When it comes to sake bars, you don't
argue with the English-speaking world's leading expert
on the drink. At least that's what we learned after
just one outing with John Gauntner, who introduced us to a
range of sake we otherwise never would have known existed.
So when Gauntner directed us to Sasagin, a one-room izakaya
across from Yoyogi Uehara station, we knew we were in for
an adventure. As it turned out, we were in for more than one.
The first time we stopped by Sasagin, on the pretense of making
a reservation for the following week, one sake turned into
two and then into three
until we realized the restaurant
had closed but its cordial owner Narita-san allowed us and
the pair of regulars we had befriended to keep kicking on
until the wee hours.
Unlike your average neighborhood izakaya, Sasagin attracts
a diverse crowd made up of Uehara locals and families, plus
an eclectic mix of urban-professional sake lovers. Its Zen-like
front entrance features smooth pebbles and a sakabayashi,
a ball of cedar needles traditionally hung outside sake breweries,
leading into a warmly lit and sand-colored wooden interior.
The best seats in the house are at the L-shaped bar, where
Narita-san holds court with an ever-changing stock of sake
from around Japan. A small kitchen sits off to the side and
the remainder of the room is lined with tables, including
two low tables for four on tatami.
By the time we were on our fourth visit to Sasagin, we had
already drunk our way through sparkling sake, cloudy sake
and all manner of sweet and dry sake (¥650~). We followed
our usual tactic and let Narita-san do the choosing for us.
All that was left to do was pick from the wide array of seasonal
Japanese cuisine, both traditional and offbeat, written in
small kanji on two sides of a B5 sheet of paper. Much like
the liquid offerings, we never quite know what we're
going to get when we order food at Sasagin.
An order of fried asparagus with an almond
coating (¥800) arrived as a stalk of asparagus wrapped
in fish cake and rolled in pine nuts. A shrimp and mushroom
salad (¥900) was closer to its description, but came
with a generous helping of mayonnaise that managed to mask
much of the flavor. But where Sasagin shines is in the simple
things. The mixed sashimi platter (¥3,500) has never
disappointed, with fish that is always fresh and tastes even
better with a sip of sake. The roasted gingko nuts (¥600)
are equally good as an appetizer, with just a sprinkling of
salt to draw out the flavor.
A great place to bring out-of-town guests, Sasagin also offers
omakase course options to fit any budget, and can find a sake
to suit any palate. The only difficulty we've found
is knowing when to stop.
1-32-15 Uehara, Shibuya-ku. Tel:
03-5454-3715. Open Mon-Sat 5pm-midnight. Nearest stn: Yoyogi
Photo credit: Martin Hladik