Friday, December 24, 2010

Yuwaeru, Kuramae (蔵前 結わえる)

As many of you know, December 24th is the most romantic night of the year in Japan. It's the night when all good men should be taking their women to fancy dinners, which are typically lobster, beef and truffles at horrendous prices.

I am against this (cooking dinner is a better demonstration, no?). Braving the winds of public opinion, Woody and I agreed to meet at one of his favorite finds of the year and see out the holidays in style.

Yuwaeru is in Kuramae, only 25 minutes frigid bike ride from Mon-naka. What else is in Kuramae? Not much. I've ridden through on my bike plenty of times on the way to other things, and even within a few meters of the shop, but you'd never find it by accident. I'm also intrigued by the name; since I can't see any relation between their main concept (organic foods) and the name ('tie up'), I'm forced to conclude that the master is into bondage. Makes sense, right?

Let me get this out of the way in case you look at the web site preemptively - it may be organically-focused, but it's not a health food store. It really looks like it from the web though. I was unsure what to expect, but in fact it's just a bio-focused izakaya, with a very 'natural' decor (read 'light wood, natural finishes') and a small selection of natural products off to the side. There are various bio-wines and beers in the cooler.

We focused on the sake - we've independently come to the conclusion that the purer the sake and the less you mix, the better you feel after. That means forgoing even the customary starter beer! How strict.

As you might expect, they go in for the attractive servingware, let you pick your own cup, and generally do a good job of picking sake for you. The pictured Tamura was excellent, we went back to it later, the bottom-left Kinpou was good, and now that I've researched I've learned that they're from the same brewer (just off the Tohoku Shinkansen near Nasu...). Oops. The Shinkame (as atsukan) was best forgotten. I'm not being completist about the pictures; there was one sake with a really pretty label that we tried but didn't order - it was actually cooking sake, but organic junmai cooking sake, and it was indeed good enough to drink. Just that it tasted like a honjouzou, so we skipped it and went with Matsumoto for that round.

You'd be wondering by now if there was any food. I do waffle sometimes, eh? There was a lot of food, and without being so gauche as to tell you the price, let me say that I worry for their business. It's far, far too cheap. With a different atmosphere, they could almost get away with doubling it.

This starter is healthy and fresh and shrimp and spinach and daikon and nameko mushrooms...and the surprise black ingredient is monkfish eggs!

The surprise here is that all the fish was good, and these plates could account for half the price of the course in lesser restaurants. You can probably see the tsubugai, squid (excellent squid), akagai and buri; there was one hidden fish too.

The stuffed crab is a signature item, and deservedly so. In this upskirt shot, I've surgically extracted half the meat so you can see the combination of stuff that's inside. The most interesting twist (not that a big pile of crabmeat needs a twist) was the inclusion of yamaimo, which stayed a bit crunchy and shaki.

Should you be disgusted by shirako, fried is the best way to have it. Actually fried is probably the best way to have it, period. The fry style is very light here; I wonder if there's something extra-natural about the oil or batter, but didn't think to ask at the time.

This seemed to be a surprise addition, but coming where it did it's sort of a sunomono course, kind of palate-cleansing between other things. I think it was flounder meat, with a bit of vinegar in the dressing. Certainly good though.

And good lord, this oyster stew was enough for 4 people. Again, most of the price of the course would have been taken up with this at a lesser establishment. Stewed oysters aren't something I would ordinarily say is my thing, but this was great.

As if that wasn't enough food, there's a very chunky rice and soup dish to finish. The rice here is of course brown, and to make it even healthier and more substantial is mixed with 'red' stuff to make sekihan. If you go at lunch, you'll get more of this, and a frequently-changing bowl selection. Come to think of it, I could probably get up here from the office with enough time...

And it would be worth it.


  1. That genmai onigiri and miso-soup looks really good. simple, healthy, tasty!

  2. This place looks good. I want that oyster stew.

  3. And I would be pleased to go there with either of you.