Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Okada, Monzennakacho

Today's interesting point is this: Japanese culture is different. Thank you for reading.

No, I kid, I kid. But I've read a bunch of things recently talking about 'recession food' and how restaurants are opening or at least restyling in simpler, humbler ways. Japan has had a bit of this too, but with a unique twist.

There's a category of restaurants in Japan where you stand up to eat. It's not even fast food, necessarily, it's just that they want to dispense with the formality and the table service. Sushi is probably the most common, I think because it's already a counter-oriented food and thus lends itself well to a sans stool treatment. But there are other places too, and Okada is one of them.

Funny thing is, it's the 4th standing place in Monnaka now. There's always been the old-fashioned guts-and-whisky on the other side of the crossing (you think I'm kidding, but those really are their specialties) and the standing sushi opened about a year ago. Then 2 or 3 months back someone closed and razed the ramen shop across from Wan Tsu Chi, rebuilding on the site with a standing izakaya that's so declasse as to have the menu printed in 6-inch high letters on the outside of the building (Matsubashi, I think it's called). And just recently, Mr. Okada opened up right around the corner from my apartment, at the farthest extreme of what could be called the Monnaka shopping street.

It's actually very nice inside - tiny but with an actual sense of style. The chopsticks aren't disposable, and each place at the counter or on the tiny standing tables is set with a towel and the aforementioned hashi on a carved wooden rest. There's a menu on every table, and it's small enough that there's no need to call anyone over to order - if you just talk in a normal voice, everyone will hear it.

Being of a mind to get some things done around the apartment before leaving on a trip to eat at The Best Restaurant In The World (TM), I just wanted to eat quick and get home rather than cooking. Okada has been pretty crowded since opening, but it was OK tonight, and here's what I ate:
- Simmered okala with various bits. This was nice since it was warm and savory from being boiled in stock. I should point out that okala is a crumbly paste that's the remains of soy beans that have been boiled and squeezed for their milk, and it's usually mixed with carrot, beans, seaweed (hijiki) and konnyaku, which is...oh, never mind.
- Green papaya and beef tendon saute. Geez, that's weird. It was actually about what you'd expect - boiled beef tendon with thinly-sliced green papaya mixed in (not julienned like a somtam usually is).
- A squid, stuffed with his liver, salted and dried overnight, then warmed up on the grill. Liver was a bit strong, but the chewy, mega-salty squid was nice. MEGA-salty.
- Satsuma-age, in a unique rendition that was mostly tofu and was soft and a bit fall-apart, with a light coating and a deep fry.

This was nice. I can't see why he doesn't open a real izakaya, but maybe he's leading up to that once things work out for a while in this suboptimal location and mediocre format. Or maybe he's just waiting for the economy to turn around.

Keep waiting, cheef...

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