Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Wana Tedome: Partake in a feast on the wild side

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

Wana Tedome doesn’t mess with any ordinary meat. “Deer, not cow. Boar, not pig,” the illuminated street-level sign outside proclaims in Japanese. “Grilled venison, grilled boar and grilled pheasant.”

Welcome to where the wild things are.

To emphasize the point, that same sign shows a stag’s head in silhouette. Slide open the door and you find the real thing: a handsome 10-point hart gazing down at you from high up on the wall. This is no mere decoration. It is advertising the main component of the menu.

There are two kinds of venison to choose from here: Hokkaido ezo-shika (Yezo sika deer) and also nihonjika, sika from the uplands of Honshu. The wild boar is mostly from Kyushu, as is the pheasant. And, depending on the seasonal availability, other meats may include bear — either brown higuma or black tsukinowa-guma — duck, rabbit and even badger.

These days, much of the game meat served in Tokyo is at high-end restaurants, which is why in Japanese it is commonly called gibier, drawing from the lexicon of French cuisine. But Wana Tedome follows the more lowbrow homegrown tradition, with most of the meat simply sliced and grilled over charcoal.

Unlike at the other Wana branches operated by the admirable Yumeya group, here you don’t do the grilling yourself in typical yakiniku style. Instead, that is taken care of by the master of the house, Kenji Nakao. Not only is he likely to do the job more expertly, this frees up more space at the counter that runs three sides of his open kitchen.

It also means fewer safety concerns — always an important issue when alcohol is part of the dining equation. If you like sake, the obvious brew to start with is akishika (“Autumn Deer”) from Osaka. Nakao also serves beer, shōchū spirits, sours and wine, all from Japan except for the current Beaujolais Nouveau promotion.

The glass frontage makes Wana Tedome easy enough to enter. Figuring out where to start on the menu is less straightforward, even for those who read Japanese. That’s why Nakao suggests starting with a mixed platter of grilled meats (¥1,299; at the far right of the menu), including venison and boar. These are the most approachable cuts in terms of taste and texture.

Other signature dishes include yukke, Korean-style venison tartare topped with a raw egg yolk; tsukune, long, skinny “kebabs” of minced deer and boar; and the plump shūmai dumplings filled with boar meat.

In need of a vegetable respite? You can always order ginkgo nuts and shiitake mushrooms from the grill, tomato or nagaimo yam as side dishes and even a simple salad of coriander and spring onions.

But really, you’re here for the meat. So don’t miss the 30-day aged venison, which Nakao slowly grills in large chunks until the outside is dark, almost caramelized, while the center remains red and juicy. Finally it is sliced, served on salad greens, and topped with shards of Parmesan. It’s the best thing on the menu and a gourmet reward that justifies the half-hour cooking time.

Dishes from ¥250 (figure around ¥4,000 per head with drinks); Japanese menu; little English spoken