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While there's no shortage of good izakayas in the Marunouchi-Otemachi area, it's always nice to find someplace that combines great food, a stylish but comfortable setting, and reasonable prices. Torafuku delivers on all counts, and offers a decent sake list as well.
When we visited there was a long-running Akita event underway, so we got to try a lot of sake and regional delicacies from that area in addition to the regular menu. The regular sake list features around a dozen premium craft brews from established producers like Denshu, Hiroki and Kubota, with three-part tasting flights available if you're in the mood to explore.
Charcoal-grilled pork, chicken and fish were all well prepared, with a tempting variety of bacon-wrapped vegetable skewers like asparagus and tomato. Our sashimi platter and tamago-yaki were first-rate, and small dishes like miso-marinated tofu (surprisingly sweet) and macaroni salad (quite delectable) complemented the sake nicely.
Non-sake drinks options include a reasonable shochu list and unusual items like non-alcoholic umeshu. There are separate smoking and non-smoking dining areas and a cosy counter that would be good for solo diners. Budget around Y4000-5000 for ample food and drink, or around Y1000 at lunchtime.
A simple but well-constructed food menu, a gorgeous setting, and affordable prices combine to give I/R Second House a unique appeal for Shirokanedai diners. Floor-to-celing windows in the main dining room offer a panoramic view of Shirokanedai intersection, while the huge terrace looks out over Platinum-dori, with ample seating and plenty of room between tables.
Charcoal-grilled meats and vegetables are the main focus of the menu, simply prepared to showcase the high quality of the beef, lamb, pork and produce. Grilled platters are big enough to share, and photogenically arranged with attractive vegetables and mounds of fresh-ground pepper and rock salt. There are also gourmet burgers and a range of creative pizzas.
Service is friendly, although a bit more casual than you might expect. Drinks include a diverse wine list, with many bottles priced at Y4000, and several very good US craft beers on tap. Unfortunately our beer menu was somewhat vague on details like brewery names, so we had to ask - hopefully they will sort this out at some point.
In addition to table seating, there's an eleven-seat counter where you can just have a drink. Guest beers are Y1050 for a 560ml pour; and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is Y900. Budget around Y4000 for dinner with drinks, or Y1000 at lunchtime.
The deli counter at Station Cafe Basel was an unexpected discovery - an appetizing selection of around twenty vegetable-centric (but non-vegetarian) light dishes that you can mix and match, for here or to go. They also serve dessert, good coffee, a few craft beers from popular breweries like Coedo and Sankt Gallen, and wines. A well-stocked produce market is located right inside the shop if you want fresh vegetables to take home.
If you're eating here, Y900 gets you a reasonably big helping of three cold deli items of your choice, plus a bit of salad. (The same selection is Y850 to take home.) Vegetables are top quality and flavors are far from bland - our cauliflower salad was quite garlicky, and our lentil salad was seasoned with a nice combination of spices and just a hint of apple cider and other fruit.
The spacious dining area is comfortably casual, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto passing pedestrian traffic.
The shop is located in the "Osoto" section of the Ecute complex, along the western-most pedestrian walkway between the two monorail stations, at the western edge of the JR station. It's a convenient stop for a quick snack or a take-out meal on your way back from Ikea or the nearby Lalaport shopping mall.
Why yes, this restaurant does have a manifesto - it's painted on the outside walls and front door. There's also a collection of farm tools decorating the entrance, reminding diners that this is, indeed, the farm. It's an organic farm of course, and gorgeous, freshly harvested organic vegetables are the centerpiece of the very healthy-looking menu here.
Don't worry, there's meat as well - small-farm raised duck, pork and chicken - playing a supporting role to the vegetables. For example the very popular salad lunch (Y1300) includes a portion of grilled meat along with your DIY salad, plus a cup of vegetable soup and some freshly made bread. Although it's not all-you-can-eat, the salad plate is reasonably large, and you add some hearty grilled potatoes to balance out all the rabbit food.
At dinnertime main dishes start at around Y2000, and there are prix-fixe options There's also an open-bar party plan with eight dishes for Y4980. Open all afternoon on weekends.
Four or five different heirloom breeds of pork are generally on offer at this popular tonkatsu specialist, with dinnertime teishoku set meals starting at around Y1400-2000 depending on the type of pork. The teishoku comes with a deep, rich tonjiru soup (Y100 if you want a refill), some nice potato salad and good pickles. The pork is covered in a light-colored coating that's flakier than average, with a good balance of meat to fat.
There's space for around twenty diners, and the shop fills up fast - there's usually a line soon after they open for dinner. Drinks include Ebisu beer and inexpensive wine by the glass.
Kiraz is not only one of our favorite sake bars in Tokyo, it's also one of our favorite Spanish restaurants. It turns out that sake and Spanish food work surprisingly well together, and Kiraz's selection of bold, assertive sakes from small craft breweries around the country is particularly suited to the food.
Kiraz's kitchen is a bit more sophisticated than your typical Tokyo Spanish restaurant, although the dishes are still comfortably casual - charcuterie platters, tapas-style small dishes, grilled meats and paella. The menu is written on an overhead chalkboard and changes daily, but the assorted appetizer platter is a good bet to start with. Ours included an appetite-whetting lineup of stuffed mushrooms, Spanish omelette, anko-liver pate, marinated fish with carrot salad, and a couple of different cured meats.
Our grilled Iberico pork platter was well marbled and big enough to share, served with an appealing assortment of grilled root vegetables. Garlicky ajillo dishes have become a standard offering in Tokyo izakaya, but the ones here showcase top-quality seafood and other ingredients, and stand out from the crowd. (Be sure to ask for bread on the side though.)
Another highlight of the evening was an unusual assemblage of cream cheese, dried figs and smoked venison. It was listed on the starter menu but we had it for dessert, paired with a fruity and slightly cloudy nigori sake.
There's no sake list per se, but you can inspect the bottles in the refrigerator for yourself. The selection includes a lot of unfiltered, unpasteurized sake with fresh, lively flavors, many of them seasonal specials. Most of the breweries were unfamiliar to us, but the staff are more than happy to make suggestions after consulting with you (in Japanese) on your preferences.
You can order sake by the 90ml glass, or ask them to put together tasting flights for you. There are also prix-fixe menus and sake-pairing options that may be less daunting than navigating the hand-written chalkboard menu and sake fridge. Budget around Y7000 for food and drink; prix-fixe menus are priced Y3500-8000.
It's good to have a specialty, and this tiny shop has single-mindedly devoted itself to toasted cheese sandwiches, served morning, noon and night. They're nicely prepared and served on crunchy French bread, and they go very well with the "Bucho Salad" - a very satisfying cup of finely diced vegetables in a tangy vinagrette dressing.
Toasties come in four varieties - chicken, prosciutto, vegetable and haggis.- and are priced at Y600, while a toastie plus a salad or fries runs to Y950. There are a few British bottled beers in addition to Premium Malts on draft or wine. Outdoor seating is available.
Harakara's burgers are seasoned with only salt and pepper - no ketchup, mustard or sauces - so as not to mask the rich flavor of the aged beef. The most popular offering is the avocado cheeseburger (Y1280), with soft, ripe avocados and tangy cheddar balancing the meaty flavors of the juicy patty.
Other, less traditional burger choices include onion-shiso and pineapple, and there are numerous toppings like onions and pickles, although they tend to add up - bacon is an extra Y450. Set menus are a good deal though - Y350-400 gets you a drink plus a side dish to go with your burger. Everything on the menu is ready to take out.
Drinks include Yona Yona ale and Edelpils on tap, several Japanese wines (at Y2980/bottle), and fruit smoothies. The dining area is pleasantly decorated, and dogs are allowed in the outdoor terrace area. The shop is open all afternoon on weekends.
This grilled-pork specialist is best known for their gyumotsu nikomi (beef tripe stew), considered by afficianados to be one of the top three of its kind in Tokyo. Fashioned as a "Western-style" nikomi, it's flavored with red hatcho-miso and red wine, and the chefs have been adding ingredients to the same stew pot for four decades now.
The rich, fatty stew is served in clay pots along with garlic toast, a perfect combination. It makes an excellent starter while you're waiting for your grilled pork, which is also some of the best in town. Like most yakiton shops, pork organ meats are a highlight of the menu, with nearly a dozen to choose from. Our favorites here were the pork tongue and the kashira (cheek meat), grilled over charcoal with just the right amount of charring.
The tsukune (ground pork patties with cartilage) was also good, but probably would have been even better with tare (sauce) rather than just salt. Raw vegetables served with roast miso paste make an excellent side dish, and the picturesque cauliflower, turnips, eggplants and other vegetables are top quality, far better than your typical supermarket produce.
The sake selection is limited to around half a dozen craft sake, plus two daily specials. The assorted platter of smoked meats and fish makes a good match for the sake, and provides a nice variety of smoky flavors. There is also a small wine selection to supplement the usual beer, shochu and cocktails on the drinks menu.
The setting is a rather traditional izakaya in style, with seating on a few different levels; there's also an annex around the corner to handle overflow. Smoking is permitted, but ventilation is generally good. English menus are available upon request or obvious befuddlement. Budget around Y2500-3500 for dinner and drinks.
Kyushu-style charcoal-grilled chicken is the tasty specialty here. It's well charred and a bit chewy, just like it's prepared in Miyazaki, and there's also an impressive extra-garlicky version. If you're feeling adventurous, the assorted raw-chicken platter (Y980) is one of the best we've had in Tokyo. The small sake list is well-chosen to match the food. Budget around Y5000 for dinner and drinks.
We first noticed this charming hole-in-the-wall drinking spot thanks to the prominent display of their daily sake menu on their front wall. Although they're not a sake specialist, their selection of a dozen or so craft sake is carefully chosen, and sake is served in smaller 90ml and 120ml glasses, so you can try a few different types over the course of a visit.
The food menu focuses on tempura, a dish more often found in brightly lit traditional counter shops rather than casual bars like this. Basic skewers such as prawns, anago eel and vegetables and are priced at Y150-200, supplemented by more deluxe, original items like coriander prawn kakiage. Whlie we found the skewers to be more on the oily side than at some counter shops, the fresh, clean flavors of the basic ingredients still came shining through.
The atmosphere here is very laid-back, with a young staff and customer base. One or two skateboards are parked in front, and an eclectic mix of reggae, rock and Beastie Boys plays on the sound system. Although this seems to be only a two-man operation, they generally manage to keep up with orders even when the place is full. Budget anywhere from Y2000-3500 depending on how long you stay.
If you're looking for a change of pace from Koenji's many crowded izakaya and craft-beer bars, Shimeji is a budget-friendly, old-fashioned pub-style bar. The interior is funky and unpretentious, with beer and liquor posters on the walls, a dartboard off in one corner, and a TV showing sporting events. Seating is comfortable and relatively spacious, and bouncy pop music plays in the background.
Cocktails and wines are very reasonable - bottles of wine start at around Y2500 - and simple dishes like pastas and jerk chicken offer good value for money. Scottish craft beers (Black Isle and Brew Dog) are available by the bottle if you're so inclined, and there are several Belgian beers as well.
Late-night hours are another attractive feature, especially if you've missed your last train - they're open until 6am most nights, and 7am on Fridays and Saturdays. Budget around Y2000-3000 for food and drink.
Our new favorite budget Indian restaurant, Erick South specializes in dishes from southern India and offers a wide variety of multi-dish set menus, ranging in price from Y1080-1650. Curries and other dishes are all distinctively flavored, with a quality level that rivals some of the more expensive Indian shops around town.
Most set menus here come with a few small curry dishes of your choice, plus crispy papadum, basmati rice and yellow rice, some tangy lemon rasam (a spicy south Indian tomato soup), peppery sambar (a lentil-based stew), medu vada (a crisp donut made from lentils), and unsweetened yogurt. Excellent chutney-like urugai pickles are served on the side.
The spicy green chili lamb curry and the black pepper beef curry are a couple of our favorites, along with the meaty Malabar keema curry. The slightly sweet, creamy butter chicken is also very good, more complex in flavor than usual and made with tasty, tender chicken.
There are also seasonal fish curries like rockfish and bonito, and special curries of the month, which are a little more expensive but come in larger portions.
Besides set curry combos, the menu also offers tempting dishes like South Indian-style deep-fried chicken, spicy Cobb Salad, and a gorgeous-looking poriyal, a warm salad of cauliflower and other vegetables. There are also biryani rice dishes, prepared in lamb, chicken and vegetable versions.
The restaurant is located inside the new Tokyo Garden Terrace complex, and is one of the more budget-friendly choices there. The decor is quite tasteful, and in addition to table seating there's a good-sized counter that's comfortable for lone diners. Take-out service is available as well. Drinks include Carlsberg on tap, a few Indian bottled beers, and big mugs of Spanish red table wine.
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