Friday, February 19, 2010

Santensan, Kamiyamada (三天参,上山田)

I hit the city 'bout 9 PM, loaded, loaded...

OK, not exactly - 9 PM, but not at all loaded, and with no sort of Rob Halford vibe going on, I promise. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

On a loose whim, I made another one of these short trips to random, depressed country towns. Actually one could make an argument that Kamiyamada onsen (15 minutes north of Ueda, which is the last stop before Nagano on that shinkansen) is thriving; some of its industries are doing quite well, and a number of the hotels have been well-preserved or recently upgraded. But the attraction for me was the description of it as a 'Showa retro' town. I love that stuff - great 50 years ago, hasn't gone anywhere since then but slowly down. I took tons of pictures of old buildings, which you may see as I work through these posts. There should be 6 in total, so bear with me.

The usual tools for figuring out where to eat were less useful in this case - they decrease in quality as you get farther from cities. But I had seen another blog on this place, and since it was mere blocks from the hotel, I thought I'd at least start there. I had been juice-fasting for a couple days (cleansing! detox!) and thought there was no better way to break said fast than with some izakaya food and good sake.

Inside was warm and welcoming, with these posters...

and a little shrine. For this food we are about to receive...

But what really caught my eye was the fridge. On the way up, I had been reading my new copy of the 2009-2010 Popular Ji-Sake Ranking, and this fridge was like the book come to life.  All these labels I'd only seen in the book, suddenly all right there...If you look closely you'll see Juyondai, Hiroki, Denshu, Uragasumi, Kokuryu, Isojiman and a bunch of others...I suppose you could fault the master for lacking creativity and ordering straight from the pages of the book, but you'd be silly to do so.


Let me use this gratuitous shot of the counter to tell you what I drank. First was Juyondai's 'Honmaru', which is their honjouzou and coincidentally the #1 honjouzou in The Book (it's organized by grades). It was great, but the huge feel and rough character were clearly honjouzou and not so much for me. After that I had Hiroki's Junmaiginjo, which I thought was more refined and balanced, though quite sweet and also lacking the floral flavors that I tend to drink junmaiginjo for.


When you haven't eaten solid food for 3 days, the recommended way to get back to normal is to start with orange juice, then upgrade to pureed or juiced vegetables, then solid, raw vegetables.

I drank some probiotic yogurt while I waited for my train connection, so I figured raw horse preserved in miso would be a good substitute.

Mmmmm, look at that! I had never seen miso-cured horsemeat before, so I had to get it. This was served with tategami (fat from the mane) and myoga, and the recommended method was to combine a piece of each in every bite. Maybe it was the lack of food over preceding days, but I thought this was one of the best things ever. The meat was delicious, and the fat was soft and melting - when I've had it in the past it's been very tasty but very chewy. Not this time. Awesome.

The master called to the kitchen to fry up some baby mud eels. Maybe because of the horse order, they turned out to be a present for me. Imagine that for Valentine's Day - 'Darling, I got you some mud eels. I love you.' It doesn't work so well. I was surprised how small these were, and also by the delicate crispity of the fry. Very good. Maybe the first time I've eat dojou, despite them being a little famous in my neighborhood.

Then, oh, what the hell, do the trifecta, order the grilled horse tongue. Sure, do it.

Unfortunately, this was grilled and then served lukewarm; I think they had done it up earlier. Too bad.

The rest of the menu had a LOT of fish on it, and the fish in the case looked pretty good. I was just morally opposed to going up to Nagano and eating fish, y'know?

Friendly people. Not for the last time in this town, I had to work hard to refuse an invitation politely. After we started talking, the other guy at the counter got very excited to take me on a tour of the area the next day - drive to the top of the mountain, go to a onsen outside of town that's better than the normal ones...it seemed almost normal at the time, but now that I write it, I'm a little freaked out. Fortunately the master was on my side and kept saying to him 'What are you talking about? Don't be weird. You can't do that with someone you just met!' Phew!

Friendly people though. In this picture, you can see what sort of antics they get up to in the summer. It's a little foreshortened (I think the girls are not quite as stunted as they look) but Santensan's master is the guy down front, black wife-beater, getting his God on. It's a nice-looking omikoshi too, isn't it? They were trying to impress me with the weight and such; I didn't have the heart to tell them about the Hachiman Matsuri in my town, which features 60 of these things, all covered in gold...

Some decent food, nice atmosphere, but the standout is the fabulous sake selection. It's very much worth stopping in for that alone.

And I didn't even mention the other 6 kinds of raw horse that they serve.
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