Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tonton, Yurakucho (登運とん)

That name is crap. Nobody could read the kanji without being told. I can't even figure out what they're trying to say - 'rising luck'? But Japan is great, and this place is one of a million reasons why.

Tonton is cheap as chips (or whatever cheap thing you prefer if you're not English), and tasty as...well, as something tasty. Everything is going for it - it's crowded, it's not especially clean, it's located under the tracks of a major railroad, they have an English menu, the waitresses speak English, and they don't feature any offbeat yakitori. I don't even like gizzard and cartilege, so clearly I'm not the person to opine on yakitori, but I'll do it anyway.

As you all know, McNoonan is out of a job. He's responding sensibly by taking his family to Hawaii for 6 weeks, just what I'd do if I had a family and got laid off. But in the meantime, the wife and kids were off doing something else, and he wanted to get out for a cheap reminder of why it's great to live in Tokyo (well, Asia really. He lived in Vietnam for a year too, bastard.) He had some recent visitors who were evidently pretty into partying down, salary-man style, and they had a great time under the tracks in Yurakucho. Being close from work, I was perfectly fine to meet him there. We walked around a little but ended up more or less near Yurakacho crossing, where there's a line of outdoor-stool places and then some more under the actual tracks. And we passed them all and ended up at Tonton, where McNoonan had come twice with his friends (they loved it so much they went back for lunch two days later).

Seriously, the food's good here. I dunno, yakitori for me often suffers from texture issues (cuz I don't like the crunchy bits and the chewy bits. In fact, I would have to say that yakitori contains the most things I don't like to eat out of any Japanese genre.) or freshness issues (not the ingredients, just the amount of time between cook and serve. If it's not instant, it's not good.). Tonton caters to a pretty ordinary crowd, and they get the food on the table while it's still too hot to eat. Or maybe the tiny tables and completely-packed atmosphere conspire to keep things hot on the way to the tables? We ate:
  • Tsukune. I have discovered a universal truth, and it's not just that women don't like steel guitars. It's that while everyone can say their tsukune are their famous item, only Tonton really delivers the goods. Now I know how a tsukune is supposed to be - smallish, spherical, soft and juicy inside, dark and crusted outside. (These are chicken meatballs, OK?)
  • Chicken. Just the regular breast-meat pieces, on a stick. Lovely.
  • Bonjiri - chicken butts. Seriously, both McNoonan and I couldn't remember having better bonjiri elsewhere. They were flavorful, a little meaty, and blessedly free of the cartilege that a true connoisseur probably loves but that give me the willies.
  • Peppers. Like a tool, I had to pick up the one excessively-hot one of the batch right off. These peppers, you know - they're kinda jalapeno-sized, but they're not hot at all. Unless you get the 1 in 20 or so that's brutal.
  • More tsukune. A lot more tsukune.
  • Pork bits. Too chewy.
  • Tuna yukke - raw tuna bits mixed with raw quail egg
  • More chicken butts.
  • Garlic, seemingly two whole heads speared onto kushi and grilled. Mellow but intense garlicosity. Yum. Unfortunately Volleyball insisted at lunch the next day that I smelled like garlic.
  • Pork belly, preserved in miso, then grilled. McNoonan made the pithy observation that it's like pork saikyo-yaki (最高~~~~!)
  • Tsukune. Again.
Special mention goes to:
  • The staff, who were really nice. Especially the waitress who was the same height as a seated customer.
  • The house-blend original drink: Tomato Sour. I'm not sure how they do this, but it's a clear, fizzy drink that tastes like tomato. And apple juice. OK, it's probably a synthetic flavor, but it was still funny.
  • Moro-kyu, cucumbers with barley miso. Lousy miso. Avoid.

Clearly recommended for impressing visitors with an 'I-live-in-Asia-and-hang-out-in-local-places' vibe, and also just on the basis of the tsukune.

And with that, let me sign off to nurse my aching belly. Oog.
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