Monday, September 14, 2009

Funabashiya Tempura, Marunouchi (船橋屋,新丸5)

Boring post, dead ahead.
Aye aye cap'n!
Hard astern!!

This place is always crowded. During lunch hours they have 8 or 10 chairs outside, and a good portion of the time they're in use. This means that the place is either really good or else is just plain popular for no good reason, which happens sometimes (c.f., 'was on TV recently'). Today when I arrived at 2 PM sharp it was empty, both the small counter and the table seating on the other side, so I thought it was closed. Not so!

Actually they seem like they could stay open all afternoon. The chefs went peacefully about their dinner preparations while I ate, even ignoring me when I got up to leave. Thanks guys! Their tempura was about average, although certainly showing quality by being on the light side.

If I had to opine on the reason for Funabashiya's popularity, I'd say it's the price. The standard tempura set is only Y1150, and that comes with two medium shrimp, a fish (I thought it was half a kisu, but it was a little big, so I'm thinking it might even have been half of the megochi that they had on the wall menu. The other interesting items were iwana, which you don't see all that often, and ayu, which I think is uncommon at tempura but is in (late) season), three vegetables (pepper, lotus root, pumpkin slice) and a kakiage (mostly shrimp, and these shrimp were very briny and fresh tasting, different from the up-front standalone ones). For Y300 you can have the 'Ippin' lunch, where you add one thing, as I did. Today that thing was a very fresh, very ripe, completely naked (peeled) tomato that was well worth the money.

Funabashiya is also a bit of an 'experience' place, so the seating stations all have a pitcher of tsuyu (sauce) and three kinds of salt - natural, herb, and something called 'goshio'. Of these, the herbs tasted like a little bit of sansho and some dried oregano, and I couldn't read the description of the goshio other than to see that it's 'old time salt', and both Microsoft and Jim Breen profess not to know the kanji (it looked like a complexificated 'kama', if anyone is extra-smart).  The sauce was top-notch, as were the pickles. The soup was your basic miso with little clams, and their miso had, I swear to you and I don't usually swear about stuff like this, a faint taste of buckwheat honey.

Well, this wasn't the best tempura I've had in my life, but for a smallish chain of places, it presents all the appeal of high-end tempura (counter seat, freshness demonstrated because the items are right in front of you, chefs constantly making batter and refilling oil, big big big chopsticks in the mixing bowl) for a fraction of the cost. Especially at lunch.

Not worth the wait, but worth a visit.

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