Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2007
The excitement that builds up every time I make a reservation at an unfamiliar restaurant was destroyed recently by whoever answered the phone at Sennin Dou Shin. “No! No! No!” they said. “Japanese only!” I had asked for a table in my best nihongo, which is admittedly not perfect but is understandable even by my curmudgeonly, half-deaf landlord. After hanging up, I had a Japanese friend call back, only to be asked five times whether he was positive I’d be bringing Japanese people to dinner.
So imagine my surprise when, upon our arrival at Sennin Dou Shin, my date and I were offered an English menu. And not just any menu—the laminated, bilingual food list had pictures and exactly paralleled its Japanese equivalent.
Sennin Dou Shin, a Kyoto-style izakaya, is filled with tofu dishes and fusion takes on traditional favorites. We started with the recommended “special” pork with tofu (¥750), which the restaurant claims to only make ten of per day, but I suspect that may be a marketing ploy. The thin layered pork wrapped around daikon and onion had been marinating in a sweet soy sauce for hours, though was still slightly rare and succulent on the inside. The meat came snuggled in a block of large, firm tofu that was simmered in the same rich sauce. This upscale version of nikujaga was definitely the highlight of the evening’s taste-bud excursion.
While we could easily have ordered another nine of these dishes, that would have made for a fairly monotonous review, so we did our best to diversify. The gindara saikyo yaki (grilled cod with miso, ¥750) was perfect—soft and flaky, with layers soaked in mild miso that peeled off like butter.
As our tongues danced in our mouths, our eyes darted around Sennin Dou Shin’s attractive interior. Multicolored wood slats interlaced at various angles and soft lighting create a relaxed atmosphere. The effect is like a modernist mountain lodge, punctuated with spotlights shining straight down on each table—a welcome touch, as it enabled us to enjoy looking at all our wonderfully presented food. The sashimi plate (¥1,680), for instance, came on a black ceramic dish with perfectly sliced scallops and otoro, and was covered in a thin white mist from the dry ice underneath.
We accompanied our food with a few glasses of shochu and plum wine. The menu described Tominohouzan (¥550) as “popular with the ladies,” while the wonderful Bakudan Hanatare (¥900) had a “thick strong character.” You are what you drink, right?
Though this may have been a good time to stop, we followed the lead of the clientele—mainly businessmen after work, lively though not drunkenly obnoxious—and ordered more. The thinly sliced beef in spicy sesame-pepper sauce (¥1,200) was just what we were hoping for—perfectly seared, the marbleized, silky beef had a spicy sauce that complemented rather than overwhelmed.
Few people think of the technology-laden, maid café-filled Akihabara as a culinary hotspot (with just cause), but izakaya like Sennin Dou Shin are the exception. Next time you find yourself buying manga at dinnertime, have a Japanese friend make you a reservation, and let your taste buds be their own action figures at this slow-paced culinary fortress.