Tokyo Table Trip

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In Volume 5 of The Sake Chronicles, I would like to recommend you all some very eclectic, unique, and fun places to try sake with food in Tokyo. Aside from the first selection, all of them I have personally tried. A few are famous establishments, but you might not have tried their sake pairings or offerings (and you really should).

There are serious business owners and sake sommeliers who are also true enthusiasts, passionate about sake and very dedicated, who want to share their joy of what it means to put sake and food together, but humbly just let the food and drink speak for themselves. To come to these establishments mentioned below only to eat, and not have any sake (in some cases that will likely not be allowed), will be an incomplete experience. This list is by no means complete or definitive, but will offer a great introduction to some very special experiences, and to see what some owners and sommeliers do to try to elevate the overall experience in their own special ways.These are all amazing and fantastic learning opportunities for those interested in sake and food, and are truly educational and rewarding. Ignore the tabelog scores and come enjoy these unique experiences that beyond brand name sake with sushi omakase!

1. G.E.M. By Moto - sake bar

(Disclaimer: I have personally not yet visited G.E.M. By Moto, but have paid close attention to friends who went. It comes highly recommended by everyone I know who has been, including certified sake sommeliers from different countries. Thus it would be a disservice to exclude this entry. This sake bar also made it for the first time in the top 100 restaurants of Opinionated About Dining list of 2020 Japan top 100+ restaurants just recently)

Marie (sometimes spelt Mari) Chiba san is one of the most famous figures in the sake industry and media right now, having written books regarding sake, including a very fun graphic novel in a fun manga format called Nihonshu Ni Koishite (“In Love With Sake”) in which she collaborated with famous manga artist Rumiko Takahashi who provides the artwork. Marie san is also very widely known in the sake circles in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and has acquired very loyal following. She was also awarded the top honor of Sake Samurai in 2019, joining the ranks of several international figures who act as ambassadors to sake worldwide. Last but not least, she was featured in the 2019 documentary movie: “Kanpai: Sake Sisters” showcasing three important females in the sake industry (Blu Ray and DVD released so far only in Japan and Taiwan markets) that catapulted her fame.

Marie san has done several collaborations / sake dinners with a few well known restaurants where she was the sommelier to pair sake with specific courses. Her collaboration with Sushi Kimura, where she took a small library of her own sake and came up with eclectic pairings for courses is well documented in Japanese media. For example, for Kimura’s sardine “meatball” (sumire) soup course, she mixed two sake of the same type (one was a Junmai Ginjo, and the other the same Junmai Ginjo but aged at the brewery for 10 years). In a very recent collaboration a few months ago, she blended an aged sake with the most sought after bottle of the Juyondai portfolio to pair with Kimura san’s aged sujiko.

Her sake bar G.E.M By Moto requires advanced reservations before going. Mari san’s style is eclectic where she pairs specific sake and/or sake related beverages with various small plates. Some of the sake cannot be purchased anywhere else, including unique brews designed and brewed for her, per her specifications. She also has a walk in freezer where she ages her own sake, so you may be able to taste a particular vintage (or brewing year rather) that is no longer on the market, yet it will likely taste different due to the aging, storage, and serving she does. She is also known to be a very creative mixologist where she may blend tea, coffee, or other ingredients with sake to create a mixture that pairs magically with whatever food she is serving. Her approach is innovative yet unconventional, but comes across as very fun and creative.

For those interested in visiting and wanting to meet Marie san, please also make sure she is there when you plan your visit, as due to her increased fame, she has been traveling more frequently. G.E.M. By Moto will still open if Marie san is not there and it may still be worth trying regardless. The format of the meal as I understand it, is essentially like “omakase” or a tasting menu of several dishes or small plates, each paired specifically to a beverage.

G.E.M. By Moto
Address : 1-chome-30-9 Ebisu Shibuya City Tokyo-to
Telephone : 03-6455-6998 (+81-3-6455-6998)
Tabelog : https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1303/A130302/13185126/

2. Chinju No Mori Animism Bar - sake bar with a full kitchen

Chinju No Mori Animism Bar is the latest iteration from a sake bar previously called “Shutoan”, helmed by bar master Toshiki Takeguchi. He has a very heightened sense of taste, and I personally think he is definitely at the very least, at the supertaster level, if not higher! Fans of Takeguchi san might even consider him an extraordinary genius when it comes to perfecting the art of serving sake in its most optimal state, especially with the type of food that will be consumed with it.

His sake bar also serves an excellent variety of food and it is possible to have a full meal there. The regular menu has a great selection from various small plates, raw oysters, seafood cooked using various Japanese culinary methods, and creative dishes such as smoked mackeral with olive oil to make things a lot more fun and interesting. All these possibilities allow you to understand the versatility of pairing sake with Western cuisine better. You might actually need several visits to be able to try everything on the menu! Whatever you choose, should you take the reins with ordering, they will recommend sake for each course. If you are feeling adventurous you could try 2 different sake for just one food item to study the effects of pairing, or perhaps one cold sake and one different sake served warm.

Between the sake bar and several offsite locations, Takeguchi san has amassed a wide collection of sake, perhaps upwards of 4000 bottles or more, many of them in refrigerated storage (he also ages his own sake). Just within the basement bar alone of Chinju No Mori, there could be at least 900+ bottles, each serving its unique purpose, thus allowing a fascinating number of pairing combinations and possibilities.

Takeguchi san has intimate knowledge of many sake breweries and their styles, and has also done (and continues to do) sake pairing dinner collaborations with different restaurants in Tokyo, ranging from sushi to high end French, to washoku and kaiseki (Goryu Kubo was one recent project, as was a high end French restaurant in Ginza. They have also done a few collaborations in the past with Hide Namba of Sushi Namba when there was only the Asagaya location). He is also extremely particular about serving vessels and glassware, and very aware of each of their strengths, limitations, and exactly which sake in their best forms to serve them in. You may be tasting a sake from a very specific vessel or glass, which is meant for you to maximize your enjoyment of it from beginning to end, at that very moment, and with the food being served. His level and attention to detail are so advanced that it would probably take high level and advanced drinkers, and perhaps wine and or sake sommeliers to understand the breadth and depth of what he is doing, but beginners who are adventurous should be able to easily enjoy and appreciate his approach, all while finding it fun and extremely educational at the same time.

Chinju No Mori focuses more on serving sake at its most optimal state (sometimes states), taking into account temperature, degree of aging as necessary, oxidation/breathing, type of vessel, what you are eating with, and perhaps even what you ate or drank before and what you might be having afterwards.

The important details: Chinju No Mori Animism bar is only open in the evenings for dinner, and is strictly a members only place in Tokyo. It is not known to many, as it is literally a private club and a secret society of very dedicated sake people ranging from professionals in the industry to serious hobbyists. However they are more than happy to introduce foreign visitors to Tokyo the wonders of sake and pairing as a means of education, and will accept reservations from those coming from overseas. This is a big win for visitors and TokyoTableTrip readers!

During the day and by appointment only, Chinju No Mori offers tasting classes (for a fee) where there is at least one instructor who speaks fluent English. This is a wonderful opportunity to get a great experience and lesson in sake, tasting, culture, from really passionate individuals, in addition to the chance to taste brews that otherwise would be inaccessible to foreign visitors as well as for many locals. As a result of popular demand, they also offer different Japanese whisky and spirits tasting classes, so you can opt for that as well. Appointments can be made through their contact information from the website https://chinjunomori.net/ , and they will gladly assist with dinner reservations at Chinju No Mori Animism Bar.

I highly recommend trying one of the tasting classes, and also attending a regular dinner there of ordering food and sake to pair with. You may also inquire about purchasing sake from Chinju No Mori if you taste something you really enjoy, as you might not be able to easily find the same bottle in sake shops, or at all. The dinner menu is entirely in Japanese, but for those that have difficult ordering, a tasting omakase course can be reserved in advance (you can specifiy with or without raw oysters), which will include sake pairings. For those who love raw oysters and sake should not miss trying this, as some seasonal oysters from the famous parts of Japan are super delicious!

If you visit during the winter season, on certain evenings they may host special hotpot themed sake dinners instead of offering the regular menu. It could be motsu nabe (pork intestines, chives, cabbage) or tufu nabe (also known as “gouty” hotpot) containing shirako, oysters, ankimo in a clam miso dashi. These hotpot themed dinners are however, more reserved for regulars who have visited the bar more than once, and by extended invitation only.

Animism Bar Chinju No Mori 鎮守の森
Address : 3-11, Yotuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Telephone : +81-80-4192-3175 (for foreign visitors access)
Website : https://chinjunomori.net/ (for foreign visitors access)
Email : chinjunomori@bacchusgroup.co (use only lower case letters, also use for reservations)
Tabelog : https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1309/A130903/13194182/

3. L’Effervescence - 2 Michelin star French

While there are quite a number of high end French and Japanese French restaurants in Tokyo, not many of them have a solid sake program that coexists with wine. Esquisse may have one or two sake, and it is uncertain with the other Michelin star Japanese French restaurants. Narisawa was once a good place to try but their previous sommelier is no longer working there. With that said, I very highly recommend L’Effervescence for experiencing sake pairings with their exquisite tasting menu. Reservations are not difficult to make if in advance, and can be done online through their website. A beverage program is offered at an additional cost to the meal that includes wine and sake, and there is one that is entirely sake by request, that is wonderful and highly recommended.

L’Effervescence’s’ sake pairing is diverse yet eclectic. In the mix will be some unique offerings that you cannot get locally in Tokyo, as the restaurant has special relationships directly with the sake brewers and they are very selective of who they want to work with. They also will pour some very limited edition sake for the pairing depending on what they can source (e.g. Aramasa, Isojiman, Kokuryu) although if this is what you are after you may want to communicate your preferences during or even ahead of time when you make your reservation. However you do not want to miss the chance of tasting some very interesting eclectic selections of sake from small high quality artisanal producers you may not have heard of ever (or may not have tried with Japanese French), that will end up working very nicely with the dishes.

L’Efferverscence will present the sake in its most optimal state and utilize the best wine glassware for each pour. This is a detail that may surpass similar experiences of dining at western Michelin restaurants overseas and drinking sake with wine glasses, as the attention to detail here is at another level altogether. If hot sake is offered for a course, pay close attention to the vessel they use and how the sake tastes with the food for the duration of the course as it comes back down in temperature. There is even a sake poured to pair specifically with the dessert course, and you do not want to miss that one either.

Depending on how well you communicate your preferences and feedback, it may even be possible to experience some very interesting spontaneous pairing combinations. My recommendation is that you let them know you are willing to try something unique, different, and ask they they pour some jizake (local sake) in the pairing, as well as perhaps some known brands for the best experience possible.

L’Effervescence
Address : 2 Chome-26-4 Nishiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0031, Japan
Telephone : 03-5766-9500 (+81-3-5766-9500)
Website : http://www.leffervescence.jp/en/
Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1306/A130602/13116356/

4. Kurosaki - Michelin star sushi

Sake pairing with sushi is a bit of a tricky subject to approach. A sushi chef will know exactly what courses are going served in order (sushi or otsumami), but will have no control over how fast or slow a customer will consume their glass, carafe, or bottle. Typically customers will order recommended sake pours by the glass (90 mL on average, sometimes 180 mL or a carafe size that’s larger), and the restaurant will decide for the customer, especially if no menu is present. With the burden of possible English language barrier in communicating with foreign visitors who do not speak Japanese or sake Japanese, let alone know the customers preferences or whether beginner/intermediate/advanced level, the restaurant has to make the best determination what to serve in hopes that the experience is enjoyable across a number of courses, independent of whether the sake matches the food, and the customer’s level of understanding and appreciation of sake.


The degree in which sake matches with sushi and otsumami changes depending on a number of factors. Seasonality of seafood affecting fat content, flavor profile, perhaps the taste of the sushi chef’s shari. Some sake pair better with umami rich shellfish, or certain types and profiles would work better with fatty hikarimono. Some sake will not easily pair with wild bluefin tuna (e.g. Yamayuki Oma) that is minimally handled and has higher iron taste and astringency, but the same sake could perhaps pair better with some additional aging and/or preparation (e.g. zuke method).

So an excellent restaurant needs to put together a collection of sake for the evening that satisfies all sorts of demands and possibilities, from the customers who love well known established famous brands, to the passionate purists who prefer small producers of high quality sake that might not be as famous but possibly pairs even better with food. More importantly, a chef or chef owner should understand the profiles of sake and be able to create excellent sushi that matches it as closely as possible, with the bare minimum of the customer enjoying the experience overall..

It is possible that there are other sushi restaurants that have this kind of versatility, but I have found that more often than not, Kurosaki satisfies all of the requirements for sake lovers of varying levels while adjusting sushi and otsumami flavor profiles to facilitate sake pairings.

However, I highly recommend you ask specifically for the Junmai / Junmai Ginjo pairing (or perhaps ask for jizake / local sake pairing which may include one or two Junmai Daiginjo level) and that you want sake to pair specifically with his food. Chef owner Kazuki Kurosaki san will be able to select unique and eclectic bottles that may delight and surprise you. When you are finished with a particular pour and want the next one, inform him and he will know what to serve next based on what you will be eating. Like any good restaurant, he rotates his inventory based on seasonality, availability, and the range even for local sake are both wide and deep.

Kurosaki
Address: 1-chome-5-9 Shibuya Shibuya City Tokyo-to
Telephone: 03-6427-7189 (+81-3-6427-7189)
Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1303/A130301/13178821/

5. Firenze Sake Tokyo and Firenze Sake Oyster Owa

Owner Mitsugu “Giorgio” Kumagai operates two small but truly excellent eateries with great sake selections to match with the equally wonderful food offerings. Firenze Sake Tokyo is a Japanese Italian focused restaurant that combines traditional and creative Italian culinary techniques with Japanese ingredients and sensibilities. Kumagai san has over 20 years experience working in Italian restaurants and is also very passionate and knowledgeable about sake. Italian food in general pairs excellent with sake as all the right components are there to match, but Kumagai san’s Firenze Sake Tokyo takes things beyond what one can imagine.

Firenze Sake Tokyo is a very small space and seats no more than 12 people at at time. The sake selection is eclectic and wide, which is no easy feat given given the size of the restaurant. The list is thoughtfully put together that matches very nicely with whatever you are eating, and rotates depending on availability and the season. You will be able to purchase small pours of sake that are not easily found in shops, but are from very famous and well respected regional producers (quite a few brands or labels known to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, but perhaps not as much for Europe or USA). On one visit, I had a spectacular seafood linguine using squid from Aomori prefecture, with its liver incorporated into the pasta sauce, topped with mizuna that gave the dish an aromatic mint and slight bitter accent (to counter the sweet and savory of the liver sauce), and paired it with a well regarded nama sake of my choosing that worked extremely well. If available during the colder months you might want to try something like ankimo confit caramelized with balsamic vinegar reduction and pair it with an aged sake (the effects of which are more amazing that the classic French Sauternes and foie gras pairing). Sometimes the restaurant hosts special sake dinners where a member of a regional sake brewery will be in attendance, and the sake pours for the evening will be exclusively all of the brewery’s offerings (or a good part of the portfolio). Special courses would then be served to match each sake, similar to a wine producer themed dinner.

8 minutes walk away from Firenze Sake Tokyo, is Kumagai san’s second restaurant that is a bubbles/sparkling & oyster bar (dubbed “Firenze Sake Oyster Awa” where Awa means bubbles in Japanese). This is a super fun place to enjoy selections of some of the best oysters from different parts of Japan, and a good range of Japanese alcoholic beverages to pair with (it is highly recommended to at least try the daily special sake designed to pair with raw oysters, it is one of the best pairings you must experience). They also have other cooked food including deep fried oysters, so please consider dropping by both restaurants on the same night if you are able and have room!

A note to visitors considering Firenze Sake Tokyo and/or Firenze Sake Oyster Owa: the food and sake menus are entirely in Japanese, and staff might not speak much English (inclusive of owner Kumagai san). These two eateries are located in Sagenjaya in Setagaya Ward that will require some patience and time to navigate from metropolitan Tokyo. Reservations can be made from their website https://firenzesake.jp/ and you can review the menus ahead of time from their website (use a translator app to help figure out what they have). Unfortunately the websites do not list any of their sake as their inventory changes frequently, but you can kindly ask a member of the staff for recommendations. Some of the sake are sourced from different sake shops across the country, and it is likely you will be unable to find some selections in Tokyo sake shops as souvenirs. Kumagai san is a big fan and supporter of locally made sake (jizake), and there are brews that are only sold in the region where it is made. Do not miss the chance to try pairing some of these sake with the food of Firenze Sake Tokyo and Firenze Sake Oyster Owa! And more importantly do not let language barrier or difference deter you from trying.

Persistence and being resourceful (e.g. Google Translate app) and doing some research ahead of time will surely lead to greater rewards.

Firenze Sake Tokyo
Address: 2-chome-10-14 Sangenjaya Setagaya City Tokyo-to
Telephone: 050-5594-3018 (+81-50-5594-3018) (For reservation only)
Website : http://firenzesake.jp/
Instagram: @firenzesaketokyo
Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1317/A131706/13212202/

Firenze Sake Oyster Awa
Address: 1B 1-chome-5-16 Sangenjaya Setagaya City Tokyo-to
Telephone: 050-5596-9507 (+81-50-5596-9507) (For reservation only)
Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1317/A131706/13229551/
Website : https://firenzesake.jp/menu02
Instagram: @firenzesakeoanda

6. Kiyoi - sake bar with emphasis on home style cooking

Less than 10 minutes walk away from Shibuya Station and away from the busiest section of Shibuya is street that can be quite fun for pub crawls called Udagawacho. Amongst the eclectic selection of eateries is an awesome low key place called Kiyoi.

Kiyoi is operated by owner Murai Yuri, with an emphasis on local home style (family) cooking (katei ryori 家庭料理) offered as small plates (ko-ryori) that can be consumed individually or shared in small groups, as well as a good selection of sake offered by the glass (~90 mL each) for drinkers of all levels that rotates frequently. The relatively small sized eatery has counter seats that can seat between 7 to 9 people maximum, and two tables that can seat 2 to 4 each. Behind the counter will typically be one person with an assistant servicing all customers.

Prior to opening, food is prepared earlier during the day, cooked and placed into large bowls or plates, and presented on top of the upper counter for customers to see (and decide what they would like). When a customer requests the dishes, the food is portioned out to be reheated, and still tastes excellent. These prepared items are based on family recipes that Murai san learned from her family, and are done at a very high, refined level in the vein of kappo ryori, but in a more comfortable, intimate, and relaxing environment. Family cooking is something that is slowly fading away from tradition as many office workers simply do not have time to cook, or people prefer to eat out, with so many choices at their disposal. While there are many smaller eateries serving similar cuisine, I highly recommend Kiyoi as a great unique experience, and the sake selections are very enjoyable, even for casual drinkers and visitors. On top of that, the food is indeed truly excellent, and is well loved by their local regulars.

Some selections of the family style cooking offered at Kiyoi draw from classics such as niku jaga (beef and potatoes stew), chikuzeni (chicken and vegetables stew), or other variants such as nikumiso with daikon. Prepared and cooked with love, and just easy, simple, yet complex and refined comfort food. Some might argue it is Japanese soul food as well. Selections depend on what ingredients are in season and what Murai san decides to offer each day.

Upon being seated, diners receive an otoshi (a compulsory appetizer that will automatically be part of your bill) that is Kasu Jiru, which is a miso soup with a variety of ingredients, and sake kasu (the sake lees from sake production which is very rich in flavor, savory and umami). It is absolutely delicious and a great way to relax you before starting the activities for the evening.

There can be a variety of anywhere from 3 to 7+ types of home cooking dishes. There is at least one more menu that lists other dishes of the evening that range from very typical Japanese food, to small plates you would also find in izakaya. Do not miss trying some very fun and delicious items like natto omelette, dashimaki tamago, grilled fish (especially sanma shioyaki during the fall), gyu suji nikomi (beef sinews stewed with soy sauce and mirin/sweet sake) that is incredible aromatic and begs for a pairing with hot sake, chicken karaage. It is also possible to order nibbles such as seared camembert cheese with crackers if you want to heighten your experience with sake pairings.

The most popular dish is their signature namerou. This is a very classic style food of fishermen, where the recipe normally uses mackeral (saba and/or aji are common versions), but Kiyoi’s version is an original interpretation using scallops and a variety of seasonal seasonings chopped into small pieces and mixed with miso. An egg yolk is added on top and you can wrap it with nori (seaweed) before you eat. This is a must order that you must try with sake.

Please also ask Murai san or any of her employees to recommend a good hot sake during your meal, as Kiyoi has the proper equipment to serve hot sake optimally. And also ask for recommended dish to go with it.

Murai san picks sake based on availability, seasonality, as well as brews from different parts of Japan. Some are very eclectic and interesting small artisanal brewery offerings. She sources sake from a wide range of independent sake shops across Tokyo. They are generally quite flavorful and some are light enough so it is possible to order as many different sake as you are able to drink. It is worth doing a full and proper dinner here as there is a lot of variety and possible combinations. The sake menu is displayed against the left side of the counter by the wall in Japanese.

One very important thing to note is that Murai san and her employees speak very little to almost no English but she would love to welcome and serve any foreign visitors as best as she can. With advanced notice, it may be possible to have someone provide simple translations of the standard nightly menu, and you can also ask for their recommendations for both food and drink. A reminder similar to the previous recommendation to not let the language barrier deter you from trying something truly special and delicious. I have sat next to European visitors who do not speak the Japanese, yet they come, dined successfully, had the restaurant decide what to eat and drink, and still told me they enjoyed the experience very much. Reservations are highly recommended as the restaurant might not be able to accept walk in customers if they are fully occupied. Please check their Instagram story for days they are open, and make your reservation requests through Instagram DM (be patient for their response). The level of hospitality here is first rate (inclusive of the food and drink), and an excellent and rewarding experience.

Kiyoi
Address: 36-16-103 Udagawacho Shibuya City Tokyo-to
Telephone: 03-6427-0748
Website: https://kiyoi-udagawacho.com/
Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1303/A130301/13225671/
Instagram: @777.sake

7. Kirakutei - kappo izakaya

Kirakutei has already been written up by Leo Saito of Tokyo Table Trip with a wonderful article here: https://tokyotabletrip.com/en/265

But I wanted to include them in this entry from the perspective of sake.

Kirakutei has some excellent direct connections with sake breweries, as a result of owner Asakura Kotaro having personal and close relationships with the people from the brewery. Thus you will find exclusive brews from various sake labels that you otherwise could not get in Tokyo. For example Soumura (Naganuma Gomeigaisha) in Yamagata prefecture has a private label made exclusively for Kirakutei, limited to one case of twelve 1.8 L bottles per year, and has a wonderful profile and drinking experience that matches nicely with the food. They also carry several selections of Jikon which is a label that is incredibly difficult to purchase retail in Tokyo. You may be able to taste Takasago as well, the parent label.

In addition to Jikon, you might encounter other brands like Kid, Hiroki, Sharaku/Miyaizumi, Hokken, Banshu Ikkon, to name a few other well respected favorites of sake fans. Many of these are sake may be medium rich in flavor with clean dry finish, but not as heavy on the palate, enabling you to try as many varieties as you can drink.

Kotaro san’s wife Keiko speaks some English and can help recommend sake for you to enjoy (and in fact it is a must to drink sake at Kirakutei, to not do so is definitely an incomplete experience). However the best experience is if you ask for specific recommendations which sake to drink to best pair with the food being served. You could be given a pour of a high acidity nama nigori by the famous label “Kid” by Heiwa Shuzo to pair with a dish with ankake dashi and shaved truffles shirako risotto, or perhaps an effervescent glass of Aramasa with female snow crab (Seiko gani), and if you have a sweet and sour profile chilled appetizer like a namako sunomono, a glass of a high end Juyondai Junmai Daiginjo (if they have it on the nightly specials sake menu) is a wonderful match where you actually get to experience a highly sought after sake matching with food (instead of randomly drinking it elsewhere by itself or with food that does not match as nicely).

Kirakutei (current address as of writing, they may be moving to Ginza in February or March of 2020)
Address: 5-7-9, Kugayama, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3332-2919 (+81-3-3332-2919)
Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1318/A131806/13050819/

Writer: ChuToroZuke

ChuToroZuke is an avid enthusiast of Japanese cuisine and culture, and remembers his first ever beef sukiyaki experience at the tender age of 6, particularly the magical combination of dipping sukiyaki beef into raw egg, and then eating with a bowl of Japanese rice. Years later in adulthood, a passion ignited with a great explosion one evening 5 years ago, as a result of experiencing a bottle of sake with perfect otsumami and sushi at a favorite restaurant that was so impactful and memorable. This lead him down a geeky journey of discovering sake as well as re-discovering different food with sake. Suddenly traveling to Japan and dining at various establishments (high end and low end) last few years became a whole lot more exciting, allowing this sake superfan to deep dive and meet other fellow lovers of the beverage as well as those enjoying food and sake together.

It is with great pleasure and honor that he was invited to contribute to TokyoTableTrip, as a means of giving back to the community, and to help share his love of and experiences with sake, and to help promote sake in Japan and across the world.

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Menchikatsu

Just got done with the great read @ChuToroZuke. A busy week, and had to put it off for a few days.

Along with introducing new names, this is almost like a sake educational course review for me, as you've gone in depth into some of these places, in the wonderful conversations we had a few months back.

Of note here, I'm pretty intent on visiting Akoya for the seafood and sake match, particularly hot sake. Chinju no Mori is new to me, but interests, and I'll keep reading more about it.

I noticed absent here is Fushikino, which you praised and mentioned as a place sake industry people know about. It's a bit on the upscale side, so I'm thinking of saving it for a future trip. Too many nice places I already intend to go, including the above mentioned L'Effervescence beverage pairing, return to Kurosaki for junmai pairing, and Kirakutei, which I hope doesn't get mobbed with reservations if they move into town center.

A couple of other famous sake focused izakaya not on this list, that I hope I'm finally getting around to visiting are Kandakouju, Sasagin, Kotaro, and Yorozuya Okagesan.

A bit away from this list's theme, but a friend of mine was taken to Orihara Shoten in Monzen, and loved it. So I will stop by, and wander around the area too, hitting up other notable nearby izakaya like Uosan Sakaba and Kishidaya. Looking forward to hearing about more finds, the next time you go looking around Tokyo for respectable sake eateries.

5 months ago

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ChuToroZuke

Thank you @Menchikatsu!

The purpose of this article was more to showcase places I have visited before and tell their story based on their approaches, styles, passions, and delivery/execution, although I made the exception for GEM By Moto because of Mari san's fame and accomplishments.

The original intent was to try to focus on as much local sake as possible with their versatility with food (that is not a problem with the obscure places), but I also understand the wider audience and preference of TTT readers, so had to include a few known places where there is some versatility in the sake offerings.

5 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

I'm actually very drawn in by a restaurant owner's 'story'. When I bought my Tokyo Michelin guidebook in 2012 or so, the thing that stuck out most in my mind about their writing, was when they (as though going on a tangent) comment on how the chef is a fisherman that likes to adventure, and goes out to find their own ingredients, or spent years endeavoring to open their own place, etc... I like that sort of thing, when they describe the personality and background of the person.

These days, I'm starting to grow more interested in trying local sake, rather than big name labels. It's exciting, and I feel more like an insider, and less like a tourist. However, I will say that well known brands are useful to 2 things: 1) impressing people when you bring a bottle back as a gift that they know is hard to get. And 2) it's more exciting to try something that you've seen over and over again, that you eventually come to recognize. If you try a sake that you only just saw for the first time, it might taste great, but it's difficult to feel as excited when you haven't spent a sufficient amount of time memorizing it, getting hyped about wanting to try, and eventually committing yourself to seeking it out.

On another note, because of your reference to katsuo shuto, I curiously asked my local sushi ya about it, and he brought out his secret personal stash for me to try, with some Denshu. Stuff stinks (haha), but really does go well with sake.

5 months ago

guest

I never try pairing sake with my meal but when I visit Kurosaki, everything has changed. His sake selection is nice ( from what my friend says ) and I get to try the shizuku by kokuryu which is nicely paired with his sushi. For any sushi x sake lover, I would recommend Kurosaki as your next destination

5 months ago

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ChuToroZuke

I would like to add two more entries that I completely forgot about

8) Akoya あこや (Ebisu) shellfish themed izakaya
Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1303/A130302/13165000/
Some information on booking in English: https://savorjapan.com/0006072752/

Akoya is conveniently located very close to JR Ebisu station, and is an excellent izakaya focusing on shellfish cuisine (they have other things as well including fish/seafood). The best is to start with sashimi, then get marinated shellfish, and do not miss of their signatures such as clam and clam liver sukiyaki, or grilled hamaguri with katsuo shuto and seaweed that is spectacular with sake. You may want to inquire if an English speaking staff is present, and counter seating will provide an optimal experience. If the master sees you enjoying drinks, he may recommend some excellent warmed sake to try with the food. This is a favorite gathering place for industry people, including owners and/or beverage directors of the three recommended shops in Volume 5, when they want to hang out and have drinks. On top of all this, it is a non smoking izakaya, so you can enjoy the aromas of sake and shellfish without interference.

9) Kanade https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1301/A130103/13172751/

Located close to Uchisaiwacho station, Kanada is a modern style izakaya helmed by master Watanabe Ikumi san, who is very, very, very good at what she does. This is one of many places where the tabelog score may seem low, but the satisfaction level surpasses some high end restaurants I have visited. There is no English menu, but you can always look for pictures online or ask for recommendation. Watanabe's san's English is limited so if you know some basic Japanese you should be ok. On a visit last year in Feburary, the raw oyster selection was small but truly excellent. Her oden is also fantastic, as well as shellfish sashimi, along with some rather creative grilled fish dishes. The sake selections are very interesting yet match nicely with the food. You can also order some sparkling wine to start before diving into sake. It is a very small tight spaced eatery with a very local neighborhood feel. I was blessed to have been taken there after a sake exhibition show, and enjoyed my visit immensely.

5 months ago

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bootsy_gin

IG: bootsy_gin

Great article. May I add two more suggestions off the top of my head?

Nagi in Shibuya
One of my go to spots in Shibuya. Standing only sake restaurant. This place specializes in Fukushima sake. That is all they carry, but they usually have around 30 selections. The food is great, and you can even get personal-sized nabe hot pots.

https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1303/A130301/13160127/


Akaoni in Sangenjaya
Quite a famous place for sake geeks. I believe they carry all Juyondai sakes (?), even including a special Akaoni Juyondai not available anywhere else.
I believe reservations is required as they are almost always full.
Good selection of food as well, with konnyaku sashimi being one of their specialties they recommend.

https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1317/A131706/13001382/

5 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

Thank you @bootsy_gin!

And thank you for your recommendations! I know of Akaoni, and it has been recommended before by Saito san previously here: https://tokyotabletrip.com/en/346 and it is actually quite well known amongst the sake fans from Hong Kong and Taipei, as they make frequent pilgrimages there for tasting Juyondai. I have not visited myself, and decided not to include them in this entry. The intent of my article was to take away as much focus from the high end super famous brews as possible, and try to get people to explore a variety of local sake that may be a bit more obscure, high quality, artisan/craft, or even if it is a famous sake that there are some lesser known offerings from their portfolios.

Thank you so much for mentioning Nagi. I did not know about them before. It appears to be a standing bar izakaya, but I really love the emphasis on Fukushima sake. Hope I can try them when I visit Tokyo again.

5 months ago
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bootsy_gin

IG: bootsy_gin

Thank you for the reply, ChuToroZuke.

Though I'm sure you know, here's another one for people that's a bit off the radar: Yata in Shibuya, another standing sake bar. This place only carries Junmai, and they don't have a menu. Rather, they ask you your preferences and make recommendations off of that. Of course, you can just look at the bottles in the fridge and choose yourself as well.
Glasses are mostly 500 yen, but you can also opt for 60-minute all you can drink for 2,000 yen.

https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1303/A130301/13183727/

5 months ago

Leo Saito

chief editor, TokyoTableTrip

Here is the fifth article of a popular serialization. This article introduces you to a famous establishment that is such a hideaway that even I did not know about them, and I have been living in Tokyo for many years!

5 months ago

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Leo Saito

chief editor, TokyoTableTrip

@Viv
Thank you very much for translating the article into beautiful Traditional Chinese!

5 months ago
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ChuToroZuke

Amazing! Thank you Saito san for publishing and review, and to Viv for the simplified Chinese version!!

5 months ago
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Viv

Anytime :)

5 months ago