Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tsuchi to Ao, Chofu (居酒屋 土と青)

If you need a capsule review, let me just say "Not going to get any better than this in Chofu, and probably not any other Western suburb, and this is really as good as it gets in the genre".

But backtracking a bit, looking out the train windows at dusk makes me melancholy and nostalgic. So many buildings, so many houses, so many people in them or going home to them. What do they do all day? All night? Are they having any fun? I love the feeling of wonderment at all the lives going on, most of them presumably hard and sad. Make what you will of that.
Down the street from the significantly-remodeled Chofu station (they buried a bunch of tracks like they're doing in Musashi Kosugi and other growing locales), there's a grubby old Ginza that looks like it's stuck in the 60's. As are so many places outside central Tokyo.
We were here on a two-steps-removed sort of recommendation, so we had a reservation (a good thing considering how packed it turned out to be) and I had a good idea what to expect. But if you ever see an exterior like this, it's a pretty good sign there'll be something nice inside. Actually, I'm often tricked by pleasant exteriors that turn out to be hair salons. Not so much in this case.

In this case, the pleasant exterior lets you in to a pleasant interior, and a pleasant menu of sake. I'm not even sure if they had other beverages, come to think of it. The menu is an attractive, changes-daily-when-we-empty-a-bottle affair, which is exactly how you want it. The web site is really nice to, a distinct cut above for a place like this. The wife of the owning couple handles service, menu and web, which sounds like a lot to me, but that's small business for you.

This is definitely small business. 4-seat table, 10-seat counter, another maybe 20 seats on the floor upstairs. You can't see this, but it occurs to me that the tiles that form a backsplash on the counter echo the shape of the chickenwire used to make sure all the dishes on the shelves above don't fall in case of earthquake.

Maybe you want to blow this up, but here are all the cold things we ate (4 people, for the record). Pickled mushroom starter, firefly squid salad, fresh seaweed potato salad, sake kasu tofu, turnip and cucumber pickles, sea bass and chrysanthemum leaves, more squid, another mushroom starter to fill out the photo format...
But you can see the style - elegant, fresh, and cute. Maybe in the winter they do things heavier, but this is so nice for the time of year.

This is nice any time of year. The fish was excellent, expecially the tuna, and you know I never say that. The little vegetable slices and balls are a great touch (I'm a sucker for raw turnip, which is the slice in the back), as are the condiments - that pile of vegetable-dyed sesame seeds was a first for me, and a very welcome one. I was really planning to order twice as much sashimi as this; not sure how I let us get distracted into the more usual 'one slice per person' ordering regime.

Here's what we drank. You can choose 70, 150 or 300 ml sizes, at reasonably reasonable prices. The selection is interesting (in the sense that I only knew 3 or 4 of the brands), but it's the style of sake that really sets it apart.

Look at the menu picture above, and zoom in on the descriptions. You'll find a list that's as lovingly 'curated' as many other places, but with a distinctly different philosophy. A lot of the choices are just junmai, no fancy dai's or gin's for us common folk. A bunch of them are also yamahai-brewed, which is great if you've grown to like it and confronting if you haven't. And a further few options are aged. I like to start out with a light, fruity sake as much as the next guy, but by the time it comes to meat, I'd like to be drinking an aged yamahai...and there were multiple options here. Lots of extra points for having a vision and sticking to it.

By the time it comes to meat...ranked wagyu tataki, so nice we ordered it twice; broccoli with yuzukosho snuck in here because it was warm; homemade satsuma age, light, fluffy and seriously awesome; pork, preserved in miso before grilling; crab-brain cream croquettes. Excellent cookery all around. Great stuff.

As we were leaving, in amongst all the 'OMG that was so good's and appreciative noises, I said "See you tomorrow!" and I meant it. Not literally, you understand, but something like that. I would be fine just quitting my job, moving to Chofu, and eating at this place every night until the money ran out.

Which, coincidentally, would take a fair few years at these prices. 

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