Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hanabishi, Monzennakacho (花菱)

EOITwJ is not dead, my friends, merely having computing problems. Thanks for your kind wishes. There is now an unfortunately huge backlog of eating out 'experiences' to get through, from Tuesday night, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Argh.

Hanabishi turned out to be more of a history lesson than a culinary extravaganza, but since it was history of Monnaka, I was happy. It's also a strange and fascinating place that everyone should experience once (keeping in mind that it's generally full). I've popped my head in a number of times and been rejected, so I was mildly surprised on Tuesday night when they let me set up shop at the far end of the counter, right in front of the beer fridge.

Let's just dispense with the food and get on to the really interesting stuff - it's very competent izakaya, although the publicity does describe it as kappou. In a style whose name I should really know, there are at least 10 snack-y dishes arrayed in large bowls on the counter. Then there's a menu with a number of fried and grilled things, and fairly limited options for drinks. Had I more energy, we could use this time to go through the list of items on the counter, which would serve as a great primer for home cookin'/izakaya cuisine, but suffice to say...

I ate some type of boiled beef and peppers (first beef I'd had in weeks!) that was soft, fatty and excellent (seemed like slices of brisket, now that I think of it). Unohana was also quite good, much better then what you can get in the supermarket's pre-made section (this is a tofu byproduct that's sorta dry and crumbly and gets mixed with a variety of vegetables. Sort of tofu couscous, if you will. A quick google in English points up the fact that there's an anime character named Unohana (as in "I'm going to cosplay Unohana this weekend!"), but in Japanese it seems the basic (less flowery) name for it is 'okara', and it is indeed what's left behind after you press soy beans to get soy milk. What level of parenthetical nesting am I on now? I digress). Ojisan next to me had kinpira, which looked fresh and good.

Separate orders turned out well - kanburi, the 'midwinter' version of adult yellowtail (although the recent weather has given the lie to the 寒 part) was extraordinarily fatty and delicious, as it's meant to be. A skewer of oysters and okra turned out to be grilled, not fried, but was still very pleasant. Someone else ordered a menu item that was lost on me but made sense once I saw it - 'kitsune yaki' (can I translate this as 'fried fox'? Not really). Kitsune is the sheets of fried tofu that you get on top if you order kitsune soba, but in this case it was a couple big sheets wrapped around a log of cabbage and negi (I think). Kinda healthy looking!

As I said, drinks were limited, but they did have a brown beer (I think it was Ebisu Dark - not the stout, but a brown). With my four items, and I think I'm forgetting one, plus a beer and a half-bottle of nihonsh, my bill was about Y5500. I regarded that as pretty good at the time.

So, enough of this food stuff. What I'd heard in the past was that Hanabishi was 1) expensive (which seems not to be true, but it's also not very fancy food-wise) and 2) owned by a famous actor. Inside there were a few posters and things from an actor, 石倉三郎, whose name I cleverly misread as 'Mitsuro', and some comments on Tabelog seem to confirm this after my crappy attempts at translation. And the waitresses wear kimonos, and a lot of makeup, and have an elaborately forced politeness that doesn't seem to extend too far past their teeth. (This is what I experienced when I stuck my head in before and heard they were full; sort of like a French maitre d' saying "Je suis desole" when he's really thinking "Yankee go home".)

So Ojisan next to me, he of the kinpira (and nishin zuke, incidentally), started talking to me since he was by himself. Hesitantly at first, then in the flood of speech that old people get into once they realize you're listening (or at least your listening posture has a lotta verisimilitude even though you're only getting half of what they say since it's a foreign language). And actually, I was pretty interested, once he got through the stuff about how his wife is too noisy so he prefers to go out to eat and drink.

Ojisan told me a number of fun facts, in no particular order. He's been going to Hanabishi since it opened - in Showa 40! I've learned to use the 'compare to your birthday' approach on this, so I can calculate that it's 1965, and I think a 40+ year patronage deserves some recognition. Back in those days there was no subway in Monnaka and, he claims, it was still a geisha neighborhood (incidentally, I've also heard that it was the center of less savory pursuits in the more distant past, before there was an Eitai Bashi). He started (and kept) coming because he "liked the proprietor", I think in a 'liked' sort of way, back when she was a geisha.

After that, I learned that Ojisan used to be a sento proprietor, and his son still runs one of them (this is the sento in Botan, just over the bridge south from Monnaka). He complained that "Three things used to be the same price - soba, sento and [something I've forgotten] - and now sento is practically worthless." Ahhh, I too wish we could abolish showers in the home... Unfortunately he had few recommended sento; in addition to his own, there's another one in Fukagawa, sort of near the highway and Akafuu. This could be a fun project.

And still further after that we moved to an oden establishment run by (he claims) another ex-geisha. More posting later, my friends.

卯の花菱?
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