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Sunday, June 23, 2002

NIHONSHU

Stand me for a cup of sake?


Almost everyone interested in sake wants to know where to drink great sake at cheap prices. Perhaps you don't always want to settle down for the evening in a nice traditional pub. Perhaps you just want to sample a few decent sake on the cheap or have a quick drink on the way home. Well, assuming you pass through Shinbashi Station, Tachinomi Gin is the place for you.

The tachinomi part of the name tells you a bit about why it is so cheap; it is a stand-and-drink place. The overhead is minimal, the turnover is high and the frills are nil. Another reason the prices are low and the selection is impressive is that Tachinomi Gin is owned and operated by one of the largest distributors of premium sake in Tokyo, Oboshi-Okamura. The character for gin is taken from ginjoshu, hinting at the fine quality of the sake you can enjoy here.

But be warned: This is a salaryman joint all the way. Most folks are there alone or with one other person, winding down before the trip home. It is hardly a place to settle into for a couple of hours -- though this is made pretty obvious by, among other things, the total lack of chairs.

Despite being a quick stop, simple and cheap, Tachinomi Gin is clean, bright and well-run. You place your order at a counter and carry it back to your standing spot by yourself. What little interaction you have with the staff is enjoyable, however, as they are all friendly.

There's a TV propped up high on the wall, just below the ceiling, which affords some semblance of a view to everyone. The other day, I shuffled into Gin to catch the kickoff of Japan's first game of the World Cup. Little did I know that dozens of other people would have the same idea. The place was packed. The first half of the game passed -- as did several cups of sake -- in the blink of an eye.

The sake selections are posted in hanging streamers around the room. Most are well-known names: Urakasumi (Miyagi), lovely Suigei (Kochi), Takaisami (Tottori) and woody Taruhei (Yamagata) are listed on one wall, while across the room dangle Kamoizumi (Hiroshima), Sawanoi (Tokyo) and Tamanohikari (Kyoto). There are about 20 selections in all, with a nigori-zake to round out the offerings (Tsuki no Katsura from Kyoto).

The prices? They range from a whopping 350 yen to a bank-breaking 400 yen for a full glass.

The food isn't gourmet quality, but that's not the point. And the presentation is, well, nonexistent. The available dishes sit wrapped in cellophane and lined up in an orderly fashion on the service counter. You just find what you like, put it on a tray and pay the measly charge. No worry about reading a menu; what you see is what you get. If it calls for warming, they microwave it for you while handing over your change.

Most of it is healthy and quite fresh: ginger shoots and miso; spinach in sesame sauce; chilled tofu; nicely cut, fresh sashimi; kamaboko; and so on. Simple, mild flavors, great sake accompaniments. There is the occasional oddity, potato salad, for instance, which is hardly the first thing I think of eating while sipping sake.

Tachinomi Gin is charming and almost irresistible if you have a few minutes when passing through the station. Just be careful, though -- those few minutes could easily turn into an hour or more.

From the Shiodome Exit of Shinbashi Station, go downstairs heading for the Asakusa Line. Just as you descend a small staircase into the Shinbashi Building (Ichigokan), Tachinomi Gin is on the left. Alternatively, turn right out of the underground JR wicket leading to the Ginza and Akasaka subway lines and take the second left. Gin will be on your left.

Shinbashi Bldg. Ichigo-kan, B1, Shinbashi 2-20-15, Minato-ku; (03) 5568-4130. Open 4:30-9:30 p.m.; closed Saturday, Sunday and holidays.

A branch of Tachinomi Gin is in Hachobori should that be more convenient. A glimpse of the shop and its menu, as well as simple maps to both shops, are available online at www.oboshi.co.jp/inshoku/gin/index.html

Sign up for a free sake-related e-mail newsletter at www.sake-world.com To be put on a contact list for information on sake-related tours, events and seminars, send an e-mail to sakeguy@gol.com, or fax your name and address to (0467) 23-6895.

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News photo
Kikuhime's "Yamahai Ginjo"

Kikuhime (Ishikawa Prefecture)
"Yamahai Ginjo" Ginjoshu

From these famous purveyors of the gamy, wild yamahai style comes a rich and full ginjo. Mellow, matured and well-rounded, autumnal fruit aromas lead to an earthy rich flavor with a solid acidity. A nice intro to the yamahai-shikomi style.



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