Monday, March 2, 2009

Kushi Kushi, Maebashi (串くし)

What kind of place is Maebashi? One of the bigger buildings that I could see from my hotel was called Maebashi City Hall, and I'll leave it to the katakana readers to interpret シティーホール for the rest... Honestly, the biggest remaining industry in Maebashi seems to be clubs, but even the best clubs have a fairly negative attitude (see pictures).
Actually the staff at Uguisu put it best when, in response to my question about what was interesting in local food or attractions in Maebashi, they said "Well, Gunma doesn't really have anything interesting. And we're all poor!" (Really. I know this seems gratuitously insulting, but she said that! And I know there are some famous onsen too.)

Kushi Kushi put me right and finished the evening on a good note after I left Uguisu and its narrow menu. I had actually identified KK from the office before heading out, and it was the fallback plan if nothing better materialized once I got to town. I fell back, and found it a bit modern, warm, and cheerfully busy with people drinking and eating pork products.

Kushi Kushi seems to refer to the fact that the menu has big sections of kushiage (deep-fried) and kushiyaki (grilled, like yakitori). In addition, Maebashi now bills itself as a pork center (とんとんのまち) instead of the silk production center that it was in the past. I settled in front of the grill with a beer and prepared to get all crazy-like. The grill master didn't ask if I could speak Japanese or eat the food, and I took that as a good sign.

A small salad of salmon was largely unwanted as the otoushi, but not bad; they had rolled it in pepper or something before slicing, which made it seem like they were taking a bit of care with the food. I ordered the extra-quality horse sashimi while I pondered the rest. The slices were seriously marbled, and thicker than any basashi I've had before; that said, they were also the best basashi I've had.

I don't know what it was about the fried things, but they were great. Something about the crust - dark brown and grainy, I think it had cornmeal or something. In any event, the lotus root and eggplant were terrific, the onion was pretty good, and the 'sa-bisu' fried cheese (another table ordered a bunch of them, and I got the piece left over after he cut up the round) was..fried processed cheese. It sorta destroyed the magic when I saw him open the wheel of Kraft cheese wedges.

From the grill, I sampled the thick-cut bacon. You don't get this in America, do you? I think it's un-American to eat thick bacon like this. I'm tempted to say it's Asian, but I guess pancetta gets cut in pretty thick pieces sometimes too. Smoky, crisp at the edges, still sizzling when served...ahhh, I do love being up-close and personal with the chef and his work. You can see the mushroom-meat rolls on the grill too (エリンギ肉巻, made with pork wrapped around eringi, a weird type of mushroom with a firm, meaty texture and a strange buttery taste. In a very good way.)

Around this point, my neighbor leaned over and toasted me, then started mixing up a drink for me from his kept bottle. Shinpei-kun had just come from his older colleague's wedding and was pretty wasted when he showed up. All he wanted to talk about was how much he loved Indiana, Oklahoma and Iowa, because that's where the great college wrestling programs are. He kept asking if I knew the names of famous American wrestlers, which of course I did after the first time...anyway, this is what solo dining in Japan is all about for me, and the less said about how things went downhill from this point, the better.


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