At a glance, Wise Sons Tokyo is a strange addition to the subterranean fringes of Tokyo Station. But zoom in on this Jewish delicatessen and you’ll find something warm and inviting: crooked family photographs hanging on the wall, deli-style padded benches, bright timber features and, most importantly, row upon glorious row of bagels.
Co-owner Evan Bloom, who runs nine other Wise Sons in and around San Francisco with his brother Ari, says that opening a Tokyo outpost was a “little, wacky dream” for him.
“Bagels in Japan are a very Japanese product,” he said during a recent visit to Tokyo. “For one, bread tends to be much softer and lighter (in Japan). Sweeter, too. And there are a lot of different flavors. Essentially, it can be shaped like a bagel, but that’s kind of the only relation.”
That might be true. But it’s not to say that there aren’t top-notch options about town. Wise Sons joins a growing order of noteworthy haunts that are redefining Tokyo’s bagel identity. Places like Azabujuban’s New New York Club — a playful Big Apple-style diner (possibly caked on a bit thick with its strictly N.Y.-themed-only music policy) that serves 20 sandwich-style bagels with lavish combinations of fillings such as roast beef, onion, arugula and gouda; or eggs, bacon, avocado and cheddar. The bread itself fits the mold that Bloom describes: slightly sweeter, softer and fluffier than a traditional bagel. But wonderful all the same.
Wise Sons, on the other hand, favors tradition in its bread. Bagels are shiny and chewy. Soft, but not doughy, on the inside. Their five savory-only flavors are prepared open-faced with toppings such as egg salad, smoked salmon or pastrami.
Compromise between the two styles can be found. For good middle-ground bagels, head to the tiny and stylish Tanuki Appetizing in Kachidoki. Chef/proprietor Yasushi Kobata has spent the last four years honing his craft and offers 12 types of thick and slightly chewy sandwich bagels, served with fillings like prosciutto, New Zealand king salmon, and four different kinds of cream cheese. (To boot, Kobata’s milk-white “Bagel” cap is worth the trip alone).
In proper Tokyo form, there’s also an abundance of strange and novel varieties to be had. Loop Bagel Works, in Daizawa, offers a cracking variety of flavored bagels including mugwort and sweet potato. In Nakameguro, chef Yoshiaki Kabashima slathers his New York-style bagels with an unusual selection of homemade cream cheeses, like rum raisin and almond mocha, at Bagel Standard.
So, this is Tokyo. Variety works. And Wise Sons gets this. Bloom says that he hopes his food will be even better here than it is in California. “The Japanese take things and perfect them,” he says. “They’re not only good at replicating, but also at perfecting. There are so many cuisines here that are actually better (than in their places of origin).”
He says that they plan to give people the opportunity to “understand the classics” — which includes matzo ball soup, corn beef on deli rye, and challah French toast — and then roll out more regional items as they go. Which, in case you’re questioning their culinary chutzpah, already includes matcha babka, a build-it-yourself bagel bento box with shmears and veggies, plus a forthcoming yuzu citrus cream cheese and cured salmon roe sesame bagel. Oy.
Bagel Shops in Tokyo
You can find the bagel shops mentioned in the above article at:
Marunouchi Bulding B1F, 2-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-6390
Hours: Mon-Fri 7:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Sat, Sun & public holidays, 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
New New York Club Azabujuban
3-8-5 Azabujuban, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 106-0045
Hours: Mon-Sun, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
103 Toshinosou, 4-10-5 Kachidoki, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0054
Hours: Wed – Sun, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
Loop Bagel Works
5-28-17 Daizawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 155-0032
Hours: Tue-Wed 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (or sold out); Fri-Sun 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Miyajima Building 1F, 2-8-19 Nakameguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 153-0061
Hours: Wed-Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m.