Friday, March 18, 2011

Kyomachi, Kyoto (京町)

Pontocho. Part two for this evening. Better than part one.

Contrary to all my protestations, this place faces the main alley and is bright and a little commercial-looking. Not too much though. And as soon as you get inside, it's dauntingly old-fashioned, with a proper entrance leading up to a tatami area behind closed doors, or a side-door going to the easier counter area.

Needless to say, I didn't want to relax on the tatami floor, so we quickly accepted the counter option. One old regular was quietly getting his dinner on, but he left after a bit and we were alone with the portly waitress, the plaintive traditional shamisen music on the overheads, and the pleasant sounds of foot traffic from Pontocho just behind the window at our backs. Our posteriors, if you will.

Starters were black sesame tofu and fresh tofu skin. It's about time! If you're in Kyoto, you definitely want to eat tofu skin, and this was more than twelve hours we'd been on the ground without being fed any. Unacceptable, and definitely occasioning a complaint to the city fathers.

These little potatoes were not complaint-worthy. They were quite good, if you've gotten used to the odd half-slimy texture that distinguishes Kyoto potatoes (like village potatoes, but they have different varieties like the famous shrimp potato or the less-frequently-named bamboo potato). The addition of yuzu zest is welcome in pretty much any dish, and the contrast between that citrus zing and the earthy potatoes is part of what makes this exciting.

You know what made this sashimi exciting? That's right, the fact that it tasted great. The flounder rolled with nanohana, on the right, was probably the best, thick-cut and maybe seaweed-cured for extra chewiness, but these were also very good specimens of tuna and tai.

Likewise, the new-season bamboo was boiled just right, in delicious soup, and the boiled vegetable stalks and snapper eggs gave it just enough interest to make you feel like you got a dish, not some bamboo in a bowl.

The dangers of being uninformed...when mama and the staffer above started fooling with these salted plums, I perked up and asked about them. They're made here, and mama said, proudly I thought, that they were '70% salt' (by weight, of the original plum/salt mixture). This sounds like a tremendous amount of salt, and a potentially special thing, so I showed enough interest to wheedle one as a sample. Then someone told me the higher salt content is actually uncool - it makes the pickling process easier. If you want to impress with your pickled plums, they should be more like 40% salt. At that point the flavor will be more manageable but any un-cleanliness can easily make the batch go bad. Well, that's Pontocho for you - no allowances for beginners, just old fashioned salesmanship, quality execution, and very full pricing.

No home page or reviews, really, and I'm sure they like it that way.

1 comment:

  1. Damn, I'm envious. How long are you going to be in Kyoto?

    For my next Far East trip, I was planning on taking a leisurely two-week train tour through Japan, probably in January. Given recent events, I'm not sure if it's still in the cards but your posts give me hope that maybe it's still a possibility.