Initially, there's something sort of illicit about "Ogawa". It's got a small, simple sign out front. It's on a side street in Kojimachi, the area of the near the HQ of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It's located down a small flight of stairs camouflaged by bushes. And the dark narrow interior looks more like a speakeasy than a seafood restaurant. But things are more discreet than anything, probably because of the politician and celebrity clientele.
I knew nothing of this, other than the location and a recommendation for good seafood when I showed up on a Monday night at 6:00 pm, climbing down the stairs and sliding back the door. After a calling out a bit, I heard a quick shuffling over to the entrance and was greeted by a shiny, perplexed older Japanese man- presumably Ogawa himself. After a short, cumbersome conversation, we determined that I had no reservation, but I could be accommodated. This, to Ogawa-san's credit, was out of genuine hospitality and not just commiseration. We also determined that this was what he called "Course-ryori', which in a strange sort of vocabulary transposition, would be called "Omakase-style" in New York. Anyhow, as I made my way in, Ogawa inquisitively asked me in English: "Raw fish, OK?".
If you go to Ogawa, make a reservation. I guess I caught him on a slow night early or what not, but I felt bad. Sitting at the counter, I immediately asked for his recommendation for a shochu and with much alacrity, he made is way over to a large earthen jar and began ladling out some hooch. It's made by a friend of his. The shochu has no name. It was smooth and made from barley. It was roundabout this time, he told me that the place was frequented by celebs and politicians. He also told me the price for the course was 7,500 JY- which kind of shocked me because it seemed offly reasonable.
So, it will no doubt be different every time, but here's what Ogawa rolled out for me, which was mighty filling and of the utmost quality:
1- The starter snack (otooshi-mono) was a little mother-child (oya-ko) pairing of fresh chunks of salmon, buried among popping fresh ikura in a light soy sauce. Great compliment to the rounded shochu I was drinking and a nice light saltiness to rev up the appetite.
2- Served with the ikura-salmon was a few fresh strips of raw squid, paired with some type of clam-ish shellfish- can't remember the name in English or Japanese. This was basted in a light, wet and salty white miso. Both this and #1 were served in tiny artistic Chinese styled vessels, with small lids. He told me they were almost 100 years old and antiques.
They didn't make the food taste better, but they made for nice presentation and what a nice personal touch and story to the beginning of the meal...
3- Next came a generous few slices of fresh ankimo (monkfish liver) which was totally void of any bitterness. The best ankimo I've ever had.
4- Tsubugai, a kind of small conch-like shellfish (I've got to learn the English for these things I guess) came out next. As you typically see, this was marinated in a light broth and is probably chilled over the course of the day. You use a toothpick or small implement to twist the meat out. Not only is this extremely tasty (not fishy, but rather meaty) but it also has a terrific consistency somewhere between lets say clams and poultry.
5,6- I'm not the biggest fans of these type of things, but salmon testes and shiokara came next. I didn't mind them here as they were most certainly fresh. But I'm not afraid to admit that without shochu, I'm not sure these are really my cup of tea. But it wasn't lost on me the fact that Ogawa-san was taking me through a seafood tour of items and body parts.
7- A very fresh and tasty, well cut, sashimi moriawase (mixed set) came out next. The maguro was delicious, along with a hefty sized botan ebi (prawn), and a very nice shellfish- which I can't recall the name of. It was a nice balance, something I think is very subtle, but important for sashimi sets. Also to note, no tube or mystery wasabi here. Instead you receive your own wasabi root and a grating board. The prawn was almost mind blowing with the slightly sweet and spicy wasabi, salty soy sauce, and sweet shrimp. Wow!
8- The fried course. Not sure of the type of fish- maybe karei or some kind of white fish- was fried and served. Each part was completely edible and fried a different length of time. The main part was the meat and body. Great. Dipped in a light tempura style broth. The head and tail were next. Fried longer, the came out nice and crispy. Last was the spine, fried longest, and the perfect level of crunchiness to be washed down with some booze.
9- Grilled fish of some sort in this final course. I can't remember the fish and to be honest, to Ogawa-san's slight displeasure, I was full...not to mention a little frustrated dealing with the small bones. This course I could have skipped.
There was probably some kind of dessert here, maybe seasonal fruits or something. But my notes fail me and my memory, thanks to some jet lag and the shochu from the earthen jar, are no help either.
Everything was top notch. Prepared and served expertly and sequenced in a way any seafood lover can appreciate. I love these type of places that are not so rare in Japan, but are rare enough to covet them. Ogawa won't blow you away with anything ultra-creative or mind blowing. He's not trying to impress anyone. I didn't speak with him on this, but I suspect his approach is really about the freshness of the seafood, which speaks for itself.
Ogawa-san speaks some broken English and is used to serving foreign customers, probably more of the diplomatic types. He's a cheerful chap and loves seafood. I don't think this is one of those place were the entry barrier is intimidating for foreigners and help from a hotel concierge should be able to set you up for a night at Ogawa. For 7,500 JY, it's really very reasonable for the quality of what you get. And the interior has a warm charm to it. It's only open on weekdays and you need to make a reservation- or at least you should.
Ordered: Course + several glasses of shochu
Cost: 7,500 YEN + 2,000 YEEN
Location: Hanzomon (Hanzomon Station, Hanzomon Line), Kojimachi (Kojimachi Station, Yurakucho Line). One or two stops from the Akasaka-Mitsuke area.
Address: Chiyoda-ku, Kojimachi 3-1-8, B1
Phone: 03-3221-0120 or 03-5920-5344
Open: M-F only
Photos from someone elses meal (totally different than mine): http://ueito.ld.infoseek.co.jp/food/s...