Isomaru Suisan: a 24-hour seafood izakaya
My favorite discovery in Tokyo was Isomaru Suisan, a seafood izakaya chain that is all over Japan and which restaurants are open 24-hours everyday. I first read about this through Table for Three, Please, thinking that it would be a great place to visit if our itinerary would allow. Little did I know that I would end up visiting two branches on two different nights and with two different sets of companions.
It turned out that this was the restaurant chain where my brother-in-law R worked, training staff and helping open new branches for the past couple years. We scheduled a dinner with my in-laws to on our second Sunday in Tokyo at the Higashi-Shinjuku branch where R would be assigned for that night.
Before that, though, I had another dinner scheduled with an old high school friend, N, and his new wife, J, who were both taking doctorates in Tokyo in marine science. N said that he would take us to their favorite seafood izakaya, and it turned out to be Isomaru Suisan, as well!
We met up at one of their Ueno branches. There were actually two branches across each other, but I got us totally lost looking for the place because the pin on Google Maps was way off. A tip is to search for the address through Gurunavi or Tabelog instead of using Google Maps directly. Below is a short run through of most of what we had during both dinners:
The restaurants will welcome you with tanks of fresh seafood, and when you get seated at your booth, you will see a small butane grill where you can cook your own food or have one of their friendly and well-trained (probably by my brother-in-law) staff do it for you. A highly recommended specialty was the crab miso, which was a creamy paste of crab guts and fermented soybean grilled in the shell.
My sister in law ordered these whitebait rice balls (shirasu onigiri) that are grilled and painted with soy sauce, as well as some tamago with onions.
Some of our other orders: fried rice, french fries and tamagoyaki for the kids; mixed sashimi and a fantastic grilled tuna jaw/collar.
An assortment of fresh shellfish for grilling.
and these Turban shells.
Escargot of the sea!
Sanma, or Pacific saury, was in season, and autumn is when they are at their freshest and fattest. This was corroborated both by my marine scientist friend and restaurateur brother-in-law. Thus, I absolutely had to try some sanma sashimi. Simple excellence. My family went home ahead and I capped the night with a couple more rounds of draft beer to go with some crispy grilled shrimp. Luckily, I didn’t get lost on my walk home.
Sunday night, a couple of days later, we would be back at Isomaru with the in-laws, this time at the Higashi-Shinjuku branch where R was on duty for the night. We had worked up a serious appetite after walking from Shibuya through Harajuku, and finally Yoyogi Koen. I definitely needed to have more of the grilled tuna collar and crab miso (no photos, though). I have no idea what the fish sticks above are called, but they were pretty good, a “kiddie” dish that even adults would enjoy.
Some of the other new dishes we ordered were fresh scallop/hotate sashimi…
and a chirashi don of assorted fresh seafood scattered on top of vinegared rice. In retrospect, I also should have ordered their fantastic looking dish of squid artfully served three ways.
I also wanted some sanma again, but they didn’t have them at this branch. Instead, we tried their torched saba (mackerel). Not quite as fatty, with a more fleshy taste and texture, but just as good.
Isomaru Suisan is a seafood izakaya that is definitely worth a visit (or more) when in Japan. It’s also rapidly expanding across the country, with my brother-in-law shuttling off to help open a new branch every few weeks. I’m glad to have helped out my superstar comic book artist teammate, as well. He was looking for help in identifying a shop logo for a restaurant he wanted to try. I would recognize that 24h sign anywhere, and tried to point him in the right direction. He said he enjoyed the food, too.
Wherever you are in Tokyo, and to a certain extent, the rest of Japan, there is an Isomaru Suisan near you. Go! It’s a must. I can’t wait to go back and finally try that squid dish.