Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sakura, Tsukishima (さくら)

Through a weird series of searches on the Google, I came upon this guy Nick's post for a nice-looking restaurant specializing in mass quantities of off-cuts of good fish. And I gotta admit, I was seduced by his approach of posting only a shot of the street outside the restaurant and not its name or address...especially since I immediately recognized the street and figured it couldn't be that hard to find the place.

Well, an hour later, I was still failing (it turned out to be on a completely different street, not the pictured one or its tributaries) but having a terrific time. Walking or rolling, in my case) around Tsukishima at night is a lot of fun - the alleys off Monja Dori are tiny, often crowded with plants that residents are growing in pots outside their houses, and give a great indication of old Tokyo, the early industrial period. These alleys usually have one or two small restaurants each, and though some of those are also monja, some of them are not.

And I already had my monja for the year. So I was more in line for the places that call themselves 'Fish Cuisine', serving things presumably bought just across the bridge in Tsukiji. I eventually settled on Sakura because it seemed a notch or two above some others - no cases of beer sitting outside for storage, a clean front, wooden door, nice noren, etc. Inside was more of the same - light blue, woven cloth wallpaper, some traditional decorations and tacky figurines...all the basics. The master got up from the counter where he was reading a weekly magazine and headed behind the counter to serve me.

I've said recently, summer just isn't the time for fish. He had a good selection of fresh things, and I got a mixed sashi assortment, but there wasn't a lot to recommend it. Fresh, just not that tasty. The aburi shime saba was interesting - it's rare to see someone take a mackerel filet, pickle it and then lightly grill the non-skin side. The nuka zuke (vegetables pickled in fermented rice bran) was very good though, and of course made me feel healthy and happy. I finished things off with a piece of grilled salmon belly (harasu) that was absolutely great - dark red color, seared outside and meltingly fatty inside. It was a little disappointing that the master had no idea where it came from or even if it was farmed or caught, but that's a good reminder to focus on flavor and not provenance as your indicator of deliciocity.

Prices are a touch high here, so I can't really envision a repeat visit - too many Monzen Nakacho places call for my custom! But everyone should see Tsukishima at least once. It's charming, the people are friendly, and whether you eat monja or fish food, a great experience.

More Fish Food.
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