Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ryuan, Yotsuya (柳庵、荒木町)

Gotta admit it - I'm truly impressed by the vigor that Seat applies to dining out in Tokyo. And the way he or she gets to all the restaurants I want to visit, before I visit them. A while back the Pig Out Diary visited Arakichou, near Yotsuya 3-Chome, and a place called Suzunari. Lightly inspired by that, as well as the facts that Arakicho looks interesting on the map and I've never been there, I headed over for a wander and potentially some food.

Turning randomly into the nest of alleys, stairs and bars that constitutes Arakicho, the first two things I saw were 1) a German wine specialist restaurant (!) and 2) Ryuan. Unfortunately I'm opposed to taking the first alternative (always) and since I couldn't read the sign, I was afraid that I was going to dine at Suzunari accidentally. I kept walking, but Ryuan was still the nicest-looking place in the neighborhood after 30 minutes, so I went back (didn't see Suzunari). The promise of short-course kaiseki (会席 in this case, not 懐石) for Y5800 plus service was too much to resist.

Things got off on the good foot with house junmai ginjo (my favorite polish, bonus!) and a toushi of yuba and uni. The first real plate featured some luxury items done well - preserved abalone, snapper nikogori (the cubes of gelatin with meat and skin like you'd get at a fugu course, but less fishy in this case), a strange sesame-covered cube whose ingredients escaped me, and a sort of creamcheese whip mixed with snapper intestines (鯛の塩辛, if you're keeping score). Good stuff here, and I was licking my lips and congratulating myself for picking a great place out of the hat.

Sashimi was delightful - the botan ebi was extra-fresh (even the head was delicious) and topped with some gold leaf. The tai was translucent and tasty, with a nice contrast between soft fish and chewy skin. And the accompaniments on the plate were cool - a sort of ribbon of sliced and reconstitued daikon, a water bucket made from a cucumber that was filled with salmon eggs. The maguro was where I started to wonder - it just wasnt that interesting, and I felt like the tricks on the plate were meant to distract from the ingredients a bit.

Since it's January, I definitely wanted buri, and requested it as the fried item (which was served before the boiled item. Sounds odd for a normal course, but made more sense when I saw the nimono). This was cool too - seemed like it had been saikyo-grilled, with a yuzu slice, then wrapped in cedar veneer and grilled again, tied with a bow. Very elegant, and a nice piece of fish.

The boiled items were just OK. Served in an individual earth pot that was boiling furiously when presented, the tai, scallop and vegetables were overdone by the time I got to them, and the soup wasn't anything special; more weak than anything. The service course of beef tendon that I got after was, again, mediocre - almost properly cooked, almost properly flavored, but not quite. The rice was supposed to be impressive - again cooked in an individual pot, and a healthy 2 servings including lots of おこげ, the crunchy burnt bits at the bottom when you make rice the traditional way. But nothing that bears particular mention.

The staff were nce enough - eager to be helpful and make an adequate degree of smalltalk - especially since they had no other customers most of the time, until a businessmen's group of 9 showed up and monopolized their attention. But the overall experience was lacking something that I pretty much had last weekend at Tsushima in Monnaka (same price), and emphatically at Onodera in Kagurazaka (25% more expensive, and well worth the supplement). This would be nice if you lived in the area, but is not destination dining.

For your viewing pleasure, the courses mentioned above, in order:

Private room など looks gorgeous too.

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