Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tsunahachi, Shinjuku

Here we have a whole flock of peafowl scratching about in the yard, looking for seeds and worms. Actually we don't. Only two of them are peafowl. But all of them are about to enter this tempura restaurant that I've read about a couple times, Tsunahachi. Let me just get it out there - I'm sorry. This was not as good as I would have hoped for something that I picked for you. But I stand by the choice of tempura as non-threatening-yet-interesting, and I looked pretty hard at options in the area. I think Shinjuku is tough.

The chefs at Tsunahachi are tough too. They stand over the fryers and look menacingly at foreigners taking pictures of them. Then they fry up yer din-din! I like this authentic-ish 40-year old atmosphere. It's very no-bull, getting food on tables, in a Japanese way that's still interesting to foreign people. I read a New York Times review this week that described the atmosphere of casual Japanese restaurants as 'otherworldly yet comforting'. Much as I hate to admit liking anything about a writer working in that style, it's a good description. I've just lost the whole 'otherworldly' feeling about it since I've been to...a few places.

On weekends, you have to order a course. Things will start off with some beer (not included), a big pitcher of tempura dipping sauce, a bowl of grated radish with some of that sauce mixed in (for nibbling) and a bowl of plain grated radish (for mixing into the dipping sauce). As I must have said before, the radish is supposed to counteract the effect of eating the oil in the fry. I believe the little clams in the soup are supposed to do the same thing, although I'm not sure how fighting cholesterol with cholesterol is a good strategem. One other point, this sake was horrendous. I am so, so sorry I ordered it. If you liked it, I will make amends by bringing something 1,000 times better to Thanksgiving.

Shrimp, squid, lotus root, shrimp head. The problem here is that the fry is a bit light and limp. It's not 'ethereally light', as that NYT writer might say, it's just not interesting. The renkon was cooked nicely, and the squid was so thick it must have come from a huge beast, but was good texturally.

Fish 'n' shrooms. A whiting, the classic tempura fish, with bits of eringi and maitake. The kisu was pretty good, but I'm partial to them. I'm partial to fried maitake also, but I've had better in a dozen izakayas across Tokyo. Maybe two dozen.

Somehow I left out a picture of the scallop, which was probably the single best item served in the course. Big and plump (why do people always call scallops 'plump'? Does it give them a complex?), still raw in the middle. Done right.

For the last course, you could choose eel or shrimp kakiage. My kakiage was OK. Throughout dinner, I couldn't help referencing the only really good tempura I've had, which was at Mikawa. Is this a fair comparison? I'm not sure. The price here was 40% that of Mikawa, so maybe I shouldn't complain. And maybe I should try something in the middle, like Kondo. And maybe you should too.

Out on the street, Shinjuku on Saturday night was the usual freakshow - and boy do I love it. Why do violent revolutionaries have to do with happy pumpkins on scooters?

Much as I love taking pictures of wacky things like the insane rootsiness of this girl's hair, I've come to treasure even more the faces of people looking directly into my lens when I'm not trying to photograph them. Hey guy.

If being on the street is a freakshow, being in the station is a shitshow. I only thought to start videoing this after we got through the most crowded section. My favorite part is how many times people full on run into me; if they don't need to move, I don't need to move.

We gonna fry it up!

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