Wednesday, September 1, 2010

El Pulpo, Kagurazaka

I have a complex relationship with Spanish restaurants in Japan - or more properly with 'Spain Bars' as they're called. Usually I find them fiddly and overpriced. The concept should be similar to an izakaya, with small plates and drinks at reasonable prices. I've learned to like the izakaya style - the ordering pattern, the speed of the meal - but translating that to a Western setting messes everything up and leaves me edgy. Well, El Pulpo gets high scores, and there were in fact only two open seats when we arrived early on a Wednesday, so count yourself lucky to be reading this despite the grumping.

They serve you two varieties of cava (don't call it recession champagne), this one for Y500. This, I tell you, is quite the deal. Even the up-scale cava is only Y850. Drink up.

And pucker up, because they have octopus in a whole bunch of different ways. This is the classic style for me, lightly grilled and topped with lots of paprika. Unfortunately not served on top of potatoes; didn't realize I'd miss them that much. This was not the perfect plate of octopus, but on the other hand, it's right around the corner and not in Galicia. You could also get it raw, or boiled, or stewed, or whatever.

This was actually the starter, ratatouille atop puff pastry. I just wanted to say that 'drink up - pucker up' thing. Did that even make sense? I guess an octopus doesn't really pucker, but it does have suckers. Speaking of which, you should have seen the chunk of boiled octopus I saw for sale at Ameyoko on Sunday - it was like a block about 6 inches across. That was just a piece of one tentacle, so that monster must have been a beast...before it was caught, killed, boiled, and soaked in vinegar. I digress, but this was a very nice starter.

They actually describe the place as a marisqueria, and have a decent display of fresh seafood waiting for your order - lot sof shellfish. This is a good thing. Even better is that they have barnacles on the menu - the very kind that are something like 5 euros each in Spain are Y1k per plate. IF they have them. They didn't. Instead, we got salt pork and vegetables cooked in a crock, with an egg yolk to make everything gooey and smooth on your tongue.

And these snappy fried whitefish were too much to resist. Japanese popcorn? Japanese cajun popcorn shrimp? They were a little less crispy than I would have liked, not as compulsively eatable.

Ehhhh, that's about it - I guess you can sense my lack of enthusiasm in the way this tapered off. One other detriment was the service, which rubbed me the wrong way consistently. Obviously you could find that they're your new best friends; that's too subjective to base a review on. And you've noted that we didn't get into their main theme, the whole marisqueria thing. I think it could be better if you went back in the right frame of mind and wanted to eat a lot of clams.

And they had barnacles...


  1. Is that a real steer leg hanging over the counter in the first picture?

  2. No! It's a real pig leg. They carve the prosciutto off it when you order some, which is kinda common in Tokyo. This one looks so skeletal because it's almost used up. If you look closely, you'll see that the bundle hanging above it is the hooves from legs that they've fully carved and served in the past. Some restaurants will hang a hoof or two outside on their sign.

  3. Jon,

    Please let me know where in Spain you get Percebes (barnacles) for 5 Euros so I can buy them all up and get rich quick.

    Best regards,
    P. Barnacle.