Somewhere between bistro and beer hall lies the ambiguous territory of the wine izakaya. Ajirutei occupies a space that looks as though it was once a sports bar. Despite the cheerful red walls and various pieces of wine paraphernalia - wine crates, bottles, and posters from the movie "Sideways" - scattered throughout, the interior retains some of the character of its previous incarnation. The ghost of a dartboard lingers behind the decorative platter bearing a map of France on one wall, and one can easily imagine team-logo mugs in the nooks where wine bottles now stand.
Significantly more impressive than the decor is the selection of wines from around the world. Around ten are available by the glass (Y500-, with bottles starting at Y2500), and selections change daily. There's no list, but the peppy waitstaff, clad in burgundy polo shirts and green aprons, are happy to make recommendations based on your preferences. On a recent visit, we were presented with several interesting choices: a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, a Silvaner from Germany, and a Pinot Noir from Oregon. All were a refreshing departure from the standard offerings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
The food menu reveals more Gallic tendencies, featuring rustic dishes such as homemade pork rillets and pate de campagne in hefty portions. The bean cassoulet is generously laden with a chicken thigh and sausage, while the Caesar salad comes draped in thin slices of salt-cured ham. The mushrooms in garlic beg for a second basket of warm focaccia brushed with olive oil, to sop up the juices. Everything is consistently well prepared, if not exactly gourmet fare.
Popular among the after-work crowd, the restaurant fills up quickly on weekdays, so it's best to call ahead. Budget Y4000-5000 for food and drinks.
by Melinda Joe