Friday, April 16, 2010

Ichi, Roppongi (いち)

Not exactly what I was expecting, getting a recommendation for a very nice course kappou place in the back of Roppongi from Koala, who I always think of as a Korean / Chinese / hotpot specialist. But very nice it was indeed, and along with several peafowl I enjoyed it very much. This place is under-reported and under-reviewed, but deserving of business.
We went at 8, late (for me), after drinks at the Coop. It really felt like we had to brave the rain to walk back to the station and then on to the diagonal street across from Midtown (which has plenty of nice things and also leads back, eventually, toward Bon Monsieur and eventually the big art museum). After I got a little lost as a result of not checking the map sufficiently (or printing it), we found this pretty entrance, a touch mysterious in the picture but more warm and welcoming in person. Unless it was just the rain.

Inside had the feeling of sitting next to an open hearth, but again probably just because the mid-April weather had taken a sudden turn for February and raining. We were in the back, at one of the few tables; there's also a nice counter and several horikotatsu areas. It feels very stylish, and there are plenty of cool touches like a big rack full of sake cups serving as well decoration (not for use, unfortunately).

Was there sake? Why yes, there was. By the glass they had these 6 (and while I do keep going to places that have 50 choices, I think 6 unknown choices is far better than 50 standards). They also had the same option as at Okonn - additional varieties, and nicer ones, if you could spring for a whole 720ml bottle. This was definitely the luxury selection, e.g., they offered 4 different varieties of Kokuryu, like Ishidaya at $250 for the bottle (which is not outrageous, I should mention).

All of the funny writing and confusing choices was enough to get Peahen flapping about in an agitated manner.

But she calmed down with a cheeky glass of pink nigori nama - milky, pinky, a little bubbly.

While I got into this glass of Fukuiwai junmaiginjo, a a good choice.

Le Fooding started with a simple dish of grated raw carrots with a light dressing and sesame...but these carrots were from Niigata, and are famous for being grown covered in snow. I want to say they were called Touji Ninjin, but I'm probably making that up.

The appetizer plate was very nice! Excellent shrimp in the front, some pressed sushi wrapped in cherry leaf at left, a seaweed-wrapped pickled fish under the shrimp, a bit of egg. In back, spinach with sesame sauce as well as some bits of whelk with spring root vegetable in a vinegar miso sauce (it's hard to understand this stuff in English, isn't it?).

Following on from the fancy carrots, the fanciness followed with a shichirin coming to the table to be topped by an odd spring veg that was a first for me. These are called amadokoro (甘所, 'sweet place') and feature a bitter exterior and sweetish center.

Of course, the grilling takes care of a good deal of the bitterness, and we like bitter vegetables in the spring anyway. The waitress advised that you could peel it if you were a big loser and couldn't handle the real taste, but we weren't big losers, and they were good. A lot of production value for three stalks each, but if you love that sort of theater and don't mind paying a bit for it, this is a good place for you.

That just made it sound like I was disgruntled about something; I confess to being surprised by the final bill, mostly because the rice was not included in the course price (what?). But looking back at the pictures, this was a lot of very cool food, and especially with the clever atmosphere and earnest, food-loving service, I feel just fine about it now. Oh, these were white shrimp, mixed together and fried up (perfectly). Another thing that's just great in Spring, right? I still don't know if I'll manage a trip to Yui for the Cherry Blossom Shrimp Festival this year, but I'll keep thinking about it. A long trip for some shrimp.

The sashimi was also excellent (though it confused me, coming as it did after the fry, but it was the same at Okonn, so I have a feeling this is just a standard sequence I'm not used to). Ummmmm...tuna, bonito, squid in the middle, snapper on the right (topped with little rolls of snapper skin!) and obviously octopus down right. Yummers.

Many people would be a bit confronted by a whole course that consisted of a fish head. Peacock immediately dug in and ate the eyeball, so I was forced to follow suit. One is fortunate to have such friends as well as good fish heads to eat. The cheeks, predictably, were delicious.

Then came another big production number, with all the showgirls getting on stage at once. There was a picture of this on Tabelog, and it almost turned me off to Ichi, looking as it did like a used dish of dirty water after being pictured, I guess, by someone's phone camera. In practice, this was beautiful - wouldn't you describe this broth as more golden than dirty?

First things first, the waitress started cooking the fishballs after forming them by scraping out sections of this stuffed bamboo rod (the normal technique, and you'd see this in different forms for things like tai yaki filling too).

Then a huge mound of spring cabbage, 'Grown at exactly zero degrees, which perfects the sweetness of the cabbage. If it's warmer or colder, the cabbage doesn't get perfectly sweet like this.' Errrr...whatever. But I like hearing it.

'Tangerine peel, dried for a month and then ground by hand for an hour.'
Yeah, I don't make up these explanations. I just write them down.

And the final product. Nothing at all wrong with this.

Likewise, nothing wrong with a big clay pot of rice with cherry blossom shrimp and broad beans. Beautiful, nutritious...expensive since it wasn't included in the course...ehh, I'm not too annoyed. This could really serve 4-6 people, at which point it wouldn't be spendy at all. And it sure tasted good, as did everything else.

After eating, we hung around annoying the staff by hanging around. We really did outstay everyone else, partly by starting late and partly by having a good time that didn't need to stop.  Here, the Peafowl are engaging in the time-honored ritual that ends all Vietnamese peafowl dinners, poorly-disguised tooth cleaning.

This link's pretty useless.


  1. "Amadokoro" is new to me as well. It appears that Kanji for this is 甘野老. Jon, you could order it for your backyard barbecue!

  2. It was a great night! If it makes you feel any better, Jon, I did eat the leftover rice. :) It was just as good cold the second day. ~Peahen