Souten (Minami-guchi)
Otsuka: Yakitori
Souten (Minami-guchi) (Otsuka: Yakitori)
Souten (Minami-guchi)
Open 5:30-11pm. Closed Mondays.
Sun: Open Sundays
no smoking: No smoking

Tokyo has no shortage of good yakitori shops, but Souten really stands out from the the crowd thanks to the quality of both their chicken and their craft sake. The entrance sports an extra-large sugidama (cedar ball) - always a promise of good sake within - and the list here doesn't disappoint. Nor does the food - they serve only the finest free-range chicken and other birds in season, prepared by a master of the grill.

The seasonal menu changes every month, and a recent early-autumn meal started off in high gear with a very appetizing blue cheese and chicken-liver pate served with raisin bread, and some fairly assertive smoked chicken. Several game birds were in season and these were among the highlights of the evening - delicious confit of tiny quail legs; tender grilled guinea fowl, and skewers of slightly fatty wild duck.

Sampling from the regular, year-round menu, we can recommend the moist and beautifully seasoned tsukune (chicken meatballs) - more crunchy than average thanks to an ample helping of ground cartilage in the recipe. And our chicken wings were grilled perfectly - they passed the crispness test without a hint of dryness.

Almost everything here is served shio-style (salted) rather than with sauce, but one exception is the liver - it's prepared semi-raw, and is extremely tender, with a sweetish sauce that complements the flavor. (There's also raw chicken sashimi on the menu.)

Breaking up the chicken courses were some decent home-made tofu and a surprising and very original chawan-mushi (egg custard). Besides the usual chicken, shiitake mushrooms and gingko nuts in the chawan-mushi, the chef also uses mozzarella cheese and tiny tomatoes to good effect - the flavors work unexpectedly well together.

Souten is just as serious about their sake as they are about their birds - they serve several varieties of their own custom-label Kozaemon sake from Gifu, plus another two dozen well-selected brands from small breweries around the country. Also from Kozaemon is a very drinkable yuzushu, a limoncello-like citrus liqueur, made with a base of junmaishu sake and served on the rocks. There's even special sake-brewery water served from big isshobin bottles.

Budget around Y6000-7000 for dinner with drinks, and bring cash; they don't take credit cards. There's no English menu, but there are a few set menus for easier ordering. It's a good idea to call for reservations as there are only fourteen seats and they sometimes host sake events here. And print out a map to bring along - it's hard to find!

by Robb Satterwhite

Toshima-ku, Minami-Otsuka 3-39-13.

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Venue listing from Bento.com5 Star Rating: highly recommended