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Two more tempting Kagurazaka finds

by Robbie Swinnerton

With its bustling streets and atmospheric back alleys, Kagurazaka is one of the best places in the city to simply stroll and explore. And when your legs start to tire or the rain starts to fall, there are numerous neighborhood eateries where you can drop in for light refreshment or spend a leisurely few hours.

That is how we first found Rouge. From the outside, this small place (just 22 seats) looks chic and modern, well lit and welcoming — much like many another wine bars in this Francophile part of town, except that the specialty is yakitori. Matching grilled skewers of chicken with wine is by no means unique, but here it’s done particularly well, and with some novel flourishes as well.

From the bruschetta topped with ratatouille vegetables that is served as an otoshi starter to hors d’oeuvres such as chicken liver pâté or marinated mushrooms, everything is designed to go with wine. And so too is the yakitori. Most of the standard cuts are offered, as well as imported quail and Challans duck. Instead of heavy soy-sauce flavors, lighter seasonings are used, such as the spicy green yuzu-koshō paste that enlivens the sasami (white breast meat).

There are plenty of vegetables, too: zucchini, lightly browned and daubed with yuzu miso; plump mushrooms; grilled chunks of avocado. But the standout item is the small cylindrical patty of minced lamb, inspired by Balkan cevapcici sausages. Served with a dab of grain mustard, salad greens and a grilled cherry tomato seasoned with balsamic vinegar, it’s a dish that you won’t want to share.

The food arrives at a leisurely pace, but on a rainy evening, who cares? Rouge is a place to nurse your wine (mostly French; from around ¥4,000/bottle, ¥600/glass). English is neither spoken nor written, but it really doesn’t matter: Just about everything here is going to be good.

Before leaving the area, check out the newly refurbished Akagi Shrine, at the apex of the Kagurazaka hill. The contemporary shrine architecture — the work of Kengo Kuma — is most impressive, and it’s been laid out with a flat wooden platform that gives a superb view over the city.

And then drop in for a drink or a bite at Akagi Café. Set right beside the shrine itself, the look is as sharp and modern as the rest of the complex. The lightwood furnishings give it a Scandinavian feel, though the food and drink menu are more Mediterranean in inspiration.

Rouge, 6-26 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku; (03) 5206-3860; www.rouge.ecnet.jp. Open 5:30-11:30 p.m.; closed Sun. and 2nd Mon. of each month. Akagi Café, Akagi Kaikan 2F, 1-10 Akagi-Motomachi, Shinjuku-ku; (03) 3235-6067; www.akagi-cafe.jp. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (Sat. from 11:30 a.m.; Sun. and hols. 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.).