Friday, June 19, 2009

S&S, Monzennakacho

Deeeeeep. I've only gotten aware of the Japanization of this word in the last year or so, and in the context of something being sorta "way downtown", i.e. really old-fashioned and authentic, and maybe a little grubby. So I've seen this izakaya reviewed as being pretty deep, although the same could be said about half of Monnaka.

Thing is, this really beat my expectations of deepitude. The sliding door at the front (remember, sliding doors are the divider between country and city. In country Japan, everyone's house still has a sliding door, unless they're putting on airs and have some kinda newfangled construction) has a sign on it that says "If you're already drunk, keep out!". As soon as you open the door, you're confronted by a counter with big piles of glasses all ready for serious drinking, and a big open cooler filled with iced beers and soft drinks. Beyond that is the sake fridge, which is really impressive. I would guess there were close to 40 varieties, mostly around the Y500 range, which I could tell not because there's a menu but because the ordering system is "there's a label and price on each bottle. Whaddya want?", which I love. It's all very much in that "we're supposed to be Japanese and frugal but in fact we accumulate crap and thus have to pile it everywhere" style that appears so often in this country. Deep.

The food is homey too, but with some real standout elements. Being a Thursday, I didn't eat too much, but a real high point was the sake-marinated salmon. Just based on the color and flavor, I'd guess this was Hokkaido salmon. It sure as hell wasn't Norwegian farm fish, I'll tell you that. The flavor was neat though - tasted a little like kasu zuke, but more just like the fish had been bathed in sake before being grilled. Extra fatty, salty, delicious. The roast pork with scallions somehow managed to make me happy; this was surprising because it was meat-poor slices of chashu (i.e. big slices of pork fat and rind, which I and most foreigners would generally try to avoid) with green onion, but the sauce was exemplary. Deep fried mackerel was pretty good and thankfully came with cabbage to provide a little health benefit. Grilled miso was disappointing because it was a small quantity of pretty cheap miso; make this one at home and focus on other stuff. The rest of the menu has a few interesting items, but they really highlight their fresh horse, and any place that makes a big deal of their basash is definitely in a certain mold.

The environment is sparse and shabby in a delightfully Showa way. There are not tables, only counters with semi-comfortable stools. It's kinda dark, and I'd like to say they're using bare bulbs, but maybe I'm romanticizing. The staff is a couple old guys who wander around quietly. The sake fridge really bears investigation in its breadth and affordability. Overall, this is a bit like a country town's clubhouse, or a bigger version of someone's kitchen, just that it's in the middle of Monnaka and only 4km from the center of Japan. Check it out.

What's the name mean? I meant to ask about that, as well as the provenance of the fish. Well, next time!

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