Sunday, July 11, 2010

Honoka, Musashi Koyama (穂のか)

Why is it that I find so many places recently worthy of a Recommended tag? (For the record, it's currently 138 places out of a total 850, and I find that ratio quite acceptable, especially when you consider that some of them are lunch recommendations)  I like to think that it's because I'm such a genius at picking restaurants. Unfortunately, in this case I actually passed on visiting the establishment in the past, and was steered into it this time by a friend who must be equally...well, perhaps even more adept.

Musashi Koyama is a nice little place; lots of appealing places around, and many twisty streets to make you feel like you're getting the tiniest bit lost. And buildings with portholes, to create a nautical theme.

Honoka doesn't hide their light under a bushel. Despite being tiny and a bit cramped, they work the 'sake indicators' - the brown ball over the door is a sake device, and the wooden plaques to the right are the names of the brewers that they've got on the menu at present. They had more plaques inside, but there were so many that I didn't even try to read them. If you walked by this place, you'd instantly know it's worthwhile.

Blow this up to check out the menu. The drinks menu. Actually it extends onto the back of these pages too. The top part, much of which is printed, is the breweries (the printing is the brands that they usually have on menu - below the brewer they write in the particular genus that they're pouring at present). Under that is the usual stuff about what type of rice it's made from, what % the rice is polished to, whether it's sweet or dry or fragrant or whatnot, and the date that they opened the bottle. I'm a big snob about freshness (I think things taste off after one night in my fridge, so I'm skeptical about a bottle two weeks old. But I guess they don't have onions in theirs.) This is a great list.

And this was a very good toooshi also. Left, 'shiromi sakana kaori age', which you and I know as generic white fish wrapped with a shiso leaf and deep fried. Middle, edamame tofu. Right, pickled summer eggplants. Yum. Poshand, Woodsman and I looked at each other at this point and said "Hey, this place is good!"

And you know it's good because one of the brands they have on the standing menu (why those brands? "Because the master likes them.") is Nabeshima, from Saga. I really like the famous brands from Saga, and this special Nabeshima was no exception.

If you've been around sake for a while, you'll recognize this otherwise-unreadable logo straight away. It's Houou Biden, another relatively famous sake brewer - but in this case, the water that Honoka serves is the well water from the brewery. (It's Y200 per bottle, but even I can't complain about that.)

We went on a Sunday night due to Poshand's very glamorous schedule of drinking, dancing, and teaching English to company presidents (and their children and pets). That meant the fish market was closed, and that meant we were stuck with very fatty tuna and very very fatty sardines. Both of which were quite good, especially for a Sunday. No disappointments; wish we had been able to get a few more of the varieties of fish they listed on Saturday's held-over menu.

At this point I apologize - there are a lot of small dishes on offer here, and it would be an ideal time for a collage. But I liked them all, and want to dote on them. This was Camembert cheese, lathered with miso and left to soak for a while (at Kawashima, they left the cream cheese for weeks). I think it was grilled after that. Get 'em while they're hot, because otherwise they get a bit congealed. As Woody scarfed his piece in one go (bloody hell, I'm writing like a Kiwi now. Must be a result of sitting between them all night.), I thought "I've really become Japanese", and cut mine up into bits to be nibbled in alternation with sake.

As usual I was overly bossy about what to order. This was heshiko, or mackerel preserved by coating it in rice husks (you could call this 鯖の糠漬け if you were really into that sort of thing. But I don't think I could read that straight off.) It's like the stuff we had at Shutoan, only...exactly what I was looking for that day and didn't get. Ridiculously strong nuka taste, tons and tons of salt. So ideal with sake. Dangerous. I'm mail ordering some.

Since we had the sardines, we were subsequently served their bones. Batter 'em, fry 'em, call 'em 'crackers', they're better than you'd think for fried fish skeletons.

Perhaps you read my comments last week about the prevalence of special summer sakes on menus recently? This was the summer brew from Laifuku, and we all liked it - everyone had a whole glass to themselves at some point. I think I understand summer sake better after drinking this - soft, fruity, easy, approachable. Really nice.

Believe it or not, this is a tofu salad...Chinese style. Good stuff, but I'm not sure what okra has to do with Chinese style. I think the okra was just there to emphasize that this was the healthy choice.

Chicken and new potatoes, jibuni. This is one of those simple dishes that gives the master a chance to demonstrate his mastery; the individual items were cooked very well, and the sauce was thick without being overpowering.

This Hyakurakumon is sorta emblematic of Honoka to me - not that I remember the flavor or anything, but I like the way they write out all the specifics of the beverage on the label. I guess it's marketing in its own way, but certainly not image-based marketing. Well, I guess it's also image-based marketing in its own way, but not pretty-picture image-based marketing.

It may also be emblematic of Honoka that, in addition to putting okra on a healthy tofu plate, they put bacon in the fry. This is a big fried bacon cutlet, and it's about as tasty as you'd think.

But more creatively, they also offer an iburigakko croquette - pickled, smoked radish chopped up and mixed with potato and probably cream and maybe cheese and breaded and fried.

And ooh.

Somehow I haven't had time to mention it up to now, but one of the genuine specialties of the shop, the one they feature in their online marketing, is the miso. You can choose from 25 kinds of miso, and they'll slap some on a paddle and grill it up for you. Few things go better with sake than a little nibble of miso. The green one here was (I think) yuzu flavored, the orange one was mentaiko, and the others included kinpira and plum. I think the fancy flavors are a little lacking compared to the punch of straight-up country-style dark miso, but they're interesting and fun.

And it's always fun to get rice balls that have been grilled like this - dark drown, after being mixed with shiso and sauce and other goodies. Great end to the night.

Everything was drooping at this point, and I accidentally took a picture of my pants.  Woody reminded me that he had been very excited by his trip to the bathroom earlier - some novelty items that were worth a visit...

Just look at that toilet paper! No, next to the toilet paper (this is right above the toilet, so you can't miss it, or rather, you should definitely miss it, and it would be impolite not to) is frame samples of rice in various degrees of polish (the two on the left were ground down to 8 or 9% of original size!) and a picture of a guy processing rice for sake making. A serious restaurant, one that wants to think about sake all the time.

It wasn't even that late, but things felt like they were shutting down back at the station. Musashi Koyama used to be above ground and was only buried in the last year or 3, so it's very new and clean down there. Weird to see trains parked for the night, lights off - feels like it must be after midnight, never a good feeling.

And just as I got on the train, I spotted the most crazy sandals...I was just about to ask this woman if I could take a picture to send to my mother, but then she got up to get off, so I just grabbed this as she was walking away. It's like Carmen Miranda for the feet.

And there you have it. Please check it out.



  1. Your mother is honored that you recognized a terrific shoe photo op and decided to include it in your blog! What a night you had!!

  2. "Everything was drooping at this point, and I accidentally took a picture of my pants. Woody reminded me that he had been very excited by his trip to the bathroom earlier - some novelty items that were worth a visit..."
    what was happening on your side of the counter? ha ha! brilliant reportage as usual, jon.

  3. That grilled rice ball looks perfect! Almost looks like it was deep fried.

  4. I must have walked by this place many times and never noticed it. Probably thought it was a oyaji place and not a place for obasan type like me. This little alley looks so much better than when I lived there as a kid. The flowers along the high school wall is a nice touch. The wall used to really stink in old days. Musashikoyama used to have several great yatai right in front of the station. This town also have some well hidden good places to eat for such a small place.

    I love the menu and the drink menu looks great too. Did you notice any women customers? BTW, I will be in Tokyo between 10/1 through 10/26 and would love to tag along sometime if you don't mind a married obasan dining/drinking companion.