Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Doromitei, Kagurazaka (泥味亭)

Tokyo is sprawling. Tokyo is compact. If you have a meeting in the office at 8 PM, and can sneak out before that, 90 minutes will be enough to run for the train to Kagurazaka (Dad, I told you I was into Kagurazaka before it was cool, didn't I?), enjoy a little mid-Summer dusk air, have a simple dinner at a well-regarded Japanese-style bistro, and walk briskly back to the train to arrive just in time for your meeting. It works.
Tokyo is also jam-packed, crammed to the gills, cupp-runneth-overr with fetish services of every description. You can't get away from it. Even on a simple train ride, you're routinely bombarded with $19 English-model-shoe-sniffing services. Sometimes it can be tiring.
Any place with the balls to call themselves 'Mud-Flavored Restaurant' has gotta have it together, either confidence or ability or both. Although there was some incomprehensible sub-explanation about the Dolomites, the main reason for the choice of name seemed to be "We're serving the flavor of the soil, and of the water, and soil and water make mud, so..."
They've also got the confidence to squat at the back of an apartment block, down a nondescript and unpromising stairwell.
Inside is bare, and a bit cramped...but it would be less cramped if there were fewer customers. Between 6:30 and 7 it went from nearly-empty to nearly-full, with many of the arrivals being on a first-name basis with the staff. Well, a last-name basis, shall we say, but this is Japan.
The chef, his wife, and their first-day-of-training assistant all cram behind the small counter, frequently obscuring the menu from view. There are half a dozen sashimi choices (including the terribly seasonal and tricky-to-make hamo eel), some cold vegetables, grilled fish, tempura, and roasted or stewed meats.
Your $5 entry fee will get you this small dish of vegetables - pickled cucumber and mountain potato, plus crumbled tofu and sesame sauce mixed with...something green that apparently leaves the memory quickly. Oops.
You wouldn't come here just to drink the sake, but if you're a drinker, you wouldn't be disappointed either. The prices may be a bit on the high side. The first item is actually 2 go of Hakkaisan, and that's a pretty good price, so it's not clear if the others are cheap or not. But you wouldn't go here just to drink the sake.
If you want to test the fish, pickled mackerel is always a good choice. This was probably second-class, which isn't an insult, just a statement that there are better fish in the sea. They probably have them on other days. You're more than welcome to get an assorted fish platter for 1 person of more, and if you did that on this day it would have included a little bit of eel with plum sauce, some bonito, some snapper, and some mackerel. Crucially for some people, the wasabi is real, not green horseradish-based chemical paste. The yellow accoutrement is a fun addition - sweet-pickled chrysanthemum petals. You must have seen this before (perhaps if you read some old posts about Niigata), but never as a topping for sushi. And a good one.
About this time time last year, hamo and cold, boiled tougan (winter melon; really more like a mild squash or big, firm cucumber) became the taste of summer for me. Seeing another customer get a bowl of them, along with pickled eggplant and broad beans, was too much to resist. Delicious, even down to the soup. Shavings of green yuzu peel on top of the deep-yellow tougan did nothing to harm the flavor.

Crab gratin, a luxury item on the menu, was supposed to be more of a stomach-filler than it turned out to be (no rice underneath, and a good thing too, because then it would have been fraudulent conveyance to call it gratin instead of doriya). It was also more homey-tasting than one would expect a luxury item to be - the yellow sauce mixed through the crab, and the egg seared on top, gave it a sorta crab-cheese omelette aspect. Tasty, but not as luxurious as you'd like.
Given then time it takes to sautee the crab, mix it with the sauce and vegetables in a scallop shell, top with egg, grill and serve it, you're going to be pretty solidly out of time and have to rush back to the train to make sure you arrive with 3 minutes to spare for the meeting. But it's worth it, just like visiting Doromitei would be worth it if you were in the KGRZ area.
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