Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shoujou, Monzen Nakachou (猩猩)

Sometimes I have an existential crisis, a dark night of the soul where I wonder if there's a point to all this looking for great restaurants - because lately it just seems so easy to find them, you know? There's an expression in Japan if you like the taste of something, it 'meets your tongue'. I think I've just come around to the point where I'm aligned with the style of food here, but there are an awful lot of great places. And this is another one.

For some reason I never gave Shoujou a second look (lots of first looks), but it was finally Google Maps that put me on to it - it's the only really dedicated jizake izakaya in Monzennakacho. I know it's hard to believe that there aren't more, considering how amazingly, stupendously great the neighborhood is, but it's true. Shoujou, further, is in the 'fussy master' category, with a middle-aged guy who's clearly over the top about his ingredients. This was actually the night of Tanabata, and he had the requisite decorations outside.

While inside was a touch smoky, but nothing unbearable. The customers were quite ordinary, and some quite drunk; I don't think most of them appreciated what they were getting.

You can complain about the sake list if you want - it's only 8 entries long. If you look closer, though, you'll see that 5 of them are labeled as summer sake, which means he's changing the list all the time. I think it'll be different from week to week, and this is really the point of sake drinking to me. Every brewer makes tons of different things, and they change, and every year is it's not really a 'famous vintage, famous cuvee' sort of thing. You just show up, hit some brewers that you like, and see what the place is pouring.

If they just have Hakkaisan and Kubota, all bets are off.

The serving style is like this - a cup. The toshi on the day was a nikogori that I think was made with snapper skin (certainly the master carefully kept the skin when he prepared a fish later in the night). This was an excellent nikogori, kinda soft and almost juicy. This made more sense when he told another customer that he specifically made it softer, with less gelatin, because that's better in summer. Ahhhhh, fussy masters. Love 'em.

We kept wondering why he had a sprig of ajisai in a water bowl on the counter, and it turned out that it was for our sashi platter. You'll recognize the tuna in the back, then you might recognize the pink thing, but I've forgotten it, and in front is octopus two ways - peeled leg as well as sliced suckers. Really! High-quality fish.

Another high-quality fish. I just noticed in the last week that it's really eel season, because hamo is on the menu everywhere. This was fried anago, and very well done, but it's the thought that counts. He had hamo too.

Every fussy master has some 'creative' dishes, and the one here is 'okoge pizza', made by carefully pressing cooked rice into a thin layer in a tray, chilling it overnight (we saw the next day's produce in the making), cutting it into strips, deep-frying the strips to simulate okoge-ness (the burnt part at the edges of a traditional rice-cooking pot), topping with salsa and cheese. Really, the red sauce was like Old El Paso salsa. Not an unmitigated triumph, this dish...

Three types of fresh summer sake, served up for the price of one cup, is a definite triumph.

Fried potatoes were also sorta triumphal. There was regular potato, sweet potato, and mountain potato, all carefully washed, peeled, sliced, fried and seasoned. With salt, salsa, and tartar sauce. Hand cut = interesting texture.

And I've saved this picture for last...for no particular reason, because the beef with yuzu kosho was unfortunately disappointing (even though yuzu koshou is still one of my favorite substances in the world. Right up there with maple syrup).

Now that I look back, I'd say you should maybe order the food a bit carefully, but you should go here. The other qualifier is that if you're going to drink sake, you should be a bit of a connaisseur; at a minimum, you should appreciate the fact that he's getting fresh, seasonal things, and keeping a smaller number of them so they stay fresher. You can't complain about that.

Maybe the lower end of 'recommended', but still recommended, definitely。
As I said about another place recently, Tabelog's score for this place is positively comical.

1 comment:

  1. Jon, this place looks really good. This is exactly the type of place I love. Okoge dish looks intriguing. I am a big "okoge" fan.