A Different Sort of Adult Entertainment At Tanga

A Different Sort of Adult Entertainment At Tanga

In the southwestern corner of Sendagaya, where Kita-Sando bumps up on Aoyoma, there are a number of impeccably designed restaurants dispensing natural wines, high-end yakitori, French bistro food, craft beers and more.  An entire block is taken up by an outpost of LA’s iconic Ron Herman boutique.  Peek inside and it seems a slice of California has been shipped wholesale to Tokyo.  In between all these paragons of taste and wealth, there is a narrow, dark alleyway leading to Tanga, a decidedly no-frills Kyushu-centric Izakaya devoted to offal, those low-end bits and pieces of cows and pigs and chickens.  It is the hidden, grubby and incredibly delicious underside of a very polished neighborhood.

The first time I went to Tanga, I was meeting a group of Japanese friends and I was the first to arrive.  Sliding back the doors, I was faced with a scene, much like a classic Spaghetti Western: Everything went silent, the few customers swiveled their heads, the tattooed chefs, manning a yakitori grill,  fixed their eyes on me. The “locals-only” vibe was strong.  However, once I announced who I was with, it was as if the music was turned back on.  The customers resumed their conversations, the chefs smiled, welcomed me warmly and pointed me upstairs to where the big tables are.  I later learned that yes, the owner of the restaurant, while maybe not full-on Yakuza, was certainly a big man in the neighborhood.

The friends that I was meeting that first visit are long-time Tanga customers.  They live close and eat there often.  One of them even translated their menu into English (a copy of which apparently does not exist) and this bit of work made a complimentary bottle of Shochu appear on the table.  The upstairs is given to a few big tables set up on a raised platform. Liquor ads and handwritten specials adorn the walls.  People settle in here.  Cozy and happy, smoking cigarettes and ordering drinks.  With no idea of what was to come, I gave up myself up to the experience.  Following a round of beers and whiskey highballs, a group of small dishes appeared,  similar, in appearance and taste, to Korean Ban Chan — a nod perhaps to the proximity and influence of Kyushu’s close neighbor (Kyushu is the south-eastern island of the Japanese peninsula).  We started with edamame and a round of yakitori — liver, chicken wing, heart, gizzard, tsukene.  Perfectly cooked, juicy, fragrant with charcoal smoke.  On the table a jar of yuzu-kosho (a condiment made of yuzu zest and togarashi peppers) added a bright, spicy note, cutting through the fattiness of the chicken skin.  Fried fish cakes, perfectly crisp korokke and a splendid dish of sizzling potatoes served with Mentai (spicy pollack roe) mayo.  The waiter then appeared holding a huge dish containing a half-chicken fried to golden perfection.  He waited for our approval and then took it in back to cut into pieces.  Served with lemons for squeezing, this is one of the best karage I have ever had.  It includes every part of the chicken, from thigh to breast, from chicken back to neck.  I have never had a chicken served like this, but the frying is done expertly — oil temperature skillfully managed, so that it is juicy, wonderfully crunchy, free of any excess grease, and the small bones of the back became almost cracker-like.  The neck in particular, while needing a bit of work to get in there, was deeply flavorful and textural.  I gnawed away at it, leaving behind a stripped-down piece of bone and cartilage.  I would think about this chicken, fantasize about this chicken for the days that followed until I returned not a week later with my wife and kids.  After the entire half-bird was devoured, the main dish was set upon our table:   A cauldron of cabbage, bits of offal, green onion, garlic, sliced chili pepper, and a soy-based broth bubbled away over a gas jet.  The waiter, anticipating our greedy, impatient mood, warned us against digging in too quick.  “Let it cook!” he admonished.  We picked at our banchan, the remnants of the fish cakes, the last remaining edamame and ordered a fourth beer — the wafting steam of the hot pot creating a mad sense of hunger.  Finally, it was ready.  Unlike many motsu (guts) stews or hot pots, Tanga’s Motsu Nabe contains big, plump bits of offal — they melt in your mouth and render just enough to bolster that nourishing, garlicky broth. The cabbage and green onion are velvety, touched with just a hit of heat from the chili.  I added a dash of that yuzu-kosho, and it gave a citrusy balance to the bowl like a ray of sun shining through a cloudy sky.  When all the solids had been devoured, the waiter re-appeared with plate-full of thin, Nagasaki Chanpon (a Kyushu style ramen noodle) and added that to the pot.  We finished the meal in a wave of slurps and contentment.  On a later visit, my wife polished off the last remaining noodles and the final drops of soup, turned to me and said, “This I could eat every night.”  As the temperatures continue to drop, I must agree with her.

If you google “Tenga Tokyo” rather than “Tanga Tokyo” you are directed to an “Adult Entertainment” store in the Chiyoda ward.  In a way, the two shops — beyond their names —  are not dissimilar.  Sneaking down an alleyway to eat offal has a certain perversity to it.  It may not be shopping for Ass Porn or an inflatable love doll, but a  meal at Tanga is most definitely serious adult entertainment.  A little gritty, a little hidden and all about the organs.

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