Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shiba no Ura, Tamachi (芝の浦)

Recently I've been feeling like we've 'done all the good stuff' regarding sake in Tokyo, i.e., visited all the famous izakayas and even the hidden gems. With that in mind, I consulted my 'targets' map for something a bit more out of the way for Poshand and me to try this evening. Being sorta between our places, Mita/Tamachi had a few points on the map. None of them were very promising. My map isn't scientific - I hear about places and throw them on, usually to be ignored forever. In this case, I think I may have read the store's name in a list of 'places to drink our sake'; a funny way to get introduced, and not at all reliable. Tabelog barely touches on Shiba no Ura, awarding it a 3.0 based on mediocre lunch performance, but I saw two other blogs that had visited in 2008 and 2006, and they looked OK. Plus the web site looked decent, talking about how they've been in business for 40+ years, pioneering the drinking of local sake, and have relationships with all kinds of brewers.  

This is what I was afraid of though - the menu outside contains a lot of normal stuff. We've gotten to the point where we sorta turn up our noses at the basics of jizake, like Shimeharitsuru. Now, it turns out that they had about 8 seasonal new arrivals not on this laminated list, and in fact the list is better than it looks - there were plenty of things I couldn't read, which is a good sign. Plus there were pictures by the bathroom of the master going to visit Shimeharitsuru, and they evidently send him special-release bottles. So yes, our mild snobbery was misguided, as it so often is.

Phew! That was a long speech. Here's the door. Flowers are usually a good touch. The inside is in the 'country warehouse' style; most of the seating is horikotatsu, and the effect is warm and friendly. Actually, maybe it's neutral, but the service was certainly warm and friendly enough to make bare concrete seem pleasant.

The master goes once a year to brew sake at this brewery, Hanagaki ("small brewery, big specialty!" they say), and likes it so much that he brings in bottled well water to serve customers. I haven't yet gotten snobbish about being served brewery well water only from labeled brewery bottles, so I think this is pretty cool. Look, the glass is frozen too!

Not to belabor things too much, they have some good sake. The top left picture is, predictably, our first round; Poshand had the Ginrei Gassan on the left, while I had the Haneya on the right. These are both new-arrival hiyaoroshis from the specials list. Poking around the web, I see that the Gassan is made from one of 'Japan's 100 Famous Waters', and also I believe the sample of 10-year old sake the master donated to us at the end was one of their brands.

The serving style is generous - for example, even the two Iwao daiginjo's were poured in the almost-overflowing cup-in-masu style for Y800 apiece. (This is a bit of a red herring on the part of the master - these aren't particularly more expensive than other sakes. On the other hand, they seem to be quite hard to get, and these came direct from the brewer. This also is a bit of a red herring on the part, because with a thousand+ breweries in Japan, not being able to get sake from one isn't going to impact your life.) Bottom right you have the Hanagaki I mentioned above, then in the middle a Yamahai from Jokigen (this is disturbing, because it's a different Jokigen from the one you're thinking of, the famous Yamagata one that's in lots of shops. Also, I think it's the one that introduced me to this shop through its web site.) I can't remember why, but by that time we had finally enticed the master into going into a reverie about sake, and such reveries usually end this way - with samples. I had a whole go of the Jokigen afterward and loved it; lots of that big, weird yamahai flavor. That's mostly all I want to drink these days - it's so big and complex that it's very conducive to sipping slowly. And that's a pretty good finish to a paragraph that started with some doubt about whether we liked this place, eh?

Let's cram all the food into one picture (which you can expand by clicking). The starter was two boiled village potatoes each (small, slimy, kinda tasty, especially hot and with salt). Dried skate wing, the usual. Dish of 'pickled things'; I thought these were going to be vegetables, but in fact it was mostly vinegared bits of shellfish and octopus. Sorry Poshand. Sashimi plate, decent quality. The thing to point out is that when he took the plate away, the master offered to fry the skeleton of the aji for us; as usual, this put me in mind of my first night ever in Japan, 1999, seeing a live aji cut up for sashimi and then eating the fried skeleton. I was horrified, by the way. Bottom left-est, it's a nice pot of yudofu. I'm still a little bit in Kyoto mode, and didn't even get to eat yudofu down there, so I wanted to get this. For some reason, I really enjoyed the tofu. Weirdo. I'm sure you can tell from the pictures that this is acceptable food, but the sake is really the thing.

There you have it - not setting any land-speed records, but you really shouldn't be disappointed with this. Especially if you go at the right season - the master was saying that by the end of this month they'll start getting shipments of 'new' sake, the stuff that's been made this year and just finished aging. In general, I bet you'll find something decent whenever you go.

Don't be fooled by any Tabelog stuff; the old honten is closed, and the shiten is now the only ten.

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