Monday, October 23, 2017

Gindaco High Ball Sakaba, Tokyo

My 2017 trip to Tokyo was quite different from my last Michelin-star studded trip.  This time, we focused on casual dining, unique Tokyo experiences, and niche items we don't get in the US.  This lead us to places like 7-Eleven for onigiri and salads in pouches, to a tiny restaurant in Tsukishima to get monja where we were the only non-Japanese, and to get ice cream stuffed melonpan from a booth on the street (reviews all coming soon!).  We were all about cheap eats this time around.

Which lead us one night to Gindaco, for takoyaki.  Takoyaki has long been on my list of food that I wanted to try more.  For the unfamiliar, these are fried little fritters with octopus bits in them, usually topped with sauces like okinomiyaki, e.g. sweet sauce and mayo.  Fried, seafood, and tasty sauces?  Yes, please!

I was in Tokyo for work, and one night we had a catered reception with takoyaki that were insanely delicious.  If catering could do such a great job, it made me really curious to see what the "real" thing could be like.  So I decided we should seek out legit takoyaki, which is where Gindaco comes in.

Gindaco is a huge chain in Japan, famous for takoyaki, with a serious Tokyo presence.  I read somewhere that they have 100+ locations in Tokyo alone!  Some locations are smaller, just takeout windows with no seating and a menu of just takoyaki, whereas others also feature drinks and have areas to sit.
We tried ... everything.
I went with a group of 6, on a Friday night, early evening.

In addition to 4 types of takoyaki, we also sampled other appetizers, and their signature drink: highballs.

Let's just say, this was an "experience", but not one any of us will repeat.  I greatly preferred the takoyaki at our event the night before.  We made up for it by getting incredible soft serve dessert platters at Silkream immediately after.


We headed to one of the bigger locations, right near Shibuya station, with an extended menu, full drink menu, and, what we hoped would be seating for our group of 6.
Outdoor Ordering.
The exterior features a ordering window where you can order takoyaki, for takeout or devouring right there at the high standing tables on the sidewalk.  The full menu is not available outside, but they do a very steady business, like most of the locations.

Through the windows, you can also watch them cooking the takoyaki, in the specialized molds.
Whiskey ... on Tap.
Inside is another ordering station, where you can order for dine-in.

The staff here will plate up your takoyaki on the spot and hand it over on a tray, and get your beverages.  If you order anything else, it will be delivered to your table.

There is no seating on the level with the ordering counter, basically just space to order and get out of the way.
Standing - Seating.
Seating is all upstairs, along a counter, and around a few high bar tables.

We entered at about 5:55pm, and went upstairs to check on seating.  There were a few tables available, and we started pushing them together.  But then things got strange.  All of a sudden, staff members swooped in, and took away all the bar stools.

We were confused.  Did we do something wrong?  Was our group of 6 so problematic that they needed to take away all the stools from us?

The answer was no, but at 6pm, on the dot, the place transforms into standing only, to handle the dinner crowds.

Well, ok then, we'd enjoy our meal standing around tables instead.


Takoyaki Menu.
The menu at at Gindaco locations features the takoyaki, available with different toppings, in orders of 4, 6, or 8 (or 16 or 24 if you really wanna go crazy).

Luckily, they had pictures of each type, although even that wasn't really enough info for most of my group, who had no idea what we were even there for.  Luckily, I had done my research, and knew what each was.

There were 5 varieties available, including a seasonal "shrimp salt" version.  We opted to try the 4 others.
Full Menu.
Since this was a larger location, a full menu of other appetizers and dishes was also available.  Again, some pictures to be helpful, but no english, and we could only figure some of it out.  I asked about an English menu, but alas, not available.  Google translate on our phones also failed us.

What we did figure out was a few chilled items (edamame, pickles), some skewers, gyoza, and a couple noodle dishes.

Some of my group really wanted to try yakitori (skewers) and yakisoba (noodles), so, we opted for some of those too.
Drink Menu.
The drink menu was the least useful.  We think there was beer, shochu, plum wine, perhaps some soft drinks, and, the highballs.

Since highballs are what they are known for, that is what we all got.

Food & Drinks

Lemon Stuffed Highball.
The guys in my group all opted for the classic highball.  Big steins, filled up with ... lots of lemons and ice cubes.  It turns out, the lemons themselves were frozen too.  That was novel.

But otherwise, uh, these were just watered down whiskey sodas.  I guess they go well with fried food?
Green Drink.
Mine was served in a tall glass, not loaded with lemons.  It was greenish.

Why did I have something different?  Well, I was trying to ask about what the different drinks were, or if the guy taking our order had a favorite (he really did seem to not hate trying to speak English to us).  He told me this one was the ladies like.

This lady did not like it.  It was very harsh.  Not a smooth drink.  I think just some low end whiskey, soda water, ice cubes, and ... mint?  I'm still not sure.

I didn't finish it.
Negidako (2 orders), Original.
Once we ordered, trays started filling up with boats of different types of takoyaki.  We were also provided with two little plastic bowls, soy sauce, and grated diakon.
"Drizzled with signature Gindaco sauce, topped with dried green seaweed and dancing bonito flakes."
On the right is the original style, coated in takoyaki sauce (sweet sauce, much like okinomiyaki), plus mayo sauce (yup, just like okinomiyaki), bonito flakes, and green laver.
"Served with tempura dipping sauce, topped with white radish, green onions, dried green seaweed, and danicing bonito flakes."
The other two orders were negidako, the same balls, but no sauce, topped with green onion.  I guess these were supposed to have bonito too (per the English menu I later found online, but, ours did not have).

I'll start with the positive.  They were very fresh and hot.  As in, uh, crazy hot inside.  Even though it took us time to bring our food upstairs, re-arrange ourselves around tables so that we could all reach the takoyaki boats, I still nearly shrieked as I bit in, as the molten hot filling made contact with the inside of my mouth.

The balls were crispy on the outside, soft inside.  And filled with bits of octopus.  Very chewy octopus.

The negidako was certainly the least interesting, and most in need of the dipping sauce, although, I do like green onion, and it added a bit of freshness.

The traditional style tasted, well, like okinomiyaki toppings.  Sweet, creamy, a bit fishy.  Nothing really revolutionary.
Soy sauce and grated diakon.
The soy sauce and grated daikon were for the negidako, but we kinda used them for everything.  I kinda really liked it, or perhaps just wasn't satisfied with anything else, as I may or may not have drank the rest of the sauce dishes when someone dared me to.
Cheese Mentaiko.
"Served with spicy cod roe mixed into Japanese mayo and soy sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese, dried parsley, and Parmesan cheese sprinkle."

Things got more interesting with the "cheese" topped one.  It had the same base sweet sauce, then, uh, shredded cheese melted on, then tons of creamy sauce, different from the sauce on the original version, as this I guess was cod roe based mayo?

This version turned out to be my favorite.  I somehow really liked the cheese actually.  And the very generous dousing of the flavorful mayo didn't hurt.

Still, "favorite" was relative, I didn't want more than one of these.  According to the translated menu, these are the favorite of the females.  Well, more accurate than the drink at least ...
"Drizzled with premium Teriyaki sauce and Japanese meyo, topped with freshly made egg salad, dried green seaweed and dancing bonito flakes. Sprinkles with Japan's famous 7 spices."
And more interesting yet, topped with the sweet sauce and mayo from the originals, but also with ... egg salad on top?  And a bit of extra spices?

Ah, Japanese and eggs.  I ate a lot of egg on this trip, not just because my hotel breakfast made me order eggs every day in addition to the buffet, but because egg is just everywhere.  Like in the egg-four-ways sandwich from Lawson we got, after hearing all about how great the egg sandwiches are there (stay tuned for that review).  And of course, tamago at sushi restaurants.

But anyway, uh, yeah, chunks of egg salad, warmed up by the balls?  This was strange, and not particularly good.
Inside a ball.
I tried, but clearly failed, to get a decent photo of the inside of a ball.  But hopefully this gives you an idea, soft fritter shell, actual bits of octopus inside.

I liked how crispy the shell was, and the soft nature of the fritter, but the chewy octopus just didn't do it for me, no matter how many coatings I slathered on top.
Beef (?) Skewers.
The rest of our order, skewers and noodles, was delivered to our table about 10 minutes later, on real plates.

I didn't try the random skewers we pointed at on the menu, as others wanted them, and we managed to only order two.  They thought they were beef, and they didn't seem like hits.
Eel Skewers.
Nor did I try the eel skewers, again, just a pair, and not hits with the rest of the group.
"Japanese soba cooked to order with 2 types of Japanese sauces, served with cabbage, chicken, dried green seaweed, and dancing bonito flakes."

We also got a noodle dish, yakisoba.  I tried a few bites, but, again, it ust wasn't interesting to me.  Greasy noodles, with bean sprouts, a soy based sauce, and bonito flakes on top?  Meh.
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