Friday, September 18, 2009

Fukuden, Monzennakacho (ふく田)

As I write this, Fukuden is the #2 izakaya on Tabelog's Tokyo rankings, which cover a metropolitan area stretching from Kamakura in the south to Ome in the west, Funabashi in the east to Kasukabe in the north. It's also the 58th-ranked restaurant overall, which is not a bad feat considering that there are almost 14,000 restaurants listed. Here are two really strange things about Fukuden - despite all this acclaim and my love of izakaya I had never been there, which is all the odder's on my street.

OK, it's three blocks away and over a bridge, but it's undeniably the same street. It's next to an eel place (will someone please tell me why so many eel restaurants are called Miakawa?) and a fruit and veg shop. Why had I not visited? It's a little forbidding - the windows are translucent but you can't see anything through them, and there are usually sounds of people having a good time inside - and it's also frequently full. Surprisingly, when we called this Friday, it was fine.

Internally this is a classic izakaya - counter seats for 6 but there's a bit too much junk around the place, so not all of the seats are really usable. There are 3 tables for 4. 4 small people could fit at them. That means the practical capacity is around 12 or maybe 15 happy patrons, to be served by the somewhat round, somewhat jolly, rather professional master and his assistant who may or may not be his wife.

Izakaya can distinguish themselves in different ways - some focus on shochu, some focus on fish, some are just price and atmosphere. The best ones for me are the ones that focus on the food. You can tell from their menus that there's some thought going into it, and that often means more care goes into sourcing and cooking as well. Like some other favorites in Monnaka, Fukuden is squarely in this category.

Sorry, I forgot my camera. You'll have to imagine how nice the otoshi was - usually when you order a drink you get a dish of beans, or maybe some macaroni salad if you're way down-market. Here you get two pieces of sushi. One was an excellent, fat-laden, highly seasonal (early) Autumn sanma on rice, while the other was an already-interesting specimen including two tiny kohada filets (these are silver with tiny black spots, and are usually pickled lightly as they were here) atop a small pile of jellyfish mixed with something green. You can tell that I'm sticking to this maxim of reporting only on the elements strong enough to stay in memory days afterward...

We ordered sashimi, how could you not? While I'm not always a big fan of katsuo, these slices of toro-like katsuo were so smooth and fatty that I feel sure anyone would have loved them. Shimesaba was upper-class, nicely done but not the best starting point fish-wise. No problems, but better luck next time - and this unpredictability is, for me, one of the great fascinations of sashimi.

Cooked food is where the creativity is. Let me summarize it with one thing - matsutake (fancy seasonal mushrooms) sliced in half, sandwiching a filling of shrimp paste, battered and fried. Served sliced in half along with a small clutter of fresh-made thin rice cakes topped with dried, powdered seaweed. You can call this whatever you want, but I'd be willing to be you haven't seen it before. And this is the excitement of izakaya food - finding unique little takes on normal ingredients, hopefully fresh and well cooked. We also had a nice simmered fish dish with thick crab sauce, and a little pile of boiled potatoes, but they don't stick in my mind the same way.

If I was going to posit some downsides for this place, they would be that the prices are a touch high (though not unreasonably so, and in fact cheaper than many places) and the master clearly knows he's good. But you know what? He's entitled. I aspire to being a regular here.

I DO wish I had gotten to eat the raw beef with sea urchin roe that I saw on the web though...

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