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Photo: Peter Brune
International Dining:
A sip of style

Simeon Paterson suits up and samples the best sake Tokyo has on offer.

It may seem as though Western-style bars are increasing in inverse proportion to the health of the economy, but not all creatures of the night are being threatened by the virtual tsunami of coffee and cocktails. In fact, many thriving izakaya (literally "sake shop") have reinvented themselves, using hip interior design (ironically often more Japanese than that of older places) and restaurant-quality food to draw an ever more sophisticated clientele. Business is looking equally bright for the cream of the old-school crop. Just as premium sake enjoys much of the potion's recent upturn in fortune, so it goes for premium sake spots. A complete list of Tokyo's best would be impossible, but with these tips as a starting point you're sure to have fun finding a few favorites.

Nezu no Jinpachi
Photo: Kiely Ramos

Nezu no Jinpachi
This 90-year-old architectural gem has been an izakaya for most of its history. The service in this compact but cozy spot is polite and personal as befits such a venerable establishment. Cook, sake-meister and keen trout fisherman Aida-san can recommend sake to suit the various tasty dishes on the menu. Maboroshi no Taki (¥900), a cold sake, is justifiably one of their most popular, and the kaminari ("lightning") tofu (so called because it's fried without fat, making it spurt) is an original take on a traditional dish.

Open 5-11pm, closed Sun. 2-26-4 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-5685-1387. Nearest stn: Nezu.

Shunju
This spot is comfortably low-lit and spacious, with a series of differing interiors, the most atmospheric of which is the Japanese table area on the second floor. The menu (available in perfect English) is a joy. Not only is there a vast range of excellent organic, vegetable and fish dishes, but the comprehensive offerings include 40-odd sake (from ¥700 and, like everything else, fully explained on the menu).

Open 6-11:30pm daily. 2-32-12 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3770-0019. Nearest stn: Shibuya.

The Za
Ensconsed in Shibuya, The Za attracts a clientele as smart as its interior. The decent food menu also bulges with over 40 fine brews, including a few rare examples. It can get quite busy, but you shouldn't have to wait long even if you arrive at peak times.

Open 11:30am-2pm and 5pm-midnight. 25-9 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3461-9598. Nearest stn: Shibuya.

Akaoni
This is quite possibly Tokyo's most-recommended shrine to sake. The variety of nihonshu is huge, excellent in quality and goes well with their fine sashimi dishes. It may not be the cheapest drinking option in town, but certainly one of the best. Enough said.

Open 5:30-11:30pm, closed Sun and hols. 2-15-3 Sangenjaya, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-3410-9918. Nearest stn: Sangenjaya.

Kuri
This popular hole-in-the-wall has an English menu and over 100 kinds of sake all calling out to be tried and—since sake shop Kurihara is just over the road—bought. The food selection is snack-oriented, but the drinks are the real reason to come here anyway. Because Kuri is so close to Roppongi, there's no reason the night has to end when the barman turns in for bed either.

Open 6-10:30pm, closed some Sun and hols. 2-11-1 Motoazabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3497-0881. Nearest stn: Roppongi.

Japontei
Not just another trendy take on the traditional theme, this place has a lot more sake and better food than most. Japontei's fresh seasonal food menu changes monthly and, along with the dozens of excellent sake available, draws a more interesting mix of ages and backgrounds than is often found in the typical sake space. The simply superb Juyondai sake is a rare treat, and a glass of Dewazakura never fails to hit the spot for most. Best just to dive into the sake menu headfirst.

Open 11:30am-3:30pm and 6pm-midnight, closed Sat, Sun and hols. 3-4 Kojimachi, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3263-3642. www.jvd.co.jp/japontei Nearest stn: Kojimachi.

Torafuku
It may have excellent value (¥1,000) lunch sets, but Torafuku's sake taster sets—three kinds of the potent clear stuff for a modest ¥1,000—are surely the real reason behind all those bums on seats. The sets are certainly a good way to begin or broaden your sake knowledge or just get three glasses of booze for ten bucks. Look out for the small dish of salt at the bottom of the stairs—a Shinto purification custom that perhaps accounts for the clarity of their drinks, though that might just be because they're good.

Open 11:30am-3pm and 5:30-11:30pm daily. B1 Aoyama Hanamo Bldg, 3-12-9 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5766-2800. Nearest stn: Omotesando.

Ima mo Mukashiya
"Now is also long ago," the name says it all. Traditional low tables (with heated kotatsu outside), warm wooden furnishings and washi paper lamps compliment rather than compete with the background jazz, concrete walls and cool young staff. Purists may look spurn Ima mo Mukashiya as sake-lite, since the hip Harajuku customers are just as likely to order a Sex on the Beach, but who cares? The sake selection may also be small, with just one warm sake (Yumegokoro ¥750) and three cold, but stick with the famous Hakkaisan (¥900) and you won't go wrong. It's an especially good place if you're with some non sake-drinkers or just want stylish sake sans ojisan.

Open 5:30pm-midnight. 3F Asaina Bldg, 6-28-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5469-9339. Nearest stn: Meijijingumae.

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Buyline
Shibuya’s Zenmall (29-4 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku; 03-3770-1641), known for offering large clothing for men, is holding a two-day Early Bird Pre-Summer Sale. The sale will take place on the mornings of April 12 (Sat) and 13 (Sun) for three hours (9am-noon) each day. During these times, nearly everything will be marked 20-80 percent off. Some of the bargains include suits with a spare pair of pants for \9,800 (sizes 3-8L), and summer casual jackets for \8,000 (3-6L). Imported designer suits by makers like Calvin Klein and Boss are also marked down to \39,000 and \59,000, respectively. Those who spend over \10,000 can take part in the Cash Grabbing Contest, where shoppers can dig into a box full of cash. Spend over \30,000 for two chances to grab, and \50,000 for three. Don't miss this rare opportunity, as it could be one of the few chances for those looking to buy large sizes in Japan, especially at affordable prices.

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573: Open for Debate
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571: Tipple Trips
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570: Art in a Glass
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564: Culinary Resolutions
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563: Losing Its Pop
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561-562: Seasonal sipping
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560: Comfort Food
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559: A bright Thamara
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558: Mac attack
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557: Warming trend
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556: Turkey Day delights
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555: Harvest festival
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554: Sugar and spice
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553: Tricks and treats
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552: Legends of the fall
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551: Master Glass
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550: Soy right
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549: Say cheese
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548: White knight
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547: Zest for life
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546: Drinking fountain
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545: Top shelf
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544: Style guide
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543: Tasting notes
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542: Behind closed doors
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540: Must-eat TV
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539: In the raw
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538: Spanish lessons
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537: Red, white and brew
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536: The nihonshu express
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535: In the market
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534: Branching out
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533: Think pink
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532: Taste of success
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531: Toast of the town
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530: Cha cha cha
529: Growth complex
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528: Workaholic
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527: Moveable Feasts
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526: Grains of truth
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525: Prost!
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523: Que Syrah
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522: Shanghai surprise
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521: Spring fling
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520: Luck of the Irish
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519: Golden bowls
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518: The sweet stuff
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517: Down to earth
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516: By the numbers
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515: Star gazing
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514: Let them eat bread
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513: Bubbling over
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512: Frugal feasts
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511: Some like it hot
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508: Just desserts
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507: 'Tis the season
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506: Talking shop
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495: Mexican dream
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494: A winning pair
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492: A cook's tour
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491: Triple crown
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490: Rebel with a saucepan
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489: A place in the sun
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488: California dreamin'
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487: Dean's list
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486: Join the club
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485: Through the roof
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484: Westward bound
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483: Independent spirit
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482: Hot flash
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481: Island hopping
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480: Private eyes
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479: Iron supplement
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478: Chill factor
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477: Food for thought
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476: Tapping the ivory
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475: Top of the world
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474: Toque of the town
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473: Historical present
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472: Heavenly dining
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471: Flavor favors the brave
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470: Spring to your lips
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469: Homemade
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468: Let’s meat
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467: On a Clare day
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466: Haute dining
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465: Home and away
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464: Pearl one
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463: Eat your heart out
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462: Wok around town
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461: Where the heart is
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460: Soup's on
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459: Winter warmers
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457/8: Cream of the crop
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456: Food's the fashion
Martin Webb shops then drops at these stylish in-store cafés
455: Bottle tops
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453: True to life
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452: Talking turkey
Carlo Niederberger gets ready to gobble it up on Thanksgiving Day
451: Steeped in tradition
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450: Thinking inside the box
Tama Miyake investigates the ubiquitous bento with help from culinary expert Elizabeth Andoh
449: What lies beneath
Resident wine expert Ned Goodwin delves into the depths of Tokyo's cellars
448: Devilish dining
Matt Wilce scares up some horribly different dishes for Halloween
447: Tour de France
The toast of Paris, chef Eric Frechon is no flash in the bain-marie
446: On a roll
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445: Chow down
Tama Miyake makes tracks to Tsukishima, home to the shitamachi specialty known as monja
444: In the mix
Steve Trautlein goes on a not-so-fruitless search for Tokyo's best juice bars
443: Pop stars
Matt Wilce tastes the good life at Tokyo's toniest champagne bars
442: New York's finest
Tama Miyake takes a bite out of the Big Apple without stepping outside the Yamanote line
441: Gaga for gyoza
Tokyo's newest theme park for foodies
440: Into the fire
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439: Kitchen confidential
Tokyo restaurants are branching out by teaching customers how to whip up their own creations
438: Mix and match
Top tips for pairing food and wine
437: Divine dining
436: Hot plates
435: Sundae school
434: Rare vintages
433: Oodles of noodles
432: Secret gardens
431: Eat your heart out
430: Bottle shop
429: The Italian job
428: The water table
427: For the love of the game
426: Life before Starbucks
425: Show time
424: Hot spot
423: Gift of gusto
422: Crossing the Rhine
421: Mamas' boy
420: Tales of tofu
419: Top of the food chain
418: Small awakening
417: Feeding unfrenzied
416: Sakura sweets
415: Modern master
414: Star turns
413: A sip of style
412: Digital bites
411: The loving spoonful
410: Fried & tested
409: California Drinking
408: Puff daddy
407: Let's do brunch
406: Spice world
404: Party poppers
403: Roll with it
402: Festive feasting
401: From bush to bottle
396: Gastronomic expolorations
395: Gourmet to go

394: Gourmet to go

391: Imperial Cuisine
390: Pizza pizzazz
389: Eat elite
388: Don't eat the scenery
387: Niku nashi
386: Shanghai Surprise
385: Uncorked
384: Cake walk
383: Gastronomic nomad
382: Short fuse
380: Eating eelectric
378: Through the grapevine
375: Culinary dancer
372: Roy raves
359: Love feast
354: Fugu Ryotei
351: Gateau de Noel
350: Seasonal specials

ISSUES 349-
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