Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kawatake Sushi, Niigata (河竹)


Did we do anything on this vacation except eat? Sure. A little. But mostly it involved being boiled. More on that when we get to tonight's dinner (and an exhaustive look at the incredible onsen where we stayed).

But first, it's Niigata sushi! As I mentioned in an earlier post, sushi is viewed as a strategic cornerstone of the dining establishment here due to the quality and fame of the local products like shrimp. Kawatake Sushi looked pretty good in the guide and was also quite close to the station, so we left the hotel and stopped by on the way to catch the train north. If you go, here's the critical 'door shot' to help you find it. However this street in the station's Bandai Exit area (the famous bridge across the river that splits the old area of Niigata from the modern area) is also an entertainment area and has plenty of sushi. You won't wind up hungry if you go.

Nothing too notable inside. Hoshizaki must have a healthy business - they're the only name I know in sushi coolers. Perhaps they build to last; most people seem to have quite old ones. I hope they're doing some trade in replacement parts. This counter is perhaps a bit notable for being marble, but the master doesn't serve directly onto it, so it doesn't matter much either way. For a Saturday lunch, it was quiet and a bit sad. The master and his grumpy waitress didn't help that, but we tacitly acknowledged that there would be little to no conversation and got down to business.


Places like this are confusing (to me, because I can't read that fast). When you first see slips of paper like these covering the wall, your reaction is likely to be "Holy cow, look at all the things they've got!". At least that's what I used to think when I'd go to an izakaya that looked like this. Now I've come to realize that they only have a normal selection, but the same menu is posted everywhere so that you can see it from any angle. I guess it's obvious in retrospect, but believe me it doesn't seem obvious when you have to struggle your way through each slip of paper to understand it.


As they like posting slips of menu paper, they also liked posting posters. All over Niigata there were posters advertising Niigata. This is because the leading historical drama on NHK (public television) is currently in a Niigata phase, and everyone else has gotten in line behind it. It seems that the sushi industry banded together and decided on a 10-piece set that would showcase what Niigata sushi is all about. Obviously things like egg are going to be specific to the shop where you are, but the set at left has the same local items and practically the same order as the set described on the poster that was right behind me while I was eating. Which was also pictured in the guidebook. Which was also pictured in the station. The notable things are the shrimp and the light-pink, slightly chewy nodoguro (I've always assumed this meant 'blackthroat'; I like it when it's available, which it sometimes is at my favorite local izakaya). Other than that, hard to say, but still tasty.


Close-up! Excellent uni, very creamy (I know you can't taste it; I'm just pointing out that that's a characteristic I like in uni'z). Mediocre ikura - thick capsules and not much flavor inside. I've decided that thin is in - if you roll them around in your mouth and try to bite them and they squirm away, you've got low quality or artificial ones (which do exist, yes). Eat some more, you be the judge.




The Nanban shrimp have their own poster too! Everything seems to have a poster in Niigata (in fact, the next day we kept meeting people that were on the posters in Murakami city). The Nanban's poster describes these little fellas as "Red! Plump! Sweet!", and I have to agree. Although I still find it disturbing to see big piles of them in the market, as we did, with eggs tucked under their tails. In this case the eggs are pulled out and dabbed on top. This was a bit of a mess to eat since the heads and tails were both still attached, and the shrimp get very gooey when you chew them. In the past, I would almost certainly have been disgusted by this, so your mileage may vary if you're a tourist. Hell, I'm a tourist too. I think it's sad if you lose the excitement that tourists bring to their tourism. Stay naive, that's my wish and advice. It's more fun.


Actually this crab was a disappointment - too early in the season, maybe? This year, I'm going to eat crab at home more than once. I like getting the Russian King Crab legs and grilling them a little.

In the background a light-pink piece of toro tuna - and light-pink means 'ridiculously fatty'. That was very good, although I think that the lack of muscle striation means this was a different cut than we're used to.



Sort of a nice bottle, but I really put this in to remind myself that we had some nice sake. Niigata really is famous for sake, and I can remember a few of the brands now (especially after visiting the brewery!). On Thursday night, quite without knowing it, I had Shimehari Tsuru, and repeated that experience here with their top-grade Dai Ginjo. Too sweet for me, but clean and slightly floral flavors, which I like. This was just the right push to get things over the edge from 'good sushi' to 'great lunch'.

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