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Sunday, Sept. 9, 2001

TOKYO FOOD FILE

A hidden tropical paradise


The chances of discovering Adan by accident are about as great as seeing snow in Okinawa -- in summer. It lies in anonymous residential territory in an unprepossessing quadrant of darkest Mita, well away from the regular foraging trails of mainstream Minato Ward. But even if you were to stumble unaided upon Adan's funky frontage of dark, rough-hewn wood, it is highly unlikely you would find yourself a seat.

In Adan, you can almost feel the spray of Okinawan surf.

There are several reasons why it is invariably full every evening, despite such an unpromising location. There's the setting, an unusual old redbrick kura storehouse, beautifully refurbished and decorated with boldly colored wood carvings. But most people are there because Adan exudes the kind of casual, low-key cheer too often lacking in the sterile surrounds of Tokyo's self-styled "dining bars."

The master of the house, its instigator and grizzled eminence, is Issaku Kawachi. He plays the role of host, holding forth from behind the bar or moving around his cozy premises, attending to customers and greeting old friends -- of which he has many, thanks to his long involvement in the music industry.

Issaku Kawachi (top) and Setsu Miyakawa

Kawachi has imbued Adan with a tropical cocktail of influences, several parts Hawaii blended with a hefty splash of Okinawa, and an intriguing undercurrent of Southeast Asia. His musical taste favors slack-key guitar and Ryukyu shima-uta, but also encompasses a heady mix of other cultures.

The love affair with southern climes is also evident in the food menu, created under the direction of Setsu Miyakawa ("Setchan" to those who know her). She is the person you see directing operations in the tiny open kitchen as you enter -- and she's the other primary reason for Adan's enduring popularity.

Her approach rests firmly on the common-sense principles of Japanese home cooking, featuring plenty of fresh vegetables (organic where possible) and fish in season. But she incorporates the ingredients and inspiration from Okinawa and further afield. Simple in conception, delicate in execution, she melds them into a distinctive, original and delicious cuisine of her own.

We began a recent meal with sashimi-quality fillets of young sardines, soft and perfectly boneless, anointed with a delicate shoyu-based dressing nicely permeated with the pungency of ginger juice; and gently braised manganji togarashi (a variety of pimento cultivated around Kyoto), their underlying bitterness nicely balanced by the light saltiness of shredded konbu cooked down in tsukani style.

We tried two different "salads" -- one a mound of finely shaved daikon and slivered green shiso leaf given a tangy dressing of pureed umeboshi; the other a delicate, homegrown version of a Thai som tam, fine shreds of green papaya tossed with tiny dried shrimp, pounded peanuts and red chili, dressed with a hint of nam plaa dressing and garnished with coriander leaf. Both were delectable.

When seafood is fresh, only the simplest of seasonings are needed. Our grilled fish -- we tried both the shime-saba (a small fillet of young mackerel) and anago shirayaki (conger grilled without being basted) -- were given virtually no adornment, just a wedge of lemon to balance the inherent fattiness of the former and an austere wasabi-shoyu dip to complement the flaky white flesh of the latter.

Goya, the bright-green cucurbit that is Okinawa's "national" vegetable, features strongly on the menu. There is goya champuru, of course; and kaki-age, a deep-fried fritter of goya, onion and ginger. But our favorite was the goya okaka sujoyu -- half-moon slices of goya blanched to reduce the bitterness, dressed with a sauce of shoyu and rice vinegar, and adorned with freshly shredded bonito flakes. Simple, sharp but in no way ascetic, it was the perfect way to awaken sluggish taste buds.

The star offering of the evening was our chicken (jidori no yashi no happa hasami). The small nuggets of juicy free-range chicken had been marinated in a sauce infused with nam plaa and Thai spices, then wrapped in palm fronds and deep-fried. This was accented with an intriguing sweet-sour fruit compote that resembled grated daikon in consistency, but that turned out to be derived from the ume fruit from their homemade umeshu vat.

While beer (draft Orion; bottled Yebisu) is the obvious choice of drink, a well-chosen wine would not be out of place with such quality food. The house plonk is Wolf Blass, but further up the scale you will find Schug Pinot Noir, Coppolo claret and Simi Zinfandel.

Ask the man behind the bar (Yokoyama-san by name) and he will produce several good, aged rums, no less delectable as neat drams than in cocktails (his mojitos are to be taken very seriously). Pride of place at Adan, however, goes to the array of awamori, brought in from the western isles of Okinawa. The hooch decanted from the ceramic kame vat that squats in one corner is kusu (aged awamori): it may be mellow in flavor, but it packs wicked potency.

To round off the meal there is tai-meshi (rice with snapper) or anago meshi, but we went instead with yaki-soba, the crinkly noodles fried up with slivers of vegetables and pork, enlivened with shreds of red gari ginger and given a spice factor that was absolutely authentic, thanks to the small bottle of koregusu, Okinawa's homegrown answer to Tabasco.

Adan 5-9-15 Mita, Minato-ku; tel. (03) 5444-4507
Open: 6 p.m.-2 a.m. (last food order 12:30 a.m.)
Closed: Sunday and second Saturday of the month
Nearest station: Shirokane-Takanawa (Nanboku Line)
How to get there:Leave Shirokane-Takanawa Station by Exit 2, and walk down Sakurada-dori until the second traffic light. Turn left; Adan is on the right halfway down the second block.
What works: Those mellow South Seas vibes -- and Setchan's wonderfully assured cooking
What doesn't:It's hard to snare a seat after 7 in the evening.
Number of seats:32
Price per head: 3,500 yen (plus drinks)
Drinks: Beer from 700 yen; sake from 700 yen; shochu from 700 yen; awamori from 3,500 yen/bottle; wine from 600 yen/glass, 3,000 yen/bottle; sangria 700 yen/glass, 3,500 yen/decanter; spirits from 600 yen
Credit cards:Most
BGM: Five parts Hawaiian, three parts Okinawan, two parts whatever else they feel like
Language:Japanese menu; little English spoken
Reservations:Essential



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