Izakaya in Kyoto; Kurakura 蔵倉、京都

japanese cake

We got back to the hotel after an afternoon of sight seeing and shopping ready for a power nap. For the evening activity, I made the executive decision that, instead of rushing around to get to our favorite Izakaya Akagakiya 赤垣屋 when it opened at 5:00pm and take a chance we could sit at the counter, we would just go to Kurakura 蔵倉 which was within walking distance just around the corner. Although we always have been able to sit at the counter at KuraKura without making a reservation, I did not take a chance and booked our place at the counter.

When we arrived, it was almost empty. We have found from the experience of previous years that it pays to be selective about what we order. For example, one time we ordered avocado tempura. To our surprise we got the entire avocado, sliced—deep fried! We can appreciate a good avocado with the best of them, but you really have to be into avocado to eat a whole one, fried, in a single sitting. They must be renowned for their sumptuous serving sizes. That said, with some judicious selections we had a great meal. The interaction with the chefs was also nice. The good thing is that they also have a good selection of sake.

Soon after we were seated, the head honcho (chef and owner, we assume) came out and helped us pick some sake. With his help, I picked ”Summer” Ichino-kura , 夏の一ノ蔵特別純米生原酒 from Miyagi 宮城県 made from 100% “Kura-no-hana” 蔵の華 sake rice as our first sake. It was good choice, not too dry and not too sweet.

As usual, we first ordered a combination sashimi including Hokkaido uni and amaebi 北海道産うにと甘エビ.  The sashimi was all great and the amount was just right for the two of us.

Kurakura sashimi
We then ordered fava beans or soramame そらまめ.  The assistant chef asked if we would like soramame grilled or boiled. We said, without hesitation, grilled.

Kurakura fava benas

We also had half a simmered fish (Kinmedai 金目鯛の煮付けor fantastic alfonso). The assistant chef again asked our preference, head or tail? I said,  “Of course, head”. My wife immediately said she would give me the “eye”. The fish was not pre-cooked and just sitting there waiting to be reheated when an order came in. Instead the chef started cooking it after we placed our order. Blue flame suddenly erupted from behind the counter in front of where we sat. While my wife prepared to evacuate the chef reassured us it was just the alcohol from the sake used in the sauce being burned off while making our dish. Thanks to my wife’s generous offer, I enjoyed the gelatinous part behind the eye.

Kurakura Kinmedai

We were ready to order another sake. I went to the glass front cold case where they kept the sake bottles. A woman appeared and she seemed to be in charge of that part of the establishment. (We assumed, she must be the chef/owner’s wife and was the sake sommelier). I discussed the various selections on display in the cold case with her, then I spotted “Icebreaker” sake behind the glass door.

Although I never tasted this sake, I remember reading about it on the Internet. I remember reading that it was brewed by the first and only foreigner (British) sake master Philp Harper at Kinoshita Shuzou 玉川木下酒造 in Kyoto. Seeing the distinctive blue label with the Penguin on it, I had to taste this one as the next sake. The sommelier/wife (?) commented  “Oh, you like summer sake”. This is junmai ginjou genshu, non-filtered 純米吟醸無濾過生原酒 made from Nihonbare 日本晴 sake rice.  I think this was a new sake just released. We tried it first like regular cold sake. It was OK but not great.  Then I remembered that the idea behind this sake is that it can be drunk on the rocks which would be particularly refreshing in the hot Kyoto summer. Since it is genshu (not diluted and of high alcohol content), it would withstand the ice.  (And how could anyone be hot after seeing that label?) My wife provided some ice cubes from her oolong tea to test my theory. We thought it actually tasted much better so we requested more ice and drank it frosty cold. This was a rather clean sake and we did not notice the high alcohol.

Meanwhile, for the new sake, we had several more dishes including shiokara of “hoya”  ほやの塩辛,  (Hoya is similar to sea anemone and also called sea pineaple) which was not too salty or fishy and had nice texture. We needed some starch and fried food to absorb the alcohol so the next dish was potato croquets, which was nicely hot and somehow very comforting.

Kurakura Coroquet

The last sake was recommended by the sommelier/wife (?) was another “summer sake”. This is called ”Cool summer Gassan”,  junmai ginjou 涼夏月山純米吟醸 by Yoshida sake brewery 吉田酒造 from Shimane prefecture 島根県. This is specifically brewed as a “summer” sake but the approach is a bit different from Ice Breaker. This is a very gentle and fresh tasting sake. It was brewed with very soft water and “Sakanishiki” sake rice 左香錦.

At this point, we had more than enough sake. Although the potato croquettes were good and quite filling, we finished with grilled rice balls. I asked if they were big and the young chef at the grill said no they were small and one order had two. So I asked for one order. Turns out they were BIG. They were filled with cod roe and the saltiness of the roe was perfect with the rice. I’m glad I asked for only one order. We only just managed to finish one each.

The sommelier/wife (?) was also the cashier. We paid the bill. I am not sure what the final sum was but I don’t think it was very high. We slowly walked back to our hotel. We are getting more and more fond of this place. Nice sake selection, interaction with chefs and the discussions about sake with the sommelier/wife (?)/cashier, were all educational and a major part of Izakaya experience we particularly like. With some judicious selection, the food is quite good. We were totally satisfied with this evening.

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