Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shimomiya, Higashi Nakano (しもみや 東中野)


It's been a while since I've seen this, and maybe you too. JR platforms can get completely jammed, especially when it's the combined Yamanote-Sobu platform at Shinjuku. I was bound for the metropolitan hotspot of Higashi Nakano.

[I jest, but Higashi Nakano also houses Tokyo's single best sake bar, so it's not exactly a joke.]
I was also bound for a date with a big Bird, and I was girding my liver against ill effects. I'm not sure if it was the miraculous power of junmai nihonshu or this bottle of Hepalize Hyper, but I slept for 5 hours and woke up perfectly happy, and with the way this evening went, that's a major miracle.
In Tokyo, running a restaurant for a long time can also qualify as a miracle. The places that have been open for a long time have been open forever, with families owning the land and doing the labor. So it's pretty impressive that Shimomiya has been doing this since 1978, if my reading of their card and calculations concerning Showa years are correct.
Dude's putting down his own style, that's for sure. His wife runs the drinks and most of the service. I had called to reserve, which I think is always nice, but they still looked at us funny when we walked in, and he asked if we could read Japanese. We can read the hell out of a sake list and a food menu, so that's not a big deal, but the joke's on me, because there isn't a sake menu, so what do we need to be able to read for? So we can pick by label from the fridges (two like this one)? We can't see the three rows of bottles behind the front, so that's probably not it. In fact, I believe you're just supposed to let them pick your drinks, which is fine with me if they listen to what I want.
I wanted food at this point, for sure, and this was a pretty good starter. Although I'm not sure what I paid for it. The fried tofu was really sweet, which I like, and the pickled daikon slices were a bit different, quality stuff.
There must be a ton of quality stuff in the fridge. Mama asked what we wanted to drink, and after I figured out that there was no menu, I said we wanted something light and fresh. All the labels I could see and recognize were heavy, either in brewer or style. Mama dived into the fridge and recommended to us two bottles, each of which had no more than 1 go left in the bottom. Mmmmmm hmmmmmmm. I know I'm foreign, but I didn't start drinking yesterday, and I resent the hell out of being offered the end of the bottle. The only way this is acceptable is if they give you the end of the bottle free and a full glass from a new bottle, which is exactly what the regular customer next to us got. Maybe we would have gotten that too, and my outrage is misplaced. Maybe not. I told mama later that I never like the taste of the end of the bottle, and she claimed that some people prefer it. I don't know what these were, and I didn't like them enough to figure it out for you, even out of completeness. I should mention that everything is served in a glass of 90ml or so, and the prices are toppy for that.

Here's the fridge in a shot you can embiggen and examine. There are a lot of labels I don't know, which is generally nice if there's a menu and/or the staff can be relied on to pick for you.
I have mixed feelings about this place (you can tell I was grumpy by now) because this plate of fish was worth every yen of the three thousand it set us back. Everything was delightful, especially the tacos and ainame, not stuff I expect to love.
I just gave up on the ordering at this point. Mama poured out the end of that bottle and opened a new one, so I said we'd have that too. She gave us a splash of the old bottle for comparison...
and when I ordered the Wakakoma 'Crazy Horse' (isn't it funny how more and more brewers are giving sakes names these days?), she gave us a taster of a different rice variety. The taster (which was Omachi-derived) would have been a perfectly good response to my request for something lighter at the beginning. I told Mama we preferred that one and she said "Oh, could you tell the difference?" Again, I could be wrong in my interpretation of these things.
The other food was excellent too. This is a nuta (vinegar miso sauce) of squid legs and urui, a spring leafy, stalky vegetable.
These gobo pickles were an absolute standout too. It's not every day that gobo is terrific. I like it and all, but it's rare that it's exciting. This was exciting.
This was pretty exciting too, although mostly for academic reasons. The Amabuki on the right is a yamahai, brewed with their 'marigold' yeast (I think). It was interesting for its lack of body - a hint of cold and smooth on the tongue at the beginning, then no flavor to speak of until a broad yamahai essence came in. The other bottle is Kotobuki, and I'm not sure if I've had it, but I'll look for it again. This bottle in particular was cool because it was obviously cold-aged (there was mold on the label), and tasted like it was on its way to koshu status, but not yet to an annoying degree. I love that flavor.
Spring vegetable tempura. I get this every time it's on the menu. Really I just want to eat the fukinotou and taranome, and maybe some kogomi ferns, so that's all I ordered for us.

And with that, my frustration overtook me, and we resolved to do the ol' nijikai. I had attached my eye to another place a few stations over, and despite not knowing where it was, anything was better than throwing more money in the hole after what we spent here.

I think everyone was relieved when we left. 
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