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Friday, Aug. 17, 2007

TOKYO FOOD FILE

Summertime and the grazing is easy


It's holiday time and the Food File is off for a break, but not before tidying up a few loose ends. This column is a summer miscellany — call it a chop suey (from the Cantonese shap sui, meaning "odds and ends") — on a few of the places we've visited and enjoyed in recent months.

News photo
News photo
News photo
A short walk from the Tokyo Midtown complex is Uoshin (top), a no-frills izakaya that serves fish fresh (center) from Tsukiji market; Sin Tong Kee's menu includes a classic version of Singapore chicken rice (above). ROBBIE SWINNERTON PHOTOS

One of our most enjoyable discoveries this year has been the new Nogizaka branch of Uoshin. Fish is the focus here, as it is at the other venues of this excellent izakaya chain. What sets this place apart is just how funky and friendly and down-to-earth it is, especially for such a ritzy neighborhood.

A short stroll down the road from the grandiose Tokyo Midtown complex in Roppongi, Uoshin sits on a busy corner that was until recently occupied by a gas stand and cola-specialist cafe. Instead of developing the site, they converted what was left behind, cramming tables into the existing building, tacking on a low extension to house the open kitchen and filling the rest of the forecourt with outside seating.

It's this deck area that catches your eye from the street. The tables are wooden packing cases; the seats are plastic shochu crates tipped on end, with carpet strapped on to provide a minimal padding. There is clear plastic sheeting to keep out the elements. Faded fishermen's banners flap in the breeze. There's rarely a free seat in the house.

But it's not the unpretentious aesthetic that draws the punters, it's the reasonable prices and the quality. The Uoshin group is a major seafood wholesaler with its own base in Tokyo's Tsukiji market, so there's always a great selection of fresh fish. The mixed sashimi plates (from ¥1,500) are good value, and there's always a colorful selection of seafood on ice, ready to be grilled to order.

The menu (in Japanese only) covers the gamut of standard izakaya dishes, with beer, sake and shochu to wash it all down (all from ¥500). Unlike most izakaya, though, they also prepare a range of sushi, and no self-respecting gourmand should fail to try their house special nokke-zushi (¥1,500). This comprises a simple kappa-maki (roll of sushi with wedges of cucumber) sliced up then topped with prodigious scoops of crab meat, sea urchin (uni), salmon roe (ikura) and creamy, minced fatty tuna (negitoro). Japanese cuisine doesn't get much more self-indulgent than this.

Nogizaka Uoshin, 9-6-32 Akasaka, Minato-ku; tel: (03) 3405-0411; www.uoshins.com/nogizaka_top.htm. Open 5 p.m.-12:30 a.m. (Sunday and holidays 2-9 p.m.) Nearest station: Nogizaka (Chiyoda subway line).

Whether it's bad luck, poor judgment or karmic retribution, we seem to spend far more time than is sane in the madding streets of Shibuya. But at least we know where to find sustenance, not least when our route takes in the pedestrian street Center-gai.

Standing cheek by jowl with the fast food outlets and ramen counters, the newly arrived branch of Uogashi Nihon-ichi dispenses good fresh sushi made to order for as little as ¥75 a piece. It's bright and cheerful, the sushi chefs all dress in regulation whites, and quality is considerably better than you'd get at the average kaiten conveyor-belt joint.

There's only one catch — it's standing only. But who wants to hang around on that particular block any longer than strictly necessary?

Uogashi Nihon-ichi, 25-6 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku; tel: (03) 5728-5451; www.uogashi.jp. Open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. (Fridays and the day before a holiday 11:30 a.m.-3 a.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.) Nearest station: Shibuya (various lines).

Still in Shibuya, another place that has become a firm favorite of ours is Kamado @ Kookai, a "collaboration" shop between two reputable ramen chains. While we always like the clean decor and equally uncluttered taste of Kookai's recipes, recently they introduced a summertime dish called tonyu tsukemen.

Instead of being served the traditional way, in a hot, savory soup, tsukemen are eaten with a separate dipping sauce. At Kookai, the cooked noodles are laid out on wide wooden trays, with a few condiments for color and flavor, and with a dipping sauce prepared with soy milk, finely chopped walnuts and shreds of deep-fried tofu (abura age). It's an inspired combination, simultaneously light but satisfying.

Kamado @ Kookai, 31-9 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku; tel: (03) 03-6914-8767, www.kookai-web.com. Open 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Nearest station: Shibuya (various lines).

We love the cuisine of Singapore, with its appetizing synthesis of Chinese and Malay flavors and traditions. It's the perfect kind of food for this time of year, when the unremitting humidity and heat start to leave your appetite wilted. So after hearing some good reports about Sin Tong Kee, a short stroll from Ebisu Station, we wasted no time in going to check it out.

It's a simple, second-floor dining room, spick-and-span and full of tempting aromas, serving food that is totally authentic. We really like the laksa noodles, in their spicy, coconut-rich soup. But our favorite dish (so far) is their version of chicken rice, Singapore's de facto national dish. The slices of moist, fragrant chicken are served with a choice of simple condiments and a heaping portion of fragrant steamed rice.

So far we have only been there at lunchtime, but that is enough to know this is the best cooking of its genre in the city. We will return for further exploration at dinner time, when the menu is considerably wider. Expect a full report soon.

Sin Tong Kee, Ryuo Bldg. 2F, 1-18-12 Ebisu-Minami. Shibuya-ku; tel: (03) 3713-2255; www.sintongkee.jp. Open: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 6-11:30 p.m.; closed Sunday and holidays. Nearest station: Ebisu (JR & Hibiya lines).


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