Saturday, April 23, 2011

Echigoya Wakasa, Morishita (越後屋若狭)

Some time ago, I was idly perusing the tabelogz as I like to do on many a quiet afternoon. Looking at the top 20-rated restaurants in Tokyo, I spotted an oddity. It was on my side of the river. One of Tokyo's best 20 restaurants out of 160,000 listings? An easy walk from home? And it turned out to be this place, far from any station but standing out in its post-industrial neighborhood under the highway, near the river. I rode or ran by it a dozen times before that time, always figuring it must be something good but never able to tell from the exterior signage what went on inside.

The interior, such as it is, defines 'shibui'. It's hushed, it could be described as reverential, and it feels very much like a converted entranceway to a private home. All it contains is an alcove with a scroll and a display case showing the two rotating items available for sale this month. Shortly after you walk in, the door next to the case will slide open and a woman will greet you.

Now, someone had called to make our reservation. That's right, it's reservations only. The ordering process was evidently a bit fraught, with the clear tonal implication being that the caller was receiving a great service in being permitted to sample these peerless products (in Japanese it's possible to convey this even while saying "Whaddya want?"). I wonder what would happen if I called.

The products this month were as follows: the two balls on the left (I think these are semi-regular), one yomogi (a weed) and one possibly nikki (sort of cinnamon), but both having gentle, impossible to describe, and really fascinating tastes and textures. The pink thing in the middle was strands of wagashi dough (rice paste) over a daifuku center (bean paste wrapped in a different rice dough) with a layer of gel somehow slid in between. The rectangle was a softly-pressed assemblage of (naturally) rice-based dough. For what it's worth, these were obviously different and better than any wagashi I've ever had. It's one of those situations where you have to have had a few, and be open to looking for the difference, but if you are it's clear. They're about Y350 each.

The non-rotating product is the yokan, a brick of red-bean paste. This too is different from any other yokan I've ever had. It's dense, tastes very natural, and is definitely 'not too sweet'. I'm told this is a tremendous compliment for sweets, which is why I've heard it so many times. The implication is that the natural sweetness of the products is sufficiently fine that it doesn't need to be masked or augmented with added sugar. This is the regular Ogura Yokan; there's an option to get Yomogi Yokan that I wouldn't ordinarily be too excited about, but after tasting the little green ball above, I've love to have a brick of it (even at Y2.9k).

Just call in advance, and don't tell them I sent you.


  1. Noticed the table coverings under the sweets. Are they hand done sashiko? It almost looks like you took it home and took the pictures there?!?

  2. Someone took the pictures??