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No prizes for guessing what’s on the menu at Tokyo Oyster
Bar. The name is succinct, businesslike, almost generic. You would
imagine it to be sleek, perhaps a bit impersonal, and definitely a bit
pricey — after all, that’s the image most other oyster bars in the city
aspire to. You’d be wrong.

Tokyo Oyster Bar
Tokyo Oyster Bar
Tokyo Oyster Bar Whether you like
your oysters raw on the half shell or cooked in a host of different
ways, there’s a fine selection behind the counter at Tokyo Oyster Bar.
You don’t have to get dressed up, either: it’s just as casual as its
cluttered entrance suggests.
ROBBIE SWINNERTON PHOTOS

Quite the opposite of cool and corpor- ate, Tokyo Oyster Bar
(TOB) has the easygoing charm of a neighborhood bistro. It sits on the
edge of the seamy pink-light backstreets of Higashi- Gotanda, looking
out on the relentless traffic of Sakurada-dori, much like a waterfront
diner watching the constant ebb and flow of the tides.

The maritime image is apt. The outside is adorned with the
sort of clutter and jetsam you’d find on a beach after a storm: cartons,
kegs and empty wine bottles, with strings of oyster shells dangling from
the eaves and entwined around a sign that proclaims “Welcome to Oyster
Party.” The twinkling blue LED lights add to the sense of
whimsy.

The building is anything but new, though it’s been spruced up
with a smart blue color scheme enlivened by an eclectic accretion of
posters and nautical artifacts. It looks tiny — just a small counter
and a couple of tables with tops of gleaming stainless steel — but the
winding staircase at the back leads up to similarly cozy dining rooms
upstairs. Other places shout money and glamour; TOB murmurs “settle in
and make yourself comfortable.”

Eccentric and homespun it may appear, but they certainly know
their mollusks. One glance at the array of oysters in the glass display
case running along the counter will reassure you on that count. Some 50
varieties, both from local waters and imported (predominantly from
Australia, New Zealand and the United States), are listed on the menu,
of which at least half a dozen are available at any one time.

This is just the right number if you want to try the whole
range, so most people order up a mixed platter, freshly shucked on the
half shell. Currently, this includes the excellent Matoya variety from
Mie Prefecture (these have a clean, salty tang, delicate texture and
slip down a treat); Kujukujima from Miyazaki Prefecture (less complex in
flavor and with a firmer holdfast); Cat’s Eye from Tasmania (smooth and
silky, with a more pronounced “oyster” palate); and Milky Way from New
Zealand (small shells but big in taste).

The shellfish gene

Nothing in Tokyo better exemplifies the designer oyster
bar experience than the burgeoning Maimon chain, which now has a new
branch at the Shinbashi end of the restaurant row known as Ginza
Corridor. Every bit as sleek and chic (and pricey) as the Nishi-Azabu
branch, it’s the sort of place that makes you feel cheap if you’re not
wearing designer clothes and sipping on vintage champagne.

You can’t fault the quality of the seafood or the smooth
professionalism, though. Besides the oyster bar itself, the attached
restaurant offers a range of creative, fusionesque side dishes. If
you’ve ever been to the uberchic Megu restaurant in Manhattan, these may
look quite familiar, as it’s operated by the same company.

Maimon, 8-3-saki Ginza, Chuo-ku; tel:(03) 3569- 7733; www.maimon.jp/maimon/
maimon_ginza.html
. Nearest station: Shinbashi (JR, Ginza &
Asakusa lines). Open 5:30 p.m.-4 a.m. (last order 3 a.m.); Saturday,
Sunday and holidays: 5:30 p.m.-midnight (last order 11:30 p.m.)
.

The oyster bar inside New York’s Grand Central Station is
arguably the world’s most famous. Hardly surprisingly, the franchise
inside Shinagawa Station’s Atre shopping center is a bland facsimile
both in terms of look and ambience.

Large and impersonal (would you expect anything else from the
operators of Hard Rock Cafe and Tony Roma’s?), it neverthe- less boasts
a fine selection of oysters from around the globe, plus a long list of
wines to help them down. Even better, it’s always busy, so you can
expect the oysters to be fresh. Verdict: a good place to fuel up or
while away time waiting for the shinkansen.

Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Atre Shinagawa 4F.
2-18-1 Konan, Minato-ku; tel: (03) 6717-0932; www.oysterbartokyo.com. Nearest
station: Shinagawa (JR). Open daily 11 a.m.-midnight (last order 11
p.m.)
.

Shellfish lovers visiting (or working in) Yebisu Garden Place will be
pleased to hear that the spacious, relaxing lounge area in the heart of
the basement Glass Square complex has been refurbished. Sayonara mineral
water (the bar used to offer scores of varieties); hello oysters.

The Yebisu Oyster Bar is part of the same group as the reliable (if
strangely named) Water Grill restaurants in Nishi-Azabu and
Akasaka-Mitsuke. The bad news is that only two kinds of oyster are
offered each day — though hopefully this will increase as word gets out
and demand picks up. The good news is that that you can wash them down
with Gosset Champagne (by the glass) or a fine new brew called The
Oyster, a foaming, cloudy white beer that is every bit as refreshing as
imported Hoegaarden.

Yebisu Oyster Bar, Yebisu Garden Place Glass Square B1, 4-20-4
Ebisu, Shibuya-ku; tel: (03) 5447-1870; www.oysterbar.co.jp. Nearest
station: Ebisu (JR and Hibiya lines). Open 3-10:30 p.m. (last order);
Saturday, Sunday & holidays 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. (last
order)
.

All are absolutely fresh enough to need no seasoning other
than a sprinkle of lemon juice or the red wine vinegar dip they are
served with. What they do demand is a good, crisp white wine. For such a
modest place, TOB’s selection is admirable, both well chosen and well
priced, with most bottles under 5,000 yen.

The kitchen produces excellent cooked dishes too. We enjoyed
the simple wafu-yaki (grilled on the half shell with a fish sauce
dressing). And we loved their delectable version of that timeless
Japanese favorite, kaki-furai — jumbo oysters breaded and
deep-fried crisp and golden, with an oozing, moist interior.

Other influences span the globe — not just Europe (grilled
with a Genovese basilico sauce) or North America (chowder) but
also China (pan-fried gyoza dumplings), Mexico (tacos) and even
Peru (ceviche). The two standouts are the Russian-style guribe, a
cream-rich stew of oysters with mushrooms and vegetables, cooked in a
pot topped with a flaky pie-crust crou^te, and served
bubbling-hot from the oven; and the superb, round-shelled Belon oysters
from Brittany (dubbed the “king of oysters” and priced accordingly)
cooked with a creamy Rockefeller sauce.

If, having lingered all evening, you’re still hungry, the
kitchen can provide a most commendable risotto (we certainly endorse
it), chahan (fried rice) or chilled reimen noodles. They
can also offer a selection of sorbets for dessert — virtually the only
dish they have that does not involve any kind of shellfish.


TOB’s unpretentious setting, good food and honest prices are
an obvious recipe for success and full tables. Instead of just turning
people away, they have opened an annex a minute’s walk away just around
the corner.

Called Links Oyster Bar, it’s more spacious and conventional
in layout. But the decor is every bit as eclectic (check out the
miniature dinghy attached to the ceiling) and the feel is just as
laid-back.

Less a place to take a date to or dine solo, LOB fills up
with groups of salarymen and women, who treat it like an exotic
izakaya. On a recent visit (in mid-January), even the outside
table was occupied, with blankets provided to keep the chill at
bay.

The menu covers almost identical territory to TOB. One good
addition is the warm “salad” (on-yasai), a selection of lightly
cooked vegetables with a simple dressing. The produce used for this is
sourced from the market garden- ers of Kamakura. Could it be its
provenance by the ocean that makes it such a good counterpoint to all
the seafood?

Links Oyster Bar, 1-12-5 Higashi-Gotanda, Shinagawa-ku; tel: (03)
3280-3320; www.oysterbar.jp.
Nearest station Gotanda (JR and Asakusa lines); Open: 5-11 p.m (last
order); closed Monday; most cards accepted.

Tokyo Oyster Bar


MAP
Location: 1-11-17 Higashi-Gotanda, Shinagawa-ku
tel: (03) 3280-3336 www.oysterbar.jp



Open: Daily 5-10:30 p.m (last order)

Nearest station: Gotanda (JR and Asakusa lines)

How to get there: From Gotanda JR Station (East Exit), cross the rotary and walk up the right side of Sakurada-dori for 100 meters. Tokyo Oyster Bar is on the corner of the 3rd side street. From the subway, take Exit A6.

What works: Good, fresh oysters; capable cooking; a comfortable setting; and affordable wine: what’s not to like?

What doesn’t: It’s not the most salubrious neighborhood. There’s only room at the counter for 6.

Number of seats: 70

BGM: Buena Vista-era salsa

Smoking: No restrictions

Price per head: Oysters from 280 yen apiece. Figure around 3,000 yen (not including drinks).

Drinks: Beer 630 yen; cocktails from 630 yen; sherry 780 yen/glass; wine from 530 yen/glass, 2,700 yen/bottle; sake from 1,000 yen/360ml; spirits from 630 yen.

Credit cards: Most accepted.

Language: Japanese menu; some English spoken.

Reservations: Recommended, especially for a place at the counter.

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