A short counter overlooking a tiny open kitchen, plus a couple of small tables further back. A refrigerator filled with sake sourced from around the country. And a food menu that’s varied, creative and affordable: Utsura Utsura ticks just about all the right boxes.
Set back far enough from the sidewalk that most people give it barely a second look, this welcoming little izakaya tavern has the warm feel of a local watering hole, but it’s near enough to the lights of Shibuya to reward a few minutes’ walk. Especially when you sit down and investigate the sake list.
Unless you identify some particular favorite brews, the easiest approach is to leave the choices up to the young sake sommelier. Most of his selections are served as atsukan or nurukan (warm or slightly heated), but he also stocks some excellent reishu (chilled sake).
Ditto with the food: the five-course omakase (chef’s choice) menu is great value at ¥3,800. It kicks off with a tray of half a dozen appetizers — nibbles of seafood, tofu and seasonal vegetables — and closes with a small but excellent meat dish (currently both pork and venison).
About that curious name: “Utsura-utsura” is Japanese onomatopoeia for the drowsy drifting state between wakefulness and daydreaming. After an evening here with a few good flasks of sake, that’s exactly the kind of elevated frame of mind you can expect to achieve.
Shoto 2-14-5, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0046; 03-3485-1555; facebook.com/utsurautsura; open 6-11 p.m. (L.O.), closed Mon.; set meal ¥3,800 (plus tax), also a la carte; nearest stations Shinsen, Shibuya; major credit cards; nonsmoking; some English spoken