Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Onodera, Kagurazaka

Given that we've already posted a glowing review on Onodera from our first visit, we shan't spend too much time rehashing. In fact, we feel a little bad violating our rule about not posting multiple times on one restaurant, but this place is so good we just gotta do it...looking back, I see that a number of plates and ingredients were the same, but done in different ways. You've gotta love someone who has their own form within the form of the Japanese course, and then gets creative inside that tiny little niche.

Having gone through the pictures and writeup, I have to say I'm more impressed with the way he re-used ingredients in different ways throughout (clams, shrimp, seaweed, 3 types of mackerel), and also kinda stunned at how much fish was served. Please go here - no English spoken (except in a jokey way), but there's only 1 course, and this time there weren't even optional extras (last time oysters or dried roe, like bottarga), so you don't need anything as long as someone makes the reservation for you and confirms that you eat everything (or not).

Spring cabbage and clams. Very mild; reminded me of a comment someone made on another blog about how it's best to keep the best dishes for later in the course. But nothing at all wrong here, just subtle.

Car shrimp and white asparagus with a dab of fresh seaweed (車海老、生のり). Asparagus was good, but that one bite of shrimp was astounding.

Pickled mackerel and sea bass sashimi (〆さば,すずき). The bass was nice, but the mackerel was really reference-quality, throw-down-your-fork-in-amazement stuff. Soft, fatty, flavorful, pickled...wow. That's why you get a closeup. Incidentally, my philosophy on fish is that it's not going to be good every time. You can source as carefully as you want, you can handle perfectly, but some pieces just aren't going to taste as good. You've gotta keep eating, looking for those perfect moments.

Another perfect moment, and one that I, like a perfect idiot, forgot to take a picture of before destroying the symmetry. Anyway, it was just chicken meatball soup. Sheesh. I've never had chicken meatballs like these. Suffice to say they were complex, meaty and incredible, and the broth wasn't far behind. You'd definitely want to drink all of it. The kind of dish that looks like "I could do that" and tastes like "How the hell did he do that?"

Evidently sawara is a 'Spanish mackerel'. How it thusly differs from saba (translates as just 'mackerel'), I'm not going to Google for you now. As you know only too well, Japanese-style grilled fish can run toward dryness. This was very meaty, but had been seared to keep a lot of fat in, and also basted repeatedly with sweetish glaze. As such, it was awesome, especially with the sudachi (limey-looking thing). Oh, the julienne bits are not whatever you'd expect in a kinpira (for me, gobo) - they're udo, a mainly spring vegetable that's usually just sliced and served with white vinegar miso.

A funny little interlude - half a scallop and a dish of 'pickled tuna'. But it was the scallop that ate Seattle, size-wize, and had been seared to a turn before cooling its heels in the fridge. Onodera san was watching to see what we thought of the tuna, which had the look of shiokala, a popular condiment typically made from, er, squid preserved in sauce made from its intestines. I didn't catch the description, but I think this was small intestine of tuna. And good, incidentally. Second picture, there were some extra scallops in the fridge that he slipped us when no one else was looking. The wasabi is the kind that he grates himself on a traditional sharkskin-covered board (I'm not making it up!).

I've said recently that I don't much like ankake, the thick sauce that makes me think of bad American-Chinese food. But with more of that awesome shrimp, some fresh vegetables (called あいこ, he said) and Onodera's signature crunchy bits, covering a perfectly-steamed piece of sweet snapper, topped with more fresh wasabi...heaven.

Steamed custard with clams and fresh seaweed and mitsuba. It's part of the course, you can't avoid it, you don't have to love it. And we learned the weird kanji for hamaguri, 蛤.

Onodera san has that piece de resistance thing where you cooks rice just for you in a stone pot. This time he cooked it with a dried...er, mackerel. No, seriously, but this one translates as 'horse mackerel'. The mushrooms in the soup are nameko, which are famous for their sliminess and consequent health benefits (all gross and slimy things are thought to be healthy here). Actually, some people thought the rice was the best thing of the night...

The weakest things here were probably the clam starter and steamed custard, but they were quite fine. And now that I look back, the pictures of the other things are mostly making me go "oooooh, that was really good!". Highly worthwhile considering it's much cheaper than some other places with lower aspirations and quality (esp. with Y2000 BYO fee), and such a terrific atmosphere in the heart of Kagurazaka. You'll feel like you're in someone's 1-room apartment that's been converted into a stylish restaurant. It's not a tatami/kimono kinda place, but you still have to take off your shoes at the door. Don't confuse the restaurant slippers and bathroom slippers, OK?

I left the same way I left the first time - ecstatic (and a little tired, and very full).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you this post brought back delicious memories. Hope you also enjoy what I wrote about it. http://porkintheroad.blogspot.com/2011/09/chef-onodera-at-kagurazaka-slow-food-in.html