Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ibuki, Machida (風土旬彩 伊吹)

This is the story of a long and random walk around a large and boring town. If you want to cut to the chase, my 'key takeaway' is "There is only one good izakaya in Machida. I found it for you. If you're out there at dinner time, don't waste time on any other place."

But first, 'seen on the train'. My French isn't what it once was, and it wasn't what it ever needed to be, but I'm pretty sure both parts of this are wrong. Is this a new trend - 'Frapanese'?

Mmmmmmachida! I was here because I love exploring Japan so much, so despite the repeated protestations of everyone I know ("Machida sucks", "I hate Machida", and "There's nothing good there. It's just department stores and chain restaurants.") I set out to find what there was to find. There are more quirks than many towns will offer - a little warren of tiny shops like Harmonica Yokocho in Kichijoji, tons of vintage clothing, and a lot of foreign massage workers near the station after hours. And all the elevated walkways around the station, probably there just to create construction jobs at some point in the past. I was surprisingly optimistic, seeing the place after dark like this.

I had done some web-based scoping and found only one place that seemed like it had a chance of being decent. After walking for 90 minutes and not finding anything else, I gave up and tried it. The entrance wasn't promising, nor was the menu they had left at street level.
In fact, I had the distinct feeling that they were making part of their money by waylaying potential customers on the stairs.
Then I said "Ohhhhhh, why didn't you say so?" This whole "100 varieties of sake" thing only appears on their basement door. Puzzling.
But hey, they've got a whole menu of sake, and a Spring special menu, and some other books I didn't get into.

I didn't have any trouble getting into the restaurant, for obvious reasons. This is a bit of the ol' "great in the 80's" decorating style. Which always give me pause.

I liked the posters illustrating various steps in the traditional sake-making process.
But as I got more into the menu, I was more and more suspicious. There were a LOT of things on it, and I would be impressed if they actually had half of them. The prices were kinda extraordinary too - many things over Y1k per glass, quite a few in the Y2k range, and a bunch with 'secret' marks so you'd have to ask how much they were. When I started looking at the food menu and found the prices similarly unappetizing, I got the uncomfortable feeling that it was time to make a change. So shibori and glass of water be damned, I grabbed my jacket and phone and hightailed it for the stairs.

That was kinda depressing, but you've gotta save your liver and wasteline for the times that count. I figured I'd maybe just go home, or have a ramen and go home (there's a LOT of ramen in Machida, and many of them look good). Then I saw another places advertising jizake and tasty foods or words to that effect. The poster looked a little tired, but after making the trip, why not check it out?
The stairs were just as unappealing as at the first place.
But they had nice banners outside, and room at the counter.
And a big, serious-looking master with an extremely serious knife. Torching a huge wedge of kuromutsu.

As soon as I sat down, the old fellow to my right introduced himself in halting English. He turned out to be a PhD professor of dental implantology and had studied in Michigan for three years. Then the waitress introduced herself in English. She studied in Boston for 9 months. This was all very perplexing, especially since it turned out I was the first foreigner ever to cross their threshold in 6 years of operation.

The couple to the left was friendly, but the guy was annoying. Come to think of it, I'm not sure why I liked the woman - she gave me an extended speech about she once went to America and the food was all terrible except for one thing, and it took her 5 minutes to remember that that thing was 'brownies'. The other couple seemed nice but didn't say a word in my direction. Mostly I talked to the master and the waitress about sake, and life in Japan, and life in America.

And kuromutsu. I ordered this even before getting the starter since I was so hungry from all the walking. This was a big fish, and a beautiful presentation, and a solid serving. It wasn't the tastiest fish, which was nobody's fault but the fish.
The starter turned out to be a scoop of potato salad, which was good too. At this point I was starting to think this was a quality establishment.
Which thought I confirmed with a nuta of red clams and negi. Delicious.
And a mixed vegetable appetizer. Snap peas, deep-fried mountain potatoes, kinpira of spring udo.
At some point I had to get into the sake menu. I'm not sure what their thing is, because they crossed out a few of the options on here, and clearly had many more bottles in the fridge. You can see that prices aren't low, but quality is high and the pour is reasonable. The Ibu was a standout - first time for me. I also revisited what I thought I had had at Tsuchi to Ao last week - Shoryu Hourai, but now that I look, that seems to have been a different Hourai. This one was a 12% alcohol genshu. Anyone in the audience heard of that? A first for me, Soft and delicious.
This glass could fairly be described as soft and delicious too. So nice just for water.
Here, browse some of the menu if you want. A lot of nice things that you'd want to order.
I was feeling pretty happy at this point.
And thinking about getting some hot foods, couldn't resist order hot sake in the super-awesome individual warmers lined up on the far side of the counter. The master gave me some lines about heating to the proper temperature, and was properly horrified when I confessed to using the microwave at home. For the record, he gave me a little room-temperature pour of some aged sake, but the thing in the warmer is a Gunma Izumi yamahai that was very dry but otherwise very fitting.
Shazbots, this is grated mountain potato and sea urchin wrapped in seaweed and deep-fried, and good heavens was it tasty.
Although no more than the few stalks of green bean wrapped in Japanese beef and sweetly sauced.
I was the only customer at this point, although a regular guy called ahead to say he would be arriving just as I was leaving. Since we were hanging out together with no other customers to tip off, the master opened this oddity - Aramasa made a run of 92%-polished junmai. Which means this doesn't even qualify as quality sake, right? They're just doing it to see what happens, I guess. What you can read in English says that the outer part of the rice is all 'fat and protein', and you need the pure, starchy core if you want to make good sake. So what happens when you leave that impure-sounding stuff on the grains is that it tastes sweet and fruity and very light. Not at all impure or what you would have been led to believe. Very drinkable. Picnic sake, almost. The bottle on the left is cedar-barrel aged, but I didn't get to try it.

In this case, despite the Machida location, there might really be a next time.

OK, I liked it enough that I went back with other people. They were full on a Friday night, so we had to wait for about 40 minutes to get in. 

Whole fried fish as a starter - eat the bones and everything. Flounder and squid sashimi, both excellent. Master preparing the kuromutsu that shows up in the next picture. Best when eaten warmer - the flavor seems to be limited by cold. Spring vegetable tempura including udo and urui (which I include to remind myself of the name, since I've had it a couple times before but had forgotten). Fried snapper, with the lovely crispy scales left on. The other whole fried fish starter to round out the set.

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