Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nagomi, Sendagi (和味)

It bears mention again - there are few neighborhoods better for an afternoon of exploration with someone than Nezu. It's a place you don't get tired of - you may have read about visits with Woodsy, McNoonan, and even by myself, twice. The long jog that finally tweaked my knees for the year was a couple weeks ago when I ran from Mon-Naka to Nezu and back. It's fair to say I like it. It's real Shitamachi.

Full of tiny streets, some with shops and some just with houses; sometimes just sidewalks connecting alleys, with someone right around the corner waiting. You'll feel like time stopped, I promise.

And then there are weird bits - honestly, this looks for all the world like Japanese people singing semi-ecstatic gospel music in a church. Listen to it - the repeated phrase is "Nooo! I nevah gonna geeev up! Nooo!" (Sorry about the rude transliteration. I'm no great writer, but I can claim a little of his famous introduction by saying "That's what it sounded like") If only there were some recovering Pentecostal readers in the audience to advise us on the singin'...

Herewith, some other bits I liked.

This was my favorite picture of the day, taken while waiting out someone's train delay. I'm an immature picture-taker who doesn't really know how to use his equipment (and if that didn't make you snicker, I don't understand f-stops or exposures either), so I still get excited when I can trick the camera into setting the focal length to blur something. Here, the wheel is nice, but the real draw is the irony of the 'no parking' on the cone with the bike in front of it.

Shitamachi these days is a mish-mash. There's no neighborhood like those streets in Takayama that are fully preserved (or rebuilt), so the occasional house like this one really sticks out and makes you feel old-timey. If there was a porch, I'd pick some banjer on it. If you wanted to eat in one of these places, try Jinpachi (just for the atmosphere).

Usually I see a wedding every time I go to Meiji Shrine; today was Nezu shrine, which is a nice place - very sweet row of torii that's probably famous. And a wedding. Small one, and the bride and groom were quite old.

Yanaka cemetery is enormous and well worth some exploration. On the other hand, they've obviously had some horror-movie-like experiences, because the rules of the place specifically forbid teenage kids from making out, gratuitously exposing breasts, and then getting killed violently. It's not done that way in Japan. Not considerate. (I added the black line on the computer, not by drawing on the sign, OK?)

Errrrrrr...hula class. Eh, there's no reason you wouldn't see this (in a studio on top of the hill above Yanaka Ginza). Hawaiian stuff is eternally popular here.

Time is stopped, but that doesn't stop night from falling. All too soon the lights were coming on and the temperature was plunging. I walked with someone down the Fujimi slope from the cemetery (there are Fujimi places all over Tokyo, because Mt Fuji is so big that you used to be able to see it from lots of places. Actually when I ride my bike in the mornings, there's one place in Kita-ku where you get a great view from the top of the Arakawa retaining barrier) and back to Yanaka Ginza, where the likliest-looking place commanded our business. It was only likely-looking because it (was open and) had empties of high-end Kokuryu sakes like Nizaemon; you know I've decided I don't like KR's house style, but it's still an indication of quality. Yanaka Ginza isn't a place I expected to find much, but after looking at the grubby little Suzuran Dori farther north, we went back toot suite. One can only take so much oyaji without wanting a bit of glamor, eh?

Inside is dark and smoky, but stylish in a low-budget way. The staff are ikemen, which explains it - there seems to be a whole new generation of guys getting into the restaurant business where they're young and poor but stylish, so they set things up cheap, turn the lights down, and use spotlights to glamorize. It's good, actually. The seating is either counter or else a row of narrow raised benches with seats on one side, facing the counter through some partial curtains (there's a small zashiki room too, where they've used chipboard and an old curtain to create a 'private room'. They offered it to us, but it's zashiki.). The narrow seats are weirdly cramped - hard to get between them and sit down, even for someone small, but cozy once you're there. The screens create no privacy whatsoever. I swear the staff kept standing at just the right angles that they could watch us through the gaps.

Let's briefly touch on the drinks. 6 kinds of umeshu, including the weird red and white wine-based ones that someone tried, a library of shochu, and nihonshu. I love this approach - they have only three good brewers (Kokuryu, Takaisami and...still can't remember) but 5-6 varieties from each, from honjouzou through daigin. Also just a few rotating specials; I think one was Dassai, but who needs to drink that these days? and the other was Kuheiji Eau du Desir, and it was sweet and subtle, romantic and sophisticated. Much like a good woman, bahahahahanevermind.

Aaaaaaaand, karma is kicking my ass all over this week, because after my protestations about never going to chicken restaurants, this turned out to be a chicken restaurant. The centerpiece is cook-your-own-stew, but here are some starters. The chicken guts were midly objectionable; nice sauce, but something only someone would order, because liver still kinda makes me gag. Mukago, not a patch on the ones in the rice at Sakurada (OMG OMG OMG) or even the fried ones at Kitayama (evidently the oyaji way to eat them is boiled and cooled. Based on my experience, that is simply the wrong way to eat them, and one shouldn't order them at an establishment that does that. Check first.). Iburi gakko, a good and subtle version (as much as a smoked turmeric-pickled radish can be subtle).  A smattering of yakitori: what what? Chicken butt.

Aaaaaand here's the cook-your own. Someone was nice enough to ask the kitchen to sub out the liver and gizzards in favor of more sweet, sweet real meat, and that was a huge benison. The waiter dropped this with the proviso "You can eat any of this raw", and the quality and flavor were really incredible (not raw, but we didn't cook anything all the way through either). After the meat was gone, and the paste was spooned into balls and cooked in the soup, the fires of hell were unleashed in the form of a bubbling cauldron of leftover soup and fat, and into this went a big bowl of unsuspecting rice, meeting its sad end with a mixed selection of tortures - boiling in oil, gentle stirring, spooning up, and vigorous mastication. Daaaaaaaamn.

Everyone thinks Yanaka is a time-slip, even Japanese people. Watch out, 5 hours could slip away from you too at this place.
(03) 3821-5972

Best thing? My bike was again waiting for me, pointing home. Good girl! Extra treats.

Wait, that wasn't the best thing at all. But it was cool.

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