Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kanae, Shinjuku Sanchome

Y'know, I keep saying I've had enough of sake for a while, but I keep going back to the well. Also, in the same way that I always want to start off with raw fish at an izakaya, I kinda like Japanese food on weeknights, foreign food for a fancier Saturday night. Must be getting old since these habits are calcifying. Who am I kidding? They've been calcified for years. All this adds up to mid-week izakaya visits.

Kanae popped up on the 'target list' (actually it's a Google map of places I'd like to go, and it really does exist) through a list of 'good places to drink sake' that's in the back of The Book (being the 2009-10 Popular Sake Ranking, of course). It is indeed a good place to drink sake, in a very traditional environment.

[Side note: One of the places from the list, あ喜多, is actually in 柏.]

I get the sense that Kanae was here before the neighborhood grew up and will be here after it implodes under the weight of transvestive hostess clubs. The small doorway and steep, narrow stairwell leading down to it have a genuine bomb-shelter feel (and the girl with the big hands soliciting customers for the New Half Pub upstairs reinforces the other association). There's this front room where the counter is packed with tiny stools (seriously, I thought two stools together would be a sufficient size for my American-style rump) and a small floor seating area, then there's the back room with tables, looks a bit more modern. And less charming. Fortunately my reservation was for the counter. On purpose.

Let's not mince words. This is a pretty good list. From this page I temporarily overcame my aversion to all things from 石川県 and drank the junmai from Kagataka (加賀鷹). This seems to be very limited production - not even showing up substantively on searches of jizake proprietors, just on a few restaurant lists. I'm not trying to sound like I found some amazing thing, I'm just saying it's kinda interesting. Sake is fun to drink - like wine - and I'm never gonna get so worried about it that I go nuts when I find a rarity. Nor am I even likely to recognize a rarity when I see it.

The other half of the list is pretty good too. Together, the two pages run the gamut stylistically and regionally; pricing is fair, including the option to get 100ml of the daiginjos at an appropriate discount to the normal price for one go. From this page I stuck with the hawk theme and went for Takaisami (鷹勇), which I remembered after ordering that I had liked at Santa in Ningyocho, and liked again tonight.

Look at the funny serving style - at first I genuinely thought it was a bowl of soup, or a finger bowl for washing your hands after eating, but there's a little hole in one side and a spout, and of course it's the way they serve their sake. It's unceremonious - they don't show you the bottle or pour in front of you. Honestly, that didn't bug me so much. The counter's awful small.

OK, now that everyone's set up with drinks, let's get on to the food.

Specials on the wall in addition to the regular menu (or maybe the big banner at the top includes the regular menu too, but the handwritten version is nice. Isn:t it interesting how often prices are orange on things like that?). The smaller banner down left is the 'big plate specials', like the large platter you can see at the bottom of the photo. The coupon on Gurunabi entitles you to one serving of these banzai, but not of your choice. Last night it was the pictured dish, which was a kinpira of udo (and let me say, a pleasure to eat udo in some form other than 'sumiso' with squid and nanohana) and beef. Homey and pleasant.

Good sashimi. I sincerely hope this was not the Y2300 version of the 3-variety sashimi plate, but I bet it was. Were I to criticize this place, I'd say the servings of food are small considering the prices and atmosphere. OK, criticism done. The overall bill came out pretty well, so maybe this wasn't really that plate.

Grilled duck with mizuna salad. Veeeeery tasty. You:ve noticed that I had some lighting issues with the photos, but we're not here to enter a photo competition, just to let you know what you'll get if you eat there.

Chicken and taranome cooked in foil. There were a bunch of interesting items like this on the menu, more than I could eat! In this case, the chicken fat melts, runs off and flavors the taranome, whose bitterness is reduced by cooking. Cool idea, easy to do at home, tasty. Small.

Madai (snapper. Should I say snapper? Or bream? Who knows.) grilled with kinome, the small and odd-tasting leaves you can kinda see on top. Nice piece of fish, grilled a little dry as Japanese cooks are wont to do, but without crisping the skin at all. Not small at all, come to think of it.

You just can't finish a meal without rice or noodles, can you? These looked a lot like Inaniwa Udon, but I'm not sure if there was any special moniker on the menu. Good way to fill in the cracks, as usual, and I like this thin style of udon much better than the thick, round, chewy kind.

You get the picture, right? A real old-line sake-drinking specialist with decent food and slightly aggressive pricing. Sitting as it does in the 'Golden Triangle' of Shinjuku Sanchome (right across from Isetan), it's actually a welcome find. That area is crowded with all sorts of stuff, but mostly casual Japanese and odd bars. You could spend a couple weeks happily lost in its weirdness, but at least you'd have something comfortable like Kanae to fall back on.

And I don't mean that in any in appropriate way, even though Kanae would be a cute girl's name. Not with this kanji though.

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