Thursday, June 3, 2010

Takaban, Jinbocho (鷹ばん、小川町)

Having some time to kill after work and before 8, I spied out something on the map that looked like it would pass the time. Takaban will bear further investigation since I just sat and read and nibbled and drank for an hour, but it could well be my new favorite place. The food seemed great, and the sake was most certainly terrific.

It's in a small block of streets between Hongo Dori and the Ochanomizu / Meijidai area - if you were really completist, you'd be aware of some boring places I've been in that neighborhood (I'm reminded that I finally went to Nana's Green Tea a couple weeks ago after ages of thinking about it, and totally forgot to post it). But it's kinda cool - looks like all low-end offices, but conceals a bunch of nice places and also the odd world-class musical instrument store...Takaban also does a bit of the hide-your-light-under-a-bushel thing.

The atmosphere is woody and pleasant, but utilitarian, so let's focus on the sake first - I bet there are 50-ish varieties, but they seem to do a good job of keeping them fresh. The best thing is that most of them are Y320 for a 60ml pour (which should be a bit more than a shotglass, but seemed generous in practice), or multiples of that price for multiples of that size (1-cup sake is 180ml, btw). Outside that price range, they have fancier specimens for Y500-900, although they were out of the advertised Juyondai variety (an Omachi-based brew), or you can go all-out and buy a whole bottle, like the Juyondai Ryusen (the one in the purple-glass, gold-filigree bottle) for Y40,000, which is not bad when this Japanese restaurant in HK is selling it for 5 times the price

The best aspect of this place is the ability to do something like ordering two Akita junmais or two Gohyakumangoku-based junmai ginjos for comparison purposes. Specifically, I really enjoyed Echizen Misaki's junmai ginjo muroka nama genshu (not on their site) and Yukinobousha's junmai. The latter site is good, incidentally, with lots of English explanations. It sounds like a good one for a visit, if you're way the hell out there (I've been in the general vicinty for a few days, but was unfortunately less interested in sake at that time and was also driving). Mom and Dad, you've actually been pretty close to there.

All I ate was the starter (I swear it was chicken nuggets, or maybe fish, reconstituted in Goldfish form and deep fried; other than that some little pickles and dried salted konbu), pickles, and jerky. The pickles were newish, fresh and tasty, with eggplant and cucumber done in vinegar but radish and carrot done in rice bran. I like a place that serves a good pickle. The jerky was excellent though - salmon belly, soaked in seawater to preserve it, then dried some more, and grilled before serving to crisp up the skin and soften the meat. They called it toba, 冬葉.  Very hearty, gnaw-off-a-piece-and-have-a-drink sort of food.

All the while, I sat in front of the master, and I started to think after a while that it was his place. Everyone else was wearing colorful headscarves, but he was bareheaded; it's a subtle touch that made me think he was in charge. Plus his technique was great - one of the recommendations on the day was hamo, a bony species of eel, and he was going through filets at a furious rate with a massive hamo kiri, which meant that I had the unique experience of listening to a symphony of tiny crunches as he diced up the bones without cutting through the meat. When he fried some as tempura, I almost cried (just like when he did some shiso-wrapped scallops as tempura, and the waiter reminded me that you can order from their creative tempura menu in one-piece increments). All the fish looked top-notch, as it should be when they have a whole page in the menu talking about how they go to Tsukiji to buy everything daily.

So basically I'm recommending this place on the strength of drinking the sake and looking at the fish. But I'm pretty sure.


  1. Hokkaido, where I am originally from, is famous for "toba" but I have not tasted this for ages...

  2. What about that frozen salmon specialty? I've never had that either.

  3. That is called "Ruibe" ルイベ. I guess you could freeze salmon (sashimi grade) and slice it thinly. Both names, "ruibe" and "toba", appear to derive from the native "Ainu" language.

  4. i just had a look at the gurunabi link, and the menu looks amazing! the fish selection is to die for and the sake list - stellar.
    good find, jon!