Thursday, July 14, 2011

Okagesan, Yotsuya (萬屋おかげさん)

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! Good, I'm glad we could all agree on that. Back to work.

There is a mythical izakaya in Yotsuya. One that's so popular, so well-regarded, that it's booked a year in advance. The web site advises not to bother trying to book. "We'll let you know when we have room," they say.

This is not the story of that izakaya. It's a different one. Sorry about that. How the hell am I supposed to get in to an izakaya that's booked a year out? This is still a perfectly good one, and well-known. I was at Isetan before meeting Woods for dinner, and in the sake section there was a big selection of Kozaemon being poured by a young guy from the brewery. I said I was going to Yotsuya after leaving him, and despite hailing from the wilds of Gunma, he said "Ah, Okagesan?"

So there it is. Sort of ship's galley in aspect, and very much in the dirty-basement class that so often shows promise and yields good things.

As long as you're interested in this type of atmosphere.And most people are, right? I called to book and asked to sit at these two seats in the corner since they looked like the best. The master told me that the seating is first-in, best-dressed, so no, and went on to say that they're a very small store, so I should really let them know if my plans change. I can only imagine this sort of thing is indicative of the crush that must have fallen on them after winning a Michelin star. And I can only imagine that awarding a star to this place, and not to a dozen others that spring to mind, is a tacit admission by Michelin that they'd like to acknowledge the izakaya space, but have no idea how to cover and understand the depth that it offers in Tokyo.
Okage san is a good mix - you can see that atmosphere, the sake list is world-class, and the food is good to very good.

Here's some of it, starting with the sake serving style as usual - generally in kataguchi, with a selection of cups for you to choose from. They told us to take two at the beginning for comparison purposes, but then we just alternated between those. Food-wise, you've got some okala there; then water eggplant, barely pickled; smoked tofu and barley-miso tofu, their sashimi selection including the yellow gratings of bottarga on top; and finally a patch of chopped aji namerou. Again, all good, but not especially great. Not that I'm so opposed to this sort of thing, exactly, but the master really encouraged us to get assorted sashimi. The aji only arrived about 40 minutes later, I think once he had collected enough orders to make it time-efficient to make a whole batch.

The sake list is indeed world-class. So much so that the master advised us it was mostly small brewers, so we probably hadn't heard of any of them. This is a reasonable thing to think about two foreigners, but saying it is a little different. Anyway, the special bottling of Matsu no Tsukasa on the left caught my eye - with my general fascination for Shiga sake and specific resolution to drink more from this brewer. In the middle, the master foisted this very chunky Naraman sparkling nigori on everyone around the bar, and on the right we got back to what we really wanted to drink, which was Juyondai Aiyama jungin. And it's as close to perfection as nature allows.

"How's the hot food," I hear you asking, and if you've been following along you know that we've come to that point in the evening where my grumpiness about pacing dictates we get stuck into the heated options. On the left two types of grilled fish; I confess I can't remember how the bottom one was preserved, but I know they were out of heshiko. Middle, the master again kindly offered everyone the opportunity to order boiled eel, and we availed ourselves further of the pot of oden simmering mid-bar. On the right, deeeelicious fried chicken; fish bones 'n' bits, fried; and fried spring rolls of scallops and cheese. The oden and chicken were my favorites out of this, but the menu should be big enough to support anyone's tastes.

There it is - obviously a very good izakaya. I'm unneccessarily grumpy about being offered things (it all goes back to this time when a sushi chef ignored my clear "No, we don't need that" and served two grilled steaks of Oma maguro. I would say in turn that was a clear ploy to get rid of his expensive, perishable inventory.). It should also be said that there aren't enough staff here, so you'll struggle to get their attention and will also have to wait odd amounts of time for whatever you order. Okagesan has seemingly ascended into the class where reputation is part of the equation and you have to be happy with what you get, when you get it.

Still, less grumpy people could probably love it. Oh, it's pretty expensive too. Did I forget that?

1 comment:

  1. I thought I might be able to get 14dai Aiyama jungin but when I got them (I got two bottles), it was the same "betsen" banshu-yamada jungin. I am not complaining but disappointed. You may be right, they only export ones which, they thought, were not good for domestic consumption. Oh, well.