Friday, September 26, 2008

Ichidai (一代), Monzennakacho

Per earlier comments, I feel like I've been eating out in Tokyo for a good while now - especially in Monzen Nakacho and at French restaurants. I guess I should stop being surprised by this, but I was pretty well knocked back when I went into a tiny sushi counter a few days ago and knew the chef. This was a bit different though - not the fun reunion atmosphere I found at Pivoine or other places when this happened.

There's a funny little street in Monzen Nakacho called Tatsumi Shindo (I think...辰巳新道. Some pictures here). Imagine a bricked alley about 3 meters wide, with nothing but tiny counter restaurants, many of which are karaoke. The places are all so small that the bathrooms are communal affairs not inside any restaurant. I always wanted to go someplace on this street - you know how I love little 'secret' places. But every shop has frosted windows, or no windows, and the soft sounds of enka wafting out to the street are less than friendly to foreigners.

I finally decided I was going to brave at least one place the other night. The clear outstanding candidate (trim and neat outside, nice sign, sprightly green noren) turned out to be sushi, and there it was. I did the ceremonial door-opening, the one where you think "What the heck am I getting into?", got welcomed, and was stuck.

I recognized the chef, and vice versa, and he gave me a hearty greeting. I looked around and saw the disorganized chairs, the plastic bags of supplies cluttering the open counter space, the jumble of cooking equipment behind the counter, and the scruffy team already comfortably situated and suitably pickled at the bar...and wished I could leave. But I couldn't.

This chef left Sushi Zanmai about two years ago and struck out on his own. He said, "So, busy at work?"; I said "Yeah, this week was really bad"; he said "Well, I have lots of free time recently!" with a little desperation. Like the team smoking, drinking and shouting at the counter, he looked a little chubbier than he used to, and a little less washed, and his smile was forced.

I got through a bottle of beer, some fishes that aren't worth talking about, and wandered home. Where was the pride?

Hopefully I don't get beaten up on the street for this review...

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