Saturday, November 13, 2010

Iseya, Kichijoji (いせや)

After spending a long, long day in Kichijoji last summer, I didn't feel a tremendous need to go back - not that it's not nice, but it's pretty far away. So imagine my surprise when a trip to my new friend Beach's pottery exhibition and lecture east of Ikebukuro turned into an invitation to yakitori out there. Surprise! And imagine my further surprise when, after not catching the hints about a 'really old yakitori place that doesn't take reservations', we turned onto this street and I realized that our destination was Iseya. After several lackluster reviews from blog-eagues, I had no intention of ever trying this place. But try it I did. It's kinda cool.

I'll say this for it - the atmosphere is really cool. Or really warm. Or perhaps I mean really smoky. Bruce here mans the grill like a fiend, churning out grilled chicken parts and less-identifiable pig innards. It's smoky.

No really. It's deeply, deadly smoky in and around the entry and grill area. Even the fog permeating this photo doesn't do justice to the whiteness of the air.

But hell, it's full and people are having a good time, and I think it's cheap. I didn't see the bill (which is more than fair considering I had just met these people the week before - and the guy that paid, I met on the night. I still don't feel good about not being allowed to pay. Thanks!)

By the way, it's smoky.

The staff refer to the first floor as 'hell' and the second floor as 'heaven' because of the thick, sulphurous smoke. This is the back room of hell, taken from the steps leading to heaven. I show it because I really do think the atmosphere is fun, but again for this atmosphere (and friendlier service, and tastier food), one doesn't need to leave Monnaka.

Serious volumes of everything are consumed here, and the staff don't have much time for pleasantries. You should tick off your order on the slips of paper at the table. And you should drink beer.

And I guess when you're in Rome, you should eat nikomi. Honestly, I could have eaten a whole bowl of these, wonder of wonders. They were soft but textured, they tasted good, and you wouldn't even have known that they were pig intestines (unless they were cow).

Hoo, the shumai were actually worthwhile! These were a pleasant surprise. I think they were just normal pork, definitely no crab and I think no chicken, but the filling was tasty.

The yaki items...I dunno. I like things that are grilled pretty dark and sauced a bunch, so these were cool. But most of it is chicken skin, pig guts, and crunchy bits, none of which I love (one piece of liver was enough to confirm that I still don't like it). Thus, your mileage may vary. I will say with some certainty that if the balls down the front were supposed to be tsukune, and their fail was indicative of how bad the other stuff was also failing, then there's no hope. In short, they were so bad that I hope they weren't supposed to be tsukune. They couldn't have been. Right?

For balance...I'll agree with Journey and say that the gyoza are excellent. You'd be happy to get these in a gyoza specialist - I like the crunchy bottom crust, and the filling was terrific - so getting them after a plate of lame-o grilled bits 'n' guts was double surprising.

There you go. Iseya - go for the smoke and atmosphere and low prices, eat the gyoza and shumai, eat some more gyoza, get outta there. Personally, I'd go directly across the tracks (just northwest of the station) and pick a bar in Harmonica Yokocho after this, just to complete the nifty atmospheric trifecta.

Although you'd need one more place to make a trifecta. Maybe go for the exacta instead?


  1. Glad I'm not the only one who feels this way about the place...

  2. I like Iseya.
    Does Iseya has 吟醸酒?
    What did you drink at there?
    Beer? Hoppy? 酒(Non 吟醸)?


  3. One alternative for my sake-loving friends: Toriyoshi No 4, just 10m away, with a very nice garden and a decent sake selection. I like the nabe there and of course the happy hour from 4 to 6, beer 99 Yen a mug, a real bargain, chain izakaya though. Recommendation for the nijiikai:"Hamonika Kitchen" in the center of Harmonica Yokocho, wine place with a cosy counter at the first floor.

  4. oh - and they do take reservations

  5. 弾く象 - Just beer. I don't think they have nama-Hoppy. I'm sure they don't have 純米.すぐ一緒に弾くぜ!
    鳶 - Those are comments everyone can use. Thanks a lot! It seems that Harmonica Kitchen is related to Mishima, the place I went across the street from Iseya. Sounds good on that basis.

  6. yes, Hamonica Kitchen and Mishima have the same owner. yes, Iseya has also hoppy no nama but bottled, the blonde version, as "setto" = mixed with Shochu or straight if you want. The cold sake is a Junmaishu if I remember right, drinkable, the kanzake is awful