Tori no Suke (鳥の介) - Kushiyaki ****
Address - Suginami-ku, Ogikubo 5-29-7 Ichibankan 2. F
Opening hours 6:00 PM to 12:00 PM
Telephone - 03-3220-3306
Menu - In Japanese
Credit Cards - OK
As a rule, I don't eat much Japanese food because honestly I am not very fond of sushi, sashimi, nori and sunomono; even after many years in Japan, they are still much too exotic for my tastes. Once in a while, though, I really enjoy a meal based on Kushiyaki (meat and other delicacies grilled on a stick, like for example, but not only limited to, yakitori).
The reason Kushiyaki is an exception to the rule is the fact that it has all the elegance and simplicity of other Japanese styles of cooking, but it's closer to my tastes: the fact it's warm and not stone cold doesn't hurt. I also enjoy immensely seeing my food being prepared with so much skill right in front of my eyes. Well, I have an excellent Kushiyaki restaurant called Torinosuke just five minutes from home and I go there once in a while when I don't feel like cooking. There used to be another even closer that I preferred because of its nicer interior, but this one is almost as good.
Tori no Suke's interior is simple and moderately elegant, although a little small, as there are no more than twenty seats in all. Quite comfy, in any case, and relaxing even when full. As soon as you sit down, you get the first reward: a beautiful complimentary dish of colorful raw vegetables accompanied by some flavored miso dip. A strip of red bell pepper, one of white daikon, a third of green cucumber, an orange carrot and so forth: they are a pleasure to the eye and to the stomach, because the stuff and the miso really go very well together. The menu is unfortunately only in Japanese without pictures, but do not let this deter you if you are shy and don't speak Japanese: the adventure is well worth the effort. Its entries are numerous and well chosen, mostly classics like Tsukune, Tebasaki, Asuparamaki and the like, but there are also some small surprises (I won't tell you what they are, or they wouldn't be surprises any more) and non Kushiyaki items like onigiri, chazuke, salads, etc.
I always order a-la-carte and, to fill my stomach, besides the Kushiyaki stuff I also get a small Soboro, that is rice covered with minced meat, a raw quail egg and some boiled vegetables (far nicer to see and eat than it sounds), all washed down with a beer or a Moscow Mule, which seems to me a good choice if you don't feel like having simple water, but want something close to it.
Drinks, besides some cocktails, include beer, whisky, wine (probably not too good), and assorted soft drinks.
The bill: about 2500 yen per person for a good, solid meal without drinks.
If you don't live near Ogikubo and don't know Kushiyaki, give it a try at the closest Kushiyaki restaurant you find: I would be surprised if you didn't like it. Tori no Suke has a branch in Chitose Karasuyama on the Keio Line.
Butaya (ぶたや) - Japanese ****
Address - Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Amanuma 3-9-2
Opening hours - Mon to Fri: from 5:00 pm to 11:30 pm, Sat: 12:00 pm to 14:30 pm and from 5:00 pm to 11:30 pm
Telephone - 03-3392-2450
Menu - In Japanese
Credit Cards - No
Butaya is an odd restaurant, mainly because of its minimalistic approach to life and business. A spotlessly clean and almost empty room painted in white, initially it's not really welcoming in spite of the politeness of the staff, but it grows on you really fast.
Just look at their site, and you will see that these people have style. Like the restaurant, it's white, simple and in good taste. There's more: the music in the background is always jazz, it's always quiet even when full and customers behave like people who feel very much at home.
Don't be discouraged by the extreme conciseness of the menu (I bet you have never seen such a short one). It contains just two items, but both are excellent: Japanese-style fried pork (yakibuta) in a ginger sauce and the same in a spicy sauce. The drinks? Just one brand of beer: Miller's.
The meal consists of a cup of light soup, a salad and some slabs of top quality fried pork. The people of Butaya are proud of their sauces, and have reason to. They are unlike anything I have tried before.
What more can I say? For 900 yen or less (according to whether you choose a small, medium, large or extra large set) you can have a simple, but excellent meal. Give Butaya a try, and you might well end up sitting next to me.
To find Butaya
: get out of Ogikubo's North exit, cross the street, and turn left on the Ome Kaido. Keep your eyes open, and you will find its sign after about four hundred meters.
web - www.butaya.com
Tatsumi Tei (たつみ亭) - Tonkatsu *****
Address - Ogikubo Hakusan Jinja-Mae
Opening Hours - From 11 am to 10:00 pm
Telephone - 03-3391-7812
Credit Cards - No
I am one of those rare birds who do not hold Japanese cooking in very high esteem. Tonkatsu, although of European ancestry, is now a Japanese dish of good standing, and it seems to me not nearly as tasty as the Wiener Shnitzel from which it clearly derives. ALso, cabbage strips are hardly the stuff of my dreams, when it comes to side dishes. Still, to beef up the site and draw a reliable culinary map of Ogikubo for those who need it, it might be worth it to tell you people about Tatsumi Tei, because it's as good as they get. Prices range, with one exception, from 1500 to 2000, meat is tender and juicy, the miso Shiru is excellent and you get as many free candies as you wish at the counter. If you like this sort of thing, go. You won't regret it.
Get out of Ogikubo's west exit, turn left and go straight ahead for about three hundred meters. Tatsumi Tei is right in front of the Torii marking Hakusan Jinja temple's entrance.