いらっしゃい!
...an expat libertine with a penchant for sparkly dining partners, jazz bars and izakaya.
Opinions here expressed are not necessarily shared by any with whom I associate. Fault for errors and any offense caused is entirely my own.
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Entries in Shochu (12)

Sunday
Apr012012

Kin no Kura Jr., Jiyugaoka  金の蔵Jr、自由が丘

What better post on April 1st than Kin no Kura Jr., an izakaya scraped from the bottom of Jiyugaoka’s culinary barrel?

The brainchild of Sanko Marketing Foods (of Tsuki no Shizuku fame, for example), Kin no Kura Jr. can be found all over greater Tokyo, being easily recognizable thanks to the garish, bright yellow signage loudly proclaiming that all of the hundreds of dishes and drinks on the (touch-screen) menus are a mere ¥270 each.

By all accounts, this particular chain was one of the first to bring the “B-class gourmet” one price fits all concept to the izakaya dining scene. It may well have had its day, and for students and freeters is probably a destination of choice, but these days far better food and drinks can be found for similar prices – and indeed more cheaply – at izakaya such as Sakana-ya.

Everything about Kin no Kura Jr. felt thin, half done in order to reduce costs. The hand wipes were half size, rendering them practically useless. The “beer” was watery and the Hoppy and shochu set consisted of a thimble full of liquor. 

The eda mame were passable, as was the yaki-ika. The yakiniku salad was pretty limp, and the hokke had the taste and texture of soap.  The highlight of the meal was easily the eihire

Better cheap eats can be found.

 

03-5726-1878

Kin no Kura Jr.

Sunday
Oct232011

Kappa-chan, Ebisu  かっぱちゃん、恵比寿

After a week of Kushiwakamaru overkill, a visit to Ebisu Yokocho’s Kappa-chan came as a welcome change while offering the opportunity to try someone else’s yakitori

On the west side of Ebisu station, next to Seven-Eleven, Ebisu Yokocho remains popular after opening its doors to the public 3-4 years ago. Essentially just an alley - running through the ground floor of an old apartment building - lined with small, yatai-like stalls serving various staples such as yakiniku, oden, okonomiyaki, and yakitori, with a wine bar thrown in for good measure. 

Always busy, the atmosphere is in the faux-Showa vein, with hanging lanterns, Hoppy posters and beer crate-seating aplenty. Kappa-chan is the first establishment on the right as you come though the entrance. Not spacious, but we still managed a party of five without any discomfort. 

The food was pretty good. Not Kushiwaka good, but still delicious - the cherry tomatoes surprisingly so. Perhaps a little dainty, though.

The sasami topped with wasabi was lethal. We like wasabi, but all but one of our party nearly had a funny turn after experiencing it here. My favourite of the night was the sasami with yuzu-kosho (citrus and pepper). 

Worthy of a second visit. 

 

03-3280-4199 

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1303/A130302/13050424/

 

 

Tuesday
Sep272011

Hasegawa Kanbutsuten, Shibuya  長谷川乾物点、渋谷

Situated on the decidedly snug 5th floor of the Wako Building, itself located on the street to the right of Shibuya’s Mark City, one block back from Dogenzaka, Hasegawa Kanbutsuten is worth remembering when in need of quick meal en route elsewhere, or when at a loss for something handy near the station. 

Usual wooden counter, basic furnishings and bottle-lined walls. Service provided by a chirpy young lass and a master with the appearance of a fading rocker – a Motley Crue fan of old, most likely… (The mascara gives them away, you know.) 

Cheap beer drew us in, and then kept us a while longer. Not exactly heaving, the small space presented no problems. 

Food ranged from poor – the karaage (small, oily, tough) – to good – the sashimi (way better than we’d have expected) – with the salad proving to be prolific, if unrefined. The fries were nice and big, but so oily.

The spicy sweet and sour ebi filled the last corner but felt somwwhat processed. 

The pickles were a bit crap really. The otoshi of vinegared fish in light batter was tasty though.

Did this post back to front, didn't I.

 

03-5459-3288

 

Monday
Aug012011

Katoriya, Jiyugaoka  かとりや、自由が丘

Frothy, ice-cold beer; festivals; yukata; cockroaches and bikini-clad pertness on crowded Enoshima beaches – the ingredients that make for a Japanese summer. I tend to associate yakitori with summer, too. 

Thus engorged, I’ve recently been sating my summer appetites at Jiyugaoka’s Katoriya – a no nonsense proletarian yakitori-ya that’s been churning out lovingly charcoal-grilled morsels on skewers since 1963 – located just over the street from the surpisingly charming Bettako, just a minute or so from The north exit of the station.

@izakayasanpo assures me Katoriya was once much less attractive than is now the case. By all accounts it’s now a lot more hygienic than it used to be, too.

Not large, the simple vanilla counter is always – always – jam-packed. Usual form is to arrive and crowd around the edge of the room drinking and munching on eda-mame while waiting for a seat at the encounter to be vacated. Not recommended for large parties, generally, although we’ve managed to seat groups of 5-6 on occasion. Such rare occasions were thanks to the gracious attentions of the Mama of the house. 

Dishes are simple. No surprises should be expected. As well as the yakitori and associated grilled veggies, a handful of offal-based abominations are available to those so inclined. Budget prices, jovial company and relentlessly strong shochu-based drinks make for an enjoyable dining experience. Focusing on the food alone, this is not a patch on Kushiwakamaru, but that shouldn’t deter you from visiting. It’s all good.

Cucumber with beans.

Grilled mushrooms to be dipped in VERY hot mustard or spicy sauce.

Katoriya-zuke – pig stomach in spicy miso sauce.

Chicken liver – a little dry, not nearly big enough.

Chicken sasami with wasabi paste.

Tomato wrapped in bacon – delicious but a pale shadow of Kushiwakamaru’s take on the dish. 

Fried tofu topped with bonito flakes, accompanied by grated ginger and soy sauce.

Nankotsu – chicken cartilage, but actually not too bad.

Bacon wrapped asparagus (and the tomato-maki again). 

Sliced tomato and mayonnaise – this place is not big on salads.

Grilled green peppers – unsullied but salt or pepper.

Eda-mame.

Garlic and mushrooms – nice. 

Tebasaki – chicken wings.

Tofu – dull.

Get there early, secure a stool and enjoy. 

 

03-3718-5505

Friday
Oct152010

Yodakinbo, Nakameguro  よだきんぼ、中目黒

Few would deny that Nakameguro is one of Tokyo’s most popular locales, whether in terms of desirability as a place to live or seek an evening repast. Not that this was always the case. Certainly it wasn’t as fashionable, or expensive for that matter. As the Woodsman points out, back in the 90s (that’s 1990s not 1890s), when he had the honour of calling the place home it was a far more down to earth, working class neighbourhood that had yet to be encroached upon by the monied hipsters of neighbouring Daikanyama.

Still, Nakameguro is still host to a wonderful array of places at which to drink and eat, ranging from the down and dirty to higher-end dining experiences. Any town famed for its yakitori and which harbours such delights as Akira, Kushiwakamaru, Nakamenoteppen or the hugely entertaining Junkadelic deserves some attention and, no doubt, at least a little of your coin.

Yodakinbo, located just a few doors up from Junkadelic about a ten minute leisurely stroll from the station, isn’t exactly a yakitori-ya, it's a jidori-ya specialising in the chicken dishes of Miyazaki. Chicken, shochu and little else, as amply demonstrated by their woefully inadequate supplies of beer…

I visited aeons ago, so the details are more than a little hazy. I do remember being excited at the sight of the façade; simple, a little worn, with a worn noren hanging before the narrow entrance. The interior was equally narrow and limited to a little counter before the kitchen and a small, raised washitsu in which three low tables were arranged. A little shelf was stocked with bottles of shochu, and the master, along with his youthful serving girl, kept up a friendly welcome throughout the evening. The atmosphere was cosy and the décor, being a little sparse, suggested either no frills dining or quietly self-assured perfection. Neither were true. The food was very, very, good, although not earth – or wallet – shatteringly so.

My dining partners and I indulged heavily in beer. Once we’d drunk the house dry of the bottled variety we then made short work of the draught and, somewhat shocked, resorted to shochu, it being all that was left. On this front, the master either has limited storage, supply issues or a lot of thirsty customers. Judge for yourself. 

The menu, including the blackboard describing various recommendations of the day, offered a variety of chicken-based delights. Prices were good, not cheap, but not extortionate either. Some regular dishes were soon located, along with some more interesting ones. Bearing in mind that this visit was some time ago, you’ll have to refer to the photographs and excuse my (actually perhaps as always) limited description of the food. But, please believe me, it was immensely enjoyable. Well prepared, delicious and simple. The chicken did the talking here. 

There was a dish of lean, lightly seared momo, resting on the ubiquitous shaved daikon and showered with a ponzu dressing. The flesh itself, hugely flavoursome, was only barely cooked, almost sashimi. Then there was a salad, topped with dark, grilled meat of a more robust nature. This was, again, excellent, but if only there’d been more of it. The steaming, bubbling shallow pan was probably the chicken parts best not asked about. I seem to remember wolfing it down just the same. Either there beer had taken its toll by then, or it was good, too.

The chicken sashimi was great! Remember this just fine. What’s to say? Raw chicken, tender and tasty, and even better with the salt. The grilled thighs went down well too. Juicy, crisp skin and a nice smoky flavour. The tsukune were pretty good, although perhaps not textured enough. I don’t enjoy any gristle, but these were perhaps a little too smooth. Finally, the minced ball of raw chicken meat served on nori. Fantastic! But, you guessed it, not enough.

Great little place (thanks for the intro’ Tatsu) with plenty of character and an interesting menu. Worth subsequent visits, but probably not going to be a regular haunt.

 

Tel: 03-5721-3037

Sunday
Oct102010

Nakamenoteppen, Nakameguro なかめのてっぺん、中目黒

Most izakaya fanciers are asked, even by close friends, what the attraction is. What’s so interesting? Why the need to pontificate to all and sundry? Aren’t they pretty much the same wherever you go?

There’s no easy answer. Or, more to the point, there are several equally valid reasons why some of us think izakaya are such a worthy addition to not only Japan’s but also the culture of humanity as a whole. The food and drink, of course. The atmosphere – a combination of the décor, staff, chef/master’s attention to detail, and also the customers. The creativity and variation that set the better examples apart.

There’s more. Something about the thrill of the chase. Tokyo is home to myriad izakaya, of varying quality and styles, so discovering those that standout or are in someway memorable, loveable, or if you are lucky a bit of both, is all part of the fun. Then to top it all off, after completing this noble quest, you get to stuff yourself with food and indulge your liquid fixation in the name of a higher calling.

Furthermore, and perhaps just as importantly, there are your fellow izakaya hounds. Sure, there’s common ground, a shared interest, but each has their own take on the subject and different tastes. Nothing beats a night’s dining with those gentle souls who appreciate the importance of back streets, nooks and crannies, and the promise of shabby facades and faded noren. Some, unfortunately, jealously guard their discoveries. Others, thankfully, can’t wait to spread the good word.

And so it was that Poshand pointed me in the direction of Nakamenoteppen, a delightfully irresistible izakaya about a minute or so from Nakameguro station. It’s not ground breaking, nor “high end,” izakaya dining, but there’s something charming about the place. Perhaps the master himself, straight talking and inquiring; “It’s your first time here, right?” “How did you find my place?” “A friend? Japanese or gaijin?” “What did they say about my cooking?” “Really, that’s good. I suggest the hotate in butter; enjoy your meal.”

Could be the décor too. Silly, low threshold – you have to more or less crawl through the entrance – simple wooden counter before an open kitchen dominated by a smoking robata grill, or the somewhat strange bar to the rear of the dining area, before which is set a great board, as if some Viking’s feast were to be held. The place is suitably cluttered with kitchen utensils, ornaments, drums, posters, bottles of shochu and sake and piles of organic vegetables and himono. It’s warm; thanks to the charcoal grill, and well lit. No shadows here, it’s all about light and seeing what’s around and before you.

In much the same way as at Honoka, you arrive to find a personalised reservation slip awaiting you. It thanks you for turning up, recommends the dish of the day, and in this case gets your name wrong. I was Ferry-san for the evening. Interestingly, you also get your own (kind of) waiter/waitress for the evening. Once seated, they produce the customary hot towels, and then inform you that they’ll be personally taking care of your needs for the duration of your stay. A nice touch. It breaks down however, as I found that when my glass was drained or plate was empty I just hollered and the first member of the waiting staff that happened to be within earshot. Still, good, fun, friendly service (when you leave they escort you out and proffer their meishi) for the most part, although towards the end of the evening the drinks took a little too long to arrive.

As for the meal itself, pretty darn good. They have a respectable, if limited, selection of sake available, a greater variety of shochu and as much beer as one could need. I stuck with latter. I always like to kick off with some pickles, and the kyo-yasai tsukemono were enjoyable. If I had to find fault, I’d say I like my tsukemono a little chunkier. The grilled squid with mayonnaise was absolutely delicious. Not at all over-cooked or rubbery, the smoky flavour from the grill was wonderful.

As was the katsuo-tataki. Very, very lightly seared, the flesh was succulent and firm, with no nasty excess moisture. Fresh and not too fishy tasting, good stuff. Fish is the main theme here, although veggies, meats and Okinawan dishes also make an appearance, and as such I couldn’t resist the salt grilled sanma, a fish about which Uncle N has recently explained much. The crispy, salted skin was very good, and the slightly oily flesh fantastic. They are in season now, and it shows. Will be making the most of them.

I finished the meal with some fried rice, almost like an ishiyaki-bibimba really, containing some vegetables, gherkins (I think) and some fish of some description. Wholesome, filling; a good end to an enjoyable evening. My dining partner closed with a kind of chocolate brownie, which was wrapped in foil and heated on the grill so that that chocolate in the centre became soft and gooey. Nice. Shame about the canned cream though.

This was great. I’d recommend Nakamenoteppen any time. Food, drinks, atmosphere, service, location; all good. Also a lot of fun, just as eating out should be.

 

Tel: 03-5724-4439

Sunday
Aug152010

Denbe Kura, Ebisu  伝兵衛蔵、恵比寿

Kyushu ryori is a favourite. The combination of the usual subtle Japanese flavours with stronger ones makes for nice change now and then. The chance for some horsemeat should never be missed either.

Denbe Kura, an izakaya specialising in the cuisine of Kyushu surrounded by love hotels and Indian restaurants just a couple of minutes from the west exit of Ebisu station, provides a pleasant atmosphere, good food and slow service. The basashi, while being far superior to that on offer at Nakano’s Tabaruzaka, is not quite of the same standard as that at Bakuro, another splendid izakaya in Ebisu specialising in horsemeat.

Overall, Denbe Kura is far better than its surroundings might suggest. The interior is suitably dark and intimate, heavy wooden beams and equally solid looking rough-hewn tables dominate the dining area, while along the left of the space a long polished counter lined with colourful shochu bottles looks on to the open kitchen. Another feature of the counter are the little dishes bearing a rabbit motif set into the concrete below the counter shelf. Cute.

My dining partner and I arrived just before 7:45pm, without a reservation, and managed to secure a place at the counter. By 8pm, people were being turned away at the door. The crowd was fairly lively, trending toward those in their middle age rather than a younger cohort. The service, although polite, was painfully slow, especially in terms of the delivery of drinks. At least twice the staff forgot my order entirely. Despite this, all was not lost as the food went a good way to making up for the tardiness of the service.

Enjoying the long-awaited beer, the meal itself kicked off with an o-toshi of ganumo doki, fried tofu with pickled aubergine. Small, tasty, but perhaps a little plain, as fried tofu is wont to be. The menu is generally quite interesting, with plenty of Kyushu favourites to be had. Shochu also takes centre stage, and being that I know nothing about it, except that it makes my head hurt, I relied on the waiting staffs’ recommendations. First of all I had the Umi, which was described as being “easy to drink and not rough.” It came, after what seemed like an eternity, in a luscious looking blue bottle. Served on the rocks, it was certainly refreshing, and indeed was actually quite drinkable.

I couldn’t resist the Kyushu meibutsu moriawase (selection of Kyushu specialities), which turned out to be a large plate of assorted Satsuma-agetakanazuke, karashi renkon, mentaiko, kininabo and tsukiami – tastefully arranged. The karashi renkon was excellent, being perfectly crunchy and the mustard very hot. The mentaiko was of course hateful, although the kibinabo (little fish on skewers) were wonderfully chewy and flavoursome. In all, this was a nice dish, it certainly looked nice, although I would have been happier if there had been a bit more of it.

The basashi was good. Opting for the akami, it turned out be a gorgeous deep red, cut in thick, succulent slices served with the usual sliced daikon, ginger, shiso leaves and spring onion. Some of the best basashi I’ve had in Tokyo at any rate, although I would have liked it to be served with garlic. It’s always a good idea to be “healthy,” when indulging in izakaya, so in order to tick that particular box a salad seemed in order. A very simple, dynamic (i.e. big and chunky) affair, it was nothing more than tofu, tomato and lettuce smothered in goma (sesame) dressing. Hardly exciting, but it tasted good all the same.

Some rather non-descript shochu, the Tanabata, left me no choice but to try another, the Satsuma Ogojo, which was stronger tasting, a little too much so, and resulted in my returning to beer and the promise of a splitting headache the following morning.

Returning to the menu, we decided on some Kyushu gameni, basically a selection of somewhat uninspiring nimono (simmered foods) – carrot, renkon, gobo, imo and chicken – in a tasty broth. Again, this was little on the small side, and the chicken was very, very bland. Finally, some sui-gyoza in a misty-white tonkotsu (pork) soup riddled with onion and leaks. This was great, and again left me wanting more.

Denbe Kura is a pleasant enough izakaya, and worth the visit. The food is a little hit and miss, but generally pleasing. The basashi stood out in particular. For those who like to drink, in can be a little pricey. The service is painfully slow, but the atmosphere makes up for it. Will visit again.

 

Tel: 03-3711-7100