Monday, April 12, 2010

Iijima, Tokyo (割烹 いゝ島、八重洲)

Honestly, Ding and I have been trying to get together after work for several months. Whenever one of us thinks of it and suggests something, there's always been a problem. Last night, the only problems were the rain, the fact that Fukube was full, and the fact that I was carrying only my 'emergency' camera, which really can't take a decent picture to save its life. But better than nothing. Around the corner from Fukube is a really cool alley packed with tiny old-style places. As you'd expect, I picked the one calling itself a 'kappou', and away we went. I inadvertently took a picture of Ding's ass. Sorry buddy.

I promise I wasn't trying to do the same to mama. This place is so sweet - seems like an old couple running it, with one other person helping with the cooking. We weren't offered a menu, but we got some food right away. After a while I looked at what other people were eating and said 'Errrr...?' Mama didn't explain too well, but we gradually comprehended that your only option in eating here is the four-dish course. Fun! A little on the expensive side, sorry dude.

As I said, the emergency camera is pretty terrible - everything looks yellow. It doesn't help that everything at Iijima is a bit aged and yellow, but not this bad. But it points up the mildly run-down aspects of the atmosphere, which I of course am a big fan of. The ukiyoe at the top of this picture was cool - some kind of 3-panel boat scene.

While I maintain my fetish about places calling themselves 'kappou', I know at least one reader has told me the term just sounds like 'cooking' to them, and doesn't indicate a higher quality level as I've been told before. In this case the focus is certainly not on the drinks, which extend all the way from bottled beer )Kirin) through one variety of sake (a junmaishu in 330ml bottles) and one of shochu. It's not a big deal though; it's homey.

And you know how I've developed that pet phrase 'cheerful clutter'? This is what I mean. A bunch of stuff, piled everywhere, sort of neatly. Sort of not. Actually there are only seats for 12 and counter for perhaps 4; I think there's a second floor as well, but only accessible through an outside entrance since we didn't see stairs inside. A place that small is bound to get a little cluttered.

First dish was just boiled spinach and mushrooms with sesame paste and a little slice of yuzu skin on top. (Incidentally for anyone keeping track, the yuzu liqueur that I made a couple months ago is very nice! I got a great deal on a whole bag of yuzu at Yokado, which I was excited about since it's rare to see them any other way but 1 piece for Y250 or so. 100-proof vodka, all the skin and juice, honey for sweetening, plenty of aging...and it's doing very well!). The food was less blurry than the picture, but sesame is always a bit grainy.

No sashimi included in the course; the table next to us got some after they ate everything else. Perhaps they were friends of the house, or perhaps it's available if you ask?  This shrimp was very very good; mama broke the head open for us (foreigners wouldn't know how to do that) and showed us how there were some tasty bits inside). The bamboo shoot on the right was excellent. You can't see the glazed, grilled scallops underneath, but they came with sheets of dried seaweed so you could wrap them into little sandwiches (a bit overcooked). There was a little sazae-like thing, which was OK, and also bit of omelette...the overall aspect was quite a bit like someone trying to do fancy cooking at home.

Of course most people don't boil up shirako at home...we had a choice for this course, shirako or tororo (grated mountain potato; I don't like to say 'yam', because where I come from, a yam is mostly like a sweet potato and not at all like a yamaimo. Come to think of it, I think mama said Yamatoimo, but they're similar.). This was fully-cooked, which decreased the luxurious 'creamy' texture of the shirako, but I can't say that bothers me. Served with spicy ponzu, a pretty good dish.

This is the specialty of the house, a sort of huge steamed custard. Mama had a name for it other than chawan mushi, but I can't remember. Lots of crab on top made it really good. Too little camera made it blurry.

And finally the rice course; we had a choice here too, but chose to go with the...errr...tea pickles? Ochazuke is sort of a weird concept if you haven't seen it before. In addition to the snapper rolled in sesame paste on the left and the cut seaweed on the right, we got bowls of white rice and a pot of tea. You combine everything in the rice bowl, and the tea lightly cooks the fish.

Here's the fish. Nice fish, and sesame with snapper is always a good thing. Just-cooked snapper (e.g., gently warmed in tea) is also really good because the texture is so nice. A really interesting thing about Iijima's ochazuke was that the tea was, well, tea. Most places give you a pot of gently-flavored soup. Here, they gave us a big pot of green tea that we could keep drinking after eating our rice.

Finally, pickles. I was kinda expecting some simple, humble fruit, but no. I loved these and ate all of them; mama cackled delightedly about the fact that I put them all down whereas Ding ate about half. On the other hand, he's Chinese-Texan, not Japanese, so all bets are off. He thought (rightly) that the pickles were overly salty, and I thought they were quite sweet, which was why I liked them.

But 'sweet' is a pretty good way to sum up this place. I don't mean sweeeet as in duuuude, but kindly, good natured and fun. However not cheap. And not so public; I can't find a web site or even blog post with any real content on this place, so I'll leave you with an admonition to check the map here and give them a call at 03-3271-5210. Not a real strong admonition, mind you.

1 comment:

  1. Small world...I was in Fukube last night (Monday) from 5:15-6:30 'ish pre-Jeff Beck concert.
    Drinks, food, atmosphere all unchanged from the last time and the time before that and the....if ain't broke, don't fix it! Like Mr Beck, Fukube gets better with age. Classic shitamachi izakaya c1939.