Kagurazaka: Izakaya
Seigetsu (Kagurazaka: Izakaya)
Open 5-11pm (LO) daily.
Sun: Open Sundays

Unlike many sake-connoisseur pubs, the food here stands on its own, and would make Seigetsu worth a visit even if they only served tea. The charcoal-grilled chicken is especially outstanding, and the various Korean-influenced dishes are worth a try. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, with specially designated shochu consultants available should you need their services. The atmosphere is relaxed and cozy.

Seigetsu is the most comfortable izakaya we've been to in quite awhile. The large interior is cleverly divided up into semi-private areas with just a few tables each, so it feels cozy in spite of the size. The lighting is subdued, and the decor strikes a nice balance between tasteful and casual, with rough stucco walls, delicate bamboo screens and solid wooden tables.

In addition to the private nooks, there's also seating at a spacious main counter for those who want to be in the middle of the action. Here the heart of the operation is the grill area - set behind a protective plexiglass window to stop flying sparks - where chefs tend to the skewers of chicken and fish cooking slowly over the charcoal pit.

Wherever you decide to settle in, your first order of business will be an inspection of the drinks menu - a pleasant but time-consuming task if you happen to be a sake or shochu afficianado. The sake list offers a few dozen selections from around the country, plus plenty of seasonal specials. The waiters know the sake choices well and can give advice if you ask, while certain staff members are designated as in-house shochu consultants should your tastes run in that direction. The shochu menu covers areas of Japan besides just Kyushu - on a whim we tried a shiso-flavored shochu from Hokkaido that was surprisingly dry and very pleasant (and a bargain at only Y400).

There's a full izakaya menu, but the grilled meats and seafood are definitely the place to start. On a recent visit we enjoyed exceptionally good chicken wings - slow-cooked so that the skin was crispy all the way through, not just on the surface, while the meat remained moist and flavorful. The jidori-yaki (grilled free-range chicken) was also first-rate, and was served with a delightful ume-flavored miso as an alternative to the usual usual shio/tare choices, which are also available. Even a dish as simple as grilled asparagus stood out - thick, tender chunks with a subtly smoky flavor and a satisfying crunch.

Also worth mentioning was our complimentary bowl of wakame chips - slightly crumbly, deep-fried bits of seaweed that were delicately flavored and just salty enough to be washed down with a sip of sake. Other unusual menu items include tofu made from edamame, and tempura-fried shrimp with garlic mayonaisse.

Seigetsu has a neighborhood feel to it, and the layout favors twosomes and small groups rather than larger ones. The typical customers seem more like creative professionals rather than salarymen or students, and the median age is probably mid-thirties. It's a sophisticated clientele that's also value-conscious - the average check runs just Y3000-5000, for remarkably good food and sake.

by Robb Satterwhite
Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 6-77-1.
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Venue listing from Bento.com5 Star Rating: highly recommended