Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kitayama, Otsuka (きたやま)

Recently I wrote something about how my friends and I have been to all the good places. I'm not going to link to that post. I just wanted to say I'm sorry. That was a really stupid thing to say, and I'm very embareassed. It won't happen again. Here's another good place. Actually a whole neighborhood of good places.

Last weekend I was walking home from the station late at night and saw a group of foreigners turn onto my street. That's such a rarity, I had to say hello and ask what they were doing there. To make a long story endless, I'm going to see the ceramics show that they're here for, this weekend in Myogadani. That got me thinking about what I could explore in that area (basically eastern Ikebukuro), and that led me to look at Otsuka, and Otsuka is positively packed with good-looking sake places, and another irritating day at work led me right up there to check one out. It was closed, and I went to this, my second choice. Otsuka is seriously weird - there are so many kappou, and so many love hotels.

'Good place' is a relative term, and you should know that this is a good place within the confines of the 'sake drinking' mold. I didn't have that much food - the drink-not-eat diet - but what I had was OK. The sake was extraordinary, but I think I've dwelled on that enough times in the past year that I should spare you.

The big u-shaped counter, the sake warmer, the thicket of hand-written cards advising on the brewers that they source from...even after I made it clear that I was cool with the lingo, there were still some funny looks from other patrons. This makes sense, because I was the youngest person there by at least 15 years and seemingly everyone knew everyone else's name. Why do I keep going to these places? I need a girlfriend.

Food montage (so as not to dwell on it). The food here is second-class, which is no crime since the sake is first-class. Top left is something I was really excited about after having mukago for the first time at Sakurada - it's those mountain potato sprouts plus ginko nuts, all fried up and salted together. Right, kalasumi, bottarga, whatever. Down, hamo senbei - I thought I was ordering fried fish skeleton, so I was disappointed when it turned out to be greasy squares of fish rubber. Bottom, otoshi of crab and veg in mayo. Big pic of eel is not exactly kabayaki - more low-rent, steamed and sauced without a lot of grilling. All kinda meh, but just fine.

The sake here is likely to be different from any list you've seen before, at least if you've been drinking with me. There were almost no familiar names, which is downright cool, and in many cases you could select different levels from the same brewer. Pricing is restrained, but the pour is 160ml for most things and 100 ml for daiginjos (and I think they'll do smaller sizes of anything if you ask). One of the masters is quite young, the other is perhaps average for the sake game, and both of them are happy to recommend things.

The serving style is a 'light overflow' onto a short plastic masu (if it's short, is it still a masu? The volume is different.). Quality seemed good, including a selection of older stuff if that's your poisson. My favorite was the Amano, which is from a small, newish brewer and is said to be doing things differently (like brewing really awesome, strong-tasting ginjo...). It's not Amanoto or Amanosake; I can't find a good link.

As usual, it's the people that make an outing like this fun. The guys on either side of me were reticent at first, but as expected we started talking. One amusing topic was the visits that a certain famous foreign sake expert had made to Kitayama - the general feeling was that said expert knew a lot but was a big jerk. "Yeah, really a bad guy." After a while a painfully old-looking but still-spry fellow joined us. He turned out to be 84, happily drinking away. Conversation with him was relatively easy because he forgot things quickly, so we could revisit the same topics. After a while, one of my neighbors said "You know he's the owner, right?" That was of course news to me, and got us into an extended discourse on how Edo Ichi had been the area pioneer, and this guy had opened Kitayama 30 years ago in a quest to perfect what Edo Ichi started.

I wouldn't say he was unsuccessful...

1 comment:

  1. well, thats a quest, the only famous foreign sake experts around I know are JG and MR....