Archive for the ‘saké’ Category

Retro Kanda kissaten with “nori toast”: Ace

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Ace exterior new

The area around Kanda station is a hive of activity—crowded, jumbled, and thoroughly “shitamachi.” And Kanda’s Coffee shop Ace is my new favorite Tokyo kissaten. About 42 years ago, two brothers took over their father’s role as Ace master. And over the years, they’ve kept things pretty much the same. Coffee is crafted here using the siphon method, once a technique common in many kissa, but now as rare as an honest banker.

Ace interior1The brothers have put together a menu of over 40 straight bean coffees and “coffee variations,” some of which you’ll find nowhere else.

These are not Starbuck’s-like milk confections, but sturdy coffee-grounded originals. Consider: Mexican Butter Coffee with a dab of real butter afloat in the cup. Pontier Beruga Coffee with real whipped cream and meringue (550 yen). Café Alexsandra with thick cream, cocoa liqueur and brandy (550 yen).

Or my favorite Pontier de Café con Leche with whipped cream, sherry, and walnuts (550 yen).

The brothers also carefully brew a wide selection of teas, if you are so inclined. Ace coffee menu

The prices here haven’t changed much either over the decades. A cup of straight Blue Mountain bean coffee is 570 yen and Kilimanjaro is only 480 yen. These prices are almost half of comparable cups elsewhere. And if you’re an early bird, you can have a bottomless cup of “blendo” if you order between 7a.m. and noon.

Ace is probably most renowned for its innovative “Nori Toast.” They take a slice of white sandwich bread, split it down the middle into two very thin half-slices, butter them, slip in a large wafer of nori, dried seaweed, then toast the whole thing to perfection. At 140 yen, it’s a classic. And if you get lost, as I’ve done a few times trying to find Ace, ask a local where the “nori toast” place is.Ace nori toast

If seaweed on bread is not your style, try the “choco toast,” a whipped cream, chocolate sauce concoction that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

A small library of coffee-related books and magazines is on a shelf for browsing. Above that little library, hanging on the wall, is a portrait of the two brothers done entirely in glued coffee grounds.

The clientele at Ace have been regulars for decades. Salarymen and office ladies, old couples and youngish couples.

It is not unusual to lean one’s weary head back against the wall and sneak 4o winks.

Ace is open 7a.m. to 7p.m Monday to Friday. Saturdays the are open until only 2p.m. Ace: 3-10-6 Uchi-kanda, Chiyoda ward. Tel: 03.3256.3941. Ace can be found, if you are lucky, in a 2-minute walk from the west exit of Kanda JR station, or in a 3-minute stroll from the Kanda Ginza line subway station.

Omoide Yokocho: Memory Alley in Shinjuku

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Entering Omoide Yokocho, Memory Alley, just a short stagger from Shinjuku Station, can deliver the same surprise and shock that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and Dorothy experienced in the  “Wizard of Oz” when Toto pulled back the curtain on the great and powerful Oz to reveal, behind the flashing lights, gimmickry and glitz, a simple old man imbued with kindness and generousity.

This ramshackle collection of 44 tiny eateries jammed together elbow to elbow is Tokyo behind the curtain.

A city with dirt under its nails.

A neighborhood that thinks that the limit of progress and change is replacing a burnt out lightbulb.

Every night souls by the hundreds fill this enclave for yakitori, nikomi (simmered tripe), nikujyaga, beer, shochu, and the companionship of fellow drinkers.

Food is cheap here. Alcohol too. But the yakitori are carefully attended to. Beer, sake, and shochu are fairly poured.

Some joints serve up rather delicious eats.

Others offer only basic sustenance.

Wander in. Look for an empty seat or two at a crowded counter. Everyone is welcome.

In the film, the great and powerful Oz exhorts, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” But you ought to take a closer look at Omoide Yokocho. Click your heels together three times, and you might find yourself home.

Sanpi Ryoron: worth the wait for a seat at the counter

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Chef Masahiro Kasahara thinks everyone should be able to afford quality washoku, “Japanese cuisine.” That’s why his extraordinary dinner course used to be a mere 5000 yen. But the costs of his raw materials—pristine vegetables, fish, and meat—have risen, so he recently had to raise the set menu price to 6000 yen.

When you figure, though, that this menu unfolds a progression of  ten superb courses, including a dessert selection of six different items—all of which you can have—then this price is a bargain.

The interior is a low-key stylish mix of dark wood panels, unfinished concrete walls, a long 12-seat counter, and mingei (folk craft) dishes. While behind the counter, Kasahara and his crew of two work with smooth precision to prepare a dinner that will knock your socks off.

Kasahara and Sanpi Ryoron have been featured on television several times, and on a recent visit the customers filling every seat were women, one of whom confided that she had come for the food, but also to see the kakko ii (handsome) chef work.

Kasahara takes Japanese food in completely new directions, such as slices of roast duck accented with salmon roe and ricotta cheese, or slow-cooked eggplant and mushrooms blessed with creamy sea urchin.

In season now is buri (yellowtail) so Kasahara created a dish of the tender sashimi marinated with ground black sesame and topped with a pesto of emerald green shugiku (edible chrysanthemum leaves), and a wedge of red daikon.

Another noteworthy dish was the silky smooth chawan mushi with a crunchy waxy yurine (lily bulb), luscious shirako (soft roe), and a tender yellow-green ginnan ( gingko nut).

One item that doesn’t change with the seasons is the hashi yasumi dish—the “chopstick pause” dish—a few slices of iburigakko (smoked takuan pickle) from Akita prefecture paired with a dab of marscapone cheese. Delicious.

Dessert included custard creme caramel, shiso leaf sorbet, kinako ice cream, monaka (sweet red bean cookie), and grapefruit segments with hibiscus geleé.

The Kurikomayama saké, from Miyagi prefecture, was as refreshing as a sip from a cold mountain stream.

Most guests, when they leave, stop outside the front entrance and speak with the young receptionist who has followed them out the front door.

She’ll pencil in their next dinner in the reservation book—usually a date six weeks to eight weeks later.

Sanpi Ryoron

2-14-4 Ebisu. Tel: 03-3440-5572. 6pm to 1am. Closed Sundays. Nearest JR station: Ebisu, East Exit.

Sakura sakura — sakura saké

Friday, March 27th, 2009


“To see the cherry hung with snow…”

Tokyo’s cherry blossom time is starting this weekend. Junior-most office workers are being sent off to Shinjuku Gyoenmae Park, to Ueno Park, to Chidorigafuchi moat near the Imperial Palace, to Aoyama Cemetery or to a bank of the Sumida River near Asakusa (to name a few popular venues) to tape off and reserve prime viewing spots for drinking parties under the prettiest boughs.mizu-no-eau-sakura-sky

The weather has turned a little cold again. The forecast, though, is for sunny but chilly weather, so for about ten days the cherry trees will canopy singing, romance, cavorting, dancing, and red-faced pull-out-the-stops drinking parties. Mark Twain once said the first of April is the day when we remember what we are like the other 364 days of the year. As for drinking, singing, and having a merry time in Tokyo, he was right.

Tokyoites so love their bloom along the bough that no matter what the weather, they’ll be out by the hundreds of thousands celebrating the loveliest of trees, the cherry now. Under the blossom-heavy boughs, they will sit on blue plastic tarps, on sheets of cardboard, on blankets or on handkerchiefs. School worries, old lovers, past arguments, office stress, and lost youth will be forgotten. Another winter has been survived. Some will compose haiku, others will look forward to the freedom of university life starting in April, while others — four years senior — will contemplate the first day at their new company.

Sake will be poured; onigiri rice balls, bento boxes and yaki tori will be unpacked. Grandfathers will play with grandchildren. Couples will sit on benches holding hands, their heads tilted each to each. Small boys will cavort and catch a falling petal mid-air, then stretch it carefully between thumbs and forefingers and blow — achieving, if they are careful, a thin reedy whistle and a smile.

mizu-no-eau-label-2You ought to stake out a spot too. Try to find a bottle of the Mizu no eau Sakura, a delicious daiginjo saké flavored with essense of sakura. The brew is a lovely shade of pink with a luscious soft cherry finish. I found it at Kinokuniya Supermarket in Aoyama, but was told it’s available in selected saké shops across the city. It’s about 1500 yen. Look for the distinctive sakura-pink cylindrical box.

After these ten days have passed, the air of Tokyo will fill again with snow—the pink snow of falling petals swirling in the breeze. And legions of street cleaners with their gasoline-powered air blowers will emerge to tidy up, blowing with their noisy engines the fallen petals into gutters.