Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Saikai, Otemachi (西海、神田)

Kanda is a confusing grid of streets north of Otemachi - not quite a restaurant desination, but every street seems to hold one or two surprises (OK, zero or one). (The confusion comes from the fact that it is, again, set off at a slight angle from Chuo-dori and the adjacent grid). Walking around today identified a few places that looked nice, but the best was a soba place that cheerfully informed us that they were sold out (open at 12, sell out at 12:40. Interesting business model!). And thus we ended up taking an exciting culinary trip to Nagasaki.

If you're in the same office as me, you'll want to walk directly north, past the Sankei building and JA building, cross the bridge and take the first right (check out the nice-looking dining bar just after the main intersection too). Saikai features a highly-visible red awning, good for attracting foreigners who are aimlessly wandering the neighborhood, and promises Nagasaki-style food. This means, in a word, chanpon. To a casual observer, this would look like ramen, if not perhaps for the abundance of cabbage, the strips of pork, the light color...and the octopus. The noodles are thicker and softer than usual also, I think...While there are likely more dimensions to Nagasaki than chanpon, 9 out of 10 patrons agreed (based on what they were eating) that chanpon was the only way to go. There was also a mapodofu option ('very spicee!'), and I think yakisoba or something. From 1 PM you can get the special set, which seems to involve a small chanpon, a small tofu, and some other little things. Marketing scheme to reduce the lunch rush, or marketing scheme to get rid of leftovers? You be the judge.

My colleague ordered a normal chanpon (you can also get fried-noodle chanpon) and I ordered an 'udon plate' (皿うどん, which was a dome of thin, crisp fried noodles (how do they do this? Fill a strainer with noodles and then fry the whole thing? Its insistence on retaining its fried shape was tasty but mildly disconcerting.) covered with the aforementioned chanpon fixins and a thick, translucent sauce (あんかけ).

Atop fried noodles is pretty much the only way I like ankake; the contrast between crunchy and creamy/gooey makes the ankake texture more bearable (食感! Minako, I finally remember this! Thanks!). I have to say though, the ingredients have a bit of a bargain-basement feel - cabbage, pressed ham and octopus are also less than luxurious ingredients. Not that I'm opposed to cheap and tasty, of course, heaven forbid. Not sure what they do at night, but I can imagine that it's cheap, filling and tasty.

I get the feeling that this place may be full of Southerners feeling nostalgic. If you're not from Kyushu, it may not strike you as exciting. But the staff is friendly, the food is OK, and it's a nice walk when the sun is out and all is right with the world.

Although it's going to be a while before all is right with the world...

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