Kado (カド) , Kagurazaka, Tokyo
One of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo (and one that doesn’t get mentioned much on CH) is Kagurazaka. The way it was described to the newbie of the group is that this neighborhood resembles Kyoto in many ways. I understand what they mean, as it has an old-time feel, yet there’s a lot of buzz and energy with bars and restaurants galore, and even more nooks and crannies when you go through the little streets and alleyways. I ended up here on my final two nights in Japan for dining and imbibing with different groups of friends.
When my friend asked what kind of food/atmosphere I preferred for an outing, I just said I wanted washoku and something “shibui”. Shibui has multiple meanings in Japanese, but in this context the best translation might be “old school”, but tasteful. An online dictionary translates it as “elegantly plain; refined; subdued; low-key; austerely elegant” among other definitions, but I believe there’s an element of maturity that’s represented in the definition as well—thus “old school.” Kagurazaka can be considered shibui, I suppose. So with those criteria in mind, we ended up at a restaurant called Kado (カド), somewhere in the criss-cross of streets and alleys just north of the main drag of Kagurazaka.
Kado is exactly what I mean by shibui. Maybe more so than I would have preferred, actually. The seating is very old-fashioned, with only floor seating and little table-ettes in front of each person (they do have a small room in the back that has table seating). I don’t remember well, but for dinner, they only have one choice: the omakase course for 3150 yen. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of the food that night, and most of the dinner escapes me, but it’s a pretty standard washoku course with a grilled, simmered, steamed, raw, fried items and a gohan course to end the meal. I can remember the black pepper ochazuke and the shiso gohan. So why am I posting this if it was such an unmemorable meal? Well, I would say that it was a fine meal, though just standard, but after reading many of the blogs and looking at their limited menu, it seems like this isn’t an ideal place for dinner, but better for a lunch or afternoon tea/coffee/sweet. I liked the shibui atmosphere, and I picture it to be even more interesting during the day. Next time I find myself around Kagurazaka during the day, I think I’ll look out for Kado, for something off the beaten path, and something a little “old school”.
In my Andrew Nelson dictionary:
A related word for shibui is the noun shibumi which means puckery taste or astringency. (I think of unripe persimmon, a flavor dimension in wine....) It is interesting that it means good taste, sobriety, refinement.
Bitter and sour are closer to this taste than, say, sweet, and it is interesting that in English they sound so much more negative...
I noticed an unfortunate (only in English) name in this "good taste" context - the three identical drinks... I can see it's still very popular in Japan!