Saturday, April 2, 2011

Kaeru, Kitasenju (居酒屋 かえる)

'Puerile' is the word you're looking for here.

No, in fact, while we were eyeing this spot, the master of the shop was taking out some trash, saw us, and said "Oh, go ahead and park there." As usual in Japan, flexible enforcement.

After stumbling (rolling?) upon an entire kilometer of previously unexplored shotengai, it was an even more pleasant surprise to find a good-looking, quirky izakaya in the middle. The lit-up Kirin sign isn't usually a good thing, but the frog theme is more entertaining. I've seen places like this before, where Kaeru is both 'frog' and also a play on the verb 'to go home'.

And with casual, friendly service and crusty regulars, it wouldn't take long to feel right at home here. They told us to sit at the tables on the back, but the heck with that, and we parked at the corner of the counter.

You know what else? It even turned out to be a sake-focused izakaya. I mean, the row of Denshu empties outside could have been a tipoff, but you never know.

I initially felt a little meh about this menu since it has a lot of older, more mainstream choices (Masumi, Sumiyoshi, Kikusui) and not so many of the snobby brewers that I favor. In reality, it was probably just the lamination, and in any case these Y1k tasting sets offered a good opportunity for us to try a bunch of different things. The Sumiyoshi (which we had just seen at a tiny old liquor store around the corner) was as old-fashioned as you'd expect. Dewazakura was as reliable as always, while Hatsumago and Kudokijozu were predictably excellent. The Ginban daiginjo wasn't to my liking - too dry and 'austere', but someone loved it. At least while it was too cold to taste much.

As far as the foodz go, they wuz pretty good too. We were trying to go easy since it was only 5 o'clock and we had several more hours of riding around to do (plus almost an hour to cycle home), but that's some kinda starter top-left (including a bit of sliced duck), then on the right some beans, 'gaga chamame' (one of the owners is from Yamagata; the other is from Fukuoka. That's a winning combination.) with kazunoko, and pickled wasabi stems. Bottom is raw firefly squid (I didn't try these) and raw horse with mane fat (someone didn't try these). The horse was really excellent; too often you have places tout their Kumamoto-imported horse and it's still frozen or it's just lousy. This was excellent. Really.

I mean it. This is my new recommended (non-burger) place in KSJ.

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