Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Izumoya, Kanda (いづもや、神田2丁目)

This eel's on fire
Burning down the road
- Danko, Dylan

Ahhhh, things roll on up in Kanda. I have to say, I was really looking forward to having a nice box of eel for lunch today! Izumoya didn't disappoint, but I'll certainly need to wait until Friday to give any thoughts on what your priorities should be if it's eel in Kanda that tickles your fancy.

As best as I can tell, this Izumoya just west of Kanda station bears no relation to the Izumoya just east of Kanda station. I bet they look pretty similar inside, because today's place was just like yesterday's, but bigger and with a touch more class. This may have been because the zashiki Japanese room was exposed to view rather than being hidden away on the second floor, or it may have been because the tables and chairs were light wood rather than dark. Or perhaps because the plates were slightly higher quality, with traditional designs painted on them. Certainly the narrow aspect and semi-open kitchen in back were quite the same.

A little eel lesson for today: kabayaki is the name for the preparation of eel we're eating this week. That means, as I hinted yesterday, the fishes are skinned, filleted, skewered and steamed, then brushed (dipped?) with a sweetened soy sauce and grilled. Other preparation methods include grilling the fillets without steaming them (this is more Southern style), or leaving off the barbeque sauce ('white grilled' style), or the multi-part hitsumabushi style from Nagoya, involving a bowl of rice, seaweed, sesame seeds, wasabi and of course eel. Once in a great while you can get the ultra-summery uzaku, which is squares of grilled eel and slices of cucumber in a vinegar dip.

But it's all kabayaki this week. You can imagine how the variables interact in that process, and one of my purposes in this exercise was to get a better understanding of what a good barbequed eel tastes like. At Izumoya, I went up a grade from the bottom of their ranks (no doubt you'll be as delighted as me to see that they have a different naming convention from yesterday, where the sets start with Plum at Y1450, then ascend through Chrysanthemum, Crane, Tortoise and Special Y3500. Note that only the top two levels include the 'special soup', about which more tomorrow.) The waitress said that the difference between levels is not just the length of fillet but also the thickness. Silly me, I hadn't really thought of this variable - kabayaki always looks like rectangles of reddish-brown eel on rice, and it never occured to me that there could be fatter eels making thicker fillets.

Well, here's what I can say compared to yesterday: the slight extra thickness of the meat was a bit more gratifying and chewy, but they had steamed more and/or grilled less. This left the eels softer and also lighter in color, not a bad thing for most people but with no crispy bits at the edges. The sauce was tastier, which in my world may be a proxy for 'sweeter'. I'm trying to change; it's not easy. And the prep work may also have been a touch better - the bones were all chopped up, with nary a stray bit to poke my sensitive gums like yesterday.

I'd recommend this slightly over yesterday, but we have a few more contestants ready to try their luck, so stay tuned for a long-term winner.

Best notify my next of kin / This eel shall explode

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