(Formatted w/ All Pics version found here:
My favorite style of Japanese dining would have to be at Izakayas. Around the world, Sushi is the more popular and famous form of Japanese dining, but Izakayas are becoming more and more prevalent, especially in the L.A. / Southern California. Sushi is wonderful, but having discovered what some people call the "Japanese Tapas / Small Dishes" style of eateries, with its wonderful variety of dishes (from stewed, fried, roasted dishes to even simple, but wonderful things like Zosui and Ochazuke), and a nice selection of Japanese Sakes, the choice is easy.
So at some point during our Japan Trip, we had to try at least one Izakaya, to do a comparison of what we've had back home versus the motherland. :) Toki no Ma in Ebisu was recommended through Bento and on our final night in Tokyo, we were nearby and decided to try it. Toki no Ma is located in a quiet area of Ebisu, about 7-10 minutes away from the station (walking). It's located in an unassuming building, but once you step through the elevator to the 2nd Floor, you're greeted by "Stylish" and "Cool": Toki no Ma definitely exudes a more sophisticated feel than the standard Izakayas I've been to (or passed by).
Beautiful cascading water and frosted glass separates portions of the restaurant:
A portion of their Sake and Shochu collection (and some nice illuminated floors):
Now after seeing the setting, one would normally fear that this might be one of those trendy, overpriced restaurants, but Bento had mentioned this as well, and soon my fears were put to rest. The wait staff was very hospitable and helpful, and the food and Sake selection was great as well. We placed our order and looking over their long Sake list, I asked for some recommendations, telling them some of my favorite Sake and hoping for something comparable or exceeding that taste. The waiter consulted his Sake expert and came back with 3 wonderful Sakes, letting me try all 3 before deciding. The Sake had a nice presentation, in a container on packed ice:
The waiter then brought out a complimentary amuse to start off the evening, two pork-based appetizers and some tasty tsukemono:
Then came the wildest thing we ate during our Japan Trip: Basashi, which is Horse Sashimi!
While Horse is considered a delicacy in Japan, in America, it's just plain freaky. But I had to try this at least once, right? So the Basashi arrived, complete with some pieces of Horse Fat as well, and 4 seasonings to add as we pleased (e.g., Fresh-grated Garlic, Fresh-grated Ginger, Red Chili Pepper Flakes, etc.). I took a bite of the Horse Sashimi with a piece of the Horse Fat combined and it was "interesting." It had a slightly gamy taste, something unique from any other type of meat I've had before (a good thing). The Horse Fat was delicious and helped smooth out the regular lean cut of Horse, which had a bit of gristle and was overly chewy. Something like Beef Steak Tartare or Beef Carpaccio is much more tender and tastier. It's not something I'd order again, but worth trying once.
Next up was a seasonal dish, on their specials for the night: A special Yuba dish with Edible Flowers:
The Yuba was extremely fresh and vibrant-tasting, and the Edible Flowers added to the fragrance and lightness of the dish. Very nice.
Next came a simple Jidori Tebasaki dish: The Chicken was perfectly cooked, with a wonderful light and crispy skin and a wholesome Chicken taste that was different and welcome from what we have back in L.A. Great dish!
Next we had the classic: Buta no Kakuni (Stewed Pork).
Just one look at the deep ruby-brown sauce and we could tell that this wasn't like the Buta Kakuni we have back home. The pork broke apart easily, and I dipped it in the sauce and took a bite: Sugoi! Amazing! The pork was nice and tender, but the highlight of the dish was the intensity and absolute *richness* in the sauce that coated and was marinated throughout the pork. It tasted of a wonderful complexity and blend of flavors and it really elevated this dish for me. Easily the best Buta no Kakuni I've ever had! I could've eaten this all night.
Lastly, we had another recommendation on their specials menu: Iwachu Buta Roast (3 ways).
A steamer was brought out to our table, and inside the waiter showed us the 3 different cuts of Pork (raw), and turned on the steamer to let it cook. It featured 3 different cuts of Pork from around the world: Kurobuta from Japan, a Berkshire pork from America, and another cut from Spain. After it finished steaming, the waiter removed the lid and we dug in. All 3 cuts of Pork were nice and tasty and extremely tender. There were 2 dipping sauces for us to choose from, and they were both nice, but it was definitely about enjoying the lightly steamed Pork and all its suppleness.
Toki no Ma is a wonderful Izakaya that has a bit more of a "Modern Tokyo" flair, but that flair never pervades the service nor the food, and what you get is a beautiful atmosphere combined with great Izakaya-type dishes, and an extensive selection of Sake and Shochu. It may not be as homey as the traditional Izakaya, but the food was easily the best quality food I've had at an Izakaya, ever (putting to shame the Izakayas in L.A.). It's also open until 5:00 a.m.(!) every day except Sunday and holidays (11:30 p.m.), which is really nice. Cool, chic and beautiful, with a great food and drink menu, Toki no Ma in Ebisu is a standout Japanese Izakaya.
*** Rating: 8.9 (out of 10.0) ***
Toki no Ma
(Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan)
〒150-0022 東京都渋谷区恵比寿南2-3-14 コンツェ恵比寿2F
Hours: Mon - Sat, 16:30 - 05:00
Sun / Holidays, 16:30 - 23:30