Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sasaoka, Marunouchi (恵比寿笹岡、新丸5階)

High-end restaurants in Japan do funny things. [When I say 'high-end', I only mean at the plebian end of the high market, the part I can access. There's presumably a whole world over that level that I gots no idea about.] One I've noticed recently is opening a larger branch store in a more glamorous location. I'm thinking of that stalwart of grumpy fish, Sukiyabashi Jiro, as well as the relatively charming old-skool tempura Mikawa - who both expanded out of their tiny head offices into the Roppongi Hillz Rezidence. And may be having some issuez now due to the economy, but that'z a different story.

For this place in Shin Maru, the head store is Sasaoka in Ebisu (天現時 笹岡; more like Hiroo really) but is a bit stealthy. The web site is bad - just three little pages, and the one called 'information about the cuisine' is...blank. Not too many reviews. The branch store, however, is on the pack-em-in-but-still-slightly-glamorous 5th floor of Shin Maru. And it's very clean and elegant, with a beautiful pine counter thicker than your head, and light wood and white walls and all the rest. Somehow I've walked by a bunch of times without getting excited, but as soon as we were through the noren it was pretty clear how nice it was.

The menu perpetuates this theme by being...expensive. There are lunch sets that look really lovely at the Y5000, Y4000 and Y3000 price points. Actually the Y3000 one looks like weak value, now that I think back. Anyway, it's not cheap. I think the first time I ate saba miso (mackerel boiled in thick miso sauce) in Japan was very early on when Mini-Me took me to Shiraishi, out the back of Hillz and down towards Moto Azabu. That place is hard core - all sorts of salarymen that you didn't know could work in Roppongi show up to eat there, feasting on fried foods and saba miso ('feasting' is very 'food writer wanker', isn't it?). And the saba miso set is Y800. At Sasaoka it's Y1600. Ohhhh, this discussion is so vulgar.

Thing is, it's a definite cut above. The mackerel was excellent, and the sauce was lighter and more flavorful, and it wasn't cooked all to hell either. Is it 100% better? Of course not, but if you have any interest in luxury items I don't think I need to digress into a discussion of diminishing returns. The saba was actually Suika's lunch, not mine; I was seduced by the weekly lunch - two rice bowls, one with half a dozen small-but-perfectly-formed slices of spring bonito (I've decided Fall is better; spring isn't strong enough) and the other with a fried puck of cherry shrimp (桜海老かきあげ). The accompanying soup and the rice were also high quality.

Overall, good stuff. Certainly subtle, certainly not cheap, but if you're feeling rich and refined it's worth your while.

They have an English menu!!!

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