Saturday, February 27, 2010

Koto, Monzennakacho ( 古都 魚河岸料理)

Back when I was young and first started coming to Japan, it was always for winter vacations. Because of that, Japan felt like the country of freedom, the place where I didn't have responsibilities (an odd twist, wouldn't you say?), and that made me love it here. To this day, certain things give me the same feeling, but nothing as strongly as standing on a country train platform, in the morning, on clear, cold days. This is the feeling that brought you trips like Maebashi, Takasaki, Takayama...

My point is that coming to Japan can really make people happy, and it's a pleasure to be around such people. This evening, I had dinner with The Peacocks (sorry guys - everyone has a nickname on this blog. Usually it's something obscure and funny only to me. In this case I know it's an obvious nickname, but it works on multiple levels for me.)  They just moved to Japan after a year in Nam, and I was fortunate enough to be the first person to take them to some real local places. In Monnaka. They haven't yet absorbed the foreigners' idea that Monnaka is beyond the bounds of civilization, and I took advantage of that.

Ferris has walked by this restaurant nine...times...this year and never gone in. For all the wrong reasons. Seriously, it's not even 9 times - more like 90. Every time I take a lap of the neighborhood (the south side, where most of the restaurants are), I have to walk by it. And every time until now I've not gone in. Mistake, I'd say. This evening, we took a stroll and picked it out on the second pass around.

The exterior is what turned me off in the past - it's not really representative of the quality level inside. With a huge tanuki (OK, not quite as big as this one, but just as festive and scrotular) and a certain weathered-wood aspect, I really thought the interior was going to be country-style and normal food. Instead it's mainly small, private rooms, and the food is very well done and refined. One fault could possibly be the price; I'm not totally sure how the bill came out like that, but it's definitely a good place.

A normal starter, crab in vinegar with cucumber and wakame. Good crab though!

Menu? We don't need any damn menus! We're a fish restaurant and you're starting with sashimi, got it? Good. In fact, we were even kinda discouraged from choosing which types we'd like to eat (it's OK to say what you don't want, e.g., octopus for our party). The fish was very good quality; for me, the standouts were actually the tuna (the akami, not the toro), the squid, and the akagai. None of them expensive items, but really, reeally good quality.

Yes, very good quality.

Not sure why I didn:t get some interior shots. I like their homey little counter, fishtank and private rooms. The low dividing screen between our (horikotatsu) table and the other one in our room was a horizontal slice of tree, polished and stood on end. These bowls were pretty.

As was the bamboo inside. The mama told us where it came from. I forgot.

I'll just sneak in that they don't much go in for the liquor selection here; in sake, it's just Hakkaisan and Kubota. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and they come in 1.5-go cut glass flasks.

This was a boiled kinki. It was a true pleasure to have newcomers in the audience and be able to say 'Hey, would you like some kinki?' But for the first time, I explained to the mama why we were laughing. She was predictably apologetic, but the fish was unpredictably good. I couldn't believe how soft and fluffy it was. The gobo strips, compulsory with this dish, were a little dull and I'm not sure why. Can't win 'em all.

Well, I was eager to capitalize on The Peacocks' vitality and excitement by going to another place, so we called it at that point. Actually the mama kinda called it for us, with a 'We're closing soon since it's Saturday. Do you want anything else?' (Which seems fair, since the web says they're closed on Saturdays). She mentioned that a lot of people from my company go there, and you can take that as a cue - it's the kind of food and atmosphere that you want if you need something elegant, a bit private, and cost is not much of an object.

They'll make you fugu or turtle courses too, if you order.

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