Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Yoshioka, Kyobashi (地酒屋 よしおか)

Yooooooshta. It's official. I have now been to all of the good sake places in Tokyo. Think you know another? Nope. Not good. This is the last one. Boo-yah!

Well good, I'm glad we could all agree on that. And how could you not agree that it's a good place? Look at that banner! It's screaming "Good sake here." Another tip - if you can figure out how to work the ancient elevator, take it to the top floor, get out, and walk up another level to the bizarre, time-out-of-mind store that takes up that partial floor and a detached shed on the roof. Kyobashi is a bit dead, being between Nihonbashi and Ginza, but it hides a bunch of quirky little restaurants and galleries.

Yoshioka's interior, I'm sorry to say, is one of the least charming I know of. Part of it is the lighting, part of it is the sparity of concept...the racks of empties and the fridge of fulls are of course always welcome as design elements, but a throw rug or a few flowers would go a long way.

Food is quite solid - any place that starts you off with a scoop of tofu that they made fresh that day is a place that's cool with me. It's a good thing.

Damn the shadows, full speed ahead. If you blow this up, I think it'll be big enough for you to appreciate the magnificence of it. Honestly, any list that has both Furosen and Senkin is a list that's going to impress me, but have you seen 6 varieties of Jikon on a list lately?

Over the course of two nights this week (yes, I liked it that much), the owner recommended a number of oddities - the Ouroku from Shimane was outstanding, the Asahi Wakamatsu from Tokushima was bizarre (more like a distilled liqueur), and the Yorokobi Gaijin, Jikon, Tomonori, and everything else we tried were fresh and delicious.

At one point I teased the owner, a self-described 'sake nerd' despite his tough aspect and sorta surfer demeanor, about the inclusion of Dassai in his list - "You can get that anywhere!" He was all over that challenge, pointing out immediately that if you read the rest of the description you'll see it's not normal Dassai 50, it's actually raw and unfiltered. Mea culpa. He's a good guy for a conversation and a recommendation.

He pours a good cup too. Did you see the extensive columns on the right of the menu? You can order by the glass (pictured, 120ml), 1-go, 1.5, 2, whatever, really. 120ml is a great size; I sort of admire places that will pour you tasting sets in 50 or 60 ml glasses, but it's not enough to taste properly. 100 or 120 is about right for me (and 180, 1-go is certainly too much for a wide and varied evening, as I've demonstrated when I've tried to be wide and varied at places that pour a generous go.).

The fish is a little expensive, with the sampler set being Y3.3k. The quality was very good though, especially on the two separate dishes at the bottom (first visit). Again, any place that will serve uncooked cherry blossom shrimp can't be all bad. They're briefly seasonal and not very common in any case; I have the impression that most of the catch is just thrown on tarps to dry in the sun.

The rest of the food is solid to very good, and a bit puzzlingly diverse. The chef is clearly a guy who knows what's what, as does the owner. You have to respect him for knowing enough to stick to his knitting and not play in the kitchen, spending the money to hire a specialist.

Going L-R and down, there's that tofu again, then dried, grilled firefly squid (nice except the hardened pips of the eyeballs). The hot caprese is quirky - a grilled tomato topped with cheese and surrounded with pesto, while the pork-wrapped asparagus was so nice I got it twice. The beef tendon was delicious - meltingly soft, and mostly meat instead of actual tendon. The grilled (Seki) mackerel looks like hell but tastes great, and the fried chicken was generously portioned and a masterpiece of frying. Finishing with the grilled rice balls is a typical Woodsman move, and these were nicely moistened with soy sauce and grilled very appropriately. It's a fine balance.

This place is finely balanced too, and if you stay balanced when you go, you'll feel fine.

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