Congratulations, folks, we got there. Just making it to 2021 is grounds for celebration. Nothing inappropriate, of course, and no boisterous crowds. A quiet toast or two at a discreet, discerning local tavern sounds about right. Shuka Nomoto fits that bill perfectly.
Hidden away in a quiet residential neighborhood on the furthest fringe of Ebisu, Nomoto is not the easiest izakaya to track down. The only indication you’ve reached the right place is the logo on the traditional andon lamp glowing at foot level outside the front door — and the wide picture window that spans the restaurant’s modest frontage.
Anywhere else, this amount of glass might make it feel too exposed, an invitation for passersby to stop and peer inside enviously. No worries here: The only other people you’re likely to see on this particular backstreet will be your fellow diners as they arrive for the evening.
There are just 15 seats in all, arranged in classic izakaya style: one small table, plus a counter that runs the length of a narrow open kitchen that is as clean and precisely laid out as a ship’s galley. This is the domain of owner-chef Daisuke Nomoto.
Until opening here three years ago, Nomoto helped oversee the Nakamura stable of restaurants. And there is definitely a shared DNA in his relaxed, understated style, the wide range of sake, wine and spirits on his drinks list and, more than anything, the quality of the food he serves.
He doesn’t bother with a menu. He will run a few ideas past you and check on your dietary preferences, but basically you leave it all in his hands. Working solo in the compact kitchen, he puts together a leisurely series of small dishes that are undeniably Japanese, but feature plenty of nuances from China and further afield.
He may start you off with his take on the ever-versatile potato salad, a mix that incorporates macaroni and enough umami to ensure it pairs equally well with wine or sake. Another of Nomoto’s year-round standards is a very satisfying ham katsu, a thick tranche of Bologna sausage that he breads, deep-fries and presents with a simple dab of mustard.
There will be a small sashimi plate, prepared and plated with equal expertise. And without fail you will be served the dish that has become Nomoto’s signature, a shūmai dumpling generously stuffed with minced pig’s ear, tongue and other porky bits and pieces. Absolutely delicious.
Winter means he is likely to have nabe hotpot — although it’s always best to check when you make the (essential) call to reserve. Currently the choices include chicken or creamy shirako (cod milt) with tofu and seasonal vegetables.
Warming and reviving, this is the kind of food that nourishes body and soul. The nights are still long, and we’re not out of the pandemic woods by a long shot. But until things improve, it will be small, intimate, quietly stylish places like Shuka Nomoto that lift our spirits and keep us moving forward.
RY Bldg. 1B, Ebisu-Minami 2-17-1, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0022; 03-6303-4355; bit.ly/daisukenomoto; open 6-11 p.m. (L.O.), Sun. & hols. 3-9 p.m. (L.O.); closed Mon.; omakase menu ¥5,000/head, plus drinks; takeout not available; nearest station Ebisu; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; no menu; little English spoken
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