Who says you have to wait till the dog days of midsummer to enjoy unagi? Ignore the media hype: There are no rules that say when you should (or should not) eat your eel. But if you are only going to dine on unagi once a year, then make it somewhere special. And you will not find anywhere in Tokyo that does it better than Nodaiwa -- after all, they've been in the business for over 160 years now.

Nodaiwa's handsome premises are worth a visit at any time of year. The core of the restaurant is a sturdy country kura (storehouse) transported down from Takayama many years ago. You will be greeted by smiling matrons dressed in kimono. Unless you notify them differently, they will assume that you want to sit at one of the small tables in the ground-floor dining room, a cozy space with plush upholstery offering glimpses of the broiling process in the kitchen. But if you are lucky, you may be ushered up the polished wood staircase to one of the upper floors.

These are mainly occupied by private rooms reserved for parties of four or more. But there is one room on the third floor that is set aside for drop-in customers, where you sit at low tables under the wooden beams of the kura roof. The tatami is new and the walls freshly painted, but in every other respect it feels as if nothing has changed for half a century. This is the place to be if you intend to settle in for a leisurely lunch or dinner, especially if you order one of the full-course set meals.