Thursday, February 26, 2015

Manaita, Takadanobaba (真菜板, 高田馬場)

After not really having much fun at Shimomiya, and not even being able to drown our sorrows due to the ordering difficulties and overall stylistic incompatibility, Bird and I were desperate to go somewhere else. Since we were up for whatever, the conversation went like this:
"Hey, there was another place I attached my eye to, I think I sent you the link, in Shimo Ochiai or Takadanobaba."
"I might remember that. But I can't look it up on my dumb phone."
"Maybe we can just try to find it."
"Did you look at the map?"
"I think it's somewhere between here and Baba. Let's just go northeast, keep our peepers peeled, and hope for the best."
"Well, I didn't look at the map, but I'm up for whatever."
And minus one brief bit of confusion at the Otakibashi intersection where Bird saved our bacon by pointing out which way the subway line runs, that and 15 minutes of walking was all it took to get us in front of this place. There was some definite consternation on the part of the master when I peeled back the noren, but there were also two open seats nearest the door, and the other customers insisted we take them. Which is indicative of several aspects of this place, in retrospect

I can just imagine the conversation that led to this couple opening this place.
"Hey, I like to sit around and drink, and you cook pretty well, so howzabout it?"
"Sure, I'm up for whatever."

Actually that's all the conversation I can imagine, but that's how it went down. The master doesn't master a whole lot, he mostly sits in front of the fridge while his wife cooks her own stuff at her own pace. It's a LOT like your mom cooking whatever you want, and the regulars were encouraging us to just ask for stuff even if we didn't see it.

The regulars made this place. We sat next to a watch repairman and a soba maker. Everyone knew each other, and they were there to have a good time. With a vengeance. It was contagious. And memorable.

There was buri sashimi on the menu, winter buri, and our order caused mama to pull out a big hunk of fish wrapped in the green paper I associate with Tsukiji and start sawing on it. This was exemplary fish, and I felt silly for being mildly concerned about the Y1200 price on the menu once I saw the volume of the rough chunks. Just saying that reminds me of this time in high school when I got a bottle of amaretto, which I've never drunk since.
With the buri, we needed some drinks. You know why I attached my eye to this place, right? It's the nihonshu, as usual. Here's the menu.

More properly, here's the list of kura. I can't remember what I tried to order, but since we had ordered the buri, the master said "That doesn't go with buri." Strangely, I was unfazed by this and told him we were Up for Whatever. Whatever turned out to be a nice, fruity Sougen. There were at least three Sougens in the fridge, and likewise a couple options from each of the other excellent kura listed there.
It's a relationship thing. It must be, and the big-format bottle is another indicator. I would love to tell you what this bottle is called, but it's 9 liters, half a tobin, and I have no idea. Okuharima is a decent brewer too.

What did we drink? I'm pretty sure the brewers that we drank something from included Sougen, Yorokobi Gaijin, Kaze no Mori, Juji Asahi, Furousen, and the one all the way on the left that's called Chou-something. By that point I was having waaaaay too much fun to quibble over niceties like breweries and rice milling percentages. Being Up for Whatever does that to you.
You're just supposed to get food that goes with the sake, it's that kind of place. And we were set to drink the Gaijin and the Furousen, both hot, and master recommended a stuffed cabbage. The thing was, I liked it a lot! Perhaps you should see also the point about having too much fun to quibble. Watching the regulars fight with mama over whether or not to cut it for us, and into how many pieces, was also a special treat.
There was a lot of wreckage. You have to order food to go with the drinks, or vice versa, but the sake comes right away, and the food takes forever, and then the order is off and you need another sake, and the level of enjoyment down the counter just keeps going up.

Did I say counter? There are only 10 seats at one counter, and it's hard to squeeze behind your new friends to get to the bathroom. It keeps things collegial. You need to be up for whatever.
Oh, fried food. Everyone else was eating something fried by the time we got there, and once we caught up in the order, mama made us some croquettes and salad. It's the thing to do here, especially when you're going to drink more hot sake.
I can't for the life of me remember what was in these spring rolls. I want to say it was fungus and seafood, but that's the spring rolls I had on Tuesday night, and this is Thursday. Who cares? This was well past the point of being an evening to remember, and nothing as little as a spring roll could influence that. For the first time in a long time, I was looking at the clock and wondering if we could squeeze in another 30 minutes without missing the last train. Eventually everyone had the same idea ''Oh shit" and we all left at the same time.
It was close, I'll tell you that, because we had to walk down to Baba, and there are some terrific ramen places along Waseda Dori, and then that building under the tracks has a branch of Fuu Ryu as well as Takatora, and I didn't want to go home anyway but missing the train would be really really bad this time. I got the second-last train out of Shinjuku, a bit after midnight, and passed out until magically waking up 30 seconds before missing my station.

I'm always taking pictures of those bums that pass out on the train.


  1. Yorokobi Gaijin ( 悦 凱陣). What a perfect sake for you both (and or me, too). I am envious.

  2. It was pretty much just like those videos--hardly a rough chunk in sight. Except we didn't have to drink Bud Light! Win-win-win.