Archive for December, 2010

Nihon Saisei Sakuba: offal, offal, lovely offal

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Nihon Saisei Sakuba is Tokyo at its low-down liveliest. This standing-room-only tachinomiya eatery, in the center of one of Shinjuku’s busiest entertainment districts, sells the highest quality pork motsu offal, carefully grilled on bamboo skewers over binchotan charcoals.

The extensive menu, pasted onto two thick pieces of cardboard, lists delicacies such as larynx, spleen, birth canal, tongue, choice uterus, brain, rectum, diaphragm, and cartilage—all at rock bottom prices.

The restaurant is supplied with the best quality offal from its parent butcher shop in Chofu, a nearby suburb. Don’t let any preconceptions deter you. These grilled innards are surprisingly delicious. Try the mixed plate of five sticks with a dab of fiery mustard.

Grilled vegetables such as shiitake, long onions, and shishito-togarashi sweet green peppers, are excellent too. And don’t miss the grilled “bread rolls” made with rice flour.

College students stand next to middle-aged salarymen, who stand elbow to elbow with laborers, as they quaff down mugs of draft beer or tumblers of shochu. The name saisei sakuba means re-energize yourself. And that’s exactly what this place does for you.

The joint fills up quickly, but that makes it even more fun.

3-7-3 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3354-4829. Open daily from 3pm to midnight. Nearest subway station: Shinjuku san-chome, Exit C3. Marunouchi Line.

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. www.sanpi-ryoron.com. Nearest JR station: Ebisu, East Exit.