Our visit to Japan started with a 5 day stay in Tokyo. We arrived in the early evening at our hotel in Kyobashi 京橋 area. For the evening, we went across the street to the Kyobashi branch of a nation-wide chain Izakaya called “Kaisen Izakaya Hananomai” 海鮮居酒屋はなの舞 run by the Chimney group. It was located on the basement floor of a business building. It was not big (some chain Izakaya stores can be very large), reportedly seating about 60 guests. The interior felt rather cramped and smoky. The name of the place is preambled by a word “Kaisen” meaning “fresh sea food”. The group is known for providing good seafood at cheap prices because they purchase in large quantities for the chain. For us, however, we chose this place because it was just across the street from our hotel and, in our seriously jet lagged state, it seemed a good choice.
To test the quality of the fresh fish, we ordered combination sashimi first. It was not bad but not excellent either. We followed that with firefly squid okizuke, some yakitori (neck meat せせり, ”last part over the fence” ぽんじり and, harami diaphragm はらみ). We, then, had a non-descript green leaf tempura which was advertized as “today’s special” and was “recommended”. This was called Ashitaba 明日葉 from Hachijoujima island 八丈島 far off south of Tokyo bay. This green was touted as having all kinds of health benefits. The fact that it was not in evidence on any other of the tables despite being the special of the day should have been our first clue. Regardless, of its health properties the serving was huge and had no particular taste. It was just a fried tempura batter delivery system. Not being devotes of fried flour we partook of some of the greens and left the rest. The sake list was not extensive but adequate. On one side of our table was a chain smoking woman (it has been quite some time since we have been in such a smoke filled environment) and her friend. The smoking women spent the entire time when she wasn’t puffing on her cigarette, pontificating. On the other side were some salary men dragging out the several plates of food they were sharing at a ratio of 2:1 drinks. The final tab was just $63 which is very reasonable. The place was not the best but a lot of fun especially the first night while suffering from jet lag.
The next evening, we set out for our first real Izakaya called “Sensaigyo Hayase” 鮮菜魚早瀬 meaning “fresh vegetable and fish Hayase”. We found this place from Tabelog. This was reportedly owned by a Tuna fish wholesaler from Tsukiji market and, therefore, famous for the quality of tuna. It was in the basement of a non-descript building which was walking distance from our hotel.
The basement floor Izakaya was rather large and it appeared that many groups were in the back rooms already becoming quite boisterous. The place was a bit smoky. Three salary men sat at the table next to ours, one appeared to be the head honcho the other two were clearly underlings. The head honcho was pontificated about everything and then the topic fell on the necklace (chain) he was wearing. He told them that this necklace had a magical power and could make the wearer strong. To make his point, Head-honcho-the-demonstrator jumped up and made the other guy (underling-subject) stand. He then told his subject to put out his arms. The demonstrator then easily pushed the other fellows arms down with his hands. Then the demonstrator put the necklace on his subject. Again he asked him to raise his arms but this time…Magic. The demonstrator was unable to push down his subject’s arms; QED. We were not sure if he had successfully made his point but sometimes the side shows at izakaya can be entertaining.
Meanwhile, we examined the menu and ordered sashim and sake. The sashimi plate was beautiful. The quality of the sashimi was wonderful especially the akami and chu-toro of tuna. The quality of tuna is the selling point of this place since it is run by a tuna wholesaler at Tsukiji. We had a large grilled fish (kuro mutsu 黒ムツ); lots of bones but nice firm oily white meat, fermented squid (shiokara 塩辛) with uni, hamo 鱧 (Conger eel), simmered pork belly 角煮, and some black sesame noodles. The sake was good.
It was called Junmai Ginjou Hayaseura 純米吟醸早瀬浦, Yamada nishiki 山田錦 from Fukui prefecture 福井県. During our feast, the three guys next door decided to leave. To my surprise, one of the underlings paid and the head honcho did not.
Hamo, we have eaten good portions before taking this picture.
The total bill was the most expensive so far at $137 (16,522yen) but still a good price especially considering the quality of food and sake and favorable yen-dollar exchange rate. This place does not have the atmosphere of an authentic Izakaya but the service was good as was the quality of the food. It had the feel of a higher end chain Izakaya.