Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Konomi, Ningyocho (日本酒と肴の味見バー 嗜)

What do you like? Would you describe that as your 嗜? No, you wouldn't because no one knows that kanji. I hope I forget it. It would only be the latest in a series of eating- and drinking-related kanji that I learned when I should have been learning...I dunno, kanji that every 3rd grader would know.

So after getting rejected from two places (only one of which seemed like they rejected me for being white) on my early-evening stroll around the Ningyochos, I ended up on Amazake Yokocho. Near that semi-famous but questionable-quality 'Wasabi' place, I saw a cedar ball and thought "Come to papa."

Having a sugidama is kind of enough evidence of your intentions, but the master here goes a step further with the board outside "We only have sake and drinking snacks!" This is pretty much my 嗜 anyway, but I had dinner plans in 90 minutes and was just looking for a place to compare some pure-rice sake and read the new issue of Tokyo Calendar. Perfect. In we go.

The master was reading a magazine himself and had to get up to help me. The first thing he said was "We only have sake!" to which I said "Why yes, good fellow, sake and sakana. That's why I'm here."

But herein lies the problem - the master has probably created a drinks-and-snacks menu based on his 嗜, and no one else can read the kanji or understand what he's thinking...which is why I was the only customer. I admire him for being idiosyncratic - look, there are sections on the menu for raw squid, raw horse, and raw tiny whole fishes, and that's before you get to the 'make your own drinking snack set'. He's just maybe pushing the envelope a bit.

Is it also pushing the envelope to have all sake that no one has heard of? On the left is Kid, which is one of the 2 or 3 out of 20 that I knew (Daina, Hanatomoe), and is certainly a good thing to see on a menu. I'm not going to try to describe the flavors to you; I've given up on that sort of thing. Kid is always good. The Eiko Fuji in the middle was absolutely awesome, drink-the-whole-bottle stuff. Hama Musume on the right was the master's attempt to serve something heavier in response to my request for that - no yamahai options, so this was his best guess. It came with a long story about how this is a new brewery, and the young master has been borrowing other people's facilities until he can get his own. [As an aside, which also serves as as commentary on my linguistic skills, here's the real story about Hamamusume.]

I made my own set of drinking snacks. You knew I would. Left to right, 'sake gokoro', which is something like a paste of dried salmon and soy sauce, then tiny shrimp boiled in sweet soy sauce, and finally some thick and crunchy slices of smoked turmeric-pickled Japanese radish. The last of which was outstanding, very natural tasting, and I'd like to say came from a small producer up in Akita. I've often thought it would be great to open an izakaya like this, ever since I went to the king of tiny, idiosyncratic, sake-focused shops, Suiko. I just think you should pick your snack-style a little more carefully than this.

And keep a little more mystery, or add a little more to the proceedings. It was really clear that all the snacks are coming out of packs purchased somewhere else. The shimesaba too. It's almost like the master invited you to his tastefully-furnished apartment and is seeing what he has in the fridge that would go well with a nice drink.
And that, I think, is why the below picture probably shows all the customers he had besides me today. It bears mention that he's nerdy, and not in a likable way. I don't think he should be running a sake bar. He's put together many of the right elements, but there's some heart and or soul missing. 

For which I shed a little tear. A ginjo tear.

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