We spent two days exploring Aizuwakamatsu in the Tohoku Region of Japan, in mid-November, 2013. Aizu is a great city at that time of year with the changing leaves but it's also a great city to explore Samurai houses, the traditional burial ground of the Matsudaira Clan and the sake breweries in the city. In fact, while we were at Tsurunoeh Brewery, we asked one of the owners where we should eat that night. She recommended Hairansho, an Izakaya in the downtown area-and it turned out to be an excellent suggestion.
When we arrived, the owner, Kazuhiro Matsuda was very welcoming and the evening was full of conversation and laughter--as well as delicious food. Kazuhiro knew alot about the local sakes so when we asked for something very dry, he brought out the Aizu Masume. Very oishii!
And from there it was one incredible dish after another including stir-fried squid. small fried fish, deep-fried fish with amadare (special sweet sauce) and daikon radish, an amazingly fresh plate of assorted sashimi, and tsukuneh--minced chicken meat on a skewer, Yakitori style, with a sweet terrikayi sauce.
It was a memorable evening and we've been waiting for the opportunity to return from the moment we left. Highly recommended.
Everyone was crying! Tears were literally streaming down the faces of the three businessmen at the table behind us as well as the woman who was sitting at the counter to my left. The izakaya owner’s wife was crying; her daughter was mopping away her own tears, and my two companions and I could hardly talk. The only thing that distinguished this scene from a sad movie or tragic event was the fact that we were also convulsed in laughter.
This was my sixth visit to Tsuzuku, a tiny 14-seat izakaya, located on a side street in one of the residential areas of Tokyo near the Ushigome Yanagicho Metro station.
In a lot of ways it is typical of an old-style izakaya, or restaurant/bar. In fact the name izakaya is derived from “i” meaning ‘to stay’ and “sakaya” meaning ‘sake shop’. Izakayas were originally way-stations for people to relax and enjoy a cup, or more, of sake. Today, most izakayas serve food - either a general menu of seafood and yakitori (grilled meat, fish or vegetables on a skewer) or they specialize in one type of food.
Tsuzuku is a seafood izakaya and finding fresher, better prepared seafood would be a challenge.
Tonight we savoured the assorted sashimi (raw seafood), enjoyed the ‘okara’ (a traditional dish made from soy beans) and indulged in the delicate flavour of ‘sake no harasu yaki’ (the fatty parts of grilled salmon). We tried ‘harmonica’, grilled back-fin of tuna – crispy and tasty. And then, as the sobbing reached a crescendo, we decided to try the house specialty, ‘Wasabi Meshi’.
This delicious treat consists of a bowl of steamed rice in which a lot (and I mean, a lot) of freshly grated wasabi root is mixed. Wasabi is often likened to horseradish. It is pungently hot.
The owner’s wife was crying because she was grilling the food. It was cold outside so the vents were closed and the smoky cloud arising from the grill was reaching cumulus proportions.
The daughter was crying because she was energetically grating the wasabi root to add to the rice and, just like peeling onions, the wasabi ‘fumes’ filled the air. The businessmen behind me were the first to taste the Wasabi Meshi. They immediately put down their chopsticks to wipe away the tears and the sweat rolling down their faces. When we looked at them, they burst out in laughter, which set the tone for the rest of the patrons, including the woman at the counter to my left, who was having difficulty seeing, because her eyes were so red from the rice dish. And my companions and I joined in the party - mostly because the rice is incredibly tasty, and if you can get through the first few bites, things begin to calm down a bit.
After my first tearful venture into the rice, the owner’s daughter told me to eat it with nori (seaweed) to absorb some of the heat. I delicately plucked some seaweed from a plastic container with my chopsticks and was quickly reprimanded with “No no! Take a handful like this” as she took a fistful of shredded seaweed and threw it on top of my rice. Of course more laughter ensued.
Then the owner’s wife started to hand out bananas, which also tend to mellow the piquant bite of the wasabi. So now we are all crying, laughing and eating bananas in a seafood izakaya. Ahhhtravel memories!
Tsuzuku is one of my favourite Izakayas. Great atmosphere, consistently excellent, fresh seafood, and super friendly owners and clients.
Roughly $60.00 US per person with lots of Kioizumi, a delicious sake from Niigata Prefecture.
It's sometimes hard to find a good place for dinner on a Sunday night in Tokyo so we consulted one of the online food/restaurant guides (Tabelog) and discovered Sushi no Darihan in the Yoyogi district. While Tabelog's reviews are not always reliable (there's no accounting for taste), this time it exceeded expectations. The Izakaya is right across the road from the JR station and has that nice 'izakaya feel' about it. When given a choice between sitting at the counter or a table, we always choose the counter as this is where the action is. It's known as 'counter intelligence' (or counter intuitive) and puts the diner in direct contact with the chefs preparing the food, the selection of possible food choices on display, as well as other clients looking to chat and share experiences.
We started with two different sakes, both clean and dry. Rincara from Niigata and Kyokukou from Tochigi. An assortment of really fresh seafood followed:
An appetizer of cod roe and seaweed
Assorted sashimi (horse mackeral, kohada, shrimp, sole, tuna belly, salmon)
Katsuo-grilled fish with garlic, ginger, wasabi, onion, watercress with pink Andes Mountain salt
A bit more sake!
All in all it was a great experience with friendly staff. Highly recommended!
Roughly $60.00 US for two, including 3 or 4 sakes each.
You've heard of 3-D, as in put on the special glasses and watch the movie, but how about 4-D? That's the dimension that Noboru Shibata describes as he carefully prepares a plate of assorted sashimi for our visit. He relates that he studied Ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangement) when he was starting out as a Chef some 50 years ago and he also studied the art of the tea ceremony with its special attention to detail. And with this background, every plate that is prepared for the guests includes that special attention to the presentation of the food.
But there are different versions of the presentation. The chef prepares the plate from his/her perspective. Then when the guest is served at the counter or at a table, they see the food arriving and their taste buds start to go into hyper-drive. Then the plate is laid on the counter or table and again the visual presentation stimulates the taste buds and the neurotransmitters in the brain to create a happiness expectation of what is about to happen!
And what happens at Wasuke is culinary bliss! We ordered Matabei, a delicious clear, dry sake from Fukushima prefecture, and then the food started to appear from the preparation table, over the glass display case and onto the counter in front of us. Our meal included:
We've eaten at Wasuke in Tokyo's Kappabashi district, probably 5 times over the past 2 years and if the true test of an izakaya is consistency in the freshness of the food and a friendly, happy atmosphere, then Wasuke is a winner, hands down.