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Sake recommendations for Akita (restaurant recommendations also welcome)

Below is a travel report I did for Tohoku. I know some people mentioned they will head up that direction, so I thought it was best to post something. I actually wrote this in June, but was fairly appalled by how poorly I wrote the report. I wanted to rewrite the whole thing, but I just haven't had time. I guess this is better than nothing. Apologies in advance for the poor penmanship and lack of pics, which I did take lots of.

Tim

Tempting Tohoku

JR’s seven day all-you-can-ride pass in Akita/Aomori and return ticket to Tokyo (Y29,000) gave me the perfect excuse to explore the culinary aspects of an area of Japan, I had never been to, over Golden Week. The original plans of taking the Shinkanasen up to Akita city and then transferring to the express to Hirosaki failed, when I arrived 25 min late into Akita station and missed my connection. Eventually I got there eight hours after I left Tokyo, a bit weary and hungry.

Rain
As many of you are probably aware, the area around Hirosaki castle is well known for having a couple thousand cherry blossom trees and given the cold weather across Japan this year, my timing to see the spectacle was spot on – though the cold and wet weather persisted. I went from the train station to the park and along the way picked up a bottle of Fukunotomo (actually Akita) jumai ginjo, which showed more promise with its earthy and melon nose, than it delivered in the mouth. Still, it went well with a local specialty, steamed scallops, picked up at a food stall near the castle. After I snapped a few shots of the castle I decided it was best to think about dinner.

According to tabelog one of the top non-French restaurants in Hirosaki, Yonshikitei (http://r.tabelog.com/aomori/A0202/A020201/2002491/), was near the castle and seemed like a good option. The drab exterior and even more drab interior certainly had me worried – this is not a place to bring a date unless they are a totally foodie. However, once I sat down at the counter and looked at the foods listings written on the wall around the room, my concerns were put at ease. I noticed a lot of Aomori specialty products, which gave me some hope. The sake was nothing special, but certainly won't disappoint. I went with a Denshu Hyakuyonju junmai ginjo, which was served in a porcelain flask and cup, the nose was fairly fruity, but lead to an unexpected nuttiness in the mouth with notes of koji. Interesting, but nothing mind blowing. The raw oysters were very average, however, the raw scallops were a home run, as was the homemade shrimp gyoza - wow!!!! It doesn't get much better. The Yama budou tempura was great. The overall quality of the food was very high, even if the atmosphere wasn’t. The menu is diverse and doesn't represent the menu of any chain izakaya- seafood bifun, hotate a million different ways, baked duck, fried jakko and suisai salad, ect. Almost nothing over 1000 yen. This is a must stop in Hirosaki.

I spent the next day trying not to get too wet, but that was difficult. Again, I relied on tabelog for my lunch stop, which I was hoping would focus on local food, but I also wanted to find a place quickly to get out of the damp. I settled for Takago (http://r.tabelog.com/aomori/A0202/A020201/2000010/), where I somehow managed to get a seat quickly, but the line-up quickly grew after me and some people were waiting an hour for a table. The soba was some of the best I’ve had and the tempura was outstanding. I definitely recommend this place for lunch, just be aware of the possible wait between 12-1pm.

For dinner, I turned to the people at the tourist office, telling them my clear objective was to find a place with good local food and sake. The women pointed me to Wajiraya (no link, but ask at the tourist office south of Hirosaki castle for info), which proved to go beyond expectations.

At Warjiya, I sat at the counter and was soon joined by friendly couples on either side. This place is all about Hirosaki, there are Neputa festival decorations everywhere and it was a lively place that crammed full of Golden Week tourists. The sake list heavily favored Hirosaki sakes - though mainly junmai. Food was all about Aomori and the fish was geared to Sea of Japan. I was greeted with a free masu of sake because I brought a brochure from the tourist office. The owner and his wife were very helpful and friendly, if not a bit slow bringing out my food – I think it was mainly to get me drinking more, something they encouraged all patrons to do. The women can be very bossy-I liked that as she got a feel for what I wanted and guided me. Others may find her a bit over the top.

The tsukune was over the top. It was very dense with lots of flavor. The Warai Suzuki sashimi was heavenly. Overall the food quality is not as good as Yonshikitei, but nevertheless, it is generally solid and the atmosphere and staff are great. Recommended.

Kenta, a min-chain izakaya, seemed to be on everyone’s lips when I asked tourist and locals for a good izakaya. I thought I would give it a go after Warajiya, if not just for some noodles and a drink. It was not bad, but lacked friendliness – likely due to the fact it is a chain. The food was decent as was the sake list, but nothing amazing. Definitely a notch up from a standard chain izakaya, but only worth a stop if you are going to be in Hirosaki a few days.

I also managed to stop by Beer-Tei, which was a beer bar I heard about a few years ago. Unfortunately Sapporo bought the place a couple years ago and despite a cozy atmosphere there isn’t much to recommend about this place. With so much good sake in Hirosaki, there is really no point to try and find good beer.

Paradise in Banality

For tourists, Akita City offers very little. Even the cab drivers told me this and wondered why I came. This city is beyond boring and should not be a stopover, if it simply wasn’t for one of the best kept secrets in Japan.

I started at Aqula brewery’s café for lunch. This is a 10 min walk from JR Akita station. Aqula beers are very good and the chance to try five fresh on draft was enjoyable, but the food at the brewery was lifeless. The café has a nice warm atmosphere, but I recommend just sticking to drinking beer and avoiding food, though I did not try the beer hall that is open for dinner.

The highlight of the trip was without question, one of the best izakaya’s in Japan. It may be a bold statement, but Syuhai (http://r.tabelog.com/akita/A0501/A050...) is virtually flawless in every respect.

Divided into several rooms, with lots of dark wood, Syuhai has a very warm feeling. The master, with his round glasses and white hair came across as an established university professor, and certainly he can educate customers in Akita sake. After all, he has been operating Syuhai since 1976.

The most exquisite otoshi I've ever had with six separate offering, including real crab meat.

The sake list leans heavily to Akita. Top names like Amado no do, Yuki no bijin rolled off the waitress tongue one after another. Two things clearly separates this place from a good sake bar 1. Half masu for all Akita sake - "as one masu is too much to sample" 2. They have five Atsukan on offering. Prices for the halfs are half a masu. About 30 sakes on offering including an ura menu. Lots of regular and seasonal offering from across the prefecture.

The atsukan was then broken further down and you could get the choices from 30 degrees to 55 degrees in 5 degree intervals, listing the names at each step. For the uninformed Atsukan is 50 degrees, nurukan at 40 is recommended by sake experts.

The food started with fugu in a ponzu geletin with junsai - an Akita vegetable. The sashimi was to die for. The chawanmushi just embarrassed the last chawanmushi anyone reading this had- a whole new level. The yaki Heian chicken melted in the mouth.

The place is clearly not a hidden gem. The sign on the front door apologized as the place was fully booked out for reservations for the evening.

Service matched the level of the food – including ensuring I had a new glass of water before my last glass was empty – to ensure I clean my palate between sakes. To drink and eat like a king/queen, expect to pay around 65% of Tokyo levels. To a certain degree the place reminded me of Seigetsu, one of my favorite izakayas in Kagurazaka, but Seigetsu tends to fall short with service and staff generally aren’t able to guide you through the sake list.
Before leaving Akita city, I stopped at Mugendou near the train station. It had a funky atmosphere somewhere between a family restaurant and a Chinese dining hall. They had GW special lunch sets- I opted for the oyakodon and hot udon with some iburiko on the side. Very nice and good chance to try several Akita foods at once. They also seemed to have a decent sake selection. Though not going to blow you away, it's a good place for lunch if you are near Akita Station.

Next stop was the historical town of Kakunodate, unfortunately all of the decent
restaurants were full, so nothing particularly worth mentioning. I did stay at the
Tazawako brewery, which has a free shuttle from Kakunodate station. The
accommodation is a bit drab, but reasonably priced. The beer was much better than previously experienced and was without a doubt the best beer on the trip.

Finally Tazawako, where there is not a lot of culinary action going on, but it is worth renting a bike and cruising around the lake (DO NOT “HIKE” around the lake, as the tourist office suggests – it would mean walking on 20KM of flat concrete). Orae brewery is fairly lifeless and only worth a stop if you a beer geek. The non-culinary highlight of the trip was a visit to Tamagawa Onsen. One of the most famous onsens in Japan for people who are very ill. Not that I have an illness, but I wanted to know what the fuss was about. I will just say it is a very interesting place, not I have not experienced before and I would highly recommend visiting that onsen or an onsen further up the mountain.

Aug 29, 2010
TimJE in Japan

in Tokyo for 12 days! local favorites please!

The info you want is a bit too broad, but to start
Tonkatsu - Sueyoshi near Shimbashi is a personal favorite. Not much atmosphere, but if you want Old School great tonkatsu this is a great place http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130...

Sushi, Yakitori and Ramen are very well covered on this board.

Soba - not sure where to start. I once did a soba tour with a women I dated as she was hardcore into soba. We hit four places in a day all over the city. All were great, but I still have two local soba places that I love. Again a bit of searching will do wonders.

Tim

Apr 28, 2010
TimJE in Japan

2009 Yoyogi Park Festivals

Doh, I just replied to a thread last year. Apologies.

Apr 28, 2010
TimJE in Japan

2009 Yoyogi Park Festivals

I went to this last year, it was great. Some really good performances, culminating with elimination playoffs. The crowd is VERY young, but its a fun time none the less.

Apr 28, 2010
TimJE in Japan

Sake recommendations for Akita (restaurant recommendations also welcome)

Thanks for the excellent recommendations. Very much noted and very helpful. I will hopefully hit some of these recommendations.

I speak J without much problem.

Tim

Apr 22, 2010
TimJE in Japan

Sake recommendations for Akita (restaurant recommendations also welcome)

Thanks for the links. I might check out Amanoto as it is not too far off the route I am taking.

Aomori is known for Scallops. I will post a trip report sometime in May about the trip. Hopefully it will be helpful.

Apr 17, 2010
TimJE in Japan

Sake recommendations for Akita (restaurant recommendations also welcome)

Hi

I am going up to Hirosaki (Aomori) and Akita prefecture for GW. I have done a fair amount of research about where to buy sake up there, but I also want to visit at least two or three breweries. So far the only place I plan to stop is Kariho (sister brewery of Dewatsuru). Does anyone have other recommendations, keeping in mind I will only be on the train and will not take a car. Also, for sake recommendations in general please fire away.

Also, if anyone has been up there and can recommend any good restaurants in Hirosaki/Akita/Kakunodate/Tazawako that would be great

T

Apr 14, 2010
TimJE in Japan

Amazing Peruvian in Daikanyama

LMFAO. Though Gotanda is missing a lot street vendors. Great analogy.

Miraflores sounds like it is worth a visit, tomorrow night perhaps, as it sounds easy to get into

Apr 01, 2010
TimJE in Japan

great japanese food places in shinjuku

Not exactly high-brow, but certainly quality of food is there, I would recommend either (same chain - though only four and all in Shinjuku). If you are looking for "hidden jap food places in shinjuku"
http://www.bento.com/rev/0330.html
http://www.bento.com/rev/0329.html

Mar 30, 2010
TimJE in Japan

Breakfast in Tokyo

I am surprised you are listing Roti. They used to be good until about 2yrs ago and then their brunch changed. I saw the new menu - which was basically the lunch menu - and told them this isn't brunch anymore and walked out. I was really mad, as I had friends in from out of town and wanted to impress them with Roti's lunch.

I was at Addis the other day for lunch. Not bad, but not as good as it has been in the past. Still more reasonable than Suji's and better quality. I think Addis shines for dinner more than Brunch.

Bill's is still hands down the best in the greater greater Tokyo area and that is great news it will open in Yokohama this weekend.

Mar 30, 2010
TimJE in Japan

Breakfast in Tokyo

Unfortunately, you are dreaming. Several hotels do nice breakfasts, but to find a restaurant is very hard. Suji's is open at 9am, but only on Saturday http://www.sujis.net/sub24_3.htm.

To make a big generalization, Japanese people are not morning people at all. Almost nothing opens early in this country (shops, restaurant, etc, etc). Eating breakfast out, is just not something done. Finding brunch on the weekend is hard enough - though there are a few good places now, including the wonderful Bill's (from Sydney).

Tim

Mar 26, 2010
TimJE in Japan

Best Bottle for EXTENDED cellaring

I think you need to be careful with a lot of the suggestions below for a few reasons.

1) very few beers hold up over 10 years. Even great Trappist beers do fade after 10 years. Sure you can drink a 16 y.o. Chimay, but it is clearly on its way down. I would say Chimay is a good 5-10year cellar beer, but not really beyond. Westveletren fades after a mere 5yrs. Must be careful.

2) I think Thos. Hardy is a good choice, as it has proven ageability. If you don't want to go with TH, then think of other great English BW, like JW Lees Harvest Ale. Samiclaus could be another great one for that distance. It might be interesting to try some DFH stuff too, like Olde School BW

3) Stick to basics. Lambic, or Flanders Reds, can age for eternity. Get some Goudenband, Cantillon or something else sour from Belgium. Store it at proper temp and enjoy in 16-21. I had an 87 Goudenband in 02 and it was top of its game. 2.50 euro at the brewery!

Avoid hoppy beers is my final suggestion.

Tim

Mar 22, 2010
TimJE in Beer

Good restaurant for a date

Hi

I am a newbie here, but no stranger to the food scene in Tokyo.

Date place -
Asterix in Akasaka is very cozy, great French homecooking and superb value (10,000 yen should do you for food and drink - just come hungry as portions are large). In a basement, so no view, but I think that is secondary. I've been on dates there before and women were all impressed - though a bit overwhelmed by the portions. Highly highly recommend this place.

If she is not so into food, but wants a view, there are numerous decent restaurants on top of Skyscrapers in West Shinjuku, though none really blow me away for food - still most are above average and total bill shouldn't kill you.

Tim

Mar 22, 2010
TimJE in Japan