If you're in the mood for fantastic fresh fish and seafood, Ebisu Kaigan is the next best thing to an early-morning trip to Tsukiji Fish Market. Occupying a renovated old Japanese house, this cozy little restaurant (whose name means "Ebisu Beach") exudes a relaxed and homespun atmosphere. You can take your dinner at the counter downstairs while you chat with the chefs, but the second-floor tatami-mat area is even more fun - it almost feels like you're visiting friends or relatives at their beach house as you enjoy the best of the day's catch.
A recent visit started off with kohada (gizzard shad) sashimi and fermented sea urchin from Shimonoseki in Iwate Prefecture. You may know kohada as one of the cheapest fish at conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, but if you taste it here you'll discover just how exquisite it can be. We were surprised to note the subtle aroma of salt water in the fermented sea urchin; its slightly saline flavor makes it a good match for both shochu and sake. One unusual fish dish is the shima sushi ("island sushi"), a regional specialty of the Izu islands that's rarely found in Tokyo. Basically it's a fish of the day marinated in a special soy sauce, and we enjoyed a light and very tasty shima sushi of soi (marbled rockfish) prepared this way.
The menu includes a number of original dishes, among them a terrific Okinawan champuru (stir-fry) of shrimp, goya, wood-ear mushrooms and tomatoes. The sauteed shrimp and vegetables are imbued with a fish-broth flavor that makes this much richer than the traditional Okinawan champuru. Then there are the tasty croquettes of omochi rice cakes with shrimp and scallops, with unusual textural contrasts produced by wrapping the fresh shrimp and scallops around sticky, chewy omochi. In addition to seafood, the menu offers several salads and vegetable dishes, including huge grilled broad beans that are well worth a try.
Ebisu Kaigan is a paradise for shochu lovers, with 43 different varieties of this potent beverage priced at Y650-900 per glass. There are also seven different types of homemade umeshu; we highly recommend the one made with Okinawan awamori spirits, which is served with a huge plum in the glass. And they serve a fresh sake called Tensei that's bottled in the morning down in Chigasaki, Kanagawa, and delivered straight to the restaurant three times a month. You can call them to check delivery dates if you're a fresh-sake fanatic. Live performances of Okinawan music are held regularly, and the restaurant is packed every night with a diverse range of customers. Budget around Y3500-4000 for dinner with a few drinks.
by Hikaru Okabe