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Friday, April 4, 2008

To celebrate, an old favorite


By ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Who says there's no going back? Just the other day we found ourselves drawn to one of our all-time favorites, the excellent little Sasano between Nogizaka and Roppongi. It's been five years since our last visit, but thankfully it's every bit as good as we'd remembered.

News photo
Sashimi can't get much fresher: it's pulled straight from the tanks behind Sasano's counter. © ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Too sleek to be called an izakaya, too laid back to be a full-fledged ryoriya (traditional restaurant), this is a place that pushes all the right buttons for us: cool but uncomplicated decor; a vibe that's informal but never casual; and, best of all, great food to match the extensive cellar of sake and shochu.

Owner Atsushi Aizawa has recently brought in a new head chef, Yasuyuki Iguchi, who has instilled a new level of expertise in the kitchen. As ever, fish is the main event here, much of it pulled straight from the large tanks that glow luminous blue from behind the counter.

Right now, it's the time of year for hatsu-gatsuo, the first bonito catch of the season, served lightly seared as tataki with plenty of blanched onion and ponzu dressing. Or perhaps a sashimi of kawahagi (filefish), sliced so finely that the color of the platter below glows through the delicate, opaque flesh. Or soft, white yari-ika squid, its texture firm but not chewy.

There's plenty more than fish, though. We loved the tempura of sansai (sprouting herbs and fiddleheads from the wild); ditto the blanched cabbage and octopus dressed with a creamy-sour bainiku (pickled ume plum) dressing. And tonkatsu lovers will be relieved to see the house special negi-ton pork cutlets still feature prominently on the menu.

The only thing that's really changed about Sasano is that its Nogizaka location no longer feels quite so hidden. The entrance is still hard to spot, tucked away off the main drag, but now it looks right over toward the Midtown complex. It's definitely worth the effort to find it.


Sasano

Location: Akasaka Aoi Bldg. 2F, 9-6-23 Akasaka, Minato-ku
(03) 3475-6055

Open: 5:30 p.m.-midnight (last order); Saturday 5-11 p.m.; closed Sun. and holidays

Nearest stations: Nogizaka (Chiyoda Line) and Roppongi (Hibiya and Oedo)

How to get there: From Roppongi, walk down the right side of Gaien-Higashi-dori toward Nogizaka. At the lights just past Midtown, turn right down the first side street and enter the apartment building immediately on the left. The stairs leading up to Sasano are at the back of the entrance area.

More: Most credit cards accepted; Japanese menu; some English spoken; reservations recommended



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