Saturday, December 12, 2009

Uobaka Santaro

Remember, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. A lack of adherence to this rule is how I came to be eating at this establishment, rather than it's brother around the corner, on a day where they didn't really even have fish. Still, would you think that a casual restaurant in Shinjuku specializing in squid would be booked solid on a normal Saturday? How about that its sister restaurant, also specializing in squid, would tell you "Yeah, we didn't get any squid today." Nuts to that.

Still, it was kinda cool. You descend a long staircase lined with sand, empty bottles, fishing nets and a small dried shark (!) to emerge into a normal wa-style dining room. They had kindly reserved us floor seats, which we were extremely grateful to change to a regular table.

Incidentally, the name means something like 'crazy about fish', and this is a place where the gimmic is how they receive the freshest fish every morning. Especially squid. Except today. If you plan to go here, note that you have to order a course menu. Except that most of the courses include squid, so there was pretty much only one option considering that they didn't have any critters. A weird intro.

The first way they showed us how crazy they are about fish was to serve these meatballs, cunningly crafted from gray fish meat and thinly-sliced onions to look like hairballs coughed up by a mountain lion.

The sashi platter was better. Decent quality fish, prepared fairly well. Front right was notable, snapper in fish-liver sauce.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm really enjoying fish at the moment. I was disappointed with the flabby, dull fish I got all summer, but the cold weather has produced a dramatic turn in the fortunes of fish. As it should. Hooray for seasonality.

This is a Japanese specialty called 'vegetables with salt'. And moromi miso.

Deep-fried sardines and onions in vinegar. A poor example by my standards since they were so big that the bones were quite, errrr, firm. Not at all like the deep-fried fish skeletons at Sayori with McNoonan on Thursday night, which literally had us fighting (politely) over who got to eat the last ribs. And he doesn't really like fish.

It's the style in Japan to grill fish to a point that would be described as 'overcooked' in America. A lot of visitors complain about this. On the other hand, I suspect it's the style in America to serve raw fish in a style that Japanese people would describe as 'not fresh', so there are tradeoffs everywhere.

Snapper or a large kinki or something equivalent, boiled in the traditional fashion with sweetened soy sauce and sticks of gobo. I don't know why gobo are always included in this, but I like gobo and I like that practice. A good fish, fatty and firm.

Nibbles to round things out - excellent pieces of deep-fried fish on skewers, fresh fried gingko nuts, and smoked...well, I has pleased that I got Jake to eat kunsei shirako, but he didn't trust me after that.

Finishing off the course with 'rice', these three bites of very nice, vinegary saba oshizushi. Or bouzushi. Or whatever you want to call it.


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