Friday, June 24, 2011

Rusai Doshin, Shintomi (潤菜 どうしん)

Years ago I used to read Tokyo Calendar all the time. I was really looking for the little places that were reasonably-priced but still lived up to the standards that I like to think Tokyo Calendar sets for all the restaurants that they allow to buy space in their pages (just guessing here). Rusai Doshin, in the 'where-the-heck-is-that' neighborhood of Shintomi, was a place that seemed awfully appealing. It was actually the weird name that put me off. Now I've been. You can see what you think, but I've got some other ideas that you might prefer.

Downstairs, incidentally, is a nice looking wine bar called 11 Plats.

Upstairs is a tiny place with a lot of tea-ceremony sorts of decorations. It was disturbing to get here while it was still bright and hot, but I think that about any fine dining destination. Cheap places with cold beer and terraces, bring it on.

If you go, watch out for the urn at left. It really is water for the tea ceremony, which means there's charcoal in the bottom and the whole thing is just below boiling.

Starting with a cold eggplant, already boiled or perhaps roasted. Or maybe steamed. My main concern at the moment is my inability to find water eggplants in stores, so I could take or leave this. But the roasted sesame sauce was pleasant.

This clear soup was better - really terrific croquettes of tofu in a good soup with a few segments of potato shoot. Have you had potato shoot before? It's sorta like fuki, which is sorta like celery. Soft-boiled celery, OK? But the tofu thingers, ganmo if you like, were delicious.

This assortment of vinegary things was more assorted than delicious, I'm afraid. All normal items - mozuku seaweed, a little shishamo or baby ayu fish, pumpkin, lotus root, firefly squid, mackerel, some other fish - none particularly notable except the tasty lotus root and the yucky squid. A plate that had a nice impact on arrival, but didn't fill us with joy, nor does it look great in the picture.

Here's an interesting one, also very summery. It's clam jelly, but they've left the jelly soft enough so that didn't set, and thus it's like a cold, very thick, sour soup with lots of clams in the bottom. Kinda cool idea.

Speaking of 'cool ideas', I'm reminded of a number of places that I love where they stock a good variety of Japanese rice wine, or 'sakay', and serve it at reasonable prices. I'm reminded that this is not one of those places. The sakay list is reasonable, perhaps 8 or 10 types, but the prices are twice what you might pay in a 'cool idea' salon. I abstained out of protest.

I can't remember if these dumplings with mustard on top were meat or tofu. My bad.

However I'm sure that these boiled new onions with raw okra (really digging deep to say "healthy food" were not topped with meat, but with heshiko. You should add heshiko to your vocabulary. It's a weird one, mackerel preserved in fermented rice husks, but it's tasty and it also impresses the average Japanese person. They'll either be stunned that you know what it is because they know and love it, or they'll be stunned that you know while they're wondering what the hell it is.

It's a weird twist, but this was definitely the high point of the meal. It's not often that you get a piece of grilled 'scabbard-fish', and it's certainly not often that you think 'gee skippy, that's one of the best grilled fish-pieces I've ever had'. But you never know with fish, and that's the beauty of it. The grilling of this was also a beauty.

This is also why photography never captures the best elements of places like this, don't you think? The picture looks very brown and ordinary.

So does this one, with the exception that the eggplant in this shot was brown and ordinary. I think it may have been a special red eggplant though, so perhaps I lie and/or bullshit you. The yuba ankake around it was nice though.

With that, we were pretty much done. Here are the rice, pickles and soup to fill in the cracks. Special mention to the pickles for being dislikable, which is a serious rarity with me. I guess they were house-made, and in some sort of extra-natural style that didn't agree with my tongue?

The dessert course was agreeable, at least, but red-pepper mousse is almost always thuslike. We've gotten to the point in Tokyo where we're not impressed by vegetable desserts any more, especially when they're red (bell) pepper. Too bad that we're all jaded. We need to shake things up a bit.

The people at the next table exclaimed that this was a bit like a 'zunda', and I agree. It's a slice of thick jelly made from fava beans or broad beans or something, and was nice - again you have to like sweetened-vegetable objects, but this was a good one.

And the tea was a solid finish, although I noted, haha, that they were serving us in cheap tea bowls. After asking a potter, I know a bare one or three things to look for in these (have you seen the $3,000 ones in the stores and thought "My kid coulda made that!"?), and this wasn't it. Still, who cares?

I mean, I mentioned it, so I guess that's one person, but who else cares?

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