Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tamanegiya, Kagurazaka (たまねぎや)

Friday night...errr, Wednesday night before the Thursday holiday...saw me walking around Kagurazaka, freezing my nuggets off, in search of sake. It's been 2 weeks since I last brought you any sake exploration (the last was Ikebukuro's Umibatake, which I still remember fondly) - a short low-consumption period to recharge. Feeling better now, thank you. Having picked up one of those 'great izakayas of Tokyo' books during the week, I wanted to put it to use, and the one in KGRZ (Isefuji) looked like the world's greatest izakaya. But when I looked at Tabelog it seemed more like a sake & sakana place (酒肴), much like the sadly disappointing Asashichi, and that put me off (at least for now). My other friend (there are at least two!) Google Maps, pointed me toward Tamanegiya in the Akagishitamachi area just north of Kagurazaka station.

Now, I'm sure you'll know that Kagurazaka is by far the smaller and quieter of the two stations serving Kagurazaka, sitting as it does on the western edge of the area. Iidabashi, near the actual Kagura slope, is a reasonably-sized transfer station and thus gets heavy traffic (despite a bunch of dreadful 500-meter transfer routes like Otemachi). And this Akagishitamachi area is a place I had never wandered - there's not enough on the main street there to make you think there would be things on the back streets. To get to Tamanegiya, you turn right out of the station, take the first right, then left, then right, then right again...then walk a long way, and look for a small street on the left with lights in a window. Actually I prevaricate - it's on the biggest street in the area. You might be able to get two cars to pass, in a pinch.

This is turning out to be a long post with little actual content. See what happens when I don't write for a while?

TNY was pretty well empty when I got there, but the master still asked if I had a reservation, almost like I needed one (later, there was a reserved party of three, eating nabe). I sat at the counter and proceeded about my amazement.

This is a place that's serious about sake. I mean serious like...I don't know what I mean, but the master is serious. He seemed a little concerned about whether he could help me, but the first thing he asked was "What kind of sake do you usually drink?" I got the feeling that my answer (Ginjo) was insufficient, but I headed into the menu. There are about 30 items on it, carefully described and strongly priced. I just picked from the ones that were in the affordable price range...

A thing that's worth mentioning: TNY seems to specialize in old sake. There were boxes in the fridge behind the counter labeled "1990" and the like. I didn't delve into them, but every description on the menu included a criterion I've never seen before: 'BY' number, like BY20 (common) or BY18. This was a hassle to research, but I'm here to tell you that it means "Brewing Year" (醸造年度、じょうぞうねんど; we've gotta stick together on this stuff, right?). It can only refer to Heisei years, so what they do for sake brewed before Heisei, I dunno. There probably isn't much out there that's that old (1990, of course, being Heisei 2). Here, check out this great site where they have back vintages of Masuizumi all the way to BY3 (by the way, this is definitely the first time I've seen a 720ml bottle of sake for $180!).

That's only the fridge behind the counter, of course. There are 3 or 4 more to your back when you sit at the counter, and every bottle is meticulously wrapped in foil and labeled. Serious stuff. I feel bound to mention that the pricing is pretty serious too - sorta Y800-Y1200+, but the pour is in small wine glasses (almost like cordial glasses) and I would guess is 60 or 80ml. You could lose concentration and down it in a gulp, put it that way. I'm afraid I have yet to develop the sophisticated palate necessary to appreciate sake at this level.

There's no menu. You're there to drink, OK? The odd thing is, the food is damn good! The toshi was ika shiokara, and once I got over the feeling of eating raw squid rings mixed with squid guts (the first bite was a doozy on an empty stomach and dry mouth), it was good - almost fruity. I asked about sashi, as I always do, and the master ran through 5 or 6 options - tuna, flouder, ankou, mackerel,...ankou? Yes, since he was making ankou nabe for the reserved party, he was serving ankou sashimi as well. Ever seen that before? You see the liver all the time in izakayas (foie gras of the sea!) but the meat in any other form than nabe is reserved for specialist restaurants (like the one in Ginza I went to...oh, I bet it's 8 or 9 years ago for the Thompson Prometric holiday party. 6 or 8 courses, nothing but ankou derivatives. Can't find it now; I bet it's gone. Ankou, by the way, has a truly magnificent writing in kanji - 鮟鱇. Try writing that 3 times fast!).

I digress. And seriously, where is this post going? I just got saba and ankou. The sabe was quite good - lightly soaked in vegetable juice, he said. The ankou was excellent; a weird, weird texture - almost squishy, but very edible (this, by the way, is because it's a deep-sea fish, and is used to living under pressure. At 1 atmosphere it's not pressed together any more and gets all soft. This is why you hang it from a special hook and cut it vertically.) and topped with a touch of grated sudachi peel, which I love. And some raw liver on the side. And all of it served on a bed of...raw onions. Aha. That was on top of ice, in a bowl designed to catch the drips. Strong effort.

Other food - limited. I think he would grill fish for you too, he said something about that. I got another small dish, stewed octopus, which was terrific, and he gave me half a dozen tomatoes, a small and plum-shaped variety, that were magnificent. He described them as 'kuchi-naoshi', and I thought it was odd to 'fix your mouth' (i.e., 'cleanse your palate') with something so acidic until I tasted them and said OMG, these are, like, soooo groovy!

Despite the length of the post, I had established pretty much right off that I couldn't make a night out of this place, so I left after that. I realize I haven't mentioned the actualy liquor, so for record-keeping purposes I'll say that I drank:
- Ranjatai from Reisen. This is completely impossible to read and pronounce - Microsoft refuses to acknowledge the existence of some of the kanji and onyomi, and I also have some computer issues that keep me from bringing it to you. I assume it's Chinese? However googling shows someone who drank it with the sashimi course at Ryugin, which is a strong recommendation. It's 35%-milled Yamada Nishiki, which is a heck of a high quality for a lil' ol' liquor.
- Ichibanmatoi from Touyoubijin (壱番纏、東洋美人) This was great - lightly sweet, less acidic than many...this is what the adjective 'balance' means. About the prices above, I don't mean to complain too much - this stuff is $75 for an 1800ml bottle, so it's not priced out of proportion.

There's some weird stuff going on with the web site...nationalist flags, North Korea mentions, and lots of cats.

1 comment:

  1. I headed to Tamanegiya right after dropping my bags at the hotel. It was a really awesome evening, and I was definitely very drunk... Food was awesome, with cuts of fish you don't see elsewhere, as you have already discovered.

    The koshu collection is incredible. What is more incredible is master's Madeira collection. I like Madeira, and would kill to have a collection like his...

    My blogpost: