High Spirits Izakaya

We leave the local izakaya and mosey over to High Spirits about 10 mins before our reservation. Looks like a good little spot. We open the door and the owner invites us in. He’s amazingly fluent in English and seems like a funny character already.

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Whoa actually it’s just a tiny place with 3 tables and 6 seats at the bar, so it probably maxes out at about 18 people. Very traditional izakaya style. There’s some jazzy lounge music similar to what we’ve been hearing in many public spaces in Japan. Sounds like a mix of the jazz classics, it’s nice. We take off our shoes and place them on a bookshelf and carefully step through the small area to take a seat on the floor at the corner table. Cozy and intimate, I like it.

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A little poster on the wall beside us

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The owner drops some menus off and explains that he’ll be right back, he needs to make a dish for the Russian couple up front. Sure thing. We look over the menus: food, shochu and sake. A ton of interesting stuff on here. Looks like he’s pulling recipes from all over the planet into a curated list of fusion dishes. All cooked and served by this one guy? Ok, that’s super impressive. Sashimi shooter? Hmmm I should document this.

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He comes back to the table and introduces himself as Go. “Go, like… go?”, “Yes, don’t stop. Go!”, “Ok… Go?”, “Ok Go!”. He explains that the menu is a mix of things from his past experiences as a chef, American, Mexican, Chilean, Italian, Jamaican, Korean and Japanese. Sheeesh! Well that does explain the mass fusion menu.

“Where are you guys from?”, <stockanswer “Canada and Taiwan but we live in California” /stockanswer>, “Oh ok, I used to live in Los Angeles and Long Beach”, “Ahhhh, well that explains why your English is fabulous”, “You should try the food!”, “Well, about that….</explainfishallergy>”, “Oh man! Well….” He starts to go through the meat items and explain them but then stops himself, “You can read. You just want all the meat?”, “Yup. All the meat sounds great”, “Yeah, why am I explaining. I’ll just create a bunch of things out of what you can eat. How about that?”, “Sounds perfect!”

We get some warm sake to kick things off. I’m really enjoying this place.

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I start to catch some of the conversation back and forth between Go and the Russian dude from the couple. I’m not really digging the vibe. Ruskie has a very demeaning tone, kind of treating him like a servant. It’s really not cool but Go is handling it well. Not stepping on cultural toes but not just taking it either. The Russian puts in an order, “I’ll have the calamari now”. I see Go dart me a glance that seems to convey, “Do you mind if I cook this asshole some calamari first cuz then he’ll be gone sooner?” I fire back a smile and raise my sake in a cheers motion.

While the calamari is being prepared, Ruskie unleashes a deluge of machismo bullshit. During this time the following life details may have come out of his mouth:

  • He’s a lawyer
  • He’s very important and wealthy
  • He owns several houses and cars, 2 helicopters, a private jet and a tank
  • He’s building a steel bridge to Crimea by himself with his bare hands
  • He photosynthesizes in direct sunlight
  • His shoes are made from Pterodactyl wings
  • He fought Chuck Norris, won, and bottled his tears
  • He went from Earth to space twice in the same day
  • He banged 2 space chicks on the moon at the same time
  • He owns several private islands in the Laptev Sea
  • He’s hosting the 2030 Winter Olympics on one of them
  • Etc…

I think this non-humble bragging happens in an effort to impress everyone in the room. Instead Go isn’t buying what he’s selling and the sarcastic skepticism in his remarks makes for another delicious meal all in itself.

The whole time Ruskie’s Diva-esque girlfriend (but obviously more sensitive and self-aware) squirms uncomfortably in her seat. She’s shooting litmus test glances around the room just to confirm that Ruskie is in fact coming off as the giant jackass he’s making himself out to be. Avoiding eyes validate, yes he is.

This calamari couldn’t come out fast enough.. “My best friend is top ramen chef in Russia”, “Wow, that’s incredible <dripping w sarcastic incredulity>”, “D’yes. He’s eaten at all ramen shops in Tokyo.” This actually causes Go to stop simmer-shaking the saucepan and stare at the guy. “All the ramen shops in Tokyo?”, this is getting good, “D’yes. He is become master ramen chef. He ate 5 times a day..”, “Is he still alive? Five times a day..”, Go starts simmering again, shaking his head. “His name is <Russian_Name>”, “That’s great.” Ok a bit of attitude is showing and it’s basically devolved into awkwardness now. I’ve been enjoying this back and forth though. Simply not buying into the bravado bullshit and arrogance. “The calamari, is it fried? I like it fried”, “Yes, it’s always fried.”

The couple finishes up. I feel bad for the girlfriend, she’s been quiet. Ruskie barks, “Ok we are done. Call us taxi back to <super baller hotel name>”, “Ah…ok.” And Go grabs the phone and orders them up a taxi which arrives almost immediately. Despite the obvious lack of common ground and the competitive air to the conversation, Ruskie thanks Go genuinely and professes to have had a wonderful time. Well good on him, those were the most honest things he’s said all night. Redemption +2.

After this fun little aside an air of douchery lifts from the room and the place starts to fill up with an eclectic mix of travelers. The atmosphere shift is noticeable. A group from Alaska grabs the table next to us. The far one gets occupied by some…. Danes maybe? Some Asian girls take the Russian’s seats at the ‘bar’ and directly in front of us sit two Israeli girls.

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The Israeli Girls explain to Go that they are pescatarians. He looks at me, “Oh they can eat everything you can’t!”, “And vice versa, haha”, “</explainfishallergy> Yes, we are the perfect eating buddies!”

These girls end up being very personable and turn right around to chat with us. They are basically on the same schedule as us, heading to Kyoto soon and going all the way to Hiroshima. Queenie nabs their facebook details so we can maybe meet up along the road. They explain that they aren’t really use to the plan ahead style of travelling here. That you really need to book ahead to get a place. Uh-oh, we haven’t really booked anything after this. “Oh yes, it’s really difficult!”, and they give us some hostel names to try. Hmmmm, we’ll just have to see what happens.

Meanwhile, group after group comes to the door to see if there’s room and each gets turned away. Every seat is taken now and the room has a fun, vibrant energy and chattering din to it. Go sticks to the izakaya ground rules and simply tells would-be customers that a spot will open when someone leaves, but he doesn’t know when that will be. They are welcome to wait outside.

And then the food barge comes into port. Go swings by the table with plate after plate of bombshell dishes. We get another bottle of sake to go with it. The braised pork just falls apart at the touch. It’s absolutely perfect, sitting on top of some thick cut daikon marinated in something sweet. He describes that the A5 Mt Fuji koshu roast beef is basically the same as Kobe beef. You just can’t call it Kobe beef if it’s not from Kobe. The red wine infusion melds into the near rare beef and it just starts melting into my tongue as soon as I taste it. Jeeeebuz that’s good. The lettuce wraps come with a stir-fried seasoned pork and onions and a complex spicy sauce to throw on top. The chicken wings have a tasty rub and are expertly seared. Great presentation, aesthetically and verbally. Everything just rocks. Fuck yeah, it’s a feast!

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While we’re mowing through the meatucopia the Israeli Pescatarians receive a sashimi dish. It also looks superb. Oh but they can’t eat it. “It’s fish. I thought you said only fish, no meat”, “Yes, but this is against our religion.”, “This fish?”, “Yes we only eat fish with the… with a… with…”, I offer up “Gills?”, “Yes! Thank you. With gills.” The Thai dude at the end of the row offers to take it and Go starts laughing. Apparently this had already happened with another dish that Ruskie didn’t want before we got there. Thai Guy exclaims “It’s all delicious!” and they pass him down the sashimi, everyone laughing while Go calls him “Garburator”.

Queenie and I finish off our food but continue to pick more nummies from the menu. We may be on a mission to eat everything that’s not fish. We get some beers too. The Israeli Girls offer us a very nice good-bye with some hugs and they take off. They were cool, I hope we meet up again.

Immediately after, a group of three come to the door. Go eyes up the situation and says, “Soon”. I offer our table, “We can switch to the bar seats”, “Are you sure?”, “Yes, of course.” And Go tells them he just needs to clean the table. Good natured Queenie is already on it though. While I move our beer and sake to the bar she’s busing our table to the kitchen area behind Go. “Do you have a cloth? I’ll wipe it down”, “Wow. Ok, you’re hired!”

Everyone gets settled in and the good times continue. Go has built up a rapport with each table by this point. He knows where everyone is from and is catering to them all nicely. I belt out, “Are you just referring to everyone by their country’s popular foods now?”, “Yes! You are oyster people <Denmark>, you are maple people <Canada>, and you are Salmon people <Alaska>”. The room has a happy energy to it, this is great. I’m sure the drinks help. Good conversation and jokes, smiles all around.

A lot of customers are ordering the special of the day which is a spicy seafood ramen with crab legs. It looks ridiculous. Curse this stupid allergy! The room is tossing in orders and Go has his hands full. Queenie offers to run food to a table after she orders another round of beer and some baked potatoes. “Can you do my dishes too, please? They’re back here” haha.

Go starts cooking our baked potatoes, “Did you ever notice the face people make when you start to fire something right on the bar?” He takes out a little torch and starts blasting the potatoes with this silly face on. Queenie and I can’t stop laughing.

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Torched baked potatoes with miso butter. Perfect with our beers

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We try to make the face while we eat them. It’s not nearly as good but still makes us titter.

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Ok it’s time. We’ve got to get those Sashimi shots and see what they’re all about. Well Queenie does, they’ll actually kill me. Go is excited about it. Everyone watches Queenie. Scallop sashimi with a side of shochu. Can’t say I’ve seen anything like this before.

“Whoa its sour!”

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(If you scroll through these really really fast it’s almost like a GIF)

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Ok, I think we’ve conquered all of the meat and veggie dishes on the menu (the pork belly……) . We’ve been here for hours at this point, we should probably open up some seats for the next lucky couple to sneak in here.

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We get some hugs from Go as we grab our shoes off of the shelf. He congratulates us on the engagement again. We Ruskie it up and tell him, genuinely, that we had a wonderful time and the dishes were exquisite. This was easily the best meal we’ve had so far on the trip.

Go is very grateful for the compliments and jokes about us doing the dishes one more time haha. As we’re going through the curtains he yells “Hey!” and we turn around to see him making Torch Face again! Haha sayonara

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Ok, so that was actually one of the best dinner experiences I’ve ever had. It’s amazing that just one dude can produce top notch dishes, quickly, for a whole room of people with so much variety of ingredients and influences. Absolutely loved it. Go is definitely a modern master.

We unchain our bikes from a nearby billboard and bust it back across the bridge.

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Before we go back to Mizuno we decide to go to Lawson for beers. We get some fun looks from the locals. We may be a little tipsy on our shitty bikes. Biking up the crazy steep hill to the hotel with beers just isn’t gonna happen. “So struggly!”

Of course, we get back to the room and pass a vending machine with beer and whiskey in it.

We head down to the bar for a night cap. Highball and some rose. Oh they don’t have the wine, will champagne be ok? Well, we are celebrating an engagement. There’s loungy Xmas music playing. It’s actually not terrible.

This bar/library/lounge is incredibly cool. There’s another couple in here, American possibly, but they seem to want their privacy. We have a seat in one of the little nooks and enjoy our drinks.

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What a perfect day: amazing weather, the proposal, Mt Fuji, Kachi-Kachi ropeway, biking around the lake, the local izakaya, and one of the best dinners ever at High Spirits! That’s an engagement to remember.

We have a couple of drinks and relax in the lounge for a bit then head back to the room. We’re pretty tired at this point. We’re heading to Kyoto tomorrow which should be beyond incredible. I pull up some hotels and hostels on my phone and….. wtf? It’s booked solid! Every single place in the whole city? At least the decent parts. What? How is that possible? Damn, those Israeli Pescatarians were right. I’m falling asleep trying to find shit. Fail. “Let’s be homelesssss”, “yeeeeaaaaaah…..” zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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