Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ta, Meguro (和創作 太)

 Yooooooshta. It's official. I have now been to all of the good sake places in Tokyo. Think you know another? Nope. Not good. This is the last one. Boo-yah! Good, I'm glad we could all agree on that. Back to work.

Chalk up another one, Jimmy, another of Tokyo's best i-zaka-ya's gone under the bridge. While it's only been open for a while, and resides in humble premises in a shabby corridor across from Meguro's west exit, Ta has got itself ranked among Tokyo's top in the genre.

Part of the problem is that it's crossing genre boundaries. The name tells you that right off, doesn't it? "Japanese Creative", big as life. I read this as an ambitious young chef who decided to do his own thing, without really worrying about whether it's izakaya or kappo or kaiseki or Japanese or not.

Of course, he can't get away from the fact that it's a tiny space with 9 seats (three couples and a threesome? It was last night.). And I'm not even sure he's ambitious. This seems more like a guy who loves to eat and is making stuff he loves, rather than a chef trained in the classics and executing innovations with laser-like precision, eyeing the big time of a larger restaurant in a nicer area. It's fun food, and very tasty, and he clearly loves what he does (one speculates that the 'Ta' of the name is either part of the master's name or else a reference to his slight globularity).

Enough digression; as he said, let's bochi-bochi and gradually look at things. We started with a nice sazae (as much as any boiled sea snail can be nice, but I think you take my meaning).

And then he sorta pulled out the stops with a cold, sour, summer medley - tomato and boiled eel topped with myoga, okra, lotus root, sea urchin, pickled plum, and a delightful dashi-vinegar jelly. This was very tasty, like a mashup of two or three summer kappo classics, but the toughness of the eel skin and the size of some remaining bone fragments showed limits in the technique.

For part the second, another mashup dish, this time shrimp, octopus, eggplant and sweet potato, all boiled together. Actually I'm sure they were boiled separately, which is a good thing. The octopus was a little slimy and fishy for my tastes; the other bits, excellent.

The sake is limited but quite deserving. I think there were maybe 8 varieties, but really they were all good. I was mildly irritated at first that the hand-written, single-card-sized menu just said what style it was for some of the offerings (I like to know more than "summer weak cloudy", don't you? That one is pictured, by the way.), but I got over it. It's a good list. There's no need to ask for more.

Hey, this is corn soup with yuba and junsai. I kinda feel like I can leave it there, and it could sum up the whole approach - east-west fusion in a good way, interesting but not egregious or condescending. And gelatinous and slimy.

Sashimi course (you'll see, especially from here on out, that we're in a pretty traditional course format) had sardine, Indian tuna, and...snapper? I've already forgotten. The Indian tuna is just not as good as real or 'black' tuna, but the other two fishes were excellent.

This was perhaps confronting - the squid rings and legs were barely cooked. The girolles were from France, and the tapenade had capers and anchovies mixed through it. In short, a weird but very engaging dish, especially if you like squid and don't mind who knows it.

Followed, as night follows day, by a fried course. This is eel (hamo) and snapper - where the most interesting points were the gummy, too-low-temperature-frying texture of the eel alongside the crispy, fun fried scales of the snapper. Try this at home.

What I wrote above about the sake list wasn't that convincing. The truth is, it's 2 AM as I write this, and a big bottle of Hato Masamune is getting the best of me. But let me present this as further evidence - it's an 'experimental' bottling from Hakuin Masamune. They brewed this 'old fashioned', they say, meaning they put a lot less water in after making the moromi mashi (if I understand all this stuff correctly. And who cares if I don't?). In practice, this means it comes out tasting like kimoto or yamahai, in any case thick and full of umami. And deliciousness.
Speaking of same, I love pork that's been marinated in miso. And here it is. Doesn't taste like this when I make it at home. Not sure who's at fault.

No fault can be found with this miso soup. It's got the smoky grilled eggplant from the summer dish at the top, plus myoga and mitsuba and other interestingly, adultily bitter veg and greens. It's a neat way to twist up the soup without overt complications.

It's simple, it's, it's mango cubes, passionfruit bits, and an orange sorbet. It's practically a real dessert, and a more than fitting end to an interesting and diverse meal. I feel quite mellow and appreciative toward this place in retrospect.

And the retrospect is what it's all about.

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