Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sake no Ana, Ginza (酒の穴)

[December 2010: I see a lot of people getting to this page as a result of searches on the Google. I wanted to say: there are better places out there, even in the neighborhood. You should check out the Izakayas page. My new favorite is Moromiya, which is practically right up the road. Now back to our regular February 2010 programming.]
Geez, it seems like only last week that I was mentioning The Liquor Hole in a post...and now I've been there. Being another blowout work dinner with Ant and Long (like Gasshomura Santa), this got ugly. And being as it's work, I only manage to take pictures under the guise of annotating what sake I've drunk - almost no food, sorry, I do have a career to consider here. Ant joked that he wanted to be in the book I was writing...joke's on you, big guy - here's your picture on the interwebz! Good thing you don't know about the blog. Nobody tell him, OK? Is this a firing offense?

They keep leaving me in charge of picking the restaurants, and mysteriously we keep going to places with good sake selections. Didn't really occur to me to check out the Likker Hole for this dinner, but as I left Hageten at lunch, I said simultaneously 'Hey look, it's the Likker Hole!' and 'Nuts, I still don't have a reservation for tonight's dinner,' so the deal was sealed.

It's a reasonably-sized place, in the basement of a building in Ginza that actually faces Chuo Dori. This means it's one of the places I've been walking by for 10 years thinking 'Any restaurant with street-level facing on Chuo Dori can't be much good.' Which means I'm a dummy, sometimes for 10 years or more (although I do love the Dunhill Acquarium cafe, and have fond memories of the dear and departed Club Nyx, and they face(d) Chuo too.).

Decor is neutral, if slightly retro/faded (except these awesome copper sake warmers built into the tables! Beautiful.). I'd guess that it's a very well-kept early-bubble attempt to look traditional and modern at the same time. How do I make up stupid sentences like that? Service is attentive, and patient with drunken fools.

Food is neutral in terms of, that's not fair. They have a lot of sashimi, and it was pretty good. We had two separate orders of 3 types each; this didn't exhaust the options either. It was both fresh and reasonable quality, although some of it was a bit blurry as you can see from this sayori (halfbeak, I think, in English).

We had a bunch of different salads and vegetables, croquettes, some grilled meats, this hot-rock steak (the only mediocre thing - it was distressingly chewy) that I think about, a hell of a lot of food went over the table, all of it in a sort of decent-old-izakaya or perhaps high-quality-housewife cooking mold.

Despite all that food, I don't remember overeating. Part of this may have been the presence of Ant's gold Amex, hovering over the table like a benevolent genie and making us order round after round after round of high-end sake. Fortunately I felt much better the next morning than I did after the Gasshomura experience though I understand my colleagues did not. This place appears in the Gauntner guide, which describes it as 'expensive'. I don't think that's fair - they have selections from Y600, and they top out under Y2000. These prices are for 1 go, and for brands and levels that I know, the markups were fair (less than I paid in Nagano, for example).

Following are some things we drank. I think I got pictures of all of them, but I really can't be sure.

I thought this was from Umenishiki, but research is making me doubt myself. I don't see it on their web site (which is fun for the whole family, with lots of English, and beer, and a lemongrass liqueur). Plus the logo on the label is clearly from this liquor shop, Hirashima, in Kita Kyushu. I'm going to leave it a mystery in the interests of getting my errands done today, but if you see this reasonably-priced sake somewhere, please drink it (and ask about its provenance for me).  Oddly, Ant knew it well, but kept referring to it, loudly, as 'The Blueberry'.

Daiginjou from Tedorigawa, as you can clearly see from the label (and I was able to read just now to look it up, woo hoo!). No memory.Oddly, looks different now on their web site.

Hououbiden, a ridiculous name (something like "Phoenix's Beautiful Field", except I read recently that a houou is not actually a phoenix).This junmaiginjou is for some reason not ranked (maybe because it's a fresh-squeezed nama and possibly not produced in large enough quantity?), although The Book does have 4 Hououbiden junmaiginjos in the top 100. Another reliable brand, from Tochigi.

You probably know these already from recent and irritating posts on my part - left, Denshu, right Kokuryu.That Denshu is actually the #1 tokubetsu junmai, and it's killing me right now that I can't remember it. The Kokuryu is the #32 daiginjou. Tiresome, all these rankings. I should remind you, they're just 'popularity', not 'quality', but I find sake to be so subjective and hard to predict...I dunno.  Note how the pictures get crowded from here? Yessss, a slippery slope, and moistened with sake.

Left, Liquor Hole's original daiginjo. I thought it was a little overpriced at 14 holes (oh, I forgot to mention until now that everything on the menu is priced in 'holes'). Middle, Hokusetsu's (don't feel bad, even the Japanese member of the group misread that. I maintain that breweries use obscure kanji and onyomi out of perversity) YK35, #24 daiginjo in the book and a seriously cut-down starting rice - 35% Yamada Nishiki. Right, the Aiyama Daiginjo 50 from Isojiman (amazingly, tied for #24 with the YK35). I tried the two on the right, and they were both about as great as you'd expect.

How do you know when things are out of hand? It's easy! When Jon orders the Ishidaya on the right, one of the super-luxury marks from Kokuryu, you know the evening is shot. #5 junmai daiginjo in the book, $100 at retail for this 4-go bottle, and I remember it very fondly despite the obvious complications (cf the 5 pictures above). This is a bit like ordering the old Bordeaux at the end of the night, or at the second party. [Nov 16, 2010: I've just seen this on the menu of another famous store, and it was Y6k per go, $300 per bottle. Scarcity value. I'm even more glad I didn't pay for this dinner.] The other bottle here is the square-bottled junmaiginjo from Kumamoto's Korou.

I think it's appropriate that I close this post with a bit of embarassed silence.

Thank you.

Shut yer Likker Hole!

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