From Tongue to Tail: Midnight snacks in Shibuya, Tokyo

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Japanese beef ready for the grill. Late night bites at a yakiniku restaurant in Tokyo.

*  If you missed the first installment (where we dined on our first bowl of Japanese ramen at 9am), click here to catch up!  *

Our second evening in Tokyo ended on a serious high note. Koji, a friend of a friend and a native to the city, took us to his favorite late-night spot, a small yakiniku restaurant near the Shibuya Station.

Yakiniku is the Japanese term for grilled meats, and refers to the tabletop grills that many of these restaurants sport. The customer is basically the cook; servers pass off plates of raw meat and patrons are in charge of cooking it to their liking. Each table gets a few pairs of tongs so guests can take turns flipping meat.

Our table top grill. We also each had plates with various dipping sauces to dress the beef. Though most of it went unused as it nearly seemed blasphemous.

Our tabletop grill. We also each had plates with various dipping sauces to dress the cooked beef, though most of it went unused as it seemed nearly blasphemous with such beautiful meat.

Given that we were in a group with several chefs, two things were immediately clear: we were going to eat A LOT of meat and it was all going to be cooked impeccably.

But before we delve into the beef, first we must discuss the alcohol. This night was the night we discovered Japanese “sours,” an event for which I am eternally grateful.

Sours (also called chūhai) are not really sour at all, but sweet, cold and utterly refreshing. Koji said they are more like junk food than anything else, which probably explains why we loved them so much. They are also fairly low in alcohol, making them the perfect thing to drink when it’s midnight and you’ve already indulged in a few beers.

Essentially a sour is made of three things: Shōchū (a distilled Japanese liquor), club soda and some sort of flavoring — fresh fruit juice or, in this case, a fruity sorbet. The options can vary but citrus seems to be pretty common. As an extra tidbit, while researching the sour, I came across this blog post which offers a look at how the drink originated.

We started with a Japanese pear sour, but the favorite of the table was the lemon. The sorbet was awesome — both sweet and tart with chunks of peel for texture. Really, it blew my socks off.

Lemon Sour made with Shochu, lemon sorbet and club soda.

Lemon Sours made with Shochu, lemon sorbet and club soda.

Next came the warm-up snacks: a simple green salad, a bowl of spicy kim chee and an insanely good beef tartare. The meat was so tender and flavorful, and the sauce was rich and salty. I was a bit sad we had to share with the whole table.

Beef tartare: raw beef, soy-based dipping sauce and egg yolk. Utter bliss.

Beef tartare: raw beef, soy sauce-based dipping sauce and egg yolk. Utter bliss.

Then Koji asked the kitchen to send out plates of meat until we were full.

Strips of beef belly. Fatty deliciousness.

Strips of beef belly. The fatty deliciousness paired perfectly with the wasabi.

Thinly sliced beef heart and tongue, ready for the grill.

Thinly sliced beef heart and tongue. Both excellent after a turn on the grill.

The best we could gather was that this was a sirloin-tip, off the knuckle. In other animals it might be more of a braising cut, with this beef, it was like butter.

The best we could gather was that this was a sirloin-tip, from the knuckle. In other animals it might be more of a braising cut. With this beef, it was like butter.

Yakiniku in Tokyo

Yakiniku in Tokyo

We also had beef cheeks, part of a ribeye and some (rather chewy) oxtail. Finally, with three sours under our belts and our pants nearly bursting at the seams, we cried uncle.

After thanking Koji and forking over some yen for the meal, my husband and I slowly made our way back to our apartment. This was our first night out in Tokyo and walking through the city after midnight was a totally unique experience.

There are so many people, so many lights and so many sounds that it’s a bit like walking the strip in Vegas. But yet, with the cheers coming from the pachinko halls and the glowing lanterns lighting up small alleys, there’s no mistaking the fact that you’re really in Japan.

Late night in TokyoLate night in Tokyo

Up next: Random Tokyo wanderings and late-night izakaya!

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8 thoughts on “From Tongue to Tail: Midnight snacks in Shibuya, Tokyo

    • The sours were amazing! I don’t know if they are always that good or if this place was extra fancy with their homemade sorbet, but wow! They were like dessert. And yeah, with all that beef I felt like a kid in a candy store — “I want one of everything!”

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