June 5, 2009
Tsuki no Usagi
Sample inventive drinks and eats at this intimate Ginza dining bar
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2009In Japan and most of East Asia, the legend of “the man in the moon” is replaced by tsuki no usagi, or “the rabbit in the moon,” whose shadow can be seen eternally pounding mochi. So when we wandered into Ginza’s Tsuki no Usagi on a recent Friday evening, we were half expecting to find a bar whose décor was as cutesy as its name.
Instead, we found a space that felt more like someone’s elegant dining room, with dim lighting, plush carpets and high-backed, cloth-covered chairs. The manager claims that the bar can seat up to 46, but the atmosphere is so intimate we could’ve sworn there wasn’t more to the place than the bar counter and a few secluded alcoves. In fact, about halfway through our visit, the arrival of a large group necessitated some reorganizing. The large flower arrangement on our left was moved, and we noticed for the first time that the bar actually widens into a seven-person table. This only adds to the at-home, dining room feel.
For our first round, we ordered a refreshing, summery apple vinegar and ume cocktail (¥880), which came in an enormous glass filled with crushed ice and a thick layer of smashed plums at the bottom. The sour bite perfectly complemented the sweet, fruity taste. Tsuki’s version of salty dog (¥750), meanwhile, was made with rice shochu instead of gin or vodka and came served in the traditional glass with a salted rim.
The bar’s food menu is the epitome of the “quality over quantity” concept. There isn’t a wide selection and the portion sizes are comparatively small, but we had no qualms about either the creativity or taste. We started off with an order of seiro soba (¥800), succulent black-pepper grilled duck (¥1,100) and smoked salmon-wrapped scallops drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing (¥780). We ordered the last one partly out of curiosity, but ended up falling in love with the dish. The dressing was to-die-for, and a sprinkling of smelt roe on top of each bite imparted a perfect salty touch.
Deciding to finish off our evening with a bit of fizz, we ordered an Usagi (¥1,100), made with champagne, blood-orange juice and raspberry liqueur. The tart orange and syrupy raspberry flavors melded together into a bubbly finish. We contemplated asking for the check, but in the end succumbed to the lure of dessert: a caramelly, crème brulée-like white sesame pudding (¥600). The dish came topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that’s—you guessed it—in the shape of a rabbit, complete with red candy eyes and two mint leaves for ears. A bit cutesy, to be sure, but for an otherwise understated and grownup establishment, we had no trouble forgiving this one bit of kitsch.