Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shuan Suiko, Oshiage (酒庵 酔香)

It's so tempting to make this another place-that-shall-not-be-named...but you oughta know about it. Not that the Suikos need any more business - Woodworth and I tried and failed several times to make bookings before finally firming our spines and locking it in 2 weeks out. Where did I find it? Not the cover of Tokyojin, on which they were very proud to be featured (or 'Adults Weekend', another big magazine). Not from studying this list - it's not there. And I definitely didn't find it on random bike reckie. But I knew before I went that it would end up 'recommended'.

The charming Showa-style facade was much as expected. They only opened last year, building a cramped 8-seat sake bar in an old liquor store (i.e., the fridges were already there) with all the style cues needed to make your average sake drinker go "aaaahhhhh". A big cedar-sprig ball outside is just about always a good sign; if not of greatness, then at least serious intent.
There are some secrets to modern restaurant design, and one of them is 'chipboard'. I've been familiar with this for years since my old friend Koichi at Fal in Ginza decorated with it - all the warmth and atmosphere of actual wood unless you turn on the bright lights and look closely. The Suikos also do a good line in bottles on the wall; I think most are empty, but some of the sake for hot drinking is stored there. When we ordered, they enlisted the help of other customers to take one down and pass it around. There's not much room to squeeze behind the chairs, and the kitchen / bar access is further complexified.

For such a small place, the food menu is surprisingly large - and the cooking is really very good. Left-to-right and down, we have the smoked assortment (processed cheese, shishamo, incredible duck); the absolutely perfect yuba; the cheese plate (miso-cured tofu, cream cheese with fish-gut sauce); the errrrr,'s aged pickled radish (Nara zuke) topped with mascarpone, and we got a second one since it was great; the potato salad, and the lotus root.

But hey. The happy drug cat beckons you down the rabbit hole...

Wherein awaits pages of sake - left and middle for cold, right for hot, all available in mid-size glasses or 1-go, at very reasonable prices "so you can try a lot", as they say.

They say that, don't they.
In order, ginjos were Amabuki, Honshuuichi, Kujiranami, Yuutou Masamune, Kamekichi and Yanma. Cold junmais were Maibijin, Kokken, Shigemasu, and Hatsuyukihai. Hot junmais were Hatsumago, Ski Masamune, and...I'm pretty sure that's Daishichi (by the 'kimoto' label, which I've avoided since not enjoying it at Monnaka's well-known Asashichi (although that was probably just the atmosphere). The highlights for me were Amabuki, no surprise there; Kokken, which I really loved over the New Year, drunk hot at home, and the hot Hatsumago. But this isn't a sake tasting or anything, it's just two guys and 4 hours. No tasting notes, and declining perceptions over time.

I'm getting embarassingly dogmatic in my old age, and with those hot sakes I now like to eat hot food . Here's the hot food. Scallops sauteed in butter; terrific roast pork, bought from a butcher a few towns over; black vinegar-simmered chicken legs and eggs, wow; horse burgers. Hey, this was the first time I've ever eaten cooked horse!

At the end of posts like this, I always feel compelled and yet unable to make a closing comment. This time is no different; if you're any sort of izakaya connaisseur, you were convinced to try this place many inches ago. If you weren't, what's wrong witcha?

Just make sure you plan ahead, or hope to get really lucky. Or be that girl who lives in the neighborhood and comes in all the time.

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