It's always a pleasure to revisit a favorite haunt after a gap of a couple of years, and even more so to discover that it's just as good as ever. In the case of Sasano, that doesn't just mean premium sake and fine quality provender -- after all, those are the sine qua non of any self-respecting izakaya these days -- but a more generalized sense that here is a place that continues to be special.

Contributing to this impression that you have stumbled into somewhere well beyond the run-of the-mill is the feeling of satisfaction generated by actually managing to find the place. Sasano is one of those discreet little Tokyo establishments that you'd never stumble across without inside information and wouldn't find your way to without precise directions.

You could say Sasano hides its light under a bushel. It's tucked away inside an anonymous apartment building whose facade is so drab and unprepossessing it wouldn't merit a second glance in the normal run of things. The poorly lit entrance is barely visible from the main drag. The ground floor hallway is scruffy, its only artifact an ancient telephone that hasn't worked for years. You then make your way up a flight of barely salubrious linoleum-floored back stairs. It feels like you're making a big mistake.