back in time. The shop features grilled innards, but you can have some items sashimi style. The brains are creamy and the yudetan (boiled tongue) is tender. If you can, grab a spot at the counter and notice how vigilant the staff is at keeping their cutting boards spotless. You can also see everything that’s being grilled and coming out of the open kitchen staffed with young, handsome men.

Saiseisakaba
Shinjuku 3-7-3, Marunaka Building 1st floor
tel: 03-3354-4829
17:00 – 24:00, no holidays
www.ishii-world.jp/brand/motsu/nihonsaisei/shinjuku3/ (Japanese)


Sasagin

Near Yoyogi-Uehara station is an upscale izakaya with a great selection of sake in the windowed refrigerator behind the long counter. The menu is diverse, including seafood, and small bites that call out to be had with nihonshu such as nuta, a vinegary miso dressing with seasonal seafood, or grilled ginko nuts.

Sasagin
Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15, Kobayashi Bldg. 1st floor
tel: 03-5454-3715
17:00 – 23:00, closed Sunday and holidays
No website


Yamariki

Since 1925, Yamariki has often been ranked as one of the top ten izakaya in the city. Located in the shitamachi district of Morishita, there is usually a line waiting to get in. There is a second shop down the street and the staff will direct you there. Their signature item is a nikomi made from cow innards, port wine, Hatcho miso, sugar, and bouquet garni. The store proudly says that they have been adding to the same nikomi for over 40 years now. The other house specialty is the yakiton or grilled pork bits on a skewer. What makes Yamariki unique is they have a wine list (French only) and a friendly sommelier, Mizukami-san, who will help you match a wine with your food, as well as, of course, sake.

Yamariki
Koto-ku, Morishita 2-18-8
tel: 03-3633-1638
17:00 – 22:00, closed Sunday and holidays
www.yamariki.com (Japanese)


Tachigui Sakaba Buri

The walls at buri are decorated with colorful cup sake from all over Japan. There are over 30 different types of sake served in individual cups. A unique sake to try is the frozen sake that is like a slush. The menu is filled with small plates of sake-friendly foods like seasonal seafood and grilled meats.

Tachigui Sakaba buri
Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-14-1
tel: 03-3496-7744
17:00 – 3:00 a.m., no holidays
www.takewaka.co.jp/buri/index.html (Japanese)


Stand Bar Maru

Maru may be one of the best bargains in the city for standing bars. Located next door to a wine shop with about 200 wines, customers can purchase a bottle and have it opened for drinking at a nominal fee. The first floor is standing only (tachinomi), but if you get there early enough, you may be able to snag a seat in the second floor restaurant. Following the tapas concept, legs of Iberico ham are shaved per order, small plates are to share, and the grilled meats are highly recommended. This shop is in an out of the way area and is always busy with local young hipsters and salary-men from the area. The staff at this fourth-generation shop is very friendly.

Stand Bar Maru
Chuo-ku, Hatchobori 3-22-10
tel: 03-3552-4477
17:00 – 23:00, closed weekends and holidays
No website

This article first appeared in the ACCJ Journal.

Advertisements

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.

Indagare – My Tokyo Picks

Saiseisakaba in ShinjukuSome of my favorite spots in Tokyo in an interview with Indagare – a great travel website.

http://www.indagare.com/passions/4/departments/173/8165 (text follows)

Born in Japan and raised in the United States, Yukari Pratt Sakamoto, the author of the soon-to-be-released Food Sake Tokyo(Little Bookroom, $29.95), is a true Tokyo food insider. Trained as a chef at the French Culinary Institute, she has worked as a sommelier at the New York Bar and Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. She is also the first non-Japanese to pass the rigorous exam to become a “shochu advisor.” Sakamoto, who splits her time between New York and the Japanese capital, also does food tours for Bespoke Tokyo. She spoke to Indagare about the rich culture of culinary Japan and how visiting gourmets can get access to the famously dense urban jungle that is Tokyo.

What do you personally find most fascinating about Tokyo’s food scene?

The depth of the food culture is impressive. Take sushi for example. Most non-Japanese think of only nigrizushi (also called Edo Sushi), but in fact there are several types of sushi including oshizushi (pressed sushi), inarizushi (in deep-fried tofu packs), sabazushi (a special sushi made from mackerel), and chirashizushi(scattered sushi) just to name a few. This is part of what is so amazing about the food culture. So much of what is intriguing and curious is rarely seen outside of Japan.

Where can visitors see this diversity?

Sweets: the variety is dizzying, from wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries) that have been made with the same recipe for centuries, to classic Western pastries. Perhaps the most impressive is the seafood, with a variety of seafood that would make most fishmongers in America blush. A visit to Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest seafood market, with over 1,600 stalls in the wholesale market, can give you an idea of the diversity that is consumed in Japan. And hands down, the most fascinating part would be a visit to depachika, the epicurean food floors in the basement of department stores. I have the great pleasure of having worked at Takashimaya’s depachika in Nihonbashi (the flagship store) for two years.

Has the food scene changed in recent years?

Yes, with a nod towards Slow Food. More and more vendors are proudly displaying where their ingredients come from. In particular, with the recent food scares like mad cow disease and bird flu, the Japanese are eating more locally produced food.

You are a “shochu adviser.” What does this title entail?

Shochu is a distilled spirit native to Japan. Unlike vodka or rum, which are usually about 45 percent alcohol, shochu often is about 25 percent. Plus, it’s often consumed watered down, so when you drink it, it is only about 12 or 13 percent, so like a glass of wine. It can be had on the rocks, or with hot water. And what makes it unique is that it is made from a variety of base ingredients like soba (buckwheat),kokuto (brown sugar), rice, mugi (barley), or even things like kuri (chestnuts). Each of these contribute a unique flavor profile to the shochu.

Where can visitors try different types of sake and shochu?

There are many great places to have sake or shochu in the city. My favorite izakayais Yamariki in Morishita. Most izakaya will have both sake and shochu. There are also many tachinomi, or standing bars, where you can poke your head in for a drink or two with some side dishes. Saiseisakaba is a standing bar that specializes in hormones (innards). The other place to try local sake and shochu are at antenna shops. Antenna shops are small shops and restaurants representing the food of different prefectures of Japan. Kagoshima prefecture is famous for its shochu;Kagoshima Yurakukan has a wide selection of local shochu (often hard to find items), and there is a restaurant on the 2nd floor where you can try these by the glass.

Tokyo was awarded more Michelin stars than any other city in the world last year. What do you think makes the city such a culinary Mecca?

First of all, the city is so large and there are so many restaurants, it was awarded many stars but Michelin has not even covered half of the city. So, really, it has probably twice as many stars as they have been granted. The dining experience is so grand, as there are many shops that specialize in one type of cuisine, and they perfect it: tempura, sushi, or soba noodles, for example. Also, the customer is king in Japan, so the level of service is very high. At kaiseki restaurants, every thought is taken to ensure the diner has an experience that each detail is paid attention to. If it is hot, then the first course will be cold and vice versa for example. Naturally, the rich offering of seafood, meats, and vegetables contribute to this as well as the attention paid to presentation. Perhaps what makes the cuisine most unique is the concept of “shun” or seasonality. You can dine at a kaiseki restaurant four times a year and each meal will be completely different.

What are some dining customs to know about/understand when eating in a traditional Japanese restaurant?

  • Don’t rub your chopsticks together.
  • You should finish your bowl of rice. If you don’t think you will eat all of it, ask for a small bowl of rice.

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)