Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Asashichi, Monzen Nakacho (浅七)

This one was a recommendation from The Woodsman, and I've been thinking of trying it for several weeks (since he mentioned it, really). After working late on...stuff...and not feeling like going home yet, I thought I'd stop in and see what was happening.

Woods described it as something like 'a quiet place to drink sake and contemplate', and that's pretty fair. Actually very perceptive, which means that it hasn't changed in the 7 or 8 years since he went there (and that he remembered it). It's kinda nice if you live in Monnaka and want to hang out, but I can't come up with any convincing reason to recommend it - food, drinks, atmosphere, service are all kinda ordinary, if appealingly quirky.

The reason I never went was that, from the outside, it looks like it hasn't changed for not just 7 or 8 years, but more like 70. It's in one of the smaller southside alleys, basically unlit, the door is heavily weathered, and the noren that welcomes you is tattered to the point of having holes in it. I like a place that preserves its traditions, but I also like one that takes a lot of pride in its offering.

The inside is a bit dim, in a dingy way, but not dirty or anything. The master gives every impression of having been slouching behind the counter, gently leaning on the wall, in his robe, for a good few years. This being a sake specialty operation, I thought they would have rotating stock, but the yellowness of the 7 papers high on the wall lets you know that he's settled on his options and is sticking with them (I think there's one rotating selection though). The 7 are mostly focused on junmai selections (something I very much approve of) and include (this is from memory, so bear with me): Shimeharitsuru, Gunma Izumi, Daishichi, nuts, there was one other than I know. They're all Y800 per go, and you can only order by the go. You have to choose whether you want it cold, room temp or hot, and after you order, the master ceremoniously decants your choice into an appropriately-temperatured flask. Still, with 7 selections, you won't be going here for the sake (or maybe you will; I recognized 3 or 4 out of 7, which is a high hit rate for me and makes me think that they're ordinary, but I could be wrong).

When I say you have to choose, I mean have to. There are signs on the wall advising you about how to order, and another that says "Customers who aren't going to drink sake, pleas don't come in." The master is preternaturally mellow (you don't see many guys slouching behind their counters, after all), but with a sort of inner dictatorial core. Diversions from the plan would not be taken well.  I was looking at the food menu for a bit too long, causing the master to say "Just order your sake first, OK?" The other two guys at the counter barely talked while I was there, but they each got through 5 orders of sake.

The distinct approach carries over to the food too. I was taken aback when the waitress asked which snacks I wanted, but that also cleared things up - you're there to drink sake, and they happen to have snacks to go with it. Most of them are Y600, but also small. Normal fresh and fried tofu things, soy-pickled tuna (very good!), grilled fish (salmon in sake lees, nice but tiny), and some oddities like the boiled potatoes in sesame soup that I had (very good). So you won't be going here for the food. And I think I've already hit the service and atmosphere, so consider yourself mildly encouraged to try this for a quirky, albeit very sedate and not that fascinating, experience.

Can't forget to mention one thing - no seating charge!

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