Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Izakaya Dai Sui En - Eating Like a Tokyu
Izakaya Dai Sui En - Takeshita Street, Harajuku, Japan
Yamanote Line to Harajuku
As you can guess by my very sporadic posts, I'm still on my travels in Japan. I have so many amazing food adventures to report back on, that it's hard to know where to start, as each region offers something unique and we've experienced some pretty neat things, from eating at top notch, high-end restaurants to being at a traditional style Japanese Ryokan (or Inn). In this post, I'm going going to switch to basics, as I tell you about our experience at a typical Japanese Izakaya or a casual drink and food establishment, not unlike a pub.
Located in the busy and exciting Harajuku neighborhood in between Shinjuku and Shibuya neighborhoods, there's always something going on here. In fact, you may have already heard about Harajuku from our very own pop culture icons, Gwen Stefani and Nicki Minaj, often sporting and openly supporting its funky fashions.
And with all the fashion, also comes interesting food and fun little specialty shops and restaurants that I couldn't help but admire. After walking around a bit, we stumbled upon Izakaya Dai Sui En on the popular Takeshita Street, which looked like a fun place to unwind after a long work week. And since Dan and I fell into this category, he arriving to Japan just that day and I getting over a long (but fruitful) work week, we thought it was the perfect place to sit down and celebrate the impending weekend.
Inside, it was casual and a little smokey but we didn't mind. One waitress serviced everyone, which was really impressive, given that there were about 40 people in there. Everyone sat pretty close to one another, to the point where you can openly admire your neighbor's food and drink or strike up a friendly conversation. Since we were still practicing our Japanese, we kept the chatter just between us.
While the menu was a bit daunting at first, consisting of pages and pages of interesting sounding foods, we found a few items that totally intrigued us and that we thought would hit the spot. I like that they were all simple, comforting foods, involving soup, seafood and even meatballs. Yes meatballs!
Marinated Octopus - Starting out with a simple seafood dish, we enjoyed the significant pieces of smooth octopus that was marinated in lemon juice and a clean-tasting ginger sauce. The whole thing emanated freshness and was the perfect way to start a meal, with a crisply piqued palate. We also loved the little sprouts and sesame seeds on top, that gave it a nice contrast in texture.
Tofu Soup - This was by far our favorite part of the meal, and we couldn't understand how they got a simple piece of tofu in such an expert state. Fried and then submerged into the tasty fish broth, the tofu was like a custard inside and slightly crunchy on the outside. It married quite well with the earthy veggies in the soup such as the enoki mushrooms, seaweed and scallions, which made it even more delicious. Dan and I kept reaching for the tofu, and even had to split the last one - we were that into it!
Variety of Yakitori - We couldn't refuse getting an assortment of yakitori, including grilled veggies such as asparagus and those enoki mushrooms again, wrapped in bacon, as well as barbecued beef (also wrapped in bacon). Both things were delightful, and as you all know, I have a soft spot for anything with bacon. Out of the three skewers, I enjoyed the asparagus most, as it had a nice crunch on the outside, and tasted like it was marinated in lemon, producing an overall refreshing bite.
Aside from all this bacon goodness, there was also chicken. Chicken meatballs to be exact, which I found really surprising, but they were phenomenal. Tender on the inside, and interspersed with fresh herbs, it absolutely hit the spot and we were both surprised by how juicy a chicken meatball can be. You didn't need any kind of condiment with it, which was a testament to its greatness.
Service and Cost:
As I already mentioned, the service was quite impressive, with one waitress taking care of the whole place, and doing a great job at it. We didn't have to wait long for anything and on many occasions, we witnessed her hustling and sometimes actually running to customers with their beers or food. Her effort was very appreciated and we awarded her with a small tip, which isn't customary in Japan. She took it though, which I think is a universal sentiment.
Costs are affordable and set us back about $67, including all the food I just mentioned and a round of beers. Kampai to that!