The Solamachi mall, right next to Tokyo Skytree, has several floors of restaurants, noodle counters and miscellaneous eateries. And the higher you rise, the fancier they get — and the more elevated the prices.
Those on the top (31st) floor command the best vistas, past the tower to the city, the sunset and, if you're lucky, Mt.Fuji on the far horizon. So they can charge the most. Expect set meals at this altitude to start from around ¥8,000.
Shokkan is only one floor down but it looks to the north, over the sprawl of the low city. The view is still none too shabby, especially after night falls. But it does mean menu prices are going to be slightly more affordable.
As I write in my Japan Times piece, if you don't have seats booked in advance, it's best to get there for opening time, which is 5 pm. You may not score a coveted window table, but there are likely to be a couple of spots open at the counter looking into the open kitchen.
Besides getting to watch the knife skills of the itamae chefs – and even at this level, it's pretty impressive – another advantage of being here is that you can see the dishes as they go out and ask for any that you don't see on the menu.
That was how we homed in on the yuba rolls. The sheets of fresh yuba were laid out and the itamae was filling them with crabmeat and wakame seaweed. That was good enough for us to put in an order.
It was even better than we expected, as it came topped with a gelée of ponzu (a mix of rice vinegar, shoyu and dashi), a garnish of myoga and a wedge of sudachi.
One of the Shokkan signature dishes – here as at the original Shokkan in Shibuya – is raw vegetables with the trademark tomato-miso dip. Here the crudites, a colorful selection of leaves, stems and roots, are served in a wooden masu (sake drinking "box").
To the Western palate, this combination of acidic-sweet with savory-salty miso seems like a no-brainer. It's not just addictively tasty, it has that festive reddish-orange hue. But even now in Japanese cuisine it is considered rather daringly leftfield (much as the tomato shabushabu is at Basara).
The Shokkan main menu is available in full in clear, accurate English.
And so too the sake menu. But not the slender sheet that lists the specials of the day. This, though, is well worth exploring (if you can bridge the language divide) if you feel like settling in for a leisurely izakaya-style session with sake to sip on...
From here we spotted the oysters on the halfshell – jumbo specimens flown down from Hokkaido (the beer is Yebisu Kohaku, a flavorful lager; they also have Shirohonoka, a version of witbier);
the plump juicy shio-yaki iwashi (salted-grilled sardine);
and the ni-anago aburi (conger eel, simmered and then grilled), with its dab of savory sansho relish…
There was plenty else to try, but we had had our fill of good sake and it was time for the rice course.
The house specialty is kama-meshi — rice cooked in a pot and topped with various choice ingredients. Our choice was salmon with uni urchin and ikura roe, and a garnish of mitsuba leaf. Very tasty and filling.
There is a larger, slightly more deluxe version of this kamameshi, which is prepared in a claypot donabe. Prepared with tiny dried sakura-ebi shrimp and topped with asari clams, small mussels and generous amounts of ikura salmon roe, this is the dish Shokkan has (only half tongue in cheek) called its “famous seafood paella" – and that's the illustration at the top of my JT column on Shokkan.
"By this time, night will have fallen, and the glitter of the low-lying city below will be matched by the lights reflected in window glass from the open kitchen. With the effects of the sake kicking in, everything takes on a very cheerful glow."