Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Okanaga Club, Nihonbashi Bakurocho (岡永倶楽部)

Errrrr.....this statue in Kanda, up near Awajicho (we went to Katsuman and got rattled by a big earthquake in the old building there) depicts the youth of Japan confidently ascending toward the future. Too bad about the salute.

Too bad about Okanaga Club too - it has all the makings of a terrific sake-focused, upscale izakaya, but left me strangely unexcited. Nice to get to go here - with the appealing theme and this high rating on the Tabelogz, you'd be pretty excited to try it too. But the Y5k fee for a 2-year membership (it's a club, after all) keeps away the riffraff. Like me.

Well, it was a work dinner, so you can't expect pictures. I did snap this on the way out so you could get a feel for the atmosphere (we were late getting there and last-out, which explains the quietude). Bare concrete means 'cool' in Japan, but I found the lighting dim and yet uninspiring (much like the conversation, which was dominated by "Holy shit, earthquake radiation tidal wave our weird company"). The bar on the side is funny too; very Western in aspect, and from the web site there to provide a working bar for functions in the space.

How was the food? Good in places, medium in others. This semi-famous baked hanpen was interesting - imagine a cute little round loaf of fluffy bread with a cross slashed into the top of it, brown and fresh and hot from the oven...except that it's made of ground fish. This was challenging for the foreign guest in the group (by which I don't mean me). Fried bamboo shoots stand out in my mind as good (it's the season), while the cherry blossom shrimp (it's the season) salad was a downer - regular lettuce leaves with a bunch of dressing that drowned out the shrimp flavor. A tiny portion of aged tofu was still frozen, and not made in-shop.

What about the drinks? They have local beer and shochu, but sake seems to be the core of the menu (at least when I look at the menu it does). As befits one of these dinners, my colleagues announced that I was in charge of the ordering, except when they wanted to jump in and 'compete' to see who could order something 'better', like that's possible to measure or like any of us know anything.

The sake menu is pretty big, perhaps 50-60 choices organized by grade. Now that I'm more into the culture, I'd characterize this place as old-fashioned. They had a significant selection of non-junmai sakes - not that there's anything wrong with that, but the really intense places seem to avoid it - and also very few unpasteurized options. This leads to a certain flavor profile overall - less fresh, more subdued, not the kind of thing that appeals as strongly to young or novice drinkers (in both of which categories I include myself). Not taking notes, and strangely not having access to a menu online, all I remember was ordering the jungin from Kumamoto's famous Koro (here, read Etsuko's love poem).

The waiter was really wonderful, talking about the sake at length, and after developing a liking for us brought out his secret weapon. It turned out to be a tiny unlabeled bottle of nama genshu from Kaika (whose brewer, Daiichi, will surely acquire some significance in Western eyes after all the coverage of Fukushima Daiichi this week). At the risk of reading too much into it, the fact that everyone at the table thought this was the best thing of the night seems significant. The freshness and excitement were really a contrast to the prevailing style of the rest of the menu, meaning there's no particular need to favor this place and its membership fee over the smaller, cheaper bars that specialize in nothing but namazake.

Too bad, really.

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