Thursday, January 28, 2010

Umibatake, Ikebukuro (海畑)

Last year when I went to Sunny Spot in Ikebukuro, I left my camera on the bar. In fairness to myself, I was away from my seat for an extended period playing guitar, and during that time other people crowded around the spot where I had been sitting, which helped me forget the camera. But Yumi chan was very nice about it, and promised to keep it for me...a promise I took full advantage of by not going to get it for a month!

Last night was it, and naturally I couldn't resist the prospect of a quick dinner. Sunny Spot is in the 'southwest quadrant' of Ikebukuro, which is pretty trashy and didn't offer anything I wanted to eat, so I went a few blocks north to where I had seen some kappou-style places on the map. They were really kappou-ish, or maybe even ryotei-al, meaning they looked nice but didn't have menus outside. I was scared, and opted for Umibatake (ocean farm!), a very nice modern-style izakaya...

...which just happens to have a list of 15 sakes. Funny that. I'm sure you saw the sugidama hanging by the door, which should indicate that they're pretty serious about sake, and roughly half of this list was 'seasonal', i.e., fresh (nama or shiboritate or whatnot).

Aradama, which was in the middle of the picture above. Putting the cup in a saucer and pouring until the cup overflows is supposed to indicate generosity and abundance, I think...what's it mean when they pour until the saucer overflows on the counter?! Not on purpose, I guess, but funny.

Taking a minute to think about the decor, I'd just classify it as 'modern izakaya' since a lot of new places look like this - warm wood, clean style. You could call it boring or formulaic, and you could also join me in being worried that they just stamped the place out of the same mold that some of the chains use (it's not that different from a Watami or Shoya, I guess) and weren't putting any effort into the food. I was nervous, but trusted the fact that they had nice-looking sake, and also fish displayed at the counter. These are sorta gimmicky touches that are common to places like this, but I could be happy forever with a steady stream of that type of place. If you're tired of really fresh ingredients prepared well and with clever touches...well, you're tired of life.

Toushi - from left, sweet potato with sesame, fish meatball, stewed daikon, halved brussel sprout with mayo. Fresh, good.

I've become very pattern-bound in my izakaya ordering; I always want to start with sashimi, but this is some good looking fish, isn't it? It was really high-quality, as you'd expect from the glistening whole fish they had on ice at the counter. I got the 3-point sampler, asking for pickled mackerel (in front), gindara (right) and chef's choice for the other variety. That turned out to be two slices of very good tuna and 5 of excellent flounder (fluke? Anyway, hirame). You don't see uncooked gindara very often, right? It's usually grilled with miso or something (like the infamous 'black cod with miso', though maybe a little different since gindara is literally 'silver cod'). Eating this, I have no idea why. It was like a lighter buri, with that great wintry smoothness from the fat. The fluke was also terrific, and the bits in front were engawa, which I think is cartilege from under the fins. Crunchy/chewy, but so tasty. The saba was maybe the weakest of the lot; the minimal sear on top made it taste a touch too fishy to me.

Nanohana. This picture isn't bad, but also doesn't quite capture the brilliant emerald green of a nicely-boiled nanohana. The texture and flavor are like a gentler, brighter broccoli, and it's usually mixed with mustard and doused with dashi, as is the case here.

Harugasumi. In this case, the waitress just managed to avoid spilling out of the saucer. I also have a soft spot for places that give you different glasses (or different saucers, in this case) with each order.

Squid, dried overnight and then grilled. It's funny, when I ordered this, the chef said "Well, we only have the ones from yesterday, because today's aren't ready yet". This was in reference to the tray of squid drying next to the fire. I'm puzzled because the name of the product is 'dried for one night'...anyway, this tasted good, like a squid should. I was a little surprised that it wasn't drier; I expected something more fully browned and crusty and possibly filled with liver, but this was still juicy and smooth. I've really come to love the tate of squid over the years. And for some reason this really went well with mayonnaise. While eating it, I watched the chef grill three big skate wings that looked delicious - fresh and still juicy as opposed to the usual ones you get - but I managed to restrain myself and just went home. Ohhh, and I forgot until now about the little deep-fried flounder (in this case I think I mean karei) that went by as I was sitting down. Man did that look good. I was staring at it, and the waiter kinda looked at me with a smile like "Yeah, our food kicks a lil' azz!" only more Japaneze.

I love this kind of place. I hope you do too. It's almost worth a trip, on a weeknight, just to unwind after work. And if I lived here, it would be a go-to destination (although there would likely be weirder issues if I was living in Nishi-Ikebukuro. It's really seedy.). Keep it in mind, OK? They deserve to succeed.

Holy crap, they're open until 8 AM. Last order is at 7 though, so make sure to get there in time.

1 comment:

  1. The sashimi platter looks beautiful and fresh. Never had gindara sashimi and will have to look for that. Too bad saba was too fishy because it looks delicious - love the little charred rounded look with two well thought out slices.

    Ika looks very plump and juicy. I love yaki ika like this too. Never had it with mayo and shichimi tougarashi before but it sounds quite acceptable. I still would like a bit of soy sauce taste with ika though - so maybe a bit of soy sauce in the mayo.

    I wonder what raisin butter is how it's served under otsumami. Unusual.

    I'm keeping notes of the restaurants for us to try when we are there. This is one of them. BTW, love all the food photos. Your photos inspire me with my own cooking and presentation. Thank you.