Archive for the ‘Shibuya’ Category

Torikatsu CHICKEN

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

chicken katsu teishoku

But back in the 1970s, when the Rolling Stones were yet unwrinkled, the master of CHICKEN decided to be different. He choose to sell chicken cutlets breaded and fried in the same manner as the ubiquitous pork tonkatsu joints all over the city.  He’s been toiling behind his small counter in his cramped kitchen off a narrow alleyway at the top of Shibuya’s Dogenzaka every since.

chicken menu 1Torikatsu CHICKEN is a workingman’s joint. And I know of no other place like it in Tokyo.

The customers are mostly students or salarymen with limited budgets and big appetites. The “dai-ninki” big seller is the “3-selection set menu” of chicken cutlet, ham cutlet, and croquette for 650 yen.

If you prefer more variety, opt for the regular set menu which allows a choice of any fried selection in combinations of two (650 yen), three (800 yen), or four (1000 yen). Peruse from the selections on the hand-painted butcher paper menu thumb-tacked to the wall: deep-fried slices of onion, eggplant, or beef; minced pork and beef; whitefish; cuttlefish; or ham, chicken, or pork.

As is the custom with teishoku set menus, your order comes with a mound of freshly shredded cabbage, a big bowl of rice, and a bowl of miso soup.

chicken entranceRegulars busy themselves, while waiting for their order to be prepared, by reading old manga, magazines, or newspapers stacked on a small bookshelf near the entrance.

The food is simple, tasty and filling. The vegetables are fresh. The meat tender. And the deep-fried chicken cutlets are a nice change from pork. Refills on rice or cabbage are available.

The joint is open for lunch Monday thru Friday 11am to 3pm. And for dinner from 5pm to 9pm. The master prefers to take his weekends off.

CHICKEN is located at the top of Dogenzaka, the underbelly of Shibuya.

Walk up the slope on the left side of 109 until you get to red archway of Hyakkendana and the garishly yellow-lit tonkotsu ramen shop.

chicken sign outside alleyTurn left into Hyakkendana, and just past the Adult Shop “Joyful” on the left, you’ll spot a sign in front of the narrow lane on the left leading up to CHICKEN.

Torikatsu CHICKEN: 2-16-19 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03.461.0298. Open M-F Lunch 11am-3pm. Dinner 5pm-9pm. Closed weekends.





Meikyoku Kissa Lion: coffee and classical music since 1926

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Lion interior beethoven

Half a century ago, the hilltop at the summit of Dogenzaka in Shibuya was a family-oriented neighborhood with green grocers, a bowling alley, and restaurants. Several decades before that, the classical music coffee house, Lion, staked its claim as king of that hill.

Lion exteriorNowadays, surrounded by an array of love hotels and sex clubs, Lion is still there as solid as a cathedral with its grey plaster and stonework impervious to the indignities of time.

Inside the Lion it’s as quiet as a church. The pale milky sunlight seeps in through glazed windows. The dark wood Doric columns support Moorish arches in what must have been an architectural delight during the roaring twenties.

The wooden chairs have seat cushions of very faded red plush. The chair backs are protected by pressed white coverlets. These chairs are neatly arranged into rows like church pews facing the front, the soaring altar of  the massive “3D Sound System” speakers mounted high in the tabernacle and illuminated by electric candelabra and a scintillating crystal chandelier.Lion interior 2

Holding out 87 years so far, Lion has become a metaphor realized, a bastion for the religion of music and a refuge from the sordid world outside.

Patrons enter Lion with reverence, respect, and hope for solace and salvation. Their saviors are Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, Bruckner, Schumann, Fauré, Mendelssohn, Scriabin, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninov.

At least they were for the March series of LP concerts held everyday at 3pm and 7pm. April will feature a new line up of musical messiahs.

Anytime in between those two concerts, worshipers can make musical requests to the staff. These requests, and the concert line up as well, are announced in soft whispered tones by an acolyte as he fits the needle into the groove. If one whispers too loudly, you are kindly asked by the staff to speak more quietly.

Lion coffee closeupCoffee, of course, is the sacrament here—blend kohi (500 yen), or milk (500 yen), or milk coffee (520 yen) or milk egg (670 yen), whatever that is.

No food is served, and no food is allowed. A Bach fugue, a Mozart concerto, a Beethoven sonata, a Chopin nocturne or a Fauré requiem are the nourishment here.

Meikyoku kissa translates to “great song” coffee shop. And with the thousands of vinyl LPs and CDs organized on sturdy shelves, any great song request can most likely be granted. No one seems to mind the scratches and hiss that accompany the vinyl selections.

Lion interior backdoorOn the monthly LP concert program, Lion proudly proclaims that it is air-conditioned—a certain draw back in the day. It also states that the American music magazine “Audio” wrote up the 3D Sound System in 1959.

Any music lover, or lover of Tokyo, ought to make the pilgrimage to the top of the hill on the Dogenzaka slope. Be sure to check out the second floor gallery seating. Notice the framed icons hanging on the dark walls—paintings of Bach or Beethoven and other composers shadowed with the patina of decades.

Check out the restroom. And as you make your way there in the dim light, pause for a timeless moment at the foyer of the back entrance.

Lion:  2-19-13 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03.3461.6858. Open daily 11a.m. to 10:30p.m.

Los Barbados: African/Turkish/Moroccan/French joint in Shibuya

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013


Joints like Los Barbados make living in Tokyo a privilege. Down an unattractive Shibuya side street and wedged into a nondescript building with six other tiny establishements, this African/Turkish/Moroccan/French eatery is run by one free-spirited Japanese dude in a T-shirt and jeans who back when reggae hit the Japanese shore decided to go to Jamaica, but instead ended up in the Congo.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREHe’s been back to the Congo multiple times for additional cooking lessons.

But he’s also hung out in Paris with the African crowd picking up a French approach to cooking. And when the mood strikes, he says he might whip up a prune and olive chicken tagine.

His haven is hung with French vinyl LP covers such as “Franco L’Afrique Danse No. 6” or “Dynamite Verckys et l’Orchestre Veve” or “Docteur Nico” or “Johnny Bokelo et Son Orchestre L’Afrique Danse No. 1.”

The joint is basically just a cramped kitchen surrounded by a narrow counter, seating seven or eight, with the space above filled with bottles of rhum, African masks and colorful paintings of a zebra, giraffe, and hippo. Easing from the corner speakers is a constant Congolese groove of intricate guitar and infectious  drum work.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe 15–20 item menu varies from the Assorted Vegetable Starter (500 yen) featuring tabouleh, hummus with rose pepper, pickled red cabbage, and French carrot salad; to African Grilled Chicken with fufu cassava (1000 yen) or Turkish “springrolls” deep-fried tidbits filled with lamb and dabbed with hot sauce (650 yen).

The chef also serves up a tasty Senegalese Whitefish Stew with peanuts, tomatoes and okra (950 yen) or a Chickpea and Vegetable Couscous dish (950 yen).

Hot sauce is served with each dish, but for the brave, or the addled, a few bottles of habanero-based sauces are available for incendiary heat.

The chef has also selected several well-priced French rosé, white, and red wines by the glass.

And if you want to explore French Caribbean rhum, you’re in luck.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREHe’s got nearly 20 types of rhum from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, and a superb specimen from the Isle de Marie-Galante—the 50% strong La Guildive honoring Jean-Baptiste Labat, the Dominican monk and inventor of the distillation of sugar cane in the 17th century (900 yen the glass).

You can’t go wrong at Los Barbados. You’ll be well fed, and your wallet won’t be much lighter than when you went in. Reservations are usually not necessary, but call ahead if you like.

Los Barbados: 41-46 Udagawacho, Papier Biru 104, Shibuya-ku. Open Monday to Saturday 12 noon to midnight. Tel: 03.3496.7157. If you get lost trying to find the place, call. The chef will explain how to get there.

For a map, check out this link:



Murugi: Old school curry joint on a Shibuya hilltop

Monday, November 5th, 2012

When the master of Murugi opened his curry shop in Showa 26 (1951) the surrounding neighborhood on the hilltop of Dogenzaka in Shibuya was alive with movies theaters, coffee shops, and bowling alleys—a center of family entertainment. Another type of entertainment now prevails—love hotels and sex clubs, but Murugi carries on preserving the feel of the old neighborhood, as does the iconic Lion coffeeshop just around the corner.

The master’s daughter now runs Murugi preparing the 62-year-old vintage menu of chicken curry, hayashi curry, saté, and the gado gado salad. Her father loved mountain climbing, says the daughter. And he created the mountain-shaped mound of rice towering above the dark, glistening curry to represent Mt. Everest. The curry is chicken-based, simmered until mahogany brown and redolent of its secret mix of spice. The signature dish is the tamago-iri curry (1050 yen) with the rice mountain girdled by slices of hard-boiled egg ribboned with a red line of ketchup.

The dish comes with a dollop of house-made chutney and two jars of condiments: bright red batons of tangy ginger and pale orange bits of pickled daikon radish.

For an extra 50 yen, you can modulate the standard spiciness of the curry sauce: milder, hotter, or super-hot. You can also add a mozzarella/gouda cheese topping for an extra 100 yen.

The Gado Gado salad (850 yen) is a large bowl of lettuce, tomato wedges, slices of hard-boiled egg, cucumber, and bean sprouts annointed with a house-made dressing. The Saté (1200 yen) are spicy bits of grilled chicken.

The brick exterior continues inside with a red brick fireplace. The dark wood tables are wide with plenty of space for elbow room. Last time I was there, the music was Motown from the 60s—the Four Tops, the Temptations, Wilson Pickett. But sometimes jazz is on the radio. A steady stream of customers come and go.

Nothing’s flashy here at Murugi. Just a few dishes that have over the decades proven themselves to be winners. The staff too are such.

Stop by for lunch should you be climbing the Dogenzaka slope.

Murugi, 2-19-2 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, 03.3461.8809. Open for lunch only: 11:30am to 3pm. Closed Fridays.




Satei Hatou: the perfect cup of coffee in Shibuya

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

On a sloping side street a few minutes from the clamor and commotion of Shibuya station, the quiet haven of Café Satei Hatou is wedged in between a pachinko slot parlor and a nearly defunct French restaurant.

Coffee, tea, and juice are prepared and served at Hatou as if they were fine wines. The water is treated and filtered with an ion-alkaline process until it is as pure and tasty as mountain air.

The coffee is not prepared in the “neru” way, the hand-held flannel filter method preferred by iconic kissaten such as Cafe de L’Ambre. Hatou prepares each cup using a Kalita paper filter drip tailored to each serving to ensure the proper paper to coffee ratio. Kalita filters, says Taguchi-san, the master, have three drip holes at the bottom for a faster drain. Melitta filters, on the other hand, have only one hole for a more leisurely drain. Such details are essential for coffee cognoscenti.

The cups are of the finest porcelain and hundreds of different designs are on colorful display on shelves behind the counter which is twelve meters of dark hinoki. A flower arrangement as large as the crown of a tree dominates one corner. Oil paintings in heavy ornate frames hang on the wall alongside modern lithographs. A tall grandfather clock tick tocks soothingly beside an armoire displaying antique vases. The lamps on the tables have stained glass shades.

At first glance the prices seem exorbitant – 800 yen for a cup of coffee, 900 yen for a glass of juice. But if you order a second cup or glass – of anything on the menu – it will cost only 500 yen. Sandwiches, roast beef or ham and cheese, are 700 yen.

To craft your cup of coffee, Taguchi-san will require about five minutes. I timed this process the other day. Taguchi will first measure out the freshly-roasted beans, grind them, then place the grounds into the filter.

Freshly boiled water will then be dripped from the water pot onto the grounds to pre-moisten them. Then more water will be dribbled in an up/down motion that is simultaneously circular to thoroughly wet the grounds. The grounds will swell up in a mound rising above the filter top.

As Taguchi continues the up/down circular dribbling, the mound collapses into a crater with light brown crema-like foam in the center. Hot water is now poured into your cup to warm it. The coffee in the glass pot is very briefly held over a gas flame to add a few degrees of heat, then it is poured into the cup. A perfectly clear, fragrant, and deeply delicious brew.

Customers of all types frequent this kissaten: young women with a group of friends or alone with a book, couples, business people, and grandparents.

Hatou is intimate enough for lovers and spacious enough for large thoughts and grand ideas.

Surprisingly, not one cup or dish fell and broke from Hatou shelves during the recent earthquake.

Café Satei Hatou: 1-15-19 Shibuya, Shibuya Ward. Tel: 03-3400-9088. Open daily 11am to 11:30pm.