A Secret Retreat in Bustling "Pontocho" Alley
Pontocho is a narrow alley running parallel to Kamo River between Shijo and Sanjo Streets. It is one of the most popular places among those who are visiting Kyoto. The alley is usually packed with tourists strolling from north to south, and south to north, especially after the sun goes down. There are lots of restaurants, cafes, bars on both sides of the alley, attracting people who are looking for where to dine. You can pick any kind of restaurant you can imagine - from really a high-end traditional Japanese restaurant to a very casual Izakaya.
When I was there recently with one of my friends who visited Kyoto on his way back to Florida, we felt a bit hungry and decided to have a quick bite at a Takoyaki (Octopus Dumplings) stand which we found in middle of Pontocho alley. We did not expect there would be a fancy dining space attached to the store front, but they did have a BEAUTIFUL counter bar at the back of the house. Moreover, they had an additional dining space on the second floor, where there are 3 partitioned tables with a dim light. Nobody could imagine a wine bar like sleek Izakaya is behind a Takoyaki stand. What a contrast !
Foods are Superb
Traditional Takoyaki is usually served with Worcestershire based thick sauce, Mayonnaise, green seaweed laver and dried Bonito flakes. But at Pontako Sakura, more than a dozen variations are offered - from traditional style to eclectic versions such as the ones served with melted cheese, Habanero infused spicy sauce, curry sauce, etc. Two sizes are available - 4 pieces (Yen 400 - Yen 500) and 6 pieces (Yen 500 - Yen 700).
Besides Takoyaki, Pontako Sakura offers many other Izakaya foods - Potato salad, Pickled local root vegetables, Braised beef tendon, Sauteed mushrooms with garlic, Sauteed Chicken, etc. They even serve Wagyu steak with onion soy sauce (Wagyu steak is a bit pricey - Yen 2,500). All foods are carefully prepared by experienced chefs, and the quality of each of them is superb.
Gorgeous Wine List
Their beverage menu is gorgeous. Draft beer, bottled beer, wines by the glass, wines by the bottle, local Sake's, etc. What surprised me is their bottle wine selection. They offer affordable wines like "Casillero del Diablo" Chardonnay from Concha y Toro (Chile) for Yen 3,800. There are many choices available - from France, from Italy, and from other wine regions in the world. For higher-end wines, they have Opus One from Napa Valley for Yen 50,000, Ch. Calon Segur from Saint Estephe (France) for Yen 25,000, etc. I think Pontako Sakura is the only Takoyaki stand in Japan carrying such high-end wines. FYI, their price for Opus One (I recall it is 2011 vintage) is a bargain price. I guess Yen 50,000 is almost the price that they paid when they purchased the bottle. They store their high-end wines in a wine cooler, so the conditions can be trusted.