Home > Life in Japan > Food
  print button email button

Sunday, Oct. 13, 2002

TOKYO FOOD FILE

Fresh, raw Ebisu, on the half-shell


Oysters are definitely in season these days -- and not just because the summer is over and there's an "R" in the letters of the month. Overlooked and undervalued for too long here (or perhaps just overshadowed by all the other superb seafood that's available), these humble bivalves are only now being afforded the respectful half-shell treatment they deserve.

News photo
Among the many oyster bars springing up around town recently, Maimon stands out with its wide selection of bivalves, nihonshu and shochu.

Maimon is the latest in a rash of oyster bars that have opened around town in recent months. It has the contemporary look, with sophisticated lighting and a hip soundtrack. But unlike the upmarket gourmet lounges of Aoyama and Roppongi, Maimon gives the concept a contemporary Japanese twist, matching its mollusks not with caviar and champagne but with yakitori and sake.

The menu lists scores of different sources for their oysters, although only a dozen are featured at any one time. At present they have seven from Japanese waters (mostly Tohoku and Hokkaido) and another half-dozen from abroad (France, South Australia, Tasmania and Washington state). All are available by the individual piece, from 380 yen to 500 yen, or as mixed platters from 2,200 yen per half-dozen.

The drinks list is of equally impressive size and range (and pricing). It features two pages of jizake, more than 80 different bottles in all, and most of them obscure names rarely found outside specialist izakaya. Starting at 1,000 yen and rising to as much as 3,000 yen per glass, sake of this caliber does not come cheap.

They also stock a score of shochu and 14 choices of wine. More exceptional still is their mineral water selection -- 24 varieties, but strangely not including the Norwegian brand Voss, the designer bottles of which form the principal decor along the walls and in the back-lit display case by the stairs.

So far, so stylish. The oysters arrive, stacked up on ice, with lemon wedges and a choice of five different dressings, from Japanese (ponzu, ume-jiso, daikon oroshi) to a classic tomato-based cocktail sauce. However, little seasoning is needed. Apart from the excellent iwagaki oysters from the Kashima coast, which are shucked to order, all the others are opened ahead of time, stored in the fridge, then rinsed out under the tap before being served. This is only a small grumble: They're still fresh and they slip down a treat, but they do taste bland. They've lost their liquor and with it their distinctive flavors.

Maimon also boasts a very tasty charcoal grill. This is employed to good effect on beef tongue, kurobuta pork and assorted shellfish cooked in the aburiyaki- style, as well as a range of very good yakitori (Hinai-jidori, from Akita, and you can taste the difference). Indeed, every aspect of the menu has been well thought out, from sashimi through to noodles and rice (oyster curry, anyone?) and finally dessert.

Unfortunately this attention to detail translates into severely impersonal service. The inevitable sushiya greetings that announce all customers is bad enough. But worse still is the call and response ("Yesss!" "Order up!") that is more worthy of a Mosburger outlet.

So these are your choices. Sit at the counter and put up with the robotic chorus. Or make your way upstairs to one of the intimate booths and be deprived of the chic ground-floor decor. Maimon is an interesting addition to the neighborhood and certainly worth a visit. But what you're paying for is corporate planning, not flair and individual identity.

Maimon
1-1-10 Ebisu-Minami, Shibuya-ku (03) 3715-0303
Open:5:30 p.m. - 4:30 a.m. (Sunday and holidays 5 p.m. - midnight)
Nearest stations: Ebisu (JR and HIbiya lines)
How to get there:From Ebisu JR Station (West Exit), cross the rotary and walk up the left side of Komazawa-dori. Maimon is halfway up the block, just before the post office and Starbucks.
What works: A commendable selection of oysters ...
What doesn't:... but why do they rinse them under the tap?
Number of seats: 50
BGM: Jazzy chill-room beats
Price per head:Figure around 5,000 yen a head (without drinks)
Drinks:Beer from 580; sake from 1,000 yen; shochu from 500 yen; wine from 700 yen per glass, 3,500 per bottle.
Credit cards: Most accepted
Language:English/Japanese menu (but drinks list only in Japanese); some English spoken
Reservations: Advisable at peak times

***

For the past year, one of our favorite ports of call in Ebisu -- whether for a quick espresso, a light meal or a leisurely bottle of wine -- has been Morricone, a friendly, modern cafe-bar tucked away on a quiet side street close under the JR Station.

News photo

It's a small place with big picture windows, where you can sit and look out onto a quiet piazza that is little traversed. The dining space at the back has ocher walls and red banquettes and there's a strange, kitschy mezzanine upstairs that seems little used.

They serve a nice line of snacks and pastas, and at meal times they offer more substantial dining. To mark their first anniversary, they have begun making very tasty panzerotti, deep-fried pouches of bread halfway between a pizza and a samosa, stuffed with tomato, mozzarella, anchovy paste and pesto sauce.

There are plenty of other hip cafe-bars in Tokyo serving similar food with the same friendly approach. But none of them are in this part of Ebisu. And none of are named after a cult Italian composer of film scores. We rest our case.

Morricone, Neonat Bldg 1F, 4-1-18 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku; (03) 5791-5077. From the East Exit, take the stairs down to the taxi stand and continue straight ahead, in the direction of Yebisu Garden Place. Morricone is on the ground floor of the large building on the right. Open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch); 2-6 p.m. (cafe-bar); 6 p.m.-midnight (dinner; last order 10 p.m.).

***

Things just ain't the same around the rotary on the west side of Ebisu Station since the demise of longtime African favorite Piga Piga, and now that Bodeguita, the dingy yet classic restaurant-cum-bar-cum-salsa lounge, has decamped to Roppongi, taking its inimitable Cuban-Peruvian food and clientele with it.

But one improvement of note is the newly reopened Kinokuniya liquor store (no connection with the international supermarket of the same name). It always had a good selection of wine and booze. Now, remodeled and moved even further into the gourmet end of the market, it features a sturdy wooden counter where you can prop yourself up and sip on quality wine, sake or spirits.

This month's listing includes three kinds of jizake (300 yen, 400 yen per shot); three shochu (200 yen, 300 yen); two wines (500 yen); sherry (Valdespino Cream; 400 yen); port (Graham's 30 year; 500 yen); single malt whiskies (600 yen, 700 yen); and an excellent 28-year rum (Port Moreland, 700 yen). With choices and prices like these, an after-dinner detour is definitely worth the effort.

Kinokuniya 1-4-2, Ebisu-Minami, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3713-2857. Open 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; closed Sunday, and holidays.


Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.