While Tokyo is a mega-city with endless, top-quality food options, it is the ubiquitous neighborhood restaurants, cafes and bars that offer a uniquely local Japanese experience. And, one benefit of exploring our new “home town” is finding these delightful places to relax and enjoy drinks and food.
The traditional place to drink in Japan is called an “izakaya.” Though they are often likened to pubs, they bear little resemblance to the local bars found in the United States.
The best izakaya are characteristically small and crowded with “regular” customers. They specialize in serving premium quality sake and small plate offerings usually made with ingredients carefully sourced by the proprietor.
On our recent visit to the Yushima Tenjin shrine in the Ueno area we visited an izakaya named Shinsuke that was highly recommended by our good friends Ron and Yumi Dearth. It did not disappoint.
Shinsuke is a classic traditional izakaya located in the old shitamachi district of Ueno. The family owners have been in the sake business for eleven generations since 1924.
We waited outside with a few of the “regulars” until the 5:00pm opening. It was clear from the time we entered that it would be a unique drinking and dining experience. The character and atmosphere of the place bespoke history, quality and welcoming comfort. The service was attentive, the drink and food outstanding.
I particularly enjoyed my first-time sample of Taru sake, a dry Japanese sake characterized by its refreshing taste and the wooden aroma of Yoshino cedar.
Our meal consisted of wonderful perfect Japanese comfort food –– a refreshing organic daikon salad with scallops and citrus, the best Norway smoked salmon I have ever eaten, and a very tasty minced pork cutlet. I shared some of Keiko’s beer to savor the pork dish.
We had been away for a long while and needed to return home or we would have spent more time in this truly magical place. Our sincere thanks to Ron and Yumi. We will return to Shinsuke and begin a search for other Tokyo epicurean delights.
Earlier that afternoon we had another delightful dining experience as Keiko discovered a small stylish café called Mijinko in the charming Yushima neighborhood a short walk from the shrine. Minjinko is a café/bar and the interior décor projects a museum-like calming atmosphere with paintings and books everywhere.
The coffee freshly roasted from very high-quality beans, is exceptional and is complemented by a selection of cakes and hand-made sandwiches. I had a latte and a delicious piece of cheesecake.
The signature menu attractions however are their soft and airy pancakes made with a batter that includes cultured butter and served with maple syrup and a honey and mascarpone-topped version of French toast. We did not order either item but after seeing other customers receive their orders, we are going back to sample them in the near future.
The efficient and pleasant service matches the quality of the coffee and food, but be prepared to wait. The coffee drink preparation is not rushed. The pancakes or French Toast take 15-20 minutes to prepare. Everything is made to order with great care, so relax and enjoy the experience.