Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Goroku, Monzennakacho (伍六)

It's a hard job, being a famous food writer, and my liver bears the scars for it. But I feel a responsibility to my fan, so I keep going.

Tuesday night found us shlepping home (in the royal plural sense) from work, in the rain, remembering that the new restaurant we had spotted the day before on the way home from the cleaner was due to be open, debating, nay, struggling with ourselves about whether to visit or whether to go home and sleep, but also whether to end this sentence or just continue to use more, commas. In the end, food won. And that means we're all winners, doesn't it?

Seriously, this place is on a half-deserted side street of Monzennakacho. It's next to one of the 2 smallest, grubbiest izakayas in town, which specializes in whale. I was stunned when I saw an attractive facade, a proper, modern fitout, and a signboard saying 'French Japanese Food'. Ooooh! Staff said opening day was tomorrow, so I contented myself with a card and went home.

When I got there on opening night, it was almost full. I got the last seat at the table. The table, because in modern style, the first floor has only one large, combined counter/table (second floor, private room, up to 24). The counter has a sushi fridge and a work area, but the fridge is stuffed with vegetables, and the rest of the table seats 8. You'll face some people who you may never have met, and sit next to them too. It's also worth mentioning that the atmosphere is artfully lit, clean without being too bright, and looks out a low window to a tiny and interestingly empty garden.

This was opening night. I sat next to the owner; the chef is his business partner. Their first restaurant is in Kagurazka, and he said they found that Monnaka had the same appeal as KGZ but was less developed and more authentic. Or something. He studied English in London around the same time I was born, OK? I sat across from the chef's artist sister, who came from Aichi for dinner, and her friend, who teaches college in Chiba but came from home in Mitaka. We bonded. [Aside: despite having been through two funerals in Japan, I learned something new about chopstick etiquette. Evidently the chopsticks you use to pick up bones after cremation are supposed to be different from each other, so the ones you use at dinner should be the same. These were the same shape and roughly same color, but the patterns were different enough that it bothered the Professor. Mary Ann said she was fine with it, and she was an artist. I settled in for a 3-hour tour.] Also across the table was the financial backer - minority owner? Debt holder? Unseemly to ask.

This is French Japanese food - it's not hyphenated and the 'French' is thus the modifier, indicating that it's Japanese food with a French twist. I hope the opening-night menu persists throughout (course only, two options, had the smaller one). Amuse, 9種類 appetizer, chawan mushi, hot appetizer, main, rice-based dish, dessert, Y4200? OMG, shut up! Let me not summarize all the elements, OK? Illustrating the chef's creativity and approach, I'll just point out a few things. Amuse of grilled cheese tofu (errr...that came out wrong for those who know what grilled cheese sandwiches are. Whipped and airy tofu, with cheese in it, oven-baked to a slight brown.) with an intense cheeziness mixed with the smooth tofu tonality. One of the 9 bite-size treats was Spanish prosciutto, wrapping nicely ripened persimmon. Ever seen that before? Me either! I thought it was melon until I picked it up, at which point it became a delightful seasonal reference as well as a nifty Japanese twist to traditional food. Seafood pot au feu...half a little lobster, a few incredibly sweet scallops...I'm not a fan of lettuce in soup, but I'll grant an exception. They can't keep this up for the price, can they? Some of the other dishes were ordinary. Let's pretend they didn't happen, OK?

Didn't really get a look at the drink list; just allowed myself to be steered into glass wine. Service was charming and attentive, if a bit overwhelmed - and I'm not complaining, I went in expecting worse since it was opening night. Not everything hit perfectly, and Mary Ann and I agreed that we wanted bread with it, but it might get better over time, and represents really great value.

Here's the original restaurant in Kagurazaka, since this place isn't online yet. But the correct phone number:

Wow, there were some wacky customers too! I really liked the executive-looking guy and his Eastern European friend. Fine features and big, dark eyebrows!

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