Over the last week or so my social life picked up to almost an alarming pace, to the extent that I really relish going straight home from work and watching bad TV now. On the plus side, it's given me the chance to try several places that were new to me. (Had I been out with the Tokyo hounds, however, I might have ended up trying all these places in one night!)
After last Tuesday's dinner at Bar Enrique (see previous post) and sake school on Wednesday, I continued the alternating wine/sake theme on Thursday night at Celebourg, a wine bar in Akasaka (near my office). It's hidden away on the fourth floor of a building, but there was a decent enough crowd there. The wine list was extensive, but mostly French, which I'm not at all knowledgeable about, so I can't really comment as to quality. Bottle prices seemed a little high to me-perhaps they were appropriate given the wine, but there wasn't much below 6000 yen per bottle, and the US stuff started closer to 9000 yen. Two reds and two whites were available by the glass, at around 1000 yen per glass. Food was good, although fairly standard (pasta, salads, cheese) and of relatively small portions. Not in any way a bad place, but Asterix (also in Akasaka) really serves me much better for when I want a little wine and cheese on the way home from work.
Celebourg: 3-18-7 Akasaka, 4th floor. Tel. 5545-3775
On Friday it was back to sake at Kushikoma in Otsuka. This has been on my list of places to try for a while as it's pretty well-known for its selection of sake, and I finally made the plunge after seeing a picture of their ishiri-mizore nabe (a hot pot of fish and vegetables, topped with grated daikon) in a food magazine. It's a pretty un-fancy place; in fact, we managed to walk by it without noticing. We ended up on the second floor of the restaurant, which seems to be for people who've reserved one of the nabe courses.
What really seems to be the point of this place, besides the wide sake selection, is the character of the owner. You have to go there in the mood to be really outgoing and talk to him as much as you talk to your dining companions. (We were OK with this, but I felt bad for the couple who looked like they were on a date. Definitely NOT a date spot.) He just loves to talk about sake, and about life in general, and I think he was particularly thrilled to have a group of women to talk to. (When we walked in, his comment was "Ooh, all flowers! And a western flower, too!") The food and the booze were definitely of good quality, but I think return visits will be determined by my mood, more than anything. (Random aside: walking to the restaurant, we walked by a place that had a sign up saying "Viagra fan club". Hmmm... not somewhere I'd feel comfortable walking into.)
Kushikoma: 2-32-25 Kita Otsuka. Tel. 3917-6657
Saturday night I went with a friend to Cafe Sushi in Shibuya, which advertises itself as a "Californian-style sushi bar". You guessed it--california rolls, caterpillar rolls, and the like. The interesting thing here, though, is that the sushi chef is your typical cranky sushi chef, despite his willingness to make the politically incorrect stuff. Apparently he's been making sushi for 20 years, 10 each in the US and Japan. When we got there at 6:30, he had the Closed sign up, despite the sign in front saying they opened at 5:30. So we called from outside, and were told that, indeed, they were open for business. Turns out he deliberately keeps the sign flipped around just to discourage too many people from coming in (god forbid you filled the seats). He works at his own pace, so if you're in a hurry, this is not the place. The beer on tap is Miller Genuine Draft, and the music on the stereo is what I listened to in elementary school on AM radio--Captain and Tenille, Elton John and Kiki Dee, Bay City Rollers... Fairly surreal, but the sushi is of good quality, for what it is. And reasonably priced; we walked out of there for 7000 yen for the both of us, having eaten quite a lot.
Cafe Sushi: 1-8-10 Shibuya. Tel. 3400-8611.
Sunday was my sake school field trip, which could be a whole, very long post in itself, if I could remember it a little better. We went out to two breweries in Chiba, Kidoizumi and Iwanoi, and got to see sake-making in progress, as well as sample a lot of the finished product. Both places make aged sake, which is fairly rare. It takes on a whole different quality, more like sherry. At Kidoizumi, we were able to try a whole line-up of aged stuff up to 20 years old, which was really interesting as a comparison. At both breweries, we were also able to drink sake fresh out of the tanks, which was really delicious. And of course, we finished it up with a huge meal with more sake, and even more sake on the bus back... Despite getting home by 8:30 or so, I was absolutely destroyed on Monday.
And despite that, I went out with Robb and Bryan on Monday to a pick of Robb's, Tama, near Gaienmae. Having been told they had very good sake, I was really suspicious when we first walked in and I saw that it was extremely fashionable. Open kitchen, stainless steel counters and cabinets, black and white furniture, dramatic lighting on the bottles, waitstaff all in black... But I should have known that Robb wouldn't lead us wrong. The food was sort of nouvelle Japanese, but in a very delicious way, while the sake line-up would have been impressive in any restaurant. It included a lot of namasake, given the season, and the manager brought over a few samples for us to try before we decided on our drinks. There's a large deck in back, which would be nice when the weather turns nice, as well as a private room that looks like it would hold 8-10 people. Robb says the whole place is often booked out for parties on the weekend, so it's best to call first. Definitely one to go back to when in the mood for fashionable izakaya. My only complaint is that the English translation of the menu is laughably bad; if I get to be friends with the guy who runs the place, maybe I'll see if he'll let me fix it.
Tama: 2-3-1 Kita Aoyama