An izakaya with a (slight) French twist
“An izakaya by a French chef,” is the concept behind Bistro & Sakaba TAKE (formerly Restaurant TAKE), which is located a few minutes’ walk from Yoyogi Koen Station. The menu suggests an interesting fusion between French flavors and Japanese finger foods, all complimented by a selection of wine, shochu and nihonshu. The concept presents an intriguing idea that one can’t help but be a little curious about.
The bistro is situated on a pedestrian street, quite easy to find, with a storefront that is also committed to the concept: a large banner in front displays the shop’s recommended dishes under the header “French style,” and a French flag hangs opposite to the bistro’s name on the wooden signboard above the door. The menu is scrawled in white across the large floor-to-ceiling windows that make up the front of the place, adding to the overall “bistro” feel.
Inside is much more izakaya than bistro; there’s a counter wrapped around the open kitchen, a short hallway to a table seating area and a small area sectioned off into two semi-private rooms. Each table is prepared for dinner service with settings of small, stone-like plates that feel a bit more fashionable than the slick dark woodiness of the tables. The seats are either izakaya-style wooden chairs or faux-leather bench seats (for customers sitting along the wall). Décor consists primarily of liquor bottles (both French and Japanese) and small Eiffel Tower figurines, which line the walls.
The drink menu has a house sangria and a fresh ginger highball in addition to approximately 30 bottles of wine priced at either ¥2,800 or ¥3,800. (The wine list is helpful with short descriptions and flavor charts for each variety.) There are also shochu and nihonshu options, with prices for individual servings ranging from ¥480 yen to ¥780.
A table charge of ¥480 is applied at dinner-time. At the time of this review, the otoshi (appetizer provided with the table charge) was a sweet miso dip with seasonal vegetables (a slice from an ear of corn, cucumber, cabbage, yellow bell pepper, carrot, and tomato).
There are two large salads available on the menu: a karasumi (salted mullet roe) salad and a Caesar salad (both ¥880). The karasumi salad is Japanese without a hint of French influence. Shaved daikon, cucumber and a light soy sauce-based dressing are the elements behind the intense saltiness of the karasumi, which takes the lead for flavor. Fish fans will enjoy it but anti-fish individuals should go with the Caesar.
One of the recommended dishes is a whole tomato served with cheese (¥580). It’s the size of a grapefruit and could easily be split by a group of four. Served piping hot, steam emerges the second it’s cut into. It is tender and refreshing; the hot tomato is enhanced by what tastes like a simple bolognese sauce. The grilled cheese adds rich, fatty flavor.
Also a recommended menu item is the shop’s spiced karaage (¥1,080): a large chicken piece served attached to the bone. It’s cooked in chicken fat and extra virgin olive oil. Accompanying the dish are a pair of scissors and a dipping sauce. Visitors cut the chicken into preferred sizes themselves. The chicken is juicy throughout, the outside pleasantly and gently crisp (not crunchy). The spice mix (cayenne pepper, oregano, cumin, garlic, and ginger) is a delicious and interesting change from typical karaage. Skip the mayonnaise-based, tartar-like sauce it’s served with as it destroys all the best qualities of the chicken. Enjoy this one with a cold beer and a group — it’s far too large for one person.
TAKE’s most strongly recommended item is their yakitori, advertised as being prepared with salt sourced from France. The sauce used for their yakitori is also advertised as French style. The assorted yakitori set comes in a few different size options (3, 5, or 7 sticks; ¥530—¥1,230), but the French aspects of the flavor are not immediately apparent. While the sauce has hints of fatty ingredients (butter and oil), the dish remains overwhelmingly Japanese. That being said, the variation in types of meat was nice and everything was cooked well.
Takeaways: stop by if you happen to be in the area and you’re looking for an izakaya with some good karaage. If you’re visiting with hopes of exploring a fusion izakaya, you’ll be disappointed. With reasonably priced bottles of wine, a convenient location, and a few surprises here and there on the menu, this is a spot best utilized for casual group get-togethers. Skip this one for dates. Don’t miss the chicken.