Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fish Research Center, Shinbashi (魚研究所)

Several weeks or months ago, coming home from a particularly disastrous meeting (this one, but I'm sort of a gentleman sometimes so I didn't mention the disastrous aspects in the original post), I was so disgruntled that I got off the train and walked around Shinbashi. It always seemed like a grubby, seedy area for salarymen...and it is. But there are a bunch of small streets with appealingly tiny places - stacks of signs almost like the southern-Ginza hostess streets, but mostly bars and restaurants instead of pubs and clubs.

Preacher has been back in Tokyo for a couple weeks (in his sell-out, make-money, give-up-the-organic-cheese-farming-and-go-back-to-finance role), and we finally went out after work. He was scared to try a one-room place on the second floor of a small building in a tiny alley. I was totally seduced by the name 'Fish Research Center' and thought we had to at least stick our heads in. I've gotten over the discomfort of just opening the door to see what a place looks like inside, and that's what we did (again, bolstered by the small, cute sign at the bottom. Usually these say 'Now Open' or 'Now Doing Business'; this one said 'Now Researching').

Inside was perhaps not what you'd expect - 8-seat counter with a young, kinda sporty master. He reminded me of a Japanese boxer. But any guy who's fussy about fish and drinks is a friend of mine, and I'm a lovah not a fightah. If you go, just be aware that he's not researching vegetables. Or meat. Or snacks. It's a very pure fish-and-drinks research center.

Good drinks though. I thoroughly enjoyed the Kaze no Mori, from Nara prefecture, as well as the pictured Kamofuku, from Shimane. The master seems to have an eye for picking sake, or at least a palate like mine.

Here's some fish - katsuo and pickled mackerel. Very good quality, nice pickling, etc. You should just go and eat it, you know? Words don't do fish justice.

Unannounced, the master gave us some of these shako (squilla? mantis shrimp?). That's not to say we didn't pay for them, I'm sure we did. Maybe we were ordering too slowly. Shako are a funny thing, a love-hate thing. This is a pile of tails, and they're a bit thin and flat, with an odd mealy texture (which is where the 'hate' part comes in for some people. I used to have a colleague who was so averse to the texture that he could barely eat them, which is why his boss used to order them for him in business meetings.).

And finally, a big piece of grilled ainame (greenling? firm, white ocean fish, at any rate). Good fish, good cooking. Terrible appearance.

Friendly crowd too. Unusually for a place like this, there were a bunch of women. OK, 4 of them, but there are only 8 seats. They all knew each other from coming repeatedly even though they didn't work together. This is not to say that Shinbashi isn't still a sketchy place, and you should choose carefully - our neighbor was Saudi, and after only a few minutes conversation was inviting us to his house in ways that made us uncomfortable. 

Since we had also exhausted the menu by that point, we went out and picked another place, which turned out to be more or less terrible. So be careful out there, but keep exploring. Just don't take any wooden nickels or Chinese massages.

I think we've all learned something today.
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