Tout est bon, dans le cochon - or everything is good in the pig, even the unlikeliest part...
Here is a dish which I just rediscovered after having bought some during a weekend in the Loire : the jellied pork feet, a cheap delicacy proving indeed that every thing is tasty in a pig, even these feet that spend so much time foraging in mud and trash...
It reminds me the cox tail which is also so good in spite of having had a life stuck between flies and smelly droppings... Life is indeed mysterious when you think twice about it.
This was one of these well-sized professional tastings that I like : small enough, relaxed and friendly tasting with nonetheless very beautiful wines to sample. I still couldn't attend but for an hour or two, after work, and with the
well-timed tip of Kenji and Mae who called to tell that we could meet there or afterwards for a glass. The entry fee was 8 € for which you wer given a nice glass that you could keep afterwards.
The event was organized by Laeticia Laure who until recently had been working for the AVN.
The tasting event, which should come back every year at about the same time is named Les Affranchis, with as subtitle "35 Vignerons de Loire à Paris !". Enough to compell you to make a visit, especially if you know that all these wines are made from organic grapes and go through the cellar uncorrected. I knew of course a few of the vintners there but I still had to know better some of them :
Alexandre Bain, Clément Baraut, Thomas Batardière,
Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme, Puzelat-Bonhomme, Guy Bossard & Fred Niger Van Herck (Domaine de l'Ecu), Mikaël Bouges, Emeline Calvez & Sébastien Bobinet, Vincent Carême, Agnès & Jacques Carroget (la Paonnerie), Ludovic Chanson, Florent Cosme, Mathieu Coste, Xavier Courant (Domaine de l'Oubliée), Sébastien David, Nathalie Gaubicher-Chaussard (le Briseau), Françoise & Philippe Gourdon (Tour Grise), Reynald Héaulé, Emile Hérédia (Domaine de Montrieux), Laurent Herlin, Mélanie & Emeric Hillaire (Clos Mélaric), Maï & Kenji Hodgson, Grégory Leclerc, Chahut et prodiges, et Anne Paillet, Autour de l'Anne, Jérôme Lenoir (Les Roches), Josette Médeau, Christine, Joël & Jérémy Ménard (Sablonnettes), Thierry Michon (Saint-Nicolas), Noëlla Morantin
Romain Paire (Pothiers), Marc Pesnot, (Sénéchalière), Philippe Peulet (la Perrière), Géraldine & Christophe Pialoux (Le Picatier), Pascale & François Plouzeau, (la Garrelière), Pascal Potaire & Moses Gadouche (Capriades), François Saint-Lô
Luc Sébille, Marie Thibault-Cabrit, Hervé Villemade, Jean-Marie, Julien & Thibaut (Les Roches sèches).
This last Tokyo story is about the rare historic remnants of a bygone era in modern Tokyo, with two small and little-known Tokyo museums where nihonshu or sake hold a prominent place. I am not usually into museums but I'll make an exception, before a swift return to the liveliest wines you can imagine...
The first one (picture above) sits in the Yanaka neighborhood (谷中) which is itself part of what we call shitamachi, the lower town of Tokyo. This is the old Yoshida sake/liquor shop, which was built in 1910, got modifications in 1935 and was donated as a museum to show how a sake merchant house looked like in the early 20th century. It was still inhabited till 1986 by merchants. This sake shop is an annex of the Shitamachi Museum (2nd half of this story), which is located in Ueno, not far from there.
This discreet restaurant is a hard find, it sits in the middle of a stretch of shitamachi south of Minowa station and east of Iriya but
you'll be rewarded of your efforts to locate the venue among the low buildings of these quiet side streets, as this is serving the most refine
vegan cuisine you can dream of in the middle of Tokyo.
Most of this trip was about what we could call vulgar and casual bars, venues which I truly love and appreciate for their easygoing ways, but the restaurant Bon was a welcome counterpoint through which I could sample the refinement of a branch of the Japanese cuisine.
Don't ask me more details, but the vegan cuisine found at the restaurant Bon is an inheritance from the Zen Buddhist monks who imported it from China 300 years ago. It is known under the mysterious name of the Fucha Ryori tradition, itself part of the larger Shojin Ryori tradition.
Ryuzo Furuzawa manages the restaurant with his wife and he is active both in the kitchen and with his visitors, the refinement of the service and traditional rooms adding to the whole picture and experience.
The house is a modern adaptation of the traditional Japanese house, with separate dining rooms, cobble stones in the corridor, and low windows here and there on a lush miniature garden. B. told me when she saw the pictures that the low windows were similar to the low doors of the tea houses under which you must bend to come in.
Once again, I was happy to experience by myself that Japan has a solid drinking culture (so to say), and in a very permissive, socially-admitted way. It doesn't seem to translate into booze-soaked bums screaming in the street. That's for the one-sided positive view of this drinking culture to which I clutch unrepentently. If you want to have another, more pessimistic view on the issue, please read Eryk's essay, he aknowledges a certain Japanese restraint for the lack of violent excesses but still points to what he considers being the deep social and work problems behind the heavy drinking spotted here and there. Look at the poster on the top, it is found in the subway and it admonishes the inebriated salarymen to better do it at home...
I still think that, generally speaking, this country handles the relationship with alcohol quite well, in spite of a few visible excesses, and that's why attending these bars and venues was so enjoyable.
Another casual tachinomi or sakaba bar.
Akihabara was not in my mind the neighborhood of Tokyo that I associated with bars and even less with standing bars (tachinomi); Akihabara is known as the electronics and computer
center with all sort of specialized shops and supermarkets, and I also occasionally check there the second-hand cameras in the basement of a
Sofmap shop. The neighborhood which stands along the Yamanote line around the namesake station has become in the last few years the magnet for anime passionates and for the maid cafe craze.
That's why when I thought about bars, I would have pointed to the now-famous maid cafe of this area, these are cafes where men in search for a new experiences are served by lolitas dressed as maids. We actually tried to find one just for the fun and see how weird it can be, it's not hard because in several back streets of Akihabara you stumble upong young women handing flyers about these places (watch a few ones being talked to by a foreigner on this video). We asked about the possible allowance for pictures but it seems that they don't let you use your own camera, you can olny get a picture shot by their staff for something like 500 Y if I remember. The whole thing seems to be quite dull but, well, it's one of these weird Japanese things that I wanted to try nonetheless. You can watch how it looks inside on this video, although there are differences from one place to the other.
Instead of the frivolous maid cafes, we went to the valeur sûre of the Japanese bar, the tachinomi or standing bar, and this particular one is named Manseibashi. The Niku-Mansei building at the foot of which you find this standing bar is at a safe distance from the buzzing backstreets where the otakus find their anime stuff and computer shops. The people who come here seem to be working in the area, not visitors, that gives the place a local feel.
I found the pic on left on the web and the pic on the right is a Google Street View.
Kita Senju (Tokyo)
Going out in Tokyo at dirt-cheap prices
Here is an izakaya chain which has only a string of venues in Tokyo. We stumbled upon it in Kita Senju, like usual to get a more comfortable dinner after a few visits in the area. We'll short-name the place as an izakaya but
the red Kanji characters above the name (on right), Taishuu Sakaba, mean in
Japanese something like, literally, "people's sake bar", or "popular sake venue", the term being an alternative to the generic izakaya word used for most of these casual bars.
The Kaburaya chain looks at the same time very efficient in terms of room service and very good value in terms of cost. Going there was a good learn on how the Japanese can keep traditional and adapt to the most efficient fast-food techniques.
There are a few interpretations about where the shitamachi old town can be found in Tokyo, Ueno is among the names that come to mind, as well as Yanaka or Minowa among others, but Kita Senju is also named as a surviving shadow of the age-old lower-class neighborhood, and shitamachi entertainment districts, like the ones of Okachimachi ans Ueno, are always lots of fun and painless for your wallet. Remember again that shitamachi is an immaterial concept in the sense that except for the fact that the buildings are lower than in other parts of town, all the buildings are new or relatively new, everything being rebuilt sooner or later in this country, including old-looking temples. But the spirit of the lower town (shitamachi) seems to remain very vivid in the minds and habits.
Kita Senju (Tokyo)
Here is an off-centered neighborhood of Tokyo (Kita Senju) which seems to have hidden gems, at least for the unsuspecting foreigner, as the Tokyoite probably knows about the pleasures of this area. For a Parisian like me, all the neighborhoods beyond the Yamanote line are akin to the suburbs beyond the périphérique, and I am awakening to the fact that these areas are home to many islands of pleasures, Japanese style, including some that you could tag as red-light-district type...
This picture probably doesn't arouse a Japanese viewer's excitement, but from a European perspective, this pachinko parlor on the side and those neons signaling various venues and pleasures mean fun and happy drinking among an unrestrained crowd of salarymen and mixed-gender partygoers.
Kite Senju is a direct connection from either Ueno, Nippori or Nishi-Nippori, using the Chiyoda line, the Hibiya line or a JR train. Kita Senju is one of the busiest stations of Tokyo, and you know what a busy train/metro station means in Tokyo : lots of lights and venues so that the exhausted workers and employees can let the steam off before going back to their home where their wife has been waiting stoically all the evening while preparing dinner (another Japanese cliché, I know, but it always works...).
You can sigh in relief, Tokyo has its own Le Verre Volé... The French iconic natural-wine restaurant (and caviste) has now its mirror venue in Meguro, close to Ebisu and Shibuya, not exactly the worst location for a restaurant. It opened last november (2012) and it is already among the top destinations for the natural-wine lovers in Tokyo, some of them having already visited the Paris venue during a travel in France. Its owner Ryotaro Miyauchi learnt his skills while working several years in France including at Le Verre Volé-Paris with Cyril Bordarier.
It takes a mere 10-minute walk maybe to reach Le Verre Volé from the Meguro station, an easy stroll along a large avenue with a mix of shops and other businesses. the avenue (named Meguro-dori) is wide and busy near the Meguro station but it's much more quiet when you reach Le Verre Volé on the right-hand side, the shops turning more artsy too, I spotted a couple of designers shops or something like that, including furniture shops. The area is also into fashion stylists if I remember and it has a particulat flavor in this regard. This visit to Le verre Volé was a good opportunity to discover another spot on the Tokyo map, which is healthy, because if you're not careful you end up going always to a handful of destinations in this huge city, when in fact it has so many neighborhoods with their own something.
I crossed the Meguro-gawa, which is also one of the destinations for hanami. Rivers are looking like canals in Tokyo, from a European perspective, that's because they've been built along and remodeled for so many years I guess. Meguro-gawa can't be compared to the Canal Saint Martin which flows 20 meters from the Paris'Verre Volé, but there's still something of the 10th arrondissement here, not too expensive and in the same time quite close to magnet neighborhoods like Ebisu and Shibuya.
I had the preconception that the tachinomi type of bar, the standing bar, was to be found only in the shitamachi part of Tokyo or other towns. In other words, I thought that it was a working-class
venue for the salarymen and workers at the bottom of the social ladder, but I began to explore what I would call
more upscale tachinomis or standing bars, located in more affluent neighborhoods and targetting a more middle-class clientèle.
We're in Shinjuku again, and following the tip of John W., I visited this place with my friend T. who in spite of being a native Tokyoite is always happy to learn about an interesting bar to go to for a few glasses and plates.
Again, even if this standing bar is neater and more sophisticated than the ones in more simple neighborhoods, I notice that there is little coverage on them, they are the second fiddles for the restaurant/bar guides, maybe because the patrons there are mostly local salarymen and executives, because foreigners are shy of venturing inside. This story will try to correct that and show how you can have a beautiful time for not so much money in this supposedly expensive city.
This venue is located in a basement (B1) and this is the opportunity to remind that in Tokyo, many restaurants and bars are not on the street level, they're either on upper stories (F1, F2.... F5 or higher) or in the basements, and an unsuspecting westerner passes them without even imagining that they pass dozens of hidden venues when they walk along these streets and avenues. We're so much used in Paris for example to just walk around a given neighborhood to have an idea of the potential restaurants that we're left clueless in Tokyo if we follow the same routine.