Friday, November 26, 2010

Sakura, Shibuya (円山茶家 さくら)

First, a little train-themed digression. What's funny about this photo?
The cloth coat? The sensible shoes? The heavy stockings? No! The $1000 handbag!
I'm being generous - they have $2k and $3k versions also, and this could be one of them. I hope I didn't accidentally and unfairly underestimate this woman's status.

Without meaning to accidentally or unfairly underestimate my own status, I'd have to say I'm easily the most verbose English-language blogger focused on Tokyo's restaurants (thanks Cameron). Not really the 'restaurant scene' though - one time I stumbled into an opening night party in my neighborhood, but other than that there's nothing 'scenic' about it. Anyway, Tokyo is too big to be considered a single environment. I scoff at people who discourse on the 'hot places on the restaurant scene'. HA! and Foo! on them! Crap, I've taken up all the space next to this exterior shot with rambling.

You may be wondering along with me if I'll ever get enough of beat-down old places like this. I don't think so, but pretty much everyone else obviously already has. After 40 years in business, Sakura closed tonight.

Because, according to mama, "The sake business sucks." Awwwwww hell. Just when I'm all proud of myself for walking randomly around a neighborhood for 10 minutes and finding a really cool bar, it's closing within hours. Or at least that's what she told me.

You all knew a picture of a fridge was in the offing. What you couldn't see on the full frontal picture above was the single A4 sheet listing their purported selection of Juyondai. In practice they had 5 or 6 bottles, most of which were close to empty (I'd be running down inventory too if I were closing in mere hours). Other than that, there were plenty of very tidy selections.

One 14-Dai that wasn't as finished was the paper-wrapped Banshu Yamadanishiki Jundai (top shelf, left of the one where you can read the 14-Dai logo).

Mama has a good line going in service, i.e. letting you know you're getting it, and made a big production of pouring me above the line on this flask. That sounds like I'm complaining. I don't mean to. The sake was very different than I expected; I've heard that 14-Dai's dai-levels were less flavorful than the regular gin's; this was actually heavy and almost oily-feeling, though with more alcohol and less umami than I expect from their best selections. [And I saw 14-Dai Jun-dai's a few days later for Y5,000 per glass, so thanks mama!] It was still before dinner at this point, so I left after drinking.

But just like a cat, I came back, after dinner and with company. We sat in the back room, which was a lot like someone's living room, right down to the clutter and the girls eating nabe at the other table. The big white Daruma is a nice touch.

A little selection of snacks always helps the sake go down. We drank Yuki no Bousha (it may have been their organic-rice version; I see now that they only make one like that) and Ryujin (not much of a web site, but you can follow them on this Twitter-equivalent...). Mama had made a huge sesame-scented omelet in the frying pan and was portioning it out, and she slipped us some moro-kyu too. Home-style.

It felt like a farewell party in the other room. I was startled when someone got up from the counter to get our sake from the fridge, and on the next round it was much clearer that she wasn't staff - just a regular pressed into service since mama didn't feel like squeezing under the counter. If we had ordered again, I would have been pouring it myself.

Anyhoo, mama and papa closed this place at the end of the night. They've already opened a standing bar just down the street. I think you'll know where I mean if I say it's the weird-shaped intersection near Shinsen station, just up the hill from Kaikaya or Dame Jeanne or Oden Hide or whatever reference works for you. But maps work wonders, don't they? With decent-looking counter/banzai food and Y500 for quality sake, it sounds like a winner (if you don't mind standing. I do.).

Ahhh, the old web site.


  1. Jon, I am sorry to see this kind of places are closing. I share your pain. I found 14-Dai jungin in one of the new york sakaya called "Sakaya" web site and ordered it, but they called me (I knew that is coming) to tell me they were out and they had no information as to when they will get the next shipment. I am on their email alert doe 14-Dai now. N

  2. $1000 handbag ? It's crazy!
    But $10,500 Dobro is not crazy for me.

  3. I prefer to borrow dobro! But I understand $10,500 banjo.

  4. For $10,500 you could buy 52 $200 dobros on ebay. Surely you could find several as good or better than one $10,500 dobro in the bunch. Sell the rest back on ebay and you are ahead.

    Or keep them all. You would certainly impress your friends with your collection.

    Works for banjos too.