Friday, April 22, 2016

Purple Mountain Chinese Noodles, Tamachi (ラーメン むらさき山)

So here we are again, just me and Todd, passing an enjoyable hour getting away from it all for lunch. It's a little funny that we're both in Tokyo. It's also little funny that 'getting away from it all' entails sweating while surrounded by shortish guys in suits, but that's how we roll.

Or stroll. We did a lot of strolling, because there's so little way to pass a long time in a restaurant if you're noodling around. Which is a little contradictory. Strolling around most of the Tamachi grid (a known but unexplored quantity for me, aside from this place in 2009, a lifetime ago) didn't produce any more likely candidate than Purple Mountain, which turns out to be RamenDB's highest-ranked shop in the vicinity (I'm not counting the Jiro a few blocks over, because that would be dumb).  

We didn't have to wait long. Things turn over quickly (see previous comment). Like your stomach after too much ramen.

I felt a little like the bowl was slow in coming, which is an absurd thing to complain about. But I'm not complaining. I'm talking about seconds here. It just felt longer than other places might take.
Because they had to boil the shit out of this soup and SWEET JESUS DID IT TASTE GOOD. This place has no business being ranked lower than the one I tried earlier in the week. This was delicious!
Awesome awesome chashu, a good thick tonkotsu soup, very nice thin straightish noodles, and a blessedly small serve of menma. The lack of menma would be an improvement for most bowls, I think.

This bowl, I can't really think of anything that would improve it. Drained it again. 
Todd is into the 'tsukimen', or 'moon noodles'. Or is that 'sukimen', 'noodles you like'? Or should that be 'okonomimen'?

Anywho, this looks pretty acceptable, but I didn't try it, and he only ate half of the noodles and soup despite saying how good it was. Must be how he maintains his girlish figure.

Me, I drained it. Again.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Requinquer, Shiroganedai

Romance is not dead. Merely slumbering. It awakens every few years. Like cicadas.

With a fortuitous alignment of stars and moon this month, Big Bird and I are both in Tokyo and had a few weeks to awaken the 'romantic Thursday Lunch' tradition we established in 2011.

Requinquer is pretty well-known and highly-regarded, so it's not a hot find or anything, but it was awfully good. The anecdote here is that when Big Bird used to hang out with his dentist friend in Kita Senju, one of the nondescript bars they frequented (next door to this one, same owners) had surprisingly great food. Because they had a surprisingly great chef who was between other things, until he opened Requinquer. It's kind of a big jump from Kita Senju to Shirogane, but he's been open for enough years that it obviously worked.

Let's get to rockin'! Or stonin'. Or something. The waiter was trying super-hard to engage us in English, bless him, and made a joke about this being 'a rock, on another rock'. In a box of rocks, he should have said. The upper rock is bread and dried cod moistened together. The lower rock is a tiny roll, probably with charcoal in the dough. Tasty, forgettable.

Oh, they kinda forget to give you the menu too. I think this was maybe a foreigner issue, but we were not allowed to take the menu into our manly paws. In fairness, this is because you can only choose between fish and meat, but then the waiter explained all the dishes to us too, so I dunno.

Further, he explained that the meat was 'chicken', when in fact it was 'quail'. So, you know, read the menu.

When I was in middle school I remember this thing that the cafeteria would do for school lunches - 'Breakfast At Lunch'. This amuse is called 'Start With Dessert (plus liver)'. A little baba pastry, soaked in sweetness, topped with foie mousse and candied orange. Pretty good!
I like how the orangeness continued here with the carrot soup. If this wasn't deeply carroty, it was certainly deeply creamy, in that 'don't ask, don't tell' way they have in French restaurants and the military. Delicioso.
Clamanoso! Clamato! Clamingo! It's a big-ass clam (that's the species name), deliciously battered and fried and surrounded with vegetables and salad, delightfully sauced. Meaty clam. Terrific spring flavor. Sauce poured on tableside.

"This tasted as good as it looked"
This probably tasted better than it looks. Have you noticed how a plate can look nice when it arrives in front of you at a restaurant, you take a picture, and when you review later it looks like a jumble of crap? I was wise to that effect on this plate but powerless to prevent it.

Madai, nicely cooked in a big piece and sliced for us. Braised spring cabbage. Fried cabbage leaf. Vinegar red cabbage. Some green stalky thing.

And smoked firefly squids! Hands up, who's had that before? Not me. They were smoked on sakura wood, we asked, but had this nifty sweet smokiness that reminded me of nothing more than a burnt marshmallow.
Hey, this looked pretty decent! And it looked even better on the day. It's a quail, a whole quail, completely boned out (heh heh) except the legs. Stuffed with pork mousse studded with shrimp bits. Wonderful sauce. Fried potatoes, very nice. Fuki stalks.

Were I to complain, I would just say this was almost too big, especially the way the body was all ballooned up with the pork mousse. And the value differential between the fish and meat dishes is really wide. But we got both, so no biggie. Or maybe an almost-too-biggie.
Certain members of the party speculated that dessert would be disappointing. They were incorrect. This parfait thing seems to be the house specialty, and I like how chef snuck in firefly squid and cherry tree leaves to the course to be Japanese and springy despite being a French bistro.

Cherry leaf-flavored mousse on top, and jelly underneath, with white bean ice cream and a further layer of green tea mousse. And crunchy bits mixed throughout, so it wasn't just smooth and luxurious. You had to fight and work while enjoying your 5 courses of French lunch.
Ponder that while you inhale a last bite, a chocolate Madeleine. Strangely not risen, but carmelized on the top, so quite rich and tasty.

Kinda like us!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ryumon, Meguro (龍門 目黒本店)

Lunch with a colleague. I'm so used to picking where I go (sorry about that, friends and family) that it's very confronting to have someone else say we're going for Chinese. Because I would ordinarily NEVER GO FOR CHINESE.

But this was cool, because it's a Szechuan place.

In fact it's a classically smoky, yellowed basement Chinese place. I felt like I've been here before, in Kanda and a dozen other neighborhoods.

But I haven't, because I NEVER GO FOR CHINESE. 

Maybe I should though. Check this - your basic brown/yellow/white Chinese lunch set. The soup was pretty good, and so was the almond tofu. I have no idea about the rice because it was constantly buried under a thick sludge of

Oh, I can see where that's funny if you read it wrong. And I can see where this looks a little like ma poo (especially after I ate all of this). But it was a really good version. I love how it's more brown than red, it seemed more natural somehow. Punishingly strong sansho content, all-around delicious. I didn't lick the bowl. 


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kei, Gakugei Daigaku (日本酒専門店 圭)

The Bird and I had a very quiet time at Ametsuchi. I was thinking even before we started there of going for a second place on this evening, and the atmosphere and first couple dishes confirmed it. By the end I was positively itchy to finish our hike from Meguro to Gakuegeidai and see about the two likely candidates I had identified. The first one was closed, and the second one calls itself a 'saki specialist' anyway, so what the hey.

What the hey is that it's a standing bar! What the hey?! We don't stand! But this was good. It was already a little close to quitting time when we got here, and not being able to sit keeps you honest, sober, and ready to run for the train. 
What's weird is how we ended up loving this place. We had a little bit of a hard time at first - one of the three waiters came over and opined that he could recommend something light and flavorless, or maybe fruity, since foreigners like that kinda thing.

Foreigners like Black Bull nama genshu too, my friend. And that 'Go' thing on the left was good as well. 
So the lack of atmosphere and the three waiters for 5 customers and the oddity of that greeting had us feeling a little off. We drank our drinks and talked about the weighty things men touch on when they're standing up and drinking. 
We got food too. This is 'chikuwa isobe age', which is in that 'you have to order it, it's a funny concept' category - processed fish tubes sprinkled with seaweed, battered and fried. De-fricking-licious, I'm here to tell you. The other thing I ordered in this round was Kentufy Fried Mushroom - bits of eringi tatsuta-style. Boom.

The saki menu was a little weird - lots of good brewers, but often not saying what was available from them. Then I saw a bottle of Nabeshima pouring at the next table, and Izumibashi beyond that, and Kagiya over there, and said "Hey! None of that's on the menu!"
Then I finally looked at the fridge and realized that all the good stuff wasn't on the menu. You sick summbicches!

Once we figured out that game, it got a lot more interesting to be there. Inspecting the fridge is always a nice conversation starter, and it plunged us into heated and sarcastic debate with the local fauna. Or I imagine that's what it was. They probably just thought we were jerks, seeing as we were going off on this line about how much we hate saki. I cant help it, when someone asks if I like saki while I'm inspecting the fridge in a standing saki bar, I just have to say 'No, I came in here accidentally. I'm looking for the bathroom. Is it behind these bottles?"
This is an absolute try-at-home - cherry blossom shrimp and fresh seaweed omelet. I mean, if you can get these shrimp fresh you should just eat them raw, but the dried ones are readily available out of season, hydrate nicely, and are evidently ace when scrambled with eggs.

I genuinely regret not having more time here. The food was tasty, the sake delicious, the value just fine, and the environment convivial. I would pay extra for a stool, but it's not to be. 
You know the other problem we had at the beginning here? It was only 9:30 when we arrived. By the time it was pushing 11, it was also pushing crowded. I guess this is what the college kids do on Tuesday nights. They're art-college kids after all.

It was nice to drink with a young, arty crowd for a change. 

Ametsuchi, Gakugei Daigaku (あめつち)

Sometimes the whole universe is contained in a single sesame seed. This isn't one of those times. But it's cool. It's all good, baby. You'd think that the name of this place was about the rain and the soil, and the produce that they produce, but if you looked a little more you might start thinking it was about the 'Song of the Universe', the 9th century pangram. You'd be wrong though, there was no mention of the universe, just vegetables.

Great concept, just great. Take an abandoned storefront on a quiet shoutengai midway between hither and yon, do some minimal renovation, and open an izakaya serving vegetable-heavy food and saki. I wonder how much the rent is. I wonder if she's making any money or just doing it for the love, Japanese-style.  
She indeed! One of the many reasons I was so excited about this place is that the chef/owner/waitress/bartender/cleaner is a woman. That's so much rarer than it should be, and it connotes a different sensibility that I'm actively looking for.

Saki is the drink of choice here, with about 15 bottle in the fridge and a bunch more sitting out for room temp / heated drinking. As usual, Big Bird and I were plied with the classic 'trap for young players' saki master's trick - proposing a bottle with 1 cm left in the bottom. We didn't fall for that, and were soon drinking a cup of Kozaemon, which I once had an impromptu vertical tasting of and decided I didn't love it. Still don't.
I do love sensitively-cooked vegetables though, don't you? Love love love some kogomis on a Tuesday night, boiled to have a little snap left but strongly dashi-flavored. And I don't like boiled turnips, but I liked these. 
Being a Western barbarian, I often order the Southern Barbarian-styled items on the menu.This was 'bean snapper', so named because they're lil' and cute like beans, and they're lightly battered and fried and soaked in vinegar and topped with carrots and onions. You say Barbarian, I say beseecher. Or at least that's hat my computer tells me I mean when I write 'escabeche'.
It was right around here that I started thinking the low prices on the menu were less value-priced than I had been thinking, because you couldn't get less wasabi leaf and stalk in here if you used micro-tweezers. But I love this stuff so much - pickled in soy sauce, packed with wasabi flavor but much less heat than the root - that I'd pay double. Or go to the market and try to make my own.

It's becoming 'brown things on plates' night at Ametsuchi. 
Oh, 'light brown things' time. But I do love bamboo in the spring, with fresh seaweed and white vinegar miso. The miso was really interesting, a stronger, differenter vinegar taste than you're used to. 
And, you know, more brown things. We worked through a little saki with all of these but I was starting to wonder where the vegetable-foused creativity was going to come in.

Udo and gobo kinpira, walabi and tofu nimono. You're keeping score even if I'm not. 
Oooh, creativity!

No, I ordered the thing below, and since I can't go past a fuki miso I asked for a little dab of it on the side too. Still love it. She makes a nice smooth, lightly-sweetened version. 
And slaps it all over tofu and grills it up, 'fun-field style' Yummers. Fuki miso is on of those seasonal, hard-to-get, absurdly expensive things that you should just make yourself when fukis are in the stores. 
We were also a bit tired of the lack of saki list, but got one last shot of the hots. This Tamaka (kimoto jun gin) was nice and strong, just the way you like it for heating and eating. So thick you can spoon it with a knife.

Attractive servingware and good times in the background eh? Those people were having the course, which is substantially the same as what you see above. Maybe there's value in it or something? There couldn't be much difference in the dishes, not in a 7-seat restaurant with 5 customers tonight. 
These are 'bamboo flounder', which I ordered because I was thinking of the crazy-delicious 'willow flounder' I had many years ago on first meeting Common.

And I have no idea why he got that knickname, which is unusual - my stupid-clever knicknames usually come back to me regardless of the time gap. And I congratulate us on going to that linked restaurant, because it was awesome and we were ahead of the curve - the basic course is now twice what we paid.  
I'm digressing, which means either that I'm gazing at a black sesame seed in my navel as a metaphor for the universe or else uninspired by this post's concept. This ham was a pretty inspiring way to finish, especially since it was chicken, and Daisen chicken, and marinated in saki lees, and roasted for a long, long, long time. Texturally funny, delicious. 

Which is maybe a metaphor for life and the universe. Or not. If you read that pangram it might enlighten you, or you might just want to focus on slow contemplation of the pleasures of some wasabi leaves and saki. This restaurant is much more about the rain and the soil.

Although the poem is printed on the business cards.

Ishin Ramen, Meguro (麺や 維新)

Hmmm, how did we feel about this? An absurdly high score on ramendb and a Michelin Guide 'Bib Gourmand' mention probably had hopes a little high. I can't quite point to why I was dissatisfied with it. I guess if you wanted to sum it up in a phrase, it was all that but without the bag of chips.

Still, when I think about what $10 gets me for lunch in Chicago - a sandwich? A trip to the, ooh ooh, the salad bar? - I just want to cry. In Tokyo it gets you a bowl of carefully created soup with perfect accompaniments.

Which sounds like I was pretty happy with the whole thing. So I dunno.

This is fun - any time they're getting out the torch to char some pork before it goes on the soup, there's something going on.  The interior is a little too worn, and the three staffers somehow not fully into it. Which isn't fair to them, it's just that there are places where they're REALLY into it, and it makes a tiny difference.

Realistically you don't need any difference with this bowl though. I was pretty stunned by the soup, and had 8 or 10 spoonfuls before I remembered that I was supposed to eat the noodles and pork too. After a while I started thinking it was maybe too much, but this is the first ramen I've had in a looooong time, and maybe I should have started somewhere less challenging so I'd appreciate this. I'd hate to start thinking 'ramen is ramen', after all.

The noodles are cool - thin, a little flattened, pale, very chewy, wonderful. The pork is individual as well, tasting a lot like ham and with the fat nicely rendered and edible. Egg is just that side of perfectly done. Menma are buried so you don't have to confront them for a while.

It was great and all. Mr. Ishin has a nice vision for the bowl he wants to serve and he and the boys execute well on it. Just not sure why I walked out feeling ever so slightly unfulfilled.

Which is not to say that I left a drop of anything in the bowl, you understand. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Misakiko Sushi, Meguro (海鮮三崎港目黒店)

So I had lunch here today. The less said, the better. I don't even want to tell you about the advances in kaiten technology since I last went to a kaiten. We're done here.

Use this link and I'll never talk to you again. 

In other news, Meguro has lots of nightlife attractions.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Gonpachi, Azamino (権八)

OMG, we found the most incredible place! It's aMAZEballz!

Did you know they filmed Kill Bill here?

But I jest. They didn't really film Kill Bill at the Roppongi location, and when you factor in the complete lack of driving rain inside this place and the 8-person private room they allocated to our family of 4, Gonpachi was aces for lunch!

And really, the food is pretty decent as lunch sets go. I had the steak set, someone had the grilled fish (which I think was hokke, and I know it's a cheap fish but it's so gooooood!). A little strainer of cold, very firm soba, a bowl of good soup, some picklz, you're all set.

The steak itself was about like this. It tasted like it looked.

Did I mention it was raining and we had a big horikotatsu room to ourselves?!

Peanut was running laps up in there.

Also note that tempura is only offered at the first-floor tempura restaurant. We didn't figure this out until too late, and someone was disappointed.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Bikkuri Sushi, Shin Yurigaoka (びっくり寿司 新百合ケ丘店)

I'll just get this joke out of the way up front: "This place is surprisingly good!"

Did you get that? Didja? Huh?

This particular branch in Shinyuri is a funny one of the 12 in the chain because it closes earliest (10:30, not 4 AM like many of them) and it offers delivery. It also has a magnificent sign outside, which is not only 40 feet high and lit up like a landing beacon, but also rotates.
Good heavens, look at those tasty treats.

Oh, there's ample parking as well, either on the parking deck under the sign or else in the lot across the street. This, my friends, is country living.
And this entry is like you're going to be whisked into another time and place. It's a bit humble-grand, considering what's inside.
And what's inside is a big crab. And a big eel on the floor of the tank (is that an anago?). Mr. Crab, as Peanut would call him, was very genki, climbing all around in search of escape from his cruel, glassy prison. He knows what's coming for him.
What's coming for me is the menu. This is a big place, which probably helps them to have a bigger menu, and it's also on the edge of where the city becomes the country, which makes it more of a destination. There was families partying together on the Saturday night when I snuck out for a meditative snack and flask.
What's a flask, you ask? Eh, you know what I mean. One of the most surprising (!) aspects of this place is the drink menu. They have more than a dozen decent labels of saki on offer, and another 6 as rotating specials. The master who served me had 'saki' listed on his nametag, so we had a chat about it, and he allowed as how they had some farther-off-menu stuff too. He showed me a fancy bottle of Hassen that he had in the fridge under the counter. Funny, a 4-go bottle with a different label, and he wasn't offering it to me, he was just bragging that they had it.

They put a cup in a plastic masu on a saucer, and pour until the overflow just hits the saucer. It's probably no more quantity, but it's a nice effect.

A really funny thing, fancy bottles of saki. Regular folks are really impressed by 'rare' saki, even though it's both cheap and easy to get if you look in the right places.

Pictured at left is my particular chef, looking in the wrong place.
And pictured at right is the starter, a nikogori of I don't know what and I only had one bite because sometimes you just don't have to eat things you don't like that much. Although those sometimeses are awfully rare in my case.
Like many other things, I have been Japanesified over the years into thinking there's a right way to do things. I don't hold with eating tuna first, for example. And you know all my theories on structuring your ordering so that the food comes in a nice sequence. Kaiseki flows that way for a reason, and I'm never amused when someone order fried food in the first round. It's a trap for young players.

So here you have what looks like a piece of snapper of some description (there are so many, who can tell?) or sea bass, but it's rare to see bass on a sushi menu (sea what I did their?). And a scallop and a red clam. I always order these things.

Early-season spring bonito. Late-season buri. The latter was so nice I ordered it twice. Which illustrates another of my philosophies - you can find accidental greatness anywhere. Recognizing it, enjoying it, and continuing to look for it are what makes life worth living.
I always get shiny / blue fish later in the day. And I always get mackerel. Kohada, not so much, but yes tonight.
I always get medium tuna too. Big fatty is too fatty for me, while middling fatty has the fish and the flavor and the fat, and is excellent when you get it on a good day.

That's it. A quick set of sushis and a jug of rice wine, with a good walk before and after, and plenty of time alone to meditate on life.
Like these apartments. So many stories, most of them sad.