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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Sushi Noike in Yanaka - Unagi Eel Paradise

すし乃池 谷中

Sushi Noike, an English-friendly sushi shop in Sendagi, Tokyo.
The kawaii front of Sushi Noike, Yanaka

 Yanaka is one of Tokyo's most charming districts - albeit in an old, often dilapidated, way. A friend and I met there for lunch this past, sunny Saturday. We rendezvoused at the West Exit of Nippori Station (a very difficult station to traverse from east to west if you're on a bicycle!).

We walked through Yanaka cemetery, which might sound somber, but it's not. The avenue through the cemetery is a vista of cherry trees that, in summer, provide welcome, dappled shade.

My friend told me about a sushi shop in Yanaka that he remembered visiting about twenty years ago. Sushi sounded great, so that's where we headed. With a little help from Google Maps on our iPhones, we found Sushi Noike after about a 15 minute walk heading in the Sendagi Station direction.

Sitting at the counter of Sushi Noike, Yanaka, Tokyo.
At the counter of Sushi Noike

(Some background about me and sushi. I love sushi. I've never had a problem with run-of-the-mill mass-consumer sushi shops like kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) or anywhere like that. But just as often as not, I find the old, established sushi shops (i.e., usually the best ones in terms of the quality of the sushi) to be foreigner-unfriendly. The latest experience was just a few weeks ago in Okachimachi, when my partner and I decided to try one of the old sushi shops there that we often go past when out shopping in Okachimachi.

Luck of the draw, maybe - but the one in Okachimachi we walked into at random was a big mistake. First, there was hardly anyone there - a bad sign. Then, the toothless old guy who served us was initially struck dumb at the sight of a foreigner (even though I was with my Japanese partner), and before long the other chef started making snide, audible jokes about "gaijin" to the group of guests alongside us at the counter, who all goggled and giggled at us. The only relief was that we didn't have to say as we closed the door behind us, "But it tasted superb, didn't it!" - because it didn't.)

Anyway ... to my relief, as an old, established sushi shop, Sushi Noike was nothing like that. There were several people there - a good sign, including several young people. The welcome from the middle-aged woman (the wife, I guess) who served the guests  was matter-of-fact but friendly for a sushi shop. We sat at the counter, near the door.

Sushi Noike is famous for its eel (unagi) sushi, so we ordered a plate of unagi-zushi, and a plate of assorted sushi. We started with a bottle of beer while the sushi was being prepared, and caught up on what had passed since we last met.

My friend is between jobs now, I learned, but is using some of his time to view - or re-view - classic movies. It was interesting to hear him tell me, for example, how John Wayne movies moved from good cowboy/bad Indian to much more nuanced depictions as the years went by.

Good-looking sushi at Sushi Noike, Yanaka, Tokyo, Japan.
Good-looking and great-tasting sushi at Sushi Noike

The unagi-zushi was divine: rich and soft - and really melted in the mouth. The other plate also included one of my favorites, ikura, which my friend kindly let me poach. The rice was the ideal firmness for the softness of the unagi, with no dryness, wetness or odd flavors, but clean-tasting and just the right chewiness. And the sushi pieces were on the generous side in terms of volume, both of rice and of topping, and looked really smart and handsome sitting there on the plate from being put together beautifully and in good healthy colors from the ingredients being fresh.

Square blue dish at Sushi Noike, Sendagi, Tokyo.
Dish at Sushi Noike
I love ginger, and the slices of ginger served with the sushi were particularly good - probably because well-sourced and super-fresh.

The owner is a mild-mannered, middle-aged chef who spoke with us now and then, such as when I asked him about the old clock on the wall: "It's not actually that old - about thirty years, I think. An Italian clock" - suggesting that time ticks very slowly indeed at Sushi Noike!

Sushi Noike near Sendagi Station is a popular Tokyo sushi restaurant.
Customers at Sushi Noike, Tokyo
The clock was just one of the many, various decorations that adorn Sushi Noike. There were all sorts of kawaii things - especially the dolls - in the window, and plenty to make conversation about inside, too. I'm a big fan of nice chinaware, and the little cobalt blue dishes here were very pretty.

The two plates of sushi and the beer came to 5,700 yen - not a price I'd want to pay every day for my lunch, but definitely worth it once in a while for sushi that good and in an atmosphere that pleasant.

Cut with the name "Sushi Noike" on it in kanji and hiragana.
Sushi Noike's own cup
Sushi Noike hours are 11.30am-2pm (last order 1.30pm) then 4.30pm-10pm (last order 9.30pm) from   Monday to Saturday; and 11.30am-8pm (last order 7.30pm) on Sundays and public holidays.

Sushi Noike is closed every Wednesday.

Sushi Noike is best accessed from Sendagi Station (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line C-15) - a two minute walk along Route 452.

Sushi Noike English language website

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