Saturday, March 21, 2009

Menosou, Kagurazaka (目乃想)

Kagurazaka is a little...bewitching. It's the small, dark alleys, packed with the promise of exclusive Japanese-style dining where you need an introduction and a 3rd-generation fortune to get in. For the rest of us, there are plenty of interesting places tucked away off the main street (both behind and above). You just have to work a bit to find them.

Menosou is definitely tucked away. The alley is more-or-less person-width, and it's mainly obscured by the large, glass-fronted, famous (?) tea shop at its head, Rakuzan (楽山). Get past that, and you'll see a woman washing vegetables in front of her door (maybe you won't, but I did) and beyond that, this poorly-lit noren indicating that you've arrived at Menosou.

It wasn't my motivation for the choice, but it turns out the chef...won on Iron Chef. He's got a big picture of Kaga and Morimoto, presumably after he whupped ass on the latter, and also a large glass trophy cup. He's a third-generation chef, presumably in the same style as his forebears, and is a nice guy once you get started talking. With that in mind, the games began. This assorted appetizer plate included sky beans, boiled abalone, an indeterminate nikogori, and some boiled firefly squid with white vinegar miso sauce (early Spring, can't avoid it). All of them were acceptable or maybe as far as Good.

Drinks come in these cute glass pots, in unfortunately small servings. Still, they'll give you another serving if you pay for it. There's also the opportunity to choose glasses from the tray, which started off having more options got pared down as the team worked through them (one per type of sake, ne?).

Sashimi, nothing too notable. The snapper in the back was good though. As long as you're prepared for the skin to have some chewiness!

Getting all seasonal yet again, this shrimp dumpling was wrapped in pickled cherry leaf, and topped with a piece of rape blossom (this English-translation thing is going too far).

Either salmon or trout; wasn't inspired enough to ask which.

However this bowl clearly WAS inspiring enough to make me take a picture. I felt like there was something unusual about the style, and of course it's nice and springy, which puts you right in the mood for...

Yup, bamboo shoots, boiled, peeled, lightly grilled, and covered with grated dried bonito. Good stuff - tender, toothy, sweet, savory.

Described as this place's famous items, ebi shinjo. These deserve to be famous, and were certainly the highlight of the meal. Lovely shrimp taste, but equally beautiful airy texture with a good fry on the outside. So darn inspiring that I tried to make my own the next day. Tasty, but not all that successful. And my apartment STILL smells like frying oil.

The winning Iron Chef dish, cold Chinese-style chicken ramen. The noodles were ridiculously toothy, but not underdone in any way. The chicken was also very well-roasted, and the soup pulled it all together.

Let's not mention the plate of strawberries and cream that followed. There were some very good to excellent elements in this meal, but the overall quality was a bit tired...sort of like the third generation doing the same thing. Too bad, since it's a great little environment and always entertaining to visit a semi-secret Kagurasaka back street. Still, it's difficult to recommend as a vacation dining destination though. First there's the cost performance...and second, in conversation the master mentioned that he had a foreign couple come in, a few weeks back. They were from HK, and found him by searching Iron Chef-related things. He seemed pretty puzzled by the whole thing.

Lovable but not outstanding.

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