Shuan Suiko、Oshiage 酒庵 酔香 押上
Despite some residual effects from the night before with Dave and Tobias, we recovered well enough to visit Suiko in Oshiage near the Skytree. This is also another recommendation from Jon of EOITWJ. Being full fledged tourists, we spent some time in Asakusa 浅草 including Kappabashi 合羽橋 (We have been in Asakusa so many times but we still visit every time we are in Tokyo). We even went up the Skytree before visiting Suiko.
From Oshiage station, we consulted the map from their website (Beta version of Google map pedestrian edition gave extremely convoluted routes) and walked down the street of Oshiage. It had an atmosphere not unlike Musashi Koyama we had visited a few nights ago. The speeding bikes on the sidewalk lent an air of risk and excitement that was missing at Musahi Koyama. We arrived at Suiko but we were about 30 minutes early. So, we walked to the small bridge (Jikkenbashi 十間橋) over the canal (kita-jikken-gawa, 北十間川) from Sumida river 隅田川. Surprisingly, quite a few people crowded the sidewalk of the bridge; some with heavy duty cameras and tripods. We asked what was going on and they explained that this was a perfect spot to take a night time picture of the Skytree because its lights would be reflected in the water of the canal. They were waiting for the sun to go down but advised that we shouldn't take pictures right at sunset but should wait until it got darker so the lights would be more visible. They were full of helpful advise and all but gave us aperture and f-stop. It must have been at least an hour before sunset but people had already staked out their prime positions. They were very dedicated amateur photographers. In any case, we left them to their task and went back to Suiko.
We stepped into the izakaya and it was like stepping back in time. The master, Sugawara-san 菅原さん told us that it was originally an old liquor store or “Sakaya” 酒屋. He bought it, restored it, and made it his Sake bar/Izakaya in 2010--about 4 years ago. The store front really looked like an old “Sakaya” 酒屋. It reminded me of those I saw in my (very) early childhood. I even remembered that Sakaya sold, miso and soy sauce in addition to sake (at least the one near my parents’ house did). You could even buy the sake or other items in the exact amount you wanted. To do this, you had to bring your own containers. So if you could afford only 1-go 一合, which is 180ml, of sake, you would bring your Tokkuri 徳利 container and they would sell you just 1-go of sake). In any case, I could easily imagine what this place was like when it was still a store. It must have been a very old fashioned “Sakaya”.
The inside was like the outside, nicely restored with dark wood and large sake bottles lining the shelves around the perimeter. I felt like I was in my mother's house except the sliding doors moved smoothly and didn't stick.The counter was L-shaped and sits about 10. We were the second group of the evening. Mr. Sugawara and his wife were somewhat reserved and polite yet very friendly and interactive when we asked questions. We started with his recommendation of both dry and non-dry sake. These were the first three he offered.
All sake tasted great. It is amazing that you can have this high quality from Junmai, Junmai Ginjo classes. I will mostly just list what we tasted.
(From left to right)
1. 鳳凰美田 剣 辛口純米 瓶燗火入, 栃木県, Houou Biden, “Tsurugi”, Dry Junmai, Pasteurized in the bottle, Tochigi prefecture.
2. 川鶴 ひやおろし 讃岐 よいまい 純米無濾過, 香川県, Kawa-tsuru, Hiya-oroshi, Non-filtered, Junmai, Kagawa prefecture.
3. 雪の茅舎 純米吟醸 ひやおろし, 秋田県, Yuki-no Bosha, Hiya-oroshi, Junmai Ginjo, Akita prefecture.
The otoshi お通し were one of the most extensive we have ever seen (that was until we visited Shuhai 酒杯 in Akita 秋田 few days later). These otoshi items reflect Mr. Sugawara’s approach to foods which compliment sake. Six items were served in this seemingly custom made plate of six compartments. Although we cannot recall all the details, this is what we remembered; the boiled peanuts in a shell (left upper) was surprising. We thought this type of peanut preparation happened only in the Southern states of the U.S. like Georgia. Boiling it brought out the “legume” rather than the "nut" flavor of peanuts and made them a more suitable snack for sake. The upper middle is “Shira-ae” 白和え with persimmon and walnuts. My wife liked it very much and whispered to me “Can you make this at home?” (Of course I can, dear.) Right upper is fried and seasoned vegetables somewhat like “age-bitashi” 揚げ浸し, lower left is asparagus with Japanese-style dressing, the lower center is potato salad with smoked pickled daikon (“Iburi-gakko" いぶりがっこ from Akita). The last is nice gentle tasting つくね “ground chicken ball”. All of these food really complemented but not compete with the subtle favors of sake.
The second dish we had was this bonito tataki or "katsuo no tataki" 鰹のたたき (this must be “modori-gatsuo” 戻り鰹 or “returning bonito”; the main bonito season is spring but it comes back in the fall). This was excellent but the sauce was miso-based which is, to me, a bit unusual for bonito and was fairly assertive for the delicate flavors of the fish.
The above was the second round.
(From left to right)
1. 聖 無濾過 生酒、群馬県, Hijiri, Muroka, Namazake, Gunma prefecture. This is a bit of mystery sake. A portion of the main label appears to be painted over and I did not take a clear picture of the sub-label but I can see that it was non-filtered and un-pasteurized. I have to guess this is the “junmai” class. If I remember correctly, it still had slight effervescence with gentle clean taste. The master may have gotten a special sake from this brewery.
2. 繁桝 特別純米 ひやおろし、福岡県, Shigemasu, Tokubetsu-junmai, Hiya-oroshi, Fukuoka prefecture. This is a rather dry sake but nice rounded flavor.
3. 貴 純米吟醸 備前雄町, 山口県, Taka, Junmai Ginjou, Bizen Omachi, Yamaguchi prefecture. This is clean tasting with some acidity at the end and we really liked this one. We ordered "Taka" as this evening’s sake for us.
We felt the same way at “Honoka” that the depth and width of sake you can taste in Japan is amazing. We learned that many sake are very seasonal and available only for a specific period. For example, "hiya-oroshi" and "aki-agari" are only available in autumn. Unpasteurized sake are not readily available in the U.S. and you have to come to Japan to taste it.
We did not know what “hiya-oroshi” ひやおろし meant until then and we asked Mr. Sugawara. He was very kind to explain that “Shinshu” 新酒 or new sake in the Spring (which could be a bit sharp or un-balanced) was pasteurized (either in the bottle or in the tank) and then aged until fall to make it a more round and mature sake. Later we also learned the process called “Aki-oroshi” 秋おろし when we visited “Tako Grill” in Kuroishi, in which un-pasteurized shinshu 新酒 was low-temperature aged in minus 4 degree Celsius (that is below freezing) until fall; different kinds of aging process to the same aim of making great sake. In any case, these are the class of sake we can enjoy only in fall.
With our “Taka”, we ordered more food. Our memory is fuzzy from around this time but we had nice assortment of home-made smoked items, mizu-nasu 水茄子 or special eggplant which is being eaten raw, and more.
As we were enjoying the sake and food, we noticed a tabby cat looking out longingly from the inner tatami room through the glass portion of shouji 障子 sliding doors. Occasionally, Mrs. Sugawara opened the door and played with the cat. This cat was so adorable and entertained us for some time.
It so happened that Mr. Sugawara was from Akita 秋田. Since we are heading to Akita next, I asked his recommendation of Izakaya. Without hesitation “Shuhai” 酒杯 was mentioned. I have also noted this place since it was mentioned in one of the Izakaya books by Kazuhiko Ota 太田和彦. He said he worked with the master of Shuhai and every time he visit Akita he would stop by. We ended up going to Shuhai which is the subject of another post.
To avoid any ill effects the next morning, we called it quits sort of early and said good night and "gochisou-sama" ごちそうさま to both Mr and Mrs Sugawara. We were curious what happened to the photographers on the Jikken bridge and walked back to the bridge. There were many more photographers camped out than before, some with professional large frame cameras and some with point-and-shoot cameras. My wife joined in (with her Nikon DSL) and snapped the picture below. We thought our timing was pretty good. While the other photographers waited on the bridge for the sun to go down and darkness to deepen, we retired to the izakaya for some good food and drink, arrived at just the right moment and snapped the pic over the heads of the other photographers--not bad.
We leisurely walked back to Oshiage station at the base of the Skytree in the nice cool evening. We passed numerous small eating places. Some were empty, some had several old men in undershirts drinking and talking, others full of businessmen in suits. It was quite a diorama of life in the town. What a wonderful day we had. No confusing subway transfer this time to get to our hotel.