Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on July 2009
Mention a yakitori restaurant smack dab in the middle of the bustling business district of Otemachi—one in the basement of a conference building, no less—and you can pretty much imagine what to expect: cheap meat, cheaper beer and lots of oyaji. So we were understandably surprised and a bit skeptical when a friend recommended Tsuge. But rationalizing that it’s hard to mess up something as basic as yakitori—and either way, it would be cheap—we headed on in.
The tiny interior, composed of a few tables, some counter seats, and not much else, was mostly empty when we arrived, although a rowdy party of salarymen took over the larger table not long after. All in all, it seemed like your typical no-frills, after-work hangout for the business set. In almost no time at all, however, we began to suspect that our friend’s recommendation might be spot-on.
The first indication came when our waitress brought the otoshi, in this case a square, wooden dish filled with shirasu. Now, the tiny white fish may not be our favorite snack food, but they go down easily enough. One of our group, though, let out a squeak and clapped her hands over her face. “The eyes! I can’t eat anything with eyes!” The waitress immediately came to her rescue, whisking away the offending fish and replacing it with a plate of edamame, without our even having to ask for an alternative.
After ordering a couple of beers (¥588), we decided to start with some basics: tamagoyaki (¥609), grilled eggplant (¥420) and crisp pickled cucumbers (¥315). All three appetizers were done well, but our favorite was the eggplant, which came piled high with bonito flakes. Add a dash of soy sauce, and it’s just about perfect.
Though several yakitori options caught our eye, we went the osusume route and ordered the five-piece omakase set (¥924). The result was a nice assortment of liver, chicken skin, negima, sasami and tsukune. It’s next to impossible to get sasami and tsukune wrong, and the juiciness of the meat-wrapped negi placed it a step above average. The chicken skin, which we had never ordered before, turned out to be pleasantly crispy, with a nice salty flavor. And while liver is definitely not our favorite dish, the thick brown sauce coating it was quite good. But the hands-down favorite turned out to be the two skewers of fresh roma tomatoes wrapped in crispy bacon (¥336). We found ourselves seriously regretting not having got several more orders of it earlier on, when we still had room in our stomachs.
It was a bit of a disappointment to walk out of Tsuge and into the nondescript corridor leading off to the station. Fortunately for us, there’s a sister restaurant near Shimokitazawa station, so we may just be getting more of that tomatoey goodness sooner than we thought.