If you're into Yakitori (grilled skewered chicken), the Hakata style "Warakugoson" is a place that you should definitely visit, as it's just very simply good and you'll witness there a jovial and typical Shimokitazawa atmosphere.
Warakugoson, which is now located across the popular and labyrinthine bookstore/bazaar "Village Vanguard", used to be in this microscopic place behind the big Ozeki grocery store. Patronized by actors and musicians living or working in Shimokitazawa, they upgraded 20 years ago to the bigger joint that it is now.
The very humble and smily couple serves you a Yakitori recipe typical to Hakata, the bustling heart of southern island Kyushu's main town Fukuoka. The big characteristics of the said style are:
1) ingredients are grilled with salt (no Tare bbq sauce)
2) the meat is skewered with bits of onion (and not long green onion Naga-Negi)
3) you are being served a free plate of fresh chopped Chinese cabbage seasoned with vinegar, on which they put the grilled skewers
4) though it is a Yakitori-Ya, they also offer fish, pork and all sorts of vegetables.
I don't think it has anything to do with Hakata, but the Warakugoson staff in the kitchen hit a Taiko drum twice when customers come in and leave. You can check that fun custom out for yourself or click that video:
The first skewers we ordered were the Reba (chicken liver), the Shoniku (chicken white meat) and Nasu (eggplant).
The Reba is always slightly red inside, letting you enjoy the harder and pastier cooked outside and the creamier almost raw inside. Go for it if you like liver.
The Shoniku is regular Yakitori with nice chunks of firm white meat and bits of onion for added flavor and freshness. A must.
The Nasu is two big grilled pieces of eggplant rolled with sliced bacons. The juicy and tender eggplant and the almost crunchy thin bacon are a perfect match.
One thing you need to remember here is that the master is very generous with his salt. You see the perfectly mount Fuji shaped white thing on the left of the grill? That's all salt, and he erodes that mountain in about a week to ten days... So, if you're into a low-salt diet, you've been warned.
We then went for what is (I think) the only skewer that is not salt based here, the excellent and uncommon on a stick "Gyu-Suji" (simmered beef tendon). The Gyu-Suji, usually served in its Shoyu and Mirin base broth with other simmered ingredients such as Daikon (Japanese radish) is VERY rarely on a skewer, but Warakugoson makes wonders with this unusual recipe. The beforehand simmered meat is grilled until it gets almost crispy and is served on a sweet Tare sauce. The flavorful meat is firm and little fibrous, with bits of gelatinous and soft but chewy tendon here and there. Strongly recommended dish for its taste, texture and rarity.
Warakugoson has enough vegetables on its menu to please anyone Vegi (eggplant, Enoki mushroom, garlic, okura, Shiitake mushroom, potatoes and so on) and all are pretty good. We always order the delicious and pretty looking "Tomato", wrapped in tiny slices of bacon. The baby tomatoes are juice bombs and work perfectly with the dry bits of grilled bacon. Beware when you eat that Kushi (skewer) though, as the tomatoes are often super hot and you can easily burn your palate when popping them in your mouth.
Getting quite full by then, we finished our orders with the firm and dense "Kashira" (the muscly region between the pork's cheek and temple), always satisfying "Jagaimo" (grilled potato topped with butter) and the excellent Yaki-Onigiri (grilled rice ball).
The rice ball, which is served with a little plate of excellent pickled eggplants, is grilled with a shoyu sauce that gives the dish a strong Senbei (rice cookie) flavor and an appetizing brown color. The ball has the texture of a Rice Crispy Treats outside (with grains of rice getting stuck in your teeth!) but is nicely glutinous and steamy inside. This is a very typical Japanese recipe, so you should definitely order it as for some reason, it seems like you come less and less across it in restaurants.
If you like sake to accompany your meal, you should order their dry "Warakugoson" which suits their salty cuisine.
A very decent meal with a beer and a sake will cost you around ¥3,000 per head. Worth it!
Warakugoson is closed on Sundays, and open the rest of the week from 17:00pm to 24:00pm
Setagaya-ku, Daizawa 2-9-1 2F
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