It was a Friday, but no ordinary Friday. The Japanese government had announced the day before that public schools would be on hiatus for the entire month of March as a novel coronavirus countermeasure. Many companies also started earlier in the week to promote teleworking, so the number of people enjoying drinks after work had decreased dramatically. Nevertheless, Tokyo Ika (Squid) Center, which specializes in all things squid and then some, was crowded and for good reason.
I had wanted to try Ika Center for several years. During a visit to Hirado, an island off of Nagasaki Prefecture, I had tasted the freshest squid. It landed on my table still squirming. The restaurant was dark and the squid was glowing. It was the most tender and sweet squid I had ever had. I had heard Ika Center specialized in “live” squid that they transport in special trucks keeping them fresh and healthy, so I had high expectations.
We started with a beer (Asahi Super Dry). It quenched our throats. With the beer came otoshi (an appetizer that is served with alcoholic beverages and is in lieu of service charge), which happened to be shiokara (squid innards in fermented viscera). Also, a plate of sashimi was served. This order was “required” in order to make a reservation online. The sashimi was all very fresh.
We looked at the menu. The squid of the day was yariika and it came in three sizes small, medium and large. We went for the large, which was JPY4,200. The chef showed us the squid and then quickly returned with the tentacles. He proposed that we take a video while pouring soy sauce over them. As expected, they danced.
Very nice, but we ended up pouring a little too much soy sauce on it hoping for an encore performance. It became a little too salty.
Next we had shirako, which is the sperm of codfish in ponzu sauce. Shirako is a winter treat…soft and creamy but not too heavy: it goes down well with sake. No jokes, please.
Next, a squid ink croquette. Another great dish.
I had decided to move on to Nigorizake, a cloudy Japanese sake. This one was a little light, but it went well with the croquette and the shirako.
The yariika was finally served. It was almost translucent. We were told to first try it without any sauce. It was sweet and soft (for squid). After a few pieces, I dipped some pieces in the lemon juice. As the squid had so much flavor, nothing else was needed.
Next, some Taruzake, sake from the vat. Very pleasant. We also enjoyed a deep fried squid dish and squid liver with vegetables in butter.
Recommendation level (out of five stars)
The bill came to about JPY 7,000 per person. Although a little pricey, it was well worth it. The raw squid and the other dishes were all quite special and the sake menu was extensive.
Tokyo Ika Center is part of a group of restaurants called Ika Center. There are about a half dozen locations in Tokyo. The one I visited is near Tokyo Station and can be reserved from here:
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