Monday, September 20, 2010

Izuei, Ueno (鰻割烹 伊豆栄 本店)

Everyone's got their yearly trip home, be it to Japan or America (and I'm reliably informed that some people hail from other colonies as well, like France). Today I met Blowin' and his family, on their annual Japan pilgrimage, for lunch and a stroll around Ueno. Being the big food blogger and all, everyone wanted me to pull out a great recommendation for lunch. I still think Ueno is tough - lots of very casual places (Blowin' suggested 'dirty taco joint' if that helps you with the comparison), not a lot of family-friendly stuff. We stumbled across Izuei while Mrs. B was looking for a tempura place that she went to one time, and it turned out OK - family friendly as long as your family doesn't mind eel and has plenty of disposable income.

They've been doing eel grilled over charcoal (made at their own charcoal burner in Wakayama, I read) for close to 300 years here, but you wouldn't know it from the interior. As with many grand old places, the last refit that they did conformed to standards of grandiosity that were popular at the time - about 30 years ago. This means it's pleasant but a bit tacky now, but tatami seating and horikotatsu never go out of style. The views out to Shinobazu Pond are nice too.

There were some fun decorative elements - I liked the big collection of glass ornaments hanging by the stairs...

and you can't help but be impressed by the size of tori, or 'good luck rake' that they bought. The traveling tori market comes to Monzennakacho every year, and I thought about buying one a couple years ago (like the 3 hagoita I've got in the closet; I'm a sucker for interesting crafty things). You too would think twice if you saw the prices. I'm willing to give you an over-under that this specimen put them out $10k. Blowin' made an interesting point upon learning that the purpose of these is to 'rake in money' for the business - in some countries, you wouldn't want to publicize that sentiment to your customers.

They do have food here, of the variety you'd expect from a place calling themselves 'unagi kappou' - grilled eel, generally on rice, in some type of set or course. For lunch these start at Y2.8k, I believe, and include a normal eel box plus sashimi or tenpura, eel-liver soup (we learned that you can 'substitute' miso soup if you're squeamish about the eel liver and willing to pay extra).

I unfortunately ordered this 'Tonojuu' before I realized that Blowin' would insist on paying; as befits the 'Lord's Box', it's got two layers of eel and rice. Is that clear? Put a layer of rice in the bowl. Put two eel filets on top. Cover with rice. And more eel. While this sounds excessive, in practice it was actually quite excessive. That's too much eel and rice, but after a solid bike ride in the morning, I was more than willing to put it all away. I should comment that the eel was pretty good, but not better. You could tell that it was done on charcoal, but I think it might have been done a bit too much in advance.

Still, not exactly the place you want to pop in to when on vacation. I would imagine that the clientele here is mostly locals who have been coming for generations and treasure the history and memories more than the quality. It's pleasant, and the location is pretty good, but I think you're better served by going the cheap and nasty route in Ueno, as long as the family will go along.

Cheep n nastee, ma frenz.
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