Ya-Yu (Japanese), Shimokitazawa

We went yesterday evening to this new restaurant getting very positive reviews on the internet. I wasn't too sure whether that choice was a good one as the restaurant looks quite nice and classy, and that's just so NOT Shimokitazawa. Like if something wasn't right.
But oh boy, was I wrong... This turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and a nice dinner.

The classy looking Ya-Yu

Ya-Yu just opened in last December and is still looking brand new. It's so unusual to see classy places in this neighborhood that you feel you might be in trendy Aoyama for a second.

We felt a little intimated at first when entering the elegant (for Shimokitazawa) restaurant but much better as soon as the chef and the other two staffs gave us a smily welcome and a very polite and genuine "Irasshaimase" (The welcome formula you get when entering any Japanese restaurant).

Ika No Shiokara

Not really knowing what to order, we went for our favorite appetizers "Ika No Shiokara" (raw squid marinated in its own guts) to accompany our opening beers, the Horenso To Bekon No Salada (Spinach and bacon salad), another one of our beloved dish the "Nasu No Dengaku" (roasted eggplant topped with Miso) and the delicious when well cooked "Wakasagi To Takenoko No Tenpura" (Japanese smelt and bamboo sprout tenpura)

The Shiokara was good, not too salty, with fresh and firm slices of squid in it. I preferred the smoother and sweeter "Shiokara" we were served at "Gohan Gohan", but it was worth it nonetheless. A bowl of steamy white rice would have been welcome.

The copious spinach and bacon salad

By the time we had eaten half of the marinated squid came the very big salad. At a cheap ¥680 and in such a refined decor, I was expecting a small dish; but my predictions turned out to be largely erroneous. The big plate of tasty spinach made in local Setagaya topped with excellent sauteed bacon and fresh tomato is more than enough to fill a little appetite so be warned (click here for a picture of some of the relatively unknown but numerous crofts existing in still quite rural Setagaya). It is a simple salad only seasoned with vinegar but the ingredients being very fresh, it's really worth it.

This restaurant seems very attentive to details and they were definitely checking out how we were doing with our fares: they clearly made sure to bring us the eggplant dish after we were done with the green fiesta.

The savory Nasu No Dengaku

The cooked eggplant that was brought to us was a rather large piece of beautifully purple BeiNasu. Beinasu, literally eggplant from the USA, is a Japanese modification from the original American species "Black Beauty". It is famous for keeping its form pretty much intact even after baking or stewing and is largely used in Japan for Dengaku purposes. The Dengaku recipe consists in adding a layer of Miso (fermented bean paste) on top of the main ingredient before quickly french-frying and/or roasting it.
"Yu-ya" asks you to choose the type of Miso you want on top of your eggplant: we opted for the smoother and sweeter Saikyo Miso, which you will often come across in southern Kansai region. The said paste is pale colored (it is also called Shiro Miso, or white Miso, in comparison to the red and brown tinted regular Miso) and less salty: regular Miso contains an average of 12% salt when the Saikyo one is at 5%.
I think it was the right choice as the mellower fermented bean glaze on top allowed you to enjoy more the tasty, fleshy and juicy vegetables. It also went very well with the generous topping of chopped Negi leek. Good stuff, go for it!

Wakasagi To Takenoko No Tempura

The last dish was delicious as well: (another) big portion of deep-fried bamboo sprout and Japanese smelt "Wakasagi". Wakasagi, often angled in lakes around Japan, is a very tender fish which is excellent in Tempura. It was no exception yesterday, as the easy to bite flesh and slightly crunchy Tempura batter provided a harmonious texture collaboration. Add just a hint of salt and go nuts. Eat the head as well.
The deep-fried bamboo sprout was definitely worth it too. The thick and crunchy cuts were sweet in taste and provided a lovely aroma.

let's sum it up: one appetizer, three above-average size mains, two beers and "Grapefruit Sour" in an upgrade atmosphere = ¥4,100. Unbelievable. Talk about cost performance.
This place is going to be doing very well, I can promise you. We already couldn't get in the other day as we had no reservation. Booking is a must if you want to make sure you'll have a seat.

Yu-Ya is closed on Mondays and open the rest of the week from 18:00pm to 24:00pm (L.O. 23:00pm). They will be open until 02:00am (L.O. 01:00am) in July
Setagaya-ku, Daizawa 5-33-5
Click here for a MAP

Nishinba (izakaya), Shimokitazawa

We tried yesterday this Izakaya (food serving Japanese-style pub) "Nishinba" for the first time. We've always passed by and seen bunch of people in there so we had been interested in trying their food for a while now.

The kitchen and the busy cooks

Nothing really special about this place. The atmosphere's good, with a healthy variety of customers ranging from young college kids to older businessmen and even dining families. The kitchen has four cooks, which seems like a lot, but I am not going to complain if that means your food getting to you faster. The young lady (everybody's young here) waiting is efficient and smily, and the music quite good: for a couple of hours, they were playing an eclectic mix of good Japanese rock. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people working here are playing in a band. That's actually what I really like about Shimokitazawa: if you throw a stone, you're almost guaranteed to hit an artist.

The place is popular for its fish menu so that's what we went for: two of the daily recommendations "Katsuo To Tamanegi No Karapaccho" (Bonito spicy carpaccio with onion) and "Maguro No Kama Shioyaki" (oven roasted Tuna with salt), as well as the "Daikon To Kaibashira No Salada" (Japanese radish and eye of scallop salad) which we found on the regular menu.

"Daikon To Kaibashira No Salada"

The salad is simple, with thinly cut crunchy Daikon radish, fibrous but yet tender scallop, slices of fresh tomatoes and a lot of mayonnaise. It tasted too much like mayo for me at the beginning but it got amazingly addicting at the end. Not bad at all. Nice combination of textures. Loved how chewy and tasty the scallop was.

"Katsuo To Tamanegi No Karapaccho"

The bonito salad was very good too as well as being well presented. The fish was fresh and nicely seasoned. Actually, the name of the recipe "Karapaccho" is an easy pun on Karupaccho (Japanese way of saying Carpaccio), Kara being an adjective meaning hot.
The seasoning was a mix of white sesame vinaigrette with a generous adding of Rayu (chili-infused Chinese style vegetable oil), which spiciness went very well with the bonito and the big topping of fresh onion. Don't forget to dip the onion slices in the sauce and devour the whole thing!

The two chunks of Tuna

The final dish was a great end to this overall good dinner. Two BIG pieces of oven-grilled tuna. A block of meat from the fish's cheek (piece on top in the picture) and a chunk from the flank, closer to the fins. The cheek was just a big tasty piece of firm flesh that would satisfy any white-meat lover. They manage to cook it with the right amount of salt, and it goes incredibly well with a glass of slightly sweet sake: we ordered the "Kikuyoi" (sake from the Shizuoka prefecture) as it was the cheapest but it definitely did its job.
The big flank part (with its fin attached!) was a blend of firm flesh and juicier fat all attached to a large bone, which we scraped until it got fully striped. Nice stuff!
Add a little Daikon-Oroshi (grated Daikon radish) and Shoyu if you feel like it is too fishy and the meat too dry.

We ended up paying ¥2,500 per head, which is average considering we had three dishes, two beers and a big glass of sake.
The food is good, the portions relatively large, and the service satisfactory. I can recommend this place.

Nishinba is open everyday from 18:00pm to 02:00am, and 17:00pm to 01:00am on Sundays and National Holidays
Setagaya-Ku, Kitazawa 2-9-20
Click here for a MAP

Takoyaki Senmonten Osakaya (Takoyaki), Shimokitazawa

The boss, his wife (?) and some Takoyaki baking in the special oven

I have posted something like 50 restaurants up to now, and this is, if I remember right, the first take out place to be featured on this blog.
The hall-in-the-wall I have chosen today is a Takoyaki joint, open since July 1986 and celebrating its 24th birthday next month. It looks so dilapidated, it is a true mystery it's still doing business. What's hard to believe is that not only they still stand strong, but they manage to sell loads of their popular Takoyakis. It is managed by a smily man in his fifties and a lady (maybe his wife?) who looks a little younger. The professional Takoyaki baker is from Osaka, the second biggest town in Japan, and the center of southern Japan, if not the center for anything Takoyaki.
For anyone not familiar with this uber-famous little ball-like cuisine which literally translates into "Baked Octopus", please have a look at this wiki article for some clarifications.

I am attaching a close-up of the fan by the little window in the wall so you have an idea of how "dirty" this "bakery" is. Obviously, baking Takoyakis for 20 something years in such a tiny space has to be tough on your ventilation, but you really have to see it to believe it. Osakaya is really amazing in the way it has the power to remind you of the shabbiness of south-east asian markets and eateries, while you're standing in the middle of Shimokitazawa.

The amazingly oily walls

However, no matter how crumbling and greasy the place looks, the food is good! It is definitely not gourmet food but if you're into munching something a little junk-ish, this should definitely satisfy you. You have a choice between 8 balls (¥280) or 15 balls (¥500), but they're so popular, you can only order one of the two sizes and that's it. So, be wise in your choice! If you're very hungry or with friends, the bigger size is a no-brainer. If not, the 8-ball is sufficient for a quick snack or even a light lunch/dinner.

The 15 takoyakis in their take out box

You will also be asked by the man in the kitchen whether you want some mayonnaise (Mayoneezu Irimasuka?), if you'll bring the whole thing home (Omochikaeri desuka?) or eat it in front of the shop. Be specific on your choice as the box in which he puts the food is different whether you'll eat it right away or not.

The balls taken out of their box for the photo shoot...

We opted for the take out home option as a World Cup game was on TV, and started eating the Takoyakis probably 15mn after we bought them, while South Korea was punishing Greece.
The balls had become a little soft because of their own heat and steam, but they still managed to be satisfyingly hard on the outside. I assume they are almost crunchy if you eat them right from the oven. What is amazing with these Takoyaki is the way the baker succeeds in keeping the batter almost runny inside. Almost like if you were eating a half-boiled egg. A lot of Takoyaki adepts from the Kansai area complain about how over-baked Takoyaki can be in Tokyo, but I can guarantee you there are no matter of complains here.

The recipe is very simple and rather Amakuchi (low on salt), which I like. Sometimes the Octopus Balls (as some foreigners like to call them) can be overly pungent in flavor because of a very strong and sweet Sosu (Japanese style Worcestershire sauce) that's topped on them, but I think it's attaining a nice balance at Osakaya, where the sauce is less powerful.
The chunks of octopus are small, contrary to the newer trend consisting of inserting huge pieces in the batter. There are no Beni-Shoga (thin slices of ginger pickled in red plum vinegar), just the usual Katsuobushi (dry Bonito shavings) and chopped green onion.

Authentic. Good. Cheap. Try it!

You might have to wait in line sometimes for up to 20mn, but the wait is worth it!

Takoyaki Senmonten Osakaya is closed on Wednesdays and open the rest of the week from 16:30pm to 22:00pm (though they will close the shop as soon as they run out of batter)
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-33-2
Click here for a MAP