Monday, May 31, 2010

Iseju, Kodenmacho (伊勢重)

You might want to skip this post, ok? It's not really food-oriented until the A5 wagyu starts sizzling at the end, which is marked with the big red text.

There's a reason why I like modern art - to me, it's more stimulating. The encumbrances of form and realism, while pretty, tend to distract from impact, and thinking about why (visual) art has a certain impact is a big part of the fun. Then again, the encumbrance of realism tends to distract from form. Thinking about about why a painter like Rabo Karabekian used certain colors and shapes, and the interplay between them, is quite enough without worrying whether the tree is realistic or the Madonna's in danger of a toga malfunction.

This is a preamble to an apology: much to the disgust of women, the only movies I really want to watch these days are westerns. I got into them in 2008 when my marriage and company both went bankrupt a few months apart. Initially I thought I wanted something predictable with a happy ending, lots and lots of happy endings, and I remembered liking Stagecoach and The Searchers when I watched them in film class in college. Of course it only took 119 minutes of The Searchers to learn that despite the mythic American presence of John Wayne, nothing is predictable and Western endings are sometimes far from happy.

Now I like to think of westerns in the same way as modern art.  Despite being filled with hokey cowboy costumes, flamboyant scenery and acres of livestock on the hoof, it's also pared down to the basics, letting you concentrate on how the few elements and symbols are juxtaposed and reimagined by the director and cast. It's almost like a good izakaya or kappou - at the first level of detail, the menu always looks the same: beer, raw fish, grilled, fried, ranch, cattle, six-gun, black hat, shootout. The interest comes once you've internalized those elements and can work with them mentally rather than just saying "Wow, he kicked ass there!"  I wouldn't disagree though if you said that the interest at an izakaya is largely in the internalization itself, if you take my meaning.

And all of this is preamble to saying that I finally got around to watching one of the most famous westerns last night, Shane. I think I watched it years ago, or at least enough to remember being annoyed by child actor Brandon de Wilde's performance as Joey Starrett. Now that I'm more attuned to westerns, I sort of liked the performance because I think a kid his age could really be like that - curious, loving, stupid. But it's clearly a great movie, and very much in the mythic camp due to the simplicity and purity of the characters and themes, all of which were or became standards. The real debate is of course the ambiguity over whether Shane is dead in the final shots of the movie (after being unambiguously shot in the stomach). I was ready for this and was watching for it but had not read any commentary, and here's what I think, in a purely socio-mythological context that questions the imperiority of the tertiary narrative while relying heavily on refragmented codification of the elemental syntax:
  • I'm in the camp that doesn't think he's dead (although being gut-shot is typically a death sentence in westerns, e.g., the pleasant and macabre conversation between Charles Bronson and the gut-shot Jason Robards at the end of Once Upon a Time In the West).
  • That means I rely on the evidence that he's calm and comfortable while talking to Joey, and he's visibly holding the reins while he rides. That marks me as a literalist rather than someone who analyzes the context and themes of the movie.
  • Sure, he symbolically rides through the cemetery, and his other hand is clearly hanging limp. I take your point that those may be clues, ambiguously planted by the director. Someone said Joey's face changes when he's calling to Shane as the latter rides away without turning around. I think this is just because he realizes Shane isn't coming back, not because he somehow intuits that Shane is dead (or that Shane wants to schtup his mom).
  • Why doesn't Shane turn around or respond to Joey? The obvious answer is that he's dead, which I'm obviously not going along with.  I think he's admitting that, despite his desire to stay and lead a normal life, his presence is destructive and he needs to cut himself off before he kills his friend and schtups his widow.
  • And while we're on that, I had a strong sense that Shane and Marian knew each other from somewhere before and were involved, until Shane turned to gunfighting. It's implausible that they fall in love so quickly otherwise (although plausibility need not be of concern in myth, eh?). At least as implausible as the idea that they could accidentally meet after many years. Hell, it's a movie, and a western movie. Suspend your disbelief.
Well, there you go. Great movie, and Shane doesn't die until much later as far as I'm concerned. Or never. Either way, he goes home to be with God. But the Shane-as-avenging-angel analysis will have to wait.

We talk about some beefs now, yes?

This work dinner was the first time I've been to a sukiyaki restaurant. Another hole in the Japanese cuisine pantheon plugged (think of it as a junk shot. For your arteries.).  Holy Cow was that beef good (no pun intended).

Why don't I go to high-end ingredient-focused places like this? I'm always afraid of diminishing returns on the main ingredient, and disappointment on the other dimensions. Iseju was almost exactly how I expected one of these places to be. The entryway doubles as the meat shop - you can stop off and buy their beef any time, at prices ranging from Y1000 to Y3000 for 100 grams (something like $45 - $135 per pound for the Americans).

After that you take off your shoes and go down a set of stairs that's reminiscent of a business hotel, or at least a slightly beaten-up Japanese hotel, and you enter the warren of tatami rooms that they use for dining. The tatami, especially in the walking areas, are also a bit beat. The dining rooms are almost unadorned; I think there was a sort of tokunoma with a flower, and there was definitely a framed paper with handprints and signatures of several sumo (including Konishiki, but we couldn't read any others). There were also definite sauce splatters on pretty much every sliding door. But the waitresses all wear kimono, and have the manners to match - my manners scale starts out casual, moves into formal, and then the best is when the service adjusts to your level of formality. The head waitress in particular was all that, politely keeping the conversation going while doing the cooking for us in courses 4 and 5.

The food went a little bit like this:
  1. Mixed starter plate with boiled pork belly (!), pea shoots wrapped in cheap prosciutto and sesame tofu
  2. Bowl of roast pork chopped and mixed with onions and tomatoes and a lettuce leaf (at this point I was thinking, yeah, I knew it, whatever)
  3. Starter steak, your choice of cooked or raw. Most of us had it raw, 4 slices half-white with fat. Holy cow. Mind? Blown.
  4. Sukiyaki. I say again, Holy Cow. Mind? Blown. They make a big deal out of how their style is 'beef pot (鍋)', not exactly sukiyaki (a shallow pot with a thin layer of sweet soy-based sauce in which you cook the beef and vegetables before dipping them in raw egg and eating. And no, the heat of the meat does not cook the egg even a little.). All I could ascertain is that their style is more wet, the pot is heated with charcoal instead of portable gas burners since they're so traditional. It's all about the beef though, and two big plates of mixed cuts had us all saying wow - softness and flavor. Again, just when I was getting ready to think 'yeah, I knew it, bad value to get only two plates of beef', they brought two more plates. Wouldn't want the meat to sit out and get warm, would you? Holy Cow. If you really need to get into this kind of thing, yes, it was A5 wagyu, and for some reason the waitress said "Today's beef is from Hokkaido," in a way that made me think it isn't always.
  5. Udon, pre-cooked and then fried for a couple minutes in the remaining sauce. Boom.
  6. Strawberries and melon with fruit jelly in one cup, green tea ice cream with beans and mochi in another cup
Am I rushing back? Mmmmm, probably not. That course was Y7900 (and by the way, thank you, Mr. President!). That included the 'specially selected' level of beef (特選), and they have a higher level (first rate, 極上). If I went back, I would get as few extraneous elements as possible and just get the 'special quality' 特上 or  'high quality' 上beef (Y4.6k and Y5.6k respectively, losing a starter and dessert at each level down) - then maybe an extravagant extra plate. When you think about what you're getting at those quality levels, it doesn't seem like a bad deal compared to the fear that steak 'n' sukiyaki places have always inspired in me.

I'll just say it one more time in closing - Holy Cow.

Genraku ramen, Kanda (元楽)

Kanda...where magic happens.

Mondays always produce disgruntlage and a desire to forget the office for an hour. Today I was thinking of trying to find a particular ramen shop that I loved in the past but isn't on any map, Yokohama-style in Kanda; found it but didn't go. As usual , I couldn't resist the idea of something new. After another 10 minutes of walking, I channeled onto this alley I'd never been in, then popped out on my recent favorite street in far-north Kanda, where I was faced with Genraku. Destiny. Can't fight it.

Speaking of Destiny ('s Child), the interior of the shop was not at all notable except that it was a bit dark and featured a little shrine to girl 'band' Perfume.

I'll tell you straight up that I had the 'special made' ramen (特製, is that an OK translation? I don't really understand the difference between categories like 上、特上、特別と特製. I've decided it's up to a restaurant's discretion how they use them, just like I learned last summer that unagi places don't follow uniform naming standards for their box sets.). As with a lot of ramen, 'special' means 'extra fat', but this was a good bowl by any standard. Check out the soup - that frothy opacity? The weatherman just called for you. He said it's cloudy with a chance of heart disease.

They cooked the noodles just right. A little fat but also square, strong egg flavor; excellent pork; great egg. In the style, whatever style it fits into, this is a very good bowl.

As usual when I order something like this, I tried to eat around the fat. It's funny, I think the Kuramae branch is the original (of 6), and if you look on ramendb you'll see it gets the highest score, while this Kanda outlet gets the lowest. The difference in rankings is notable - Kuramae ranks around 1,000 while Kanda is around 5,000. The db is up to 27,000 nationwide, so neither is criminal, but I can't believe there's that much difference between them. #1 is still that place Tomita up in Matsudo. I'm still surprised that I went to Matsudo, waited in line 40 minutes for taiyaki, didn't get any, and didn't get ramen either. Enough randomness for one post.

Weirdly, one of their branch stores is in LaLaPort Toyosu, so I've certainly walked by many times.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hokuto Ramen, Tsukiji (北都)

Went to Tsukiji today, to make a new friend...hi! I'll give you a little pointer for free - go after lunch on Saturday, before the shops close, and blocks of tuna like this will be half-price. This ended up being the same price as a watery-looking specimen half the size in the grocery store. You can also get toro as fatty as you want...but only if you live in Tokyo.

To get to the store where I bought this, start at Tsukiji crossing and walk along the side of the outer market where all the ramen and donburi places are. Take the first left and look for the fridges on the left with tons of tuna like this. It's called 大興, but it's very hard to see the sign.

Anyway, when in Tsukiji you have to eat a bowl of something, and it doesn't have to be fish. I've thought about this place for years; the first time I ever went to Tsukiji it's where I ate. (Yes, the last few months have been kinda sentimental.)  Went and looked at it a few weeks ago but didn't eat. Today I did, and it was pretty good, classic, mellow. No big need for you to go. 'Northern City' in the name refers to Asahigawa, the northernmost ramen city in Japan, and the theme carries over to the decor, at least as much is possible in an 8-seat shop, with posters showing the splendor of Asahigawa's urban sprawl against a mountain backdrop.

Classic, mellow also describes the guy running the place with his wife, much as he must have been when I went years ago. The thing that really struck me about him was that he times the noodles with a digital kitchen timer, and his style of shaking out the water is very relaxed.

Of course that need not impact his product, which you can see is pretty normal. I'm not sure if I missed out on the proper Asahigawa product by getting the basic ramen (not soy), but I think his soup is the same regardless. It was certainly a nice soup with a lot of flavors and no bad notes, but I was a little distracted by the oil layer on top (which is a way of saying I don't like the style that much, since it's Asahigawa style). The standout element in the bowl was probably the egg, which means there's no need to make a trip to try this one.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Le Mont St Michel, Mejiro

Decamping from Takadanobaba station quite early in the game, I had plenty of time for a walk around. I know the Waseda-Baba corridor is famous for ramen, but I wanted to see what else there was. I'm here to tell you that it's not particularly exciting (and the walk up to Mejiro is even less exciting, being convoluted and largely barren), but there was a 'Flexible Pub' called 'Flappy'. I think I saw something like that on the internet one time.

I do like that decrepit alley on the west side of the tracks, just north of the station. There are some really down-home places there, and some good-looking noodleists.

At the appointed hour, we rocked up to Le Mont St Michel, heading for an all-white wine tasting, and in fact all Burgundy. Here's an atmospheric shot of the second floor, including owner, chef and festive pepper. The space reminds me considerably of winery tasting rooms in Australia, the kind where they were trying to redecorate them and be elegant about it. I really enjoy eating and drinking there. The thing that you won't understand unless you go is how much effort Yves puts into the tastings - there were pages of notes about the region (which I meant to scan and post but now feel like it might be violating copyright, so to speak), and also minutes of monologue on each wine, winemaker, etc. If you like that sort of thing, it's fantastic (the wines, also, are none too shabby). That's the reason why I feel compelled to repeat-post on Le Mont; I won't do it again. Sorry.

Scallops and bacon, a classic combination done well. Someone commented that it's hard to find bacon like this in Japan, and that's true. The rock salt is a nice addition if you're like me and put too much salt on things from time to time; no danger of not having enough here.

Because I care about my readers, both of them, I've spent the extra minute to figure out that this fish, St. Pierre (French) or John Dory (English) is a matoudai. With it being much more like flounder (the waitress suggested it could be karei), this goes to show you that translating tai as snapper like I always do is dangerous, as indeed is ordering a fish on the basis of it being some species of tai.  Well-cooked, butter sauce, crispy galette, fennel mousse with a bit of potato thrown in. Nice dish, especially for the wine pairing.

Having these pan-fried galette bits for the second time was no less enjoyable than the first - they look like a dark cloud in the picture but taste great. It's been a long time since I ate a chicken breast, and even longer since it was under something as classic as a mushroom sauce, but I don't feel poorer for the experience. Again, I think this was especially chosen for the wine pairing since it's following the brown-and-brown theme as above.

One platter per table, cheeses were a nice change to the menu from last time. For those of us at the English-speaking table, much caution was advised for the washed Epoisses de Berthaut (rinsed repeatedly in marc, hello), but we were all hardy and enjoyed it. At least I did. The cylinder of goat cheese also seemed to be in good condition, but I didn't catch where it was from.

Finishing again with M. Fec's mille crepe, only this time a rich but subtle pear filling...ably accompanied by a bottle of pear cider (produced by Eric Bordelet, I believe). Boy were they good together. I'm not sure if the pear filling is a regular on the menu, but the cider certainly is, and the rarity of it in Japan is a good enough reason to visit Le Mont.

If you go, note that you should leave by 11:55 to run like hell to get the last train. That will allow you to stick around for the marc, calvados, framboise and other high-octane goodies, yet still make it to your bed.

Original post here

Le Merveille here

Yamakyu, Kanda (山久)

Every time I eat an oyakodon I think of Paul Simon; I can't help it. It's not very original (because I write it every time as well) but that's one of my favorites among his songs. Oyakodon itself is a hard thing - I think it's not really appealing to foreigners in its truest form.

Today was 'language lunch' day as Fridays often are, and You had seen in one of the monthly magazines (Adults' Holiday) that "Japan's Best Oyakodon" was on sale at this stylish shop in an unassuming east-Kanda alley (home also of Chok Di, and a higher-end sushi place that recently started serving cheap lunches. Will report back to the group.). He thought it was great. I suffered from the problems I always have with oyakodon.

You know how to make one of these? Ideally you have the special pan, which is a small frypan with the handle sticking directly up. You soften chicken and onions in the pan, possibly with a little chicken soup (not sure), then pour beaten eggs on top. Before the eggs set, you pick up the pan and use the conveniently-oriented handle to slide the contents out onto a bowl of rice. Walla.

There are two things I have problems with in this prescription. One, you'll have noticed the leading phrase "before the eggs set". I meant that. There's a layer of completely raw egg on top, which is glistening and lovely and also raw and slimy. Not my favorite texture; I tried to pick out one or two egregiously uncooked area that looked far too much like mucus. Two, this place proudly serves pure-blood Nagoya Kochin chicken, which is a good thing, but tends to be very free rangey and chewy. It's quite different to mass-farmed chicken; it's more like you're eating an animal than just eating a piece of white meat. The chewiness gets to me, and the clear separation of muscle groups.

Is this Japan's best oyakodon? I guess the best way to put this would be "Don't ask me. I'm not qualified." If you love the flavor and aren't bother by chewy chicken and raw egg, this could well be the place for you - native tongues pronounced it delicious. There're also a Kochin Curry and some other options for lunch (nothing raw, unfortunately, that's only at night), and sets will include a side dish, pickles and chicken soup for the usual price range (oyakodon Y1260 since this is luxury chix). At night, sets at various levels, quite reasonable, and a good drink selection including about 8 normal high-end sake brands.

I like to think that you could read the name as 'sankyu', but the chickens probably don't agree.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kurumaya, Nezu (車屋)

McNoonan and I were kinda onna roll after going to Koyu - we had eaten through what we wanted on their menu, but were far from done talking. Fortunately the streets of Nezu are filled with funny little places, and I picked this one. Not a great pick, I'm sorry to say, but we ended up feeling strangely positive since the atmosphere was good and the beers were huge.

See? People hanging out, having a good time.

I was seduced by this place because their sign advertised a 'famous Akita sake' that I didn't know, and I sort of assumed that meant they were Akita-themed. Wrong, just izakaya themed (in a slightly country manner). We skipped that sake (両関, Ryouzeki, if you're keeping score at home; I got to thinking that if they gave the shop the sign, and that was the only sake in the place, it wasn't worth trying) and stuck with beerz.

Did someone say 'hanging out'?

Voici, a bunch of nibbles to go with the beers. I'm really trying to align myself with Japanese culture here, ordering things to chew on rather than big food. Clockwise, it's iburigakko (pickled, smoked daikon from northern Japan), eihire (skate wing, soaked in sweet sake, then dried, then grilled), cucumbers with barley miso, pickled shallots.

(Good pictures, eh? Almost professional-looking!)

You may remember that McNoonan and I typically go on chicken binges; in this case, counterclockwise from top right we have wings, meatballs, wings boned and stuffed with sausage mix and deep fried (this one's for Uncle N!) and one of those same wings after I took a bite out of it. Ewwwwww!

This looks like a fair bit of food, but we were there for 2 hours and almost managed to miss the last train. Good times.

Things are going so well for McNoonan that he's been able to re-grow a full head of hair and also a sweet goatee. I, on the other hand, have been singularly incapable of regenerating my lost front tooth.

Shucks, Cletus.

Koyu II, Nezu (呼友)

Waiting on the subway platform for McNoonan to show up after work, I thought to myself "There's nothing like a little goth-loli-spotting to get the evening started right."

Nor is there anything like a Black Punch to get this partee started, but where we were going, there's no black punch.

Just deserted streets where it feels like time stopped, and Tokyo's best izakaya.

I don't say that lightly. From the first bite to the last, I had no evidence that this place is not really the best there is. It's creative, fresh, and really really well prepared. I've wanted to go back here since the first time (the night that Woody and I first met, actually), and wanted to go someplace special with McNoonan since things are working out so well for him, and since he was staying in Nippori this was the perfect choice.

Plus they have 14 varieties of excellent sake. If you squint, you'll see everyone's old favorite Kaiun (at least a favorite of every New Zealander who spent 3 years living in Shizuoka), plus a bunch of familiar high-end names. For the record, we drank some Azumamine and also the picturesquely-named Kamosibitokuheiji, both of which were decent but without any really notable points.

A little bit of buri-daikon for starters. Honestly, this was sooooo greeeeat. I wish everyone could have it, and I wish buri daikon could always be this good. Even though it's not winter any more, so we're out of the best season for buri, it was perfectly cooked, as was the daikon, which was deeply flavored without being too soft - a hard trick to get right.

A little crab salad, again terrific. McNoonan doesn't eat mayonnaise; he used to maintain that Americans don't really like mayonnaise, but I think he's now seen the untenability of that position. He was concerned that there would be mayonnaise in this, but the waitress said it was mixed only with miso, which he was cool with. Had he know that the 'miso' was really 'crab miso', otherwise known as 'assorted organs and squishy bits, squished up, he might have felt otherwise.

Strangely, the standout: tuna 'nuta'-style, which means it's coated with a sauce, and in this case with sumiso, the yellow, vinegarry miso that you get on some things in spring, and on a few other dishes year-round. With lightly-cooked leek segments and sticks of udo, this was hard to quantify but delicious.

Another oddity, rounds of long potato drilled (the underside was charred) and sprinkled with black pepper - closely related to a dish from the other izakaya I recently thought was among the best in Tokyo, Wakamatsu (are they related?).

Long potato and its relatives Mountain Potato and Japanese Spirit Potato (haterz, correct my translationz if you want. I mean 長芋と山芋と大和芋.) are something I've just come to appreciate in the last couple years and even make at home sometimes, going through the whole wash-hands-quickly-because-the-potato-makes-your-hands-itch procedure. I can pinpoint what changed my mind on this vegetable - soy-pickled long potato pieces at Onodera.

Wagyu, grilled, sliced, oroshi-ponzu'ed. The pink pepper was egregious, sadly, but the beef was excellent.

It's stuff like this that really convinced me how great this place is. I kid you not, sauteed cabbage with canned tuna ... deeeelicious. I can't explain it, and I know how silly that sounds. Why doesn't it taste like this at home?

Likewise, deep-fried new potatoes. Simple, humble, perfectly-cooked.

And chicken, of unknown provenance but of the 'chewy and tasty' species. Look at the skin. Look at the pinkness left in the middle. Marvel at how well this guy can source produce and cook it.

Go visit.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sicilia, Roppongi (シシリア)

With Baggio fully reserved, we found ourselves strangely stuck in Roppongi on a rainy Wednesday. This place Sicilia was recommended from a bit back, when they were in a grubbier and cooler space where people used to scribble on the walls (as pictured on Tabelog). Now they're on the hill down toward Akasaka, in a newer space right next to the excellent Scotch bar Cask, and I hear rumors that the food has gone downhill.

Certainly the food is none too far uphill, but the prices, to my reckoning, are right at the bottom of the hill, so the ratio thereof may be decent depending on your perspectives. We had a pizza (an odd sort of almost-pastry-thin crust with sauce and cheese), a garlic-clam pilaf (hey, it's Japanese-Italian), a green salad (I loved the way they cut whole cucumbers into thin fan shapes and spread them on lettuce; judging by other tables, other people love this too), and most importantly a dish of canneloni, which had the sweet-ish red sauce, thick white sauce, melted cheese and sausage that come with these things in Japan. The canneloni were the standout for me; as a quick dinner, a salad and a dish of canneloni at this place would be a good, cheap way to rev up for an evening of 'Pong.  They also have decent Chianti in charmingly-named 'harf' bottles (375ml).

And plenty of hostesses to gawk at, being thankful you're not the sucker paying for their dinners.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Good One, Kanda

Good one indeed. Woody and I were set to re-visit Hanakago (yeah, it's that good, especially if you reserve so you can get sashimi from the shop next door). I had reserved for 7 but it turned out we could both get there earlier, and that left us standing outside with 30 minutes of freedom (except that Mama was outside walking her dog, so we were kinda busted). Being intrepid explorers, we explored. Intrepidly. And in a little alley between a small street and a big street, we hit pay dirt.

Like so many others, Yamanaka san has pasted old sake labels on the outside of his shop. Like so many others, they're famous labels, including the elusive Juyondai - at most places, licking those labels is the closest you're going to get to a taste of that sake. It's too rare.

Unlike many others, Yamanaka san had a solid 10 varieties of Juyondai in evidence (they brew so many varieties, I think, because they're trying to 'express the nature of different rice species' or words to that effect). I asked for the Dewasansan. No problem. Also loads of other rice varieties, all kept in plastic in the fridge with the light off and vacuum tops to help with the freshness. Also loads of other famous sakes, all served up at low prices in stackable cafeteria-style glasses.

Like only a few others, Yamanaka san is a super-nice guy. He tried to speak a little English to us, and I suppose was happy to have some foreign guys wander in for a drink. Happy enough that he kept pouring samples for us, which was an ugly way to start the evening, but impressive in that he could pull out 3 bottles from different brewers all made with Dewasansan rice. The other standout was the Sugata he recommended for Woody, I think it was the junmai ginjo; many people call their sake 'fruity', but this really was, and pretty heavy as well.

Should it be your thing, he also has a lot of shochu that he likes to show off - especially rice-based shochu from famous sake brewers.  And should it be your thing, there are of course also small food items, as well as Yamanaka san's own curry at lunchtime - Y500 for a big mound of rice and curry. It's cheap, right? When he said it was Y500, I had to confirm that rice was included in that price. It is. That's how I know it's a big mound, his hand gesture.

If I were a gambling man, I'd bet that we found Tokyo's best standing bar last night. It's even better because he has a few stools, so you don't really have to stand. Any time you want to drink Japan's best sake for reasonable prices and no cover charge, you should just go to this place.

Good one indeed.
The number I've got is Yamanaka san's mobile, so I feel a little bad about posting it. Email me if you need it.

Otsukiya, Kanda (おつき屋)

Much in the same way that Alvin Lucier famously once got wicked stoned and recorded himself sitting in a room for several hours, today I came up with the idea of mangling meaning through recursive translation. Of course if this were done by a good human translator, it could come out sensibly. So let's leave it to the machines! This review is written in English, automatically translated into Japanese, and automatically translated back to English by a different site. I cleaned it up a little so it's easier to understand (honest). Reading stuff like this, you start to understand where all the crazy Engrish shirt slogans come from.  A meaning can obscured, truly.

Otsukiya of Kanda usual shophouse - exists completely completely normally 100 years ago. Period exchanging happening it does the outside rather charming, really. As for raising this invitation soul position - there is it; Chuo Dori and Tokyo's 1's which leaves exactly; the principal passage of as, it moves from Ginza to Ueno. Invitation soul entirely is approximately contrast. In order and to eat the noodle of there's fat quality, but you intend, rather than going to Kanda which finishes the fact that the tuna and the egg of the United States are eaten there is no large contrast.

That the wooden beam which is maintained, the ceiling which is exposed and it continues to adjust inside to the cool 2nd floor space. Furthermore more it must be the atmospheric rising there, because, special function can use the second floor in lunch which is presumed how concerning, there was a sign at outside. When it was that, simultaneously, I with the table which faces the counter put with the small seat, possessed the place in by myself. Young master is worthy of to special reference; the young person of he's seems that maintains the mind of the famous customer service which but has lived in really old Tokyo.

When it is limited to seven selections and all Y800, lunch. The healthy ball of s.a. where the there egg has been attached, the bean and the onion which it ferments, or the pork, or the grill which is burnt it comes after the pork which boils, or; small amount it is many. I ate the tuna and the blue green onion of the seeing dust cutting which has the half-boiled egg. The tuna was cheap considerably, perhaps (was level of the mercury very high?) But as for the egg the putting where the skin touch is very good at last. Because garnish cooking was interesting, it is worthy of to special reference. Like the root of burdock because really you could do one which is visible from the conventional strip of daikon, especially it is funny.

It is put at last, the skin touch is very good. 1 of those strange things which are puts in place the yolk exactly. I the yolk, the time it's it did don' t love still; unprocessed, it's of close direction; The taste and being, quality both is which is better really. The people in this way, their chickens and try Japanese that is made don't important, ideally; to must be worried about the sickness of the unprocessed yolk so.

Oog, my head hurts.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hakata Tenjin, Ochanomizu (博多天神)

Good lord and butter, this was the first shop that I've needed an Ochanomizu tag for?! Ah, I see, it's because I wasn't as good about location tagging when I was but a pup, and when I visited the Go! Go! Curry outlet right next door to this ramen chain in Ochanu, I just said "Lots of places". Well, Hakata Tenjin is in lots of places too, but this is the one I went to. Boy do I love Hakata ramen.

It's something about the purity of the soup, so milky and white (from boiling the hell out of pork bones). And the thinness and firmness of the noodles. And that's it, because as you can see, your basic ramen doesn't come with a lot of adornment other than a sad little half-egg, sad little chashu slice, and sad, rapidly-wilting seaweed slice. And no attempt at beautification.

Personally I think the soup is good all by itself (Tenjin wasn't the best Hakata I've ever had, but it's still good and not as heavy as the browner pork-bone-based soups that are popular with tsukemen). However one of the attractions of Hakata ramen is the condiments (they have them at Ippudo, which is the Hakata chain you're most likely to have heard of, but their soup isn't as pure and basic because of the miso). I usually find that when I eat ramen, the salt and fat destroy my tongue, so by the end of the bowl I can barely taste the soup any more. Solution? Make the soup stronger while you eat. Loosely in left-right order, the condiments scattered across the picture are sesame seeds, toothpicks, red pickled ginger, ground white pepper, thick fish stock, spicy pickled mustard greens and grated fresh garlic. Please revisit the whiteness and beauty of the soup in the above picture...

Because by the time you get done with the toppings, it's going to look like hell. I went all out today, including dumping in two scoops of garlic after the noodles were gone in a defiant gesture that said "I don't have to kiss anyone today, and I don't care how many people on the train know it." And then it was time for...

the obligatory extra order of noodles. I say obligatory because...well, because it's free. That's just part of the system at most of these shops. Here, only the first one is free (that's enough). At some places, the first two are free. After that, I dunno. I DO know that no one really needs to eat that much noodle.

Hmmm, spent a lot of time talking about the style and not so much about the shop. I guess you can guess what that means about the flavor, but honestly, with all the condiments and all the noodles you can practically eat, for Y500, you shouldn't complain.

So don't, aiiiiight?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Carne, Monzen Nakacho

If you count the previous two posts, this was the third place in Monnaka that I've been thinking of going to for years and finally made it to all on the same evening. Like the other two, it was pretty disappointing. As a self-appointed restaurant-picking expert and all-around Monnaka booster, I don't feel good about that. Carne sounds like it should be a bar with decent food, right? Like maybe they'd have stewed meat or something? No. They have weird Christmas lights, and festive peppers aplenty though.

It's just dark and moody in the usual weathered way. The mama was pleasant, and there were actually three other customers. If I've never mentioned this, izakayas are mostly a weeknight thing, and the area where this bar lives is basically an izakaya area. Monnaka is a weeknight entertainment district.  I liked the older couple who came in around 9 on their way home from a wedding. It's sweet to see people who want to stop off for a drink together even though they're Japanese and have been married for a while.

The drinks were pleasant, I suppose, although a bit dark. There's some glass wine as well as a full bar. Food extends to about 20 items of the snacky, easily-maintained variety - fish preserved in oil, prepared meats, olives and the like. This is no crime; in fact I almost ordered the oil sardines because I was thinking of the best sardines in the world, at the best ham shop in the world, but I pulled myself up short and avoided sullying their memory through an inferior association.

Snack with the drink was 'sweet natto', which I like quite a bit. It's candied beans. That's weird, isn't it? I've just gotten used to it, I guess.

What's weirder is raisin butter. No bread, no toast. Just butter mixed with a lot of raisins. To eat. With your drink. I ordered this because it's weird, and I like to get things that just sound weird sometimes, and it didn't disappoint. If you never considered eating butter by itself, or you're one of those people who puts a delicate film of butter on their bread, you should avoid this. It's like eating butter. With raisins. On ice.

Note however that if you see raisin butter sandwich cookies, you should go all crazy on that. They're incredible. Ogawaken is the famous ones, and you can get them in the souvenir food plaza in Tokyo Station (as well as the real stores, like in Kamakura).

By the way, don't drink the melted water after you eat the butter. It's gross.

Usataro, Monzennakacho (うさたろう)

Usataro is quite close to Monnaka crossing, on one of the southside streets. It has an appealing facade with big windows, lots of bottles, and red paint on most of the exposed surfaces. Looks like the kind of place that could be good even if it's a bit formulaic. Why did it take me almost 6 years to try it? It's usually full on weekday nights by the time I wander along. Now that I've been, how long will it take me to go back? Ohhh, probably 6 years.

The counter is really nice, and they're done well to get that soft, moody lighting of a modern izakaya. There are also a bunch of booths, and flagstones and pebbles on the way to the bathroom, and other quaint touches. The biggest downer was definitely the service; they just looked irritated to be working on a Saturday night. Since there were no customers, I'd understand if they were bummed about not receiving much in the way of tips. This being Japan though, they just seemed grumpy.

I had a bit of daiginjo from Toyama's Ginban, which wasn't worth writing more about.
While you can tell from the bamboo receptacles on the counter that the focus food-wise is things-grilled-on-sticks, there's a complete menu. No purism here, just modern izakaya, but with the chicken focus and the Saturday night, we thought fish wasn't a great idea.  The pickles were very attractive; the takuan was too sweet.

And hey, the chicken was good. The sasami (tenderloin) on the left was appealingly seared, that is, raw in the middle (medium rare chicken. Only in Japan.), the normal items like breast with leek and thigh were well-cooked, and the oddities like the butts (bonjiri) and cartilege seemed to be good-quality.

I don't like cooked tomatoes. Tomato sauce, love it. But stewed or roasted tomatoes, not so much (yes, that includes the tomatoes in a 'proper English fry-up' or 'full breakfast' or whatever you like to call it, even if they have herby breadcrumbs on top). So this picture is just here because it came out well and I wanted to say 'We left pretty quickly'.

Shochu and chicken, they say. Well, live and learn.