Finding a new favorite izakaya tavern is always cause for celebration, especially if it happens to be on your way home. Better yet, if it offers good food and a great sake selection. Nurukan Sato Gotenyama Saryo ticks all of those boxes — just as long as “on your way home” involves passing through JR Shinagawa Station.
Nurukan Sato is certainly worth the detour. The wide frontage, bright, airy interior and cheerful atmosphere make it easy to drop in, whether you only have time for a quick snack or are ready to linger a while. Be warned — once you see the colorful array of sake bottles covering the entire wall by the entrance, you are likely to extend your visit.
This is not just the usual token nod to jizake (regional sake) that you find at most large izakaya. The people who run Nurukan Sato are serious about offering some of the best that are available. There are scores of small-scale breweries from around the country on the regular drinks list, plus a number of limited-edition brews that you need to ask about.
As the name suggests — nurukan is the word used for sake that is warmed but not hot — they do not subscribe to the prevailing notion that premium sake must only be served chilled, though you can specify which way you want it. Each flask is monitored with a thermometer as it is heated (or chilled), to ensure it is served at precisely the right temperature. If you’re not sure, order a tasting set of three different types.
It is a reliable rule of thumb — in Tokyo at any rate — that wherever premium sake is served you are likely to find food of equal quality. Nurukan Sato has plenty to nibble on as you sip, including such traditional esoterica as eihire (dried stingray fins), konowata (seasoned sea cucumber entrails) and fugu ranso nukadzuke (puffer fish ovaries pickled in rice bran).
But there are also more substantial dishes, some are izakaya standards, others push the envelope of inventiveness. The potato salad is a thick, squat stalagmite of creamy, mayo-rich mash, liberally adorned with ikura (roe). The “broiled tartare” of avocado is equally interesting: a pillar of avocado, seared on the outside and topped with a healthy mound of zuwai-gani (snow crab) meat.
The grilled Daisen-dori chicken is juicy and tasty, and comes with a heaped dab of piquant yuzu-kosho green chili-citrus relish. The same chicken is served in a crisp batter with a generous topping of grated daikon and chopped scallions, like a cross between tempura and a katsu cutlet. There are a couple of wagyu beef dishes, too, including lightly broiled cuts served as bite-sized nigiri sushi or simply with ponzu (citrus soy sauce) for dipping.
And to soak up the alcohol before you head to your train, there is a good choice of donburi (rice bowls), including a remarkable seafood version topped with morsels of sashimi and a whole raw egg.
Nurukan Sato is on the second floor of the Ecute mall located directly above the platforms at Shinagawa Station, inside the station wickets. Is it worth buying a ticket just to access it? Probably not. But if you’re making your way home or waiting for your shinkansen ride, it’s a great place to know.
Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.
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