Located just outside Akasaka Station, Nikugen offers a unique spin on yakiniku dining with a wide selection of high-quality, wet-aged beef. As you walk through the door, dim lighting, relaxing jazz, interesting paintings, and sofas give the restaurant a cool, relaxing, somewhat hipstery feel. It’s a great place to unwind with great food and drinks after a hard day’s work.
The key to Nikugen’s magic is wet aging, a short aging process that retains moisture. Start with the delicious, juicy, and distinct beefy flavor of the zabuton (wet-aged chuck flap; ¥880), which will tango with your taste buds after each bite. Move on to more tender with the tomosankaku (tri-tip; ¥880). Dipped into the spicy sauce served alongside, this cut creates an interesting mix of flavors that will leave an impression.
The roast beef tartare (¥1,200) and the wet-aged skirt steak (¥2,000) are both excellent choices for those who love their beef rare to medium-rare. The raw egg that sits atop the strips of rare beef adds a unique flavor to the tartare, while the skirt steak—slightly more cooked—is peppered just right and still extremely soft, making it easy to chew.
Of all the meat on offer, the jo-karubi (highest-quality short rib; ¥1,200) is probably the most delicious. The Japanese value fatty meat above the leaner cuts that are popular in America, and the jo-karubi is practically covered in fat. The rich and dense flavor melts in your mouth, creating a savory puddle of juices that marinate your tongue. If you’re sensitive to oily, fatty meats, you may be surprised at how well this jo-karubi sits with your palate. The wet-aging brings out the flavor of the meat, resulting in a tempered oiliness that balances perfectly. Never overwhelming.
Beef this delicious calls for an equally satisfying beverage, and Nikugen’s Heineken Extra Cold (¥650) is up to the task. Chilled to between zero and -2°C, the crisp coldness of the brew can conquer even the hottest summer night. This really is an ideal pair for the jo-karubi.
If beer isn’t your drink of choice, there are plenty of other options on the menu, including wine, mojitos, high balls, and even an original sangria (¥600 for most). They offer a two-hour, all-you-can-drink plan for ¥1,980.
As a side dish, the cold noodle soup (¥680) is interesting. The cucumbers and kimchi bring a peculiar vegetable flavor to the noodles and broth, and slices of apple provide a surprising burst of sweetness that contrasts with the bitter taste of the cucumber and the spiciness of the kimchi.
For dessert, try the Big Apple (¥850), Nikugen’s special house apple pie served with vanilla ice cream. The crescent-shaped creation, accented with mint and powdered sugar, is magnificent. The crumbly texture can lead to a mess, but this can be averted if you use the ice cream to gel the small flakes together.
If you love yakiniku, Nikugen will take those feelings to a whole new level.
2F Akasaka Mita Bldg., 2-14-33 Akasaka, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5797-7390. Open 11:30am-12am. Nearest station: Akasaka. www.nikugen.jp