Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on July 2009
What do you call someone who can jump from a discussion of the merits of kimoto-zukuri sake to a lecture on Bordeaux wines? Akiko Tomoda refers to herself as a “Total Alcoholic Beverage Coordinator,” which you’ve got to admit has a nice ring to it. The Fukui native hails from a family of restaurateurs, and used her culinary upbringing to break into the food import business. She soon found herself in France, studying to become a sommelier, and started her own beverage consulting company in 1990. Though certified as a wine adviser, Tomoda felt she had neglected her country’s “national beverages,” and so began immersing herself in the world of nihonshu and shochu. She is now a much sought-after lecturer and essayist, as well as the author of The Sake Selection, a bilingual guide to nihonshu.
Favorite places to eat
For steak, I recommend Aragawa in Onarimon and Kawamura in Ginza—they’ve both got the best meat in the world! Aragawa serves champion beef that’s been cured to perfection, and they also do fantastic kama-yaki. If you’re looking for a great deal on sushi, then Sushi Zanmai in Tsukiji is the place to go. It’s operated by Kiyoshi Kimura, the “King of Tuna,” so of course the maguro is inexpensive and delicious. My favorite place to get yakitori is Akiyoshi, a chain with locations all around Tokyo. The main store is in my native prefecture of Fukui, so the food tastes just like home. I recommend the shiro (intestines) and kei (breast meat from an adult hen). They’re so good, you’ll feel like you can eat 30-50 sticks!
Favorite places to drink
I often go to Utou in Asagaya for nihonshu. The owner, Kon-san, is a master of okan, or hot sake. In the same way that wine is affected by how it is decanted, Kon created his own original decantation process to bring out the complex flavors of the sake. He calls it “okantage.” Since Kon is from Aomori, the bar also offers lots of handmade specialty dishes from the Tohoku region, which really complement the sake. Be sure to make a reservation if you go! I also love Amanogawa (bottom left), which is located inside the Keio Plaza hotel. The sake sommelier there will recommend you the perfect pairing of nihonshu and otsumami. It always takes me away to a dreamlike place where I can forget my busy life. Finally, Shusaron in Shinagawa is probably the only bar in the world that specializes in jukusei nihonshu. They have an extensive collection of old and rare sakes from brewers all over Japan.
Favorite places to shop
For wine, I usually go to Cave de Relax in Shimbashi. They carry many delicious vintages from all over the world, and everything is very reasonably priced. Sho-Chu Authority in Shiodome (bottom right) is also worth a visit, if only for the incredible variety they stock. For nihonshu, I recommend going to either Hasegawa Sake-ten or Masumotoya. Hasegawa carries many of the most popular brands of sake—they’ll also be carrying Nanbubijin’s junmaishu, which is the official nihonshu of the 2010 World Cup. Masumotoya, on the other hand, specializes in delicious homemade karinto snacks. For specialty food items, I recommend Fukui Aoyama 291, an antenna shop near Omotesando. They carry Fukui meibutsu like Echizen crabs, pickled sea bream and a kind of soft azuki bean jelly called mizu-yokan. The store also organizes crab, sake and wine tasting events.
• Akiyoshi Various locations around Tokyo and Kanagawa. www.akiyoshi.co.jp
• Amanogawa Keio Plaza Hotel, 2-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Tel: 03-3344-0111. Open daily 5-10:30pm. www.keioplaza.co.jp
• Aragawa 1F 3-23-11 Nishi-Shimbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3438-1867. Open Mon-Sat noon-11pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Onarimon.
• Cave de Relax 1-6-11 Nishi-Shimbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3595-3697. Open daily 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Uchisaiwaicho or Toranomon. www.cavederelax.com
• Fukui Aoyama 291 Glassarea Aoyama, 5-4-41 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5778-0291. Open daily 11am-7pm. Nearest stn: Omotesando. http://fukui.291ma.jp
• Hasegawa Sake-ten Main store: 1-18-12 Kameido, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-5836-3477. Open Mon-Sat 11am-7pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Kameido or Nishi-Ojima. For other locations see www.hasegawasaketen.com
• Kawamura 7-3-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3289-8222. Open Mon-Sat 6-10pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Ginza or Uchisaiwaicho.
• Masumotoya 5-35-21 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-6904-6331. Open Mon-Sat 11am-7pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Sasazuka. www.masumotoya1949.com
• Nicolas Roppongi store: 2F 1-4-3 Azabudai, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3583-4712. Open daily 11:30am-11pm. Nearest stn: Roppongi-Itchome. http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g383701/
• Sho-Chu Authority B2F Caretta Shiodome, 1-8-2 Higashi-Shimbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5537-2105. Open daily 11am-10pm. Nearest stn: Shiodome. www.authority-online.jp
• Shusaron 2F 4-10-18 Takanawa, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5449-4455. Open Mon-Fri 5pm-midnight, Sat-Sun & hols 3pm-midnight. Nearest stn: Shinagawa. www.koshunavi.com
• Sushi Zanmai 4-11-9 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3541-1117. Open 24/7. Nearest stn: Tsukiji or Tsukiji-Shijo. For other locations, see www.kiyomura.co.jp
• Utou 2-4-7 Asagaya-Kita, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-3337-8734. Open Mon-Sat 6:30-10:30pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Asagaya.