Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kuruma, Tokyo (車, Tokia B1)

Continuing in a series of "Hey, I haven't seen you for a year!"-type meetings, Roofie and I met up last night. Somehow these meetings with men from work always devolve into chicken-fests.  In this case, I have the rare pleasure of questioning the existence of a restaurant, or at least providing a strong steer about what you should eat if you find yourself there. Moo.

The specialty here is free-range Miazaki chicken, killed at a super-long 6 months, grilled (of course) over flaming charcoal. Really really flaming. You can even see in this picture that the chef is leaning back as if to say "Whoa! Fire. Dude." While we were eating our first few items, she kept dumping bowls of chicken parts onto the grill and letting the flames lick them until they were gray and greasy. And I kept saying to myself, "I dunno what that is, but I sure don't want any of it."

So we started with some safe items, which I provide pictures of just in case you don't know what yakitori looks like. Something to be on the lookout for, especially with foreigners or foreign visitors, is sasami. This is the chicken 'tenderloin' that you can buy packages of in America, which means the texture and color are very acceptable to those less accustomed to the challenging textures of Asia. In this case, sasami wasabi, but other popular choices include topping it with pickled plum or mayonnaise and spicy fish eggs.

And meatballs. Never go past the meatballs at a chicken place. These, I dunno - big, finely ground, little or no cartilege included, decent sauce, but artificial in some way. The sauce formed a crust on the outside, which was odd.

Our first ordering fail, my fault I guess. This is chicken tataki, which is pretty much like chicken tartar - chopped and mixed with stuff (green onions and ginger here). But the chicken wasn't chopped a lot, more sliced into strips and bits, and was exceedingly chewy. I soldiered through part of it, Roofie wasn't pleased from the start to be eating raw chickenz (fair enough, we're American and it's bred into us), and after a while we just picked at the onionz.

And here it is, their famous item, Miazaki chicken thighs and breasts cooked on the grill by the girl in the top picture. Nuts. When we ordered these, I was imagining something like whole chicken breasts, delightfully grilled and crispy, like McNoonan and I discovered at Denshou. No. Nothing like that. Bits of fatty, tough chicken with various membranes and unidentifiable tissues still attached, covered in a layer of soot and grease. Served in a hot pan to keep it sizzling at the table, with this cool little paper protector around it so you don't sizzles your suits. The breast pieces were somewhat edible, the thighs not at all, and after a while just looking at this turned me off to food. Good for the weight loss, but I actually felt sick later.

Now, this is their famous item, and the girl kept cooking orders almost continuously through the 2+ hours we were there. It seems that everyone else likes it - you don't open a chain of 14 stores by serving a crappy product. I've also learned from Poultry Hub that the normal 'industrial' chicken raising procedure involves 'catching' the chickens at 6-7 weeks. While I don't usually go nuts about this sort of thing, it gives one pause for thought - the Miyazaki chickens are raised free, no antibiotics or hormones, and caught at 25 weeks. It's eminently possible that I just don't know from good chicken, or real chicken.

But I would still tread carefully if you go here, and just stick with the normal stuff on sticks, which was fine, unless you have no problems whatsoever with texture, because these free-rangers are rangey. Better, I would just go somewhere in the Yurakucho under-track area and live it up cheap and cheerful. Thankfully, yakitori is one food area in which I feel no compulsion to become a snob.

Drinks-wise, you should know that they specialize in shochu. Price-wise, you should know that it's normal (except some of the fancier chicken items like nabe and shabu shabu are Y3k+), and you should also know that they charge about 10% more at the Tokyo stores vs. the Kansai stores. At first I was offended by that, now I just think it's good business practice (is anyone else confused at how a bottle of tea costs Y150 ANYWHERE in Japan - konbini, vending machine, north, south, whatever?). In short, this place has me all muddled up in a jumble.
Steer. Moo. You got it, right? Don't make me pull over.

1 comment:

  1. These really do not look good. The paper plate thing is strange too. And I know what you mean by ground chicken meatballs. They tend to make them very similar to fish balls. Strange texture.