Sake to me

Food & Drink - October 4th, 2002

by Charles J. Waggon

If a huge hammer eight feet wide and fat like a box­ing glove had’a smacked the top of my head the next time I came up for day­light, I wouldn’t have been surprised hardly.

After poppin’ my head out of the umpteenth exit of Shinjuku station, I felt just like one of those little gophers in the arcade game what you hit on the head with a mallet.

“It’s right there as you come out of the exit of Shinjuku Station. Can’t miss it.” That’s how my neighbor Binky described where she’d had some kinda hamburger. “It’s all American style, Charlie Jake, and they got ‘burgers and fried chicken and sandwiches and whatever you can think of. Didn’t see a Shrimp Louie, though. Funny, I thought the Japanese liked seafood…”

She was talking about a joint called Happy Times or something. Problem was, when I got to Shinjuku Station, I couldn’t find THE exit. That’s cause there isn’t ONE—there’s more like a hunnert of them, every damn direction. East side, west side, A10, B12, C43, D87 and on and on. But I was game to try.

Each exit I’d pop my head out of there’d be no American restaurant in sight. So I’d go back down, burrow over to the next one and come up for ‘burger recon. After I’d poked my head out of about 40 different exits, I was powerfully hungry and figured it was time to call it quits. Problem was, by then I didn’t know where I was, or how I’d get back to the Yamanote Line.

Wandered till I saw an exit, B15, with elevators going up to ground level. Headed into one, and got followed by a zillion people, pushed me to the back. I tried to get out at the first floor, when another wave of people pushed me back. Got all the way up to the 6th floor before I could get out.

I was just about to get the next eleva­tor going down when a familiar sight caught my eye. In front of the restaurant on that floor were three huge barrels of Inata Hime, a sake I learned to like quite a few years back when I was posted a ways out of Yonago, a little town on the Sea of Japan, right across the water from Korea. Spent most of six months there, putting in some top secret radio gear up in the hills. Had all the antennas draw a bead on Pyongyang. Real big ears.

Anyway, I spent a lot of winter week­ends with the crew drinking Inata Hime, the local hooch. Been brewed there for more than 300 years. A cut above all the other sake I’d had till then. Not too sweet, not too dry, not too flowery, not too sharp. Good, honest sake.

Now here it was, big barrels of it, right there in Shinjuku. After going up and down 40 exits, you could imagine how much I was hankerin’ for a drink. The restaurant is called Inata-ya, run by the same folks that make the sake. That’s why most every grade of sake they make is on the menu. Whoopee.

They got a bunch of different things for lunch, but go for one of the specials. For ¥1,000 you get a feast. For ¥1,400 you get an even bigger one. A whole mess of little dishes of fish, fried things, vegetables, nood­les, rice, chawan-mushi, miso soup. Charlie Jake sez two thumbs up, since it’s fresher and more inspired than what would cost twice as much in Akasaka or Ginza.

Also, lunch goes till 3 p.m., great when your day is running late. Had a few sakes, too. Smooth, but rich. Brought back mem­ories of Yonago.

Went back for dinner with my sec­retary Kumiko. Yes, they had wine, and No I wouldn’t let her order any without first tasting the sake. After a few sips of the junmai grade, she for­got about wanting any wine. Which grade is best? All I can say is start at one end of the sake menu and work your way to the other. When the price increases faster than how much bet­ter it gets, stop—then order down a notch. For me, that’s about ¥800 per glass. For you, who knows?

The food is all by the dish. I let Kumiko order, and what we got was incredible. Shiokara made from raw oys­ters. Grilled fish. Raw fish with a super clean taste. Great vegetables. Finally had to tell her to stop ordering, I was stuffed.

Everything was first rate, and we got out for less than ¥10,000 for the both of us.

Charlie Jake sez thumbs up, especially since you can never find places this good right above a major station, and the service was efficient yet gracious. Just make sure either you or your friend can read the menu in Japanese.

Shinjuku Palette Bldg. 6F
1-1-1 Nishi Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
TEL: 03-3349-1708
Open every day for lunch (11 to 3) and dinner (5 to 11:30)