Sunday, March 14, 2010

Akaoni, Sangenchaya (赤鬼)

The Red Devil is a famous place - certainly it was packed almost from the opening on the Sunday that we went (Woody, Poshand, me, taking advantage of their special 5 PM early-opener on Sundays). You'll want to reserve if you go, and in return you'll get access to a pretty magnificent list of sakes. The food, not so much - a bit rough and ready without a lot of excitement. Just go to drink, I think. I certainly did. Even Woody, who was sick as a dog overnight and in the morning and had called to cancel but later called to reinstate himself, came fairly well-primed and up for battle.

As I always say, if you can see this sake list and not get excited, you may have wandered into the wrong blog (perhaps temporarily; I certainly hope to get back to blogging about European restaurants in the near future). By and large these are nice sakes at decent prices. They don't go in for the high end too much, and that's just fine. They also organize by prefecture, which is helpful if you're like Poshand and have specific destinations in mind for your choices. They also have some special selection of Juyondai (in the upper right corner, not specified since I imagine it rotates a lot), but I believe I asked and was told they only had Honmaru, which bummed me out (the web site lists 15 at present, so hopefully I'm remembering wrong).

We started with a round like this - Denshu on the left for Woody, Tedorigawa on the right for me, and I'm-not-sure-what in the middle for Poshand. I'd try to piece it together from the menu, but the label isn't much helping, saying

The serving style is, I think, in keeping with a place that's serious about sake. They put a cup in a masu and pour just until it overflows, no more than a few drops in the wood. I suppose it's a pure gimmick when places pour a healthy amount into the masu as well, but it's a fun gimmick (especially compared to glass wine in European restaurants, where they always stop pouring long before you think they should). Anyway, the prices are good here, and smaller pours give you more capacity to explore, so there's no sense complaining.

They asked at the time of reservation if we wanted a sashimi plate; I reflexively said yes. It's all very fresh and glisten-y, when of course the market is closed on Sundays. We suspected that the pre-ordering was to let them plan Saturday's purchase a bit better. This also reminds me of things I've read saying that same-day fresh is not always the best way to eat fish; the flavor can deepen and/or improve over 1-3 days as it starts to break down (slowly, in a controlled way!).

These were not the starter nibbles; they were rather the nibbles that we had to order (Y400 each, and a disappointment in quantity). These are nibbles explicitly intended to be nibbled with sake; in fact I can't remember what they were...possibly some pickled plum meat with shaved, dried bonito at lower left (and I really do mean the meat of plums, nothing like 'cherry blossom meat', which actually means 'raw horse'.) and lower right, the dark thing further darkened by the shadow of my hand, fukinotounotsukudani, or, for those following along at home, a bitter Spring plant bud boiled in sweet soy sauce. That was a long and comma-laden sentence.

This may have been the formal starter. I think it's just spinach with dried fish. Can I just jump in here and say that overall I was pretty bored with the food menu? You'll see below that the food pictures don't improve much, and right from the start I was struggling to find things that I really wanted to order.

Oh suuuuure, it's early spring, so we're obligated to eat firefly squid and udo-sumiso. At least they left out the nanohana from this one!

Arrrrr, tebagyoza. If you haven't had these, you'd love them. It's one of those unholy alliances that exist in certain corners of Japanese 'cuisine' where they jam two things together - in this a chicken wing stuffed with spicy minced pork and fried (although this looks like it might have been grilled, or fried and grilled. That's how they used to do it at the Keg South in Kendall (just south of Miami, also known as Ken-dull, but I think that sobriquet applies to most of Miami outside the Beach). It's funny, I remember The Keg as a total dive with really cold beer and really good wings - they chilled the pitchers and mugs so much that you'd get ice crystals in your beer. Of course, even dive bars have web sites these days, and from the pictures I don't think The Keg has remodeled since I was last 1996.

You didn't think we were done after that round of sake, did you? It's impressive if you look closely at the menu and see how many things are labeled 'nama', I think meaning they've come directly from the brewer (unless it literally means these are all namazake).
Amabuki's junmaiginjo, from Saga, the only sake I remember really liking, and something I haven't seen before or since. They have a bunch of versions from this brewer on the web site, and I'd say it's worth some research.


Out of perversity, I've managed to figure out from the menu that this is the oragarami junmaiginjo nama from Taka. No idea what it was like, but being from Yamaguchi and also featuring oragarami in the name are good things. (You may remember from the discourse of the master at Omasa Komasa that oragarami refers to sake from a specific part of the tank after brewing is finished, sort of like skimming cream off milk. Regular brewers just stir is all together, so bottling it separately is a real sign of meticulation.)

The picture’s dim, but so was my vision by this point. It's taken me some time to learn that this is from Biwa no Chouju (琵琶の長寿), down on the farm in Shiga ken (just east of Kyoto, now that I've looked it up).

Mooooore fooooood! This is just your basic hokke, which is a meaty, cheap fish. It's supposed to be student food because it's cheap, but it's also very good. On the other hand, sardines used to be a cheap staple fish in Japan too, but overfishing has pushed prices up dramatically (from, I think, super-cheap to cheap or mid-price. It'll never be a luxury fish.).

Some little guys fried and vinegared and saladed, in the ever-popular Southern Barbarian style. I remember these as not being very skillfully fried. I also remember eating the head.

And after that I don't remember much, but Woody told me some odd things later that he swears I said. If you go to the Red Devil, coat your stomach well in advance of imbibing, have a light meal before so you won't be dependent on their menu, and go for your life. But don't eat the worm, OK?

Is it just me, or did they upgrade the hell out of the web site since we went?

1 comment:

  1. from memory the oragarami junmaiginjo was quite fizzy. the bottle popped when the waitress opened it. the high light of the sake list for me was kaiun's junmaiginjo (surprise surprise), which is the unidentified sake in the photo of our first round. cant beat a shizuoka sake! cheers!