Nakasei, Tokyo

April 13, 2010

Nakasei was founded in 1870; it is now run by the sixth generation. Its Edo-style tempura uses only fish and shellfish caught in Tokyo Bay, deep-fried in aromatic sesame oil.  Linda and I went for dinner at Nakasei on April 9, 2010, with Toshio, his wife Kazuko and son Toshimitsu.   It is located in Asakusa, where we walked with Toshio before meeting the other two near Nakasei. Our walk included Kappabashi-dori where many stores selling kitchenware have gathered. Toshio bought us a small bag of fresh red bean confections in the Nakamise Shopping Arcade by the Senso-ji Temple. We ate them with our dessert.

The street entrance to the courtyard of Nakasei.
 

 

The front courtyard with a stone lantern evokes old-style store houses. Lunch is served outside there.
 

 

The inside courtyard has a pool and garden surrounded by twelve private dining rooms.
 
Nakasei is a member of Toto Norenkai, an association of 53 shops and businesses that have been in operation in Tokyo (formerly Edo) for over 100 years and three generations.
 
 Toshio had reserved a tatami room and ordered a twelve-course prix-fixe dinner at ¥ 11,000.
 

We started with bottles of beer. The appetizer was marinated tuna which resembled beef; a very lightly cooked baby squid with a slightly sweet miso sauce and seaweed; and a little bowl of bamboo shoots with a lot of wasabe.

Kazuko refills Toshio’s glass. We stuck to the custom of not filling our own glasses.
 

Then came a soup with a squid ball, a melon slice, a piece of fish and a yuzu chip.
 

The next course was sashimi of tuna, squid and yellowtail. The shiso buds were to stir into the soy sauce to make it aromatic.

The fish was fresh and good.

The next course was grated daikon with sweetened rice vinegar, cucumber, baby shrimp, nori shreds, white sticks of udo (a mountain vegetable harvested in early spring) and an eggplant bud.

Sea urchin and wasabe on top of tofu prepared with eggs.

There was not enough sea urchin to make including it worthwhile.

We had finished our beers and ordered two sakes, an excellent earthy one from Ishikawa and a more ordinary one.

Shrimp cooked with kuzu powder, which gives it a light thickened coating, on a bed of seaweed.

Finally the tempura arrived: two shrimp (ebi), flat head fish (megochi), smelt-whiting (kisu), sea eel (anago.) On the left were salt for dipping as well as grated daikon and light soy sauce for the traditional tempura dipping sauce.

The fish all had lovely fresh flavors. The tempura did not have the hot crispness which is usually considered essential to good tempura. There was no effort here to serve quickly in small batches so I guess they do not consider it important. This is undoubtedly the way they have been doing it since the Edo period over a century ago and they do not want to change. It did allow one to concentrate slowly on the fish and provided a wider range of textures. The sesame oil probably does not support the high temperatures of other tempura oils, but is supposed to bring out the flavors.

Next came a tempura shrimp ball on rice; there were good pickles to eat with this and perk it up. Alongside was a bowl of soup with little mushrooms.


 

To finish we had a strawberry, an orange slice and a cup of tea.
 
I had expected a meal centered more around tempura, but this menu was an interesting exploration of traditional tastes and textures. We had a very enjoyable evening in a lovely, quiet, tradional ambience. By Tokyo standards the price was very reasonable. Nakasei did not seem to be even half full the evening we were there. Toshio says that Asukasa’s role as an entertainment district is moving on to other areas. It is hard to attract expense account business here now. I hope that Nakasei can survive as it preserves some old values.

Address :1-39-13 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo Phone :03 3841 4015

Nakasei’s Japanese website:
http://www.nakasei.biz/index.html

Nakasei’s page in the English website of the Toto Norenkai
http://www.norenkai.net/english/shop/nakasei/index.html

Another description of Nakasei in English:
http://www.asian-fusion.com/html/nakasei.html

2 Responses to “Nakasei, Tokyo”


  1. […] Nakasei, Tokyo « The Wandering Epicures Its Edo-style tempura uses only fish and shellfish caught in Tokyo Bay, deep-fried in aromatic sesame oil. Linda and I went for dinner at Nakasei on April 9, 2010, with Toshio, his wife Kazuko and son Toshimitsu. … more .. […]

  2. barbara V Says:

    Micheal,
    Your description of the tempura course reminded me of a meal we enjoyed in New York. Including the pictures of the gardens and court yard allow us in on a more intimate dining experience!
    Thank You for taking us along. Barbara


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