Friday, July 24, 2009

Saudade, Shinjuku

So I went to Shinjuku to look for some shoes. Foreigner? Wear large sizes? Tired of being laughed out regular stores for having big feet, or tired of trying to make do with the one pair of daggy brown shoes they have in your size? Hikari is your place (weirdly, I think this Kutsu no Hikari, with shops in Shinjuku 5, Okachimachi and Kawasaki, is different from the Hikari Shoes in Gotanda (I know it doesn't make sense, but they have separate web sites, and I read a random board post one time where a guy called one and asked about the store in another location and they were very evasive. Some things are destined to remain mysterious, and this is one of them.). Well, big-size places are like clearance places - always a crap shoot, and I quickly ascertained that I had rolled a seven and it was time to pass the dice.

To get to that store you best be gettin' off at Shinjuku 3 (Isetan station, but the other end) and walking through the san-chome scrum of bars and cheap restaurants. I've been there a couple times now, and I have to say I'm getting a little fond of it. In general Shinjuku has a grubbiness that I find much more relaxing than, say, Omotesando or most parts of Roppongi. Right now you're thinking "Grubbier than Roppongi?!", so I should say that it's grubby but priced to match, which is not always the case in 'Pong, and is missing some of the tension as well. On a previous visit, I wined and dined at Marugo (pun intended, I think), and am pleased to report that they've opened a third outlet in the same small block, Marugo Grande. Each succeeding store is thus bigger and nicer than the one that preceded it, and the original place looks small and cramped now (which is very much in keeping with the neighborhood; the other places stand out for their newness and niceity).

So I was already of a mind to stop off somewhere on the way back to the station, but when I came out of the shoe store I looked down a long, narrow street and saw a beckoning lantern at the turned out that once I trekked to the end of the street, there was a cross street with a fair few nice-looking shops. It also turns out that I've been there before now that I look at the map. I thought I was exploring, but Osteria Vincero is about two blocks farther than I walked.

One of the first things I saw was an apparently-normal small neighborhood liquor store, Koikeya (and it's the main store if you believe the sign!). There was just a hint of something odd through the window, so I strolled through and found this incredible collection of miniatures.

The picture doesn't do it justice; there's about 3 times as many as pictured. The odd thing is that they have so much selection in each 'style', including a really significant collection of Scotch and whisky miniatures. Just as I was gearing up to buy some for Hirose san's collection at Fal, I noticed the signs saying the bottles were not for sale. OK, I lie - you can't miss the signs. They appear every three feet along each shelf, in Japanese and English, with red text to emphasize the point. They really don't want to sell those bottles. Fun to look at, and I wish I had had my camera. The rest of the store seemed to be similarly on the museum-not-shop side, with sparse selections of imported stuff (you'll see in the link below that they used to have more imported beer and such, like Orion, which I think is 'imported' from Okinawa. The beer is more normal now, but they still have a fair amount of awamori and wine.). This link might tell you a little more if you can read, or maybe not.

Having seen a Spanish place back in 3-cho, that was sorta on my mind, so when I saw another one I figured it was destiny and stopped in.

Nama Ham (生ハム)
Cruelly tricked, my friends. I've been rooked yet again by a sweet exterior and a clean, friendly, interior. Grrrr.... This faux Spanish place is part of a group of ~10 restaurants that all have a similar happy, modern theme. If you've been to Shimokita recently, you might recognize the big place with the open front and 'boardwalk' protruding into the street, with seating provided by cushions. That place was pleasantly packed, or I would have pleasantly had a seat there!

Well, I didn't know it at the time, so I thought Nama Ham was just a pallid Japanese imitation of a Spanish restaurant. There were some high points - a little mackerel cured in vinegar and topped with a dice of bell pepper was simultaneously sweet, sour and tasty, while the new-release Ebisu Creamy Stout was...Guiness at half the price, and fresher than most Guiness pints one can have in these parts. The titular prosciutto was good quality, and served fatty, warm and greasy (which I always think maximizes flavor, don't you?) but in tiny little squares that made me think they lacked either a good knife or the skill to cut a ham. And with that, I headed back to the previously-spotted Spain Bar.

Curses! Foiled again!

Saudade is trying hard for some type of authenticity. It's dark, woody, and they have a huge selection of sherry. Huge, I tell you. I counted the blackboard, and there were 23 types! Due to an upcoming event that may involve a need to consume sherry, I thought I might as well get try to appreciate sherry,'s been a monotonous story of trying and failing to do so in my past. I'm pleased to say that both the Amontillado and Oloroso that I had were pleasant enough, so at this point I think it's safe to say I can drink the lighter, cleaner Fino sherry quite easily. Tapas awaits!

The staff here was standoffish, but not in a bothersome way. I think it's their thing, just like the one guy has 'jock strips' shaved on the sides of his head, and a little mullet. Forget it Jake, it's Shinjuku. They did one thing I liked, which was to tell me the seat charge in the same breath as saying hello (come to think of it, did they say hello?). The seats at the bar are comfortable, everything really is dark and woody, and the windows along the front open pleasantly to let out the smoke and in the night air. There's a small ledge and more chairs there.

In addition to the sherry extravaganza, they have a decent food menu. Their gazpacho was suitably cold, tangy and refreshing (but I wouldn't mind just making it myself). The chorizo was excellent - like the earlier nama ham, it was thick, dark, and greasy, and served in a quantity and at a price that seemed entirely justified. Well done! The artisan manchego perhaps suffered a bit by juxtaposition with the sausage and sherry; it's a bit delicate as cheeses go even though this one seemed very nice. Finally, the torta (make sure to order it as 'onion quiche' so they know what you want) was so packed full of sweet caramelized onions that it tasted more like a dessert, and indeed I'm happy that I ate it last.

All of this was less food than it sounds like, but I didn't have the heart to order one of the more expensive items (like salt cod in tomato sauce, or various treatments of Japanese beef). I'd say this was a pleasant diversion, and a good way to dip a toe into the somewhat forbidding Shinjuku 3 bar scene. Next up, Bar God?

Franki Valli would have a heart attack here.

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