Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on July 2007

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We all know that Ginza is one of the most sophisticated districts in Tokyo. Yet its nightlife scene remains a mystery for most foreigners. Being in our mid-20s and relatively new to the “real world,” we were a bit intimidated to get our feet wet with Ginza’s grown-up crowd. But we decided to put some nice clothes on and give it a shot at newly opened Kyoto-style restaurant A-Kan.

As soon as we walked in, we got the feeling that this small yet elegant space once enjoyed prosperous days as a hostess bar.

The main dining section is divided into a counter area and booths, both with minimalist furnishings that give A-Kan a mature and sophisticated atmosphere. There’s also a VIP room equipped with a karaoke machine and private seats on the terrace. We also noticed that each table had different varieties of tableware, from traditional lacquered bowls to modern porcelain.

A friendly waiter escorted us to one of the booths by the reception area, which provided a wonderful people-watching opportunity. The crowd was definitely much older than what we were used to—we even witnessed a very important-looking gentleman in a nice suit accompanied by a mama-san in an astonishing kimono enjoying a quiet dinner by the counter. This was a scene straight out of a Japanese soap opera.

A-Kan’s specialty is obanzai cooking, the traditional cuisine of Kyoto. After downing a cold Ebisu (¥500), we ordered Beringer Stone Cellars Merlot (¥850 per glass) and the seasonal obanzai plate (¥1,000), which was a raw Sensyu-grown eggplant with a dash of salt and miso. It was our first time to try out this purple veggie uncooked, but its rich flavor and sweetness won our approval. Next came spareribs glazed with miso (¥1,850) and hijiki rice (¥1,200 for two to three people). We especially loved the rice, which had the perfect texture and brought out the salty flavors of the hijiki.

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The real standout, however, was A-Kan’s signature item, nikujaga, (simmered potatoes and meat, ¥1,600), featuring award-winning Ai pork from Aichi Prefecture. Head chef Kengo Higuchi takes a bold approach to this classic Japanese dish by adding American mashed potatoes. Normally, we are not big fans of so-called fusion cuisine. Simply put, we would rather eat sushi at our favorite restaurant in Tsukiji or have a fatty burger at In-N-Out back in LA. But Higuchi totally betrayed us—in a good way. The creamy mashed potatoes melted wonderfully into the soy-based sauce that accompanied the juicy and tender premium pork. We almost asked for seconds, but seeing as A-Kan is a swanky place, we decided to act all cool and classy, and opted for more wine. The friendly staff is knowledgeable about the selection, which ranges from Au Bon Climat Chardonnay (¥7,800) to 1997 Chateau Latour (¥90,000).

After finishing dinner, we felt like we were part of the A-list Ginza scene. That was probably because of excellent food and service at A-Kan, with a little extra help from the booze. Unfortunately, that illusion all disappeared when we realized there was no limo waiting outside and we had to hop on a crowded subway.