The grid of streets between Akasaka and Akasaka-Mitsuke subway stations is a “serious” entertainment district, devoid of the erotic excesses of Shinjuku, the teenage loudness of Shibuya and the bumptiousness of Ikebukoro, preferred by businessmen in dark suits dining here after work. There are eateries here for all tastes and budgets and one needs a knowledgeable guide to navigate the hundreds of bars, pubs, bistros, and restaurants.
Luckily, some business partners provided the necessary guidance and directed us to Kanzesui. Kanzesui is a soba (buckwheat noodles) restaurant, serving decent lunch sets and excellent dinners. However, its main claim to fame is the expertly selected nihonshu* list. There is a palpable passion here for the stuff, as we saw from the enthusiastic response when we mentioned some of the brands consumed at a former business dinner. On previous visits, the two of us ordered from the menu one at a time, slowly discussing the available options with the very knowledgable owner of the place.
This time, however, we had some friends with us, so we decided to go for one of the convenient sets. We settled on the Akaraku course, which promised us 12 dishes for 5400 yen. With the order out of the way, we settled down with a flask of Shizuku from the Kokuryuu brewery in Fukui prefecture. The first dish, a salty, crunchy agesoba (fried noodles) arrived just in time to complement the sake and was soon followed by a small square of sobadofu (tofu with buckwheat flavour) and small spoonfuls of sobamiso.
The first part of the dinner over, we switched to a flask of the famed Juyondai, a junmai daiginjo* called Ryugetsu. (Juyondai comes in small batches, under different labels, from the Takagi sake brewery in Yamagata prefecture.) This went well with the seafood - first some creamy, slightly bitter ankimo (monkfish liver), followed by a sashimi plate with buri (yellowtail), saba (mackerel) and hirame (halibut) and finally some kind of sea-snail, whose name I did not catch. To be honest, I am not a big fan of snails, but luckily the chef provided a wonderful chawanmushi (salty egg custard) for the more squeamish customers.
A morsel of grilled, plump chicken and a few slices of tamagoyaki rounded up the meal. At this point, we were all quite full, so we took a break before tackling the soba itself. Our last sake was called Senshin, from the Asahi Shuzo brewery in Niigata. Though significantly cheaper than the Juyondai, it was extremely elegant and sophisticated.
Food: 8/10 (excellent)
Ambiance: 6/10 (nice place)
Price-performance: 8/10 (excellent value)
Address: Takeshita Bld. B1F, 3-12-22, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 (3) 3589-4556
* "nihonshu" is what referred as "sake" around the world. In Japan, sake means all kinds of alcoholic drink, while the rice wine is referred as "Japanese alcohol" (nihonshu).
** junmai means that it is pure rice wine, without any added alcohol. In ginjo sake the rice has had the outer 40% of the grains polished away, resulting in a delicate, fragrant, complex taste. In a daiginjo, more than half of the grains was polished away. Juyondai actually means "14th" indicating that it comes from the barrel no. 14. Truly excellent stuff, unfortunately a bit pricy...