Friday, September 10, 2010

Luck! Zen, Ningyocho (なごみ屋楽膳)

You and I (and You is my colleague, not you) tried to go to this place tonight that I spotted while jogging after the typhoon. Looked like an abandoned building where people had set up a squatter business grilling clams and squid, with self-service drinks. They have a web site. And they were fully booked. Booked! What kinda casual beach-party atmosphere is that? Fully reserved? We gave up, and I rode aimless around on my bike for 30 minutes before passing another place I had rolled by before, Luck Zen in Ningyocho.

The approach here sure is nice. The owner / manager / waiter was telling me that he prefers sake (this despite the positively encyclopedic selection of shochu - close to 200 varieties on the menu), but when he opened the place he wanted to do something different. He decided to focus on southern sake (though with the puzzling exclusion of Saga, which I still like). His mainstay seems to be a close relationship with the semi-famous Yorokobi Gaijin brewery (don't get offended, it's 悦凱陣) from Kagawa; in addition to various things on the menu, he pushes a number of fresh bottles whose quality you can guess by the way they're labeled - lots of information, to let you know they're picky about it. If you were looking for value in sake, you might find some here - bought at retail, Gaijin's varieties tend to be 30-50% more expensive than the average top-class brewer. [And let me again insert a comment on how marvelously cheap sake is, where the best sake is $15 per bottle at retail and only esoteric luxury items exceed $30.]

Oh look, it's the menu. Choose between glass and full-go sizes, we like that. 'Carefully selected' options. My favorite thing - what I ordered (Gaijin's 'Kou') proved to be the last glass at the end of the bottle. I watched nervously as he poured it out and set it down, then I admit my face lit up when he said "This is on the house. I'll get a new bottle."

And the new bottle was warm, so he set up a tub of ice and chilled a glass for me. I was sold. (By the way, I thought the difference between the dregs and the new bottle was large. Not 'extreme' or anything, but the last of the bottle had clearly seen some chemical changes where certain compounds had broken down into certain other compounds, and there were top notes of chemical solvents. But like the time I asked to keep a glass from the badly-corked bottle we sent back at Comme d'Habitude, it's still a free learning experience (perhaps at a little extra cost to your liver through those weird chemicals. But can they be worse than alcohol? Probably not.))

These days, if there are smoked pickles on the menu, there are smoked pickles on my plate. They go well with the kinda sake I like to drink.

Eggplant salad does not, so much, but salad goes well with the other half of my bifurcated lifestyle. This was really good - depp-fried eggplant, I think it was.

Meat is supposed to be kinda non-fattening, right? Well, if I'm getting lots of carbs from alcohol, my strategy is going to be to eat vegetables and meat. (It's working pretty well, by the way.) Fortunately there's plenty of exercise on the healthy side of the ledger to counteract all the cholesterol in this very good scallops and pretty good sea urchin eggs.

Nothing counteracts grilled spareribs though. Don't even ask. These take 30 minutes to grill (which is a long time for an izakaya but painfull short for good ribs), and are worth ordering even if they in no way approximate the experience of real barbeque. Don't even ask.

Somehow I find that I ate a little piece of chicken too, unless this was my neighbor's plate. Well, I had a solid bike ride that morning, and it was a good night.

Never mind. Don't even ask.
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