This small, nearly impossible-to-find izakaya in the back streets of Umeda has a warm and cozy atmosphere that instantly relaxes you when you walk in. It's the kind of place where you can drop in for a quick drink, or while away the hours exploring the extensive drinks menu (and waiting for your food!).
Taz-ya's interior is relatively dark, with just a few lights emitting a faint glow, and seating is limited to five small tables and an eight-person counter. It isn't set up for large groups, but it's a perfect place to bring a few close friends or a date. On a recent Friday night visit we were the only ones there at 8pm, but it was packed by 10:30 when we left.
One of the first things to strike you when you enter Taz-ya is that half the counter seats face a wall of shochu and umeshu bottles. Although I am a fan of Japanese libations, I don't want them right in my face while I'm eating my meal. However, once you start to inspect the awe-inspiring selection of twenty umeshu and 100 shochu (all priced at 500-700 yen), any negative thoughts about this wall of liquor will quickly disappear. The umeshu list has a few interesting items - like a brandy-based umeshu from Kagoshima with an aftertaste like aged sake - but shochu seems to be Taberu's strong point, and the chefs are ready to help with recommendations.
The food menu is creative izakaya-style fare that is meant for sharing. On a recent visit we started with kaki-su (oysters in a light vinegar sauce) - the oysters were fresh-tasting and perfectly matched with the grated radish and chives. Next came free-range chicken glazed in a mildly sweet ginger sauce, and again it came with just the right amount of sauce, not enough to overwhelm the flavour of the chicken. The shrimp mixed with avocado and a variety of spices was much spicier than anticipated, but it kept up the same high standard as the previous dishes.
The next dish was a bit of surprise - gobo and renkon tempura with no sauce or salt for dipping, to be eaten as is - and it was the high point of the night! A thin batter that was only mildly crusty meant the flavours of the gobo and renkon had to stand on their own two feet. Whatever impression you may have of these particular vegetables, they were fresh, succulent and extremely tasty when cooked like this. Finally, we finished off with an excellent fried rice with mixed vegetables and ham - not too greasy, and livened up with some mystery spices.
Though initially drawn here by the extensive drinks menu, we have never been disappointed by any of the food. Prices are reasonable, but service tends to be a bit slow. Expect to pay about 3000-4000 yen/person with a couple of drinks.
Taberu can be very hard to find, so call if you get lost, or ask them to fax you a map before you go.
by Tim Eustace