Monday, February 16, 2009

Kushihan, Otemachi (Tokyo Station)

Tokyo station has a wealth of dining options, my friends, and is well within your purview if you're one of the lucky, elite few that work in Otemachi (Or Tokyo. Or Nihonbashi. Or Marunouchi. They're all so close that it's almost pointless to differentiate. What a great city!) Outside the station are the Sapia and Trust buildings, which have a few destinations each, but inside the station are the aforementioned wealth of options, as long as you're crafty enough to delve deep into its bowels. (Digression: Daimaru, on the middle of the Yaesu side, has a very significant sweets section - Pierre Herme and many other luxury brands represented.).

On the ground floor you'll find Kitchen Street, which for some reason seems to feature a disproportionate number of beef-themed restaurants. In the basement under there, you'll find another 8-10 outlets with relatively higher quality and relatively more Japanese outlook. There are several fried-food denizens, some upscale noodle-yas, and an Okinawan. Kushihan, of course, is in the first category.

This is the kind of place to take visitors who are nervous about Japanese food (or those who aren't but should be!). What's not to like? "We take normal ingredients, dip them in batter, roll them in bread crumbs, and throw them in the fryer until they taste like fried food! It's the Japanese healthy diet!" Especially for lunch, the ingredients seem to be fairly standard (based on the two stores where I've had kushi lunches!) - you'll get some kind of shrimp, some pork, some fish, some scallops, and a couple others. Like many sub-genres of Japanese food (and many sub-genres of anything, come to think about it), you need to have a bit of knowledge to understand what's different and potentially special about it.

My only point of reference for kushi lunch is Kushinobo, on the 5th floor of Roppongi Hillz. Their Hillz Lanch, for Community Passport holders, remains a benchmark of value and taste at only Y1050. Part of the attraction is definitely the side dishes - pickles, tsukudani fish bits, ochazuke instead of rice, ample fresh vegetables to cut the grease, and 8 skewers of fried goodness. I'm not trying to sound like an expert of anything here, really I'm not, but Kushihan seemed to be a clearly different approach.

+Y500. No pickles. Less vegetables. Fewer saucing options. Plain rice. Better ingredients. Better ingredients. This, and the different order that things came, seemed revolutionary to me on Friday. The shrimp came first, not last, and was wrapped in shiso. The scallops were huge and meaty, not the kobashira-sized morsels at Kushinobo. There was a big round tsukune (you might well call it a breaded, fried Slider, but it was as thick as the meat from 3 or 4 Sliders) with sauce. And there were other things, but they were good.

Two final thoughts:
1. You may be thinking 'Get a life! It's just fried food!' I agree to some extent, but we do love our lunch...
2. You may also be thinking "Eating Out In Tokyo recommends Isomura in Ginza or Higashi Ginza for the best in this type of food. Why haven't I been there yet?" Or you may not.

Wow, Tabelog has a field day on these guys. I don't think that's justified, but perhaps I don't appreciate the finer points of deep-fried bread crumbs?

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