Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Denshou, Kayabacho (田昌)

November 18, 2009: Second visit confirms that this place has warm, quirky service and great food - chicken or not. Sashimi was exemplary, I still like the moutain potato tofu, and I believe firmly in electric-grilled chicken. A funny surprise was that the master was working the fish and cooked things - there was a teenage girl doing the grilling, and doing just as good a job of it. She looked to be his daughter, but I'm far too polite to ask.
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Another thing I envy about food writers is their ability to develop catchy titles for each post. For example, if they go to an Italian restaurant in New York, the title might be "The Dichotomy of Melancholy", but if the restaurant is Turkish-themed and located in London, the title could be "Champagne and Kisses". My bid for creativity today is to title last night's dinner

Sonnets to Fowl

As close readers may have noticed, McNoonan and I are establishing a pattern of chicken-based dinner meetings. This one wasn't intended to be. We were just meeting in a relatively boring area, Kayabacho, and were going to walk around and find something. There are a few nice-looking places there, a very few, but they're a little expensive-looking also. After a few streets, my radar went off on a descending stairwell that turned out to offer chickenz, and the rest is history.

I admit, I do like to think I have some skill for picking restaurants, whether it be by menu, appearance or web site. The first sign that this place would be good was the interior - it's fairly normal dark 'n' country Japanese drinking establishment chic, but in a way that seemed cleaner and marginally more upscale. For example, the chairs have cloth slipcovers, which is something restaurants do here to look a bit nicer. (It might be new - only one Tabelog review is an oddity for a place as good as this.)

The second sign was the 'blackboard' specials, which was more like a corkboard brought to the table and set up on a small easel. There were a healthy number of specials, some of which were obviously more regular as they were accompanied by nice photos. These focused, as did the photo'ed items in the menu on chickens. I'm not sure if they use fancy chickens (aside from the clearly-labeled Daisan Shamo dish), but we were immediately hooked by the pictures of big pieces of perfectly-browned chicken. Specials that we did not eat included sashimi (sawara or shinko yesterday; shinko are little kohada), a frying pan full of miso-stewed innards, and various types of fancy rice (cooked with fish, cooked with chicken).

We did eat some nice things, we certainly did. I was a little taken aback that the master prefers to grill over electric coils rather than fancy branded charcoal, but after seeing his work I think I understand. Very precise, very even, very beautiful, this was some very tasty chicken. The waitress also said he's very picky about the food, and really prefers grilling things whole and on the bone if possible, so the usual narrow-pit yakitori setup wouldn't work. McNoonan and I turned to each other simultaneously upon biting the first piece with big American "Ooooooh's". If you were Japanese you might say something else. We had mixed sets (a piece each of wing, breast and thigh), a whole thigh steak, several rounds of meatballs (ordered only with salt rather than sauce, but some clever spicing made it highly salted and yet highly delicious). This stuff was all fairly slow to arrive, but sitting by the grill as we were, we could watch the progress of cooking and appreciate the emerging perfection. If the master was a poet, he would be writing sonnets to his fowl. Now that I've tied (weakly) back to the title, I realize I should have said 'haiku' instead.

Determined to burden us with some fish, the starter was a segment of very lightly-battered and fried sanma as well as a bowl of raw cabbage with sweet miso. The only other thing I can remember having was the 'mountain potato tofu', a new one to me. Yamaimo is of course the sticky, gluey-when-grated, careful-it'll-make-your-hands-itch tuber commonly grated into a slimy mess atop various things for health reasons. In this case it was rated a little rougher and then pressed into a tofu-like cake. Nice flavor and texture (if you like the base ingredient), neat idea, and delicious with a soy sauce jelly and green onions on top. We skipped the grilled pork that's also available. The grilled salmon jerky going to another table looked great, but was already too late for us.

Drinks list is also serious - 100 varieties of shochu, which take up most of the menu and teams with the guide books on the tables, plus some sake and some beer. Two kinds of draft beer are a rarity, but I think that in addition to the Ebisu, they also wanted to offer the nice semi-white tasting Shirohonoka from Sapporo.

All in all, this is a place that's serious about the food and also quite prepared to have a good time. Creative touches and high quality abound. I know the location is lame, but the food and prices are good (Y3000 each for two foreign guys) and I think you should try it as a departure from chain yakitori, to which it's decidedly superior.

Because I'm bad, I'm bad, shamo...n

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