We arrived at Akita city 秋田市 in the late afternoon via Akita Shinkansen 秋田新幹線——the slowest shinkansen ever! We tooled along at 30 MPH because recent heavy rains caused major flooding, mudslides and undermined the rails. When the train slowed to a crawl through one damaged section we saw where a raging river had over run and destroyed the dykes on its banks, threatened farm houses and deposited debris all over the fields. At the slow speed we could take in all the details including the disturbing sight of an over turned car rusting where the flood water had dumped it in the river bed. In addition, even without the weather related destruction, many segments of the Aikta shinkansen are single-track and we had to stop and wait for the opposing Akita shinkansen train to pass. Luckily the seats were comfortable and the service was impeccable as it can be only in Japan. (As soon as we sat down we were offered paper slippers and our choice of cold beverages). It did seem strange, however, to observe the destruction wrought by nature while riding in such comfort.
Upon exiting the station we could tell from the signs that the area around the station was populated with chain Izakayas. This must be the trend everywhere in Japan. But we had a reservation at the premier Izakaya called “Shuhai” 酒盃, which was written up by Kazuhiko Ota 太田和彦 and also recommended by the master of “” 酔香.
Since Shuhai was a bit far from our hotel, we took a taxi cab. When I told the driver our destination he immediately approved of our choice and went into a long dissertation on how things used to be “in the old days….” when drinking places in the neighborhood of Shuhai were crowded with people every night’. Then the cab driver started “interviewing” me. Asking such questions as: “Is she your wife? Where do you live? How long have you lived there” (This seemed to be a regular occurrence on this trip. For some reason the cabbies saw our short time together as their opportunity to extract as much personal information as possible—all done very politely of course. Numerous cab rides ended up feeling like an “exclusive for CNN” at best or a security investigation at worst). Finally we arrived at Shuhai (Thank Goodness!).
This is the picture I took before going in. It is uncanny that this was early fall, yet, it looked like this was winter and snow should be piled up in front.
Inside was a bit dark with all dark wood decor. It was amazing to see that my name was posted on the “Getabako” 下駄箱 or shoe box (I made a reservation while we were in Kyoto. I suppose people who reserve get designated shoe boxes with their names on them). We deposited our shoes in the designated box and were ushered in. There were several semi private rooms as well as a second floor. We had reserved seats at the counter which seats 10 people. We really liked the looks of this place and the fact smoking was not permitted at the counter. Behind the counter was a yaki-dai 焼台 where yakitori 焼鳥 was prepared. The back wall was lined with refrigerated cases with glass doors housing many large bottles of sake. To the right, out of view, was the main kitchen. The master greeted us (we were the first to be seated at the counter). I asked about Suiko and Mr. Sugawara. The master told me that they worked together and every time he goes to Tokyo he stops by at Suiko.
Here was the otoshi. Does this look familiar; six items like at Suiko.
We asked for a recommendation of dry and non-dry sake. Again, all the sake we tasted were wonderful. Describing the subtle differences among these special sake is beyond our ability.
(From left to right)
1.Ten-no-to, Ultra dry, Un-pasteurized Junmai Genshu, Asamai Shuzou, Yokote
2.“Kakuemon”, Junmai Daiginjo, Akita-komachi rice, Kimura Shuzou. Yuzawa
We ordered Sashimi-assortment 刺身の盛り合わせ. It was good combination including a type of blow fish or “Fugu” ふぐ.
1.Yukono-bosha, Special “Yamahai” Junmai Ginjo, Saiya Shuzou, Yuri-Honjou city
2. 鳥海山 純米吟醸酒 びん火入れ 天寿酒造 秋田県由利本荘市, “Choukaisan”, Junmai Ginjo, Bottle pasteurized, Tenjishuzou, Yuri-Honjou city
Next we ordered “Kakiage” かき揚げ of shrimp えび and lily root 百合根. I like edible lily root or “Yurine” (Please be aware most lily roots are poisonous and not to be eaten—“so don’t try this at home”). This was a bit unusual. Instead of an usual flat disk like shape, this one was a nice round sphere like a small baseball. The lily root had a nice starchy and sweet taste. The surface was nicely crunchy. Need more sake.
齋彌酒造店 秋田県由利本荘市 Yukinobosha, Junmai Ginjo, Un-pasteurized “Genshu”, Yamada-ho rice, Yuro-Honjou city
2.日の丸酒造 秋田県横手 “Mansaku” flower, Junmai Daiginjou, “Namazume” (not sure if this is non-pasterized or pasteurized in the bottle) “Genshu”, Omachi rice, Hinomaru Shuzou, Yokote
We then tried Yakitori. I am not sure what we had but, for sure, skin, neck meat (seseri せせり) and tsukunes つくね and probably more. As usual, our collective memories were getting feeble.
1.齋彌酒造店 秋田県由利本荘市 Yukonobosha, Serial number 166, Daiginjou, Un-pasteurized, Saiya Shuzou, Yuri-Honjou city
I do not recall we ever tasted sake which bears a hand-written numbers. It looks like Yamada-Nishiki rice was ground to 35%. This may be an example of “giving gold coins to the cats” “or “Neko ni koban 猫に小判” (Japanese proverb) although we enjoyed tasting it.
2.浅舞酒造 秋田県横手市 “Amanoto”, Natsuda Fuyuzou, Junmai Daiginjo, Asamai Shuzou, Yokote
Taiheizan Junmai Ginjo, Unfiltered, Un-pasteurized “Tsuzuki”, Kodama Brewery,
2.秋田清酒 秋田県大仙市 Yamatoshizuku, Junmai Ginjo Unpasteurized Genshu, Akita Seishu brewery, Daisen city
Although all the sake we tasted was great, we chose “Yamato-shizuku” as our drinking sake for this evening. We ordered a few more dishes. We had what was listed as “Squid Okizuke” イカの沖漬け but it turned out to be quite unusual. This was the whole body of squid with innards preserved (but cartilage removed) which was marinated and then frozen. The master himself sliced it for us and served with alternating layers of cucumber still semi-frozen. I have never seen this presentation for “Okizuke”. We must have had more food. I should have taken more pictures of the food we had.
In any case, this was a quite an evening. We were lucky to have so many rare and excellent “Akita” Jizake 秋田の地酒 and excellent food in the great “farm” house atmosphere.
One of the wait-staff hailed a taxi and saw us off. The streets of Akita on our return trip to the hotel were desolate and dark, not like Sapporo or Tokyo. As soon as the meter started so did the “interview”. It was cut short however, by our arrival at the hotel. The entrance was flooded with some very very happy people, laughing, waving and shouting to each other. Most were shouldering large cardboard cases labeled beer or sake. Apparently a banquet or wedding reception was just breaking up and everybody seemed extremely happy with the door prizes—the cases they were hefting. Or maybe they were just happy because they had been sampling the contents of the boxes all evening…we fit right in.