Saturday, April 30, 2016

Kurazushi, Center Minami (くら寿司 )

With all the professional work I've been doing on McDonald's recently (it's complicated), it's interesting to visit the McDonald's of sushi. I don't say that lightly - Kurazushi has something like 250 stores, including 10 in the US (all California except Plano, which is good if we ever have to move to Dallas because the Japanese school is in Plano too). McDonald's has 3,000 stores in Japan, but let's not quibble.

This particular warehouse-of-sushi presents a funny warehouse-like exterior, as I imagine do all of their shops. It's especially funny because it's just sitting at the end of a floor in a mall.

Opinions are going to vary on this stuff, of course. It's mall sushi. But it's Japanese mall sushi, and that's worth considerably more than American mall sushi. Some people are going to hate everything about it - the modernity and sterility, the size, the video-game ordering/gambling system, the everything's-a-dollar pricing, the all-natural ingredients...

Whew, that's a lot to unpack. Hey, it's big, wide-open, scrupulously clean, and cheap as chips. Beggars can't be choosers. Neither can parents of young kids.
Speaking of which, here's Catfish checking out the hypnotic procession of mostly-empty covered plates on the conveyor. We were just seated badly, I think, down at the end of the row away from the kitchen. By the time plates got to us they were picked over. Which is not a bad thing, because then you can order from the touchscreen and your warez are made and delivered to you a little fresher.

Delivered to you by automatic conveyor belt, I must add. Not for the first time this month did I see this system, which goes ding-ding-ding before whizzing extravagantly and then delivering your order right above your table. Damn that's cool.
Cool sushi and hot steaks! Cheese and rice I hate American places that use that slogan. Like those two things go together, except in some kind of luxury-status-conflation universe.

Rant, rant, rant. Pickled mackerel sushi. There's nothing wrong with the sushi here, especially for $0.50 a piece. I continue to be all about value. Although a changing table and a spacious booth where Mrs. Peel can sleep while we eat are worth a lot more than they used to be.
You will interface primarily with the touchscreen for your service needs (to the extent that even the beer is self service). We didn't realize this until the end, but eating here is gamified - you put your spent plates down a slot in the table, right next to the ginger bucket and hot water tap, and every 5 empty plates you get to spin the wheel and maybe win a prize! We won something here - Atari!!!! - but were unable to figure out what we had won. You know how people can be vague about things in Japan? The language is really structured around being vague. In this case our winnings were vague, and someone didn't press to see what type of lucre was our right of conquest, so the vaguary of the counter staff was victorious.

I was happy enough just to conquer some funny stuff. No picture of the corn tempura blobs, but here's a great shot of the... geez, I think it's tempura squid with spicy mayonnaise and brown sauce, all on a little rice and a couple sheets of seaweed so you could in theory pick it up. This thing is a monster, and a meal in itself.

And that's sort of the theme here - it's a family meal. You can get curry. Ramen. Tempura. It's closer to the American conception of a Japanese restaurant than anything else in Japan. And we were stuffed after an hour, for what, $25? I've spent more than that on cover charges (not without strenuous protest, I add).

Go ahead and protest. I'm just going to have another self-serve beer from the auto-pourer. 

Tatsuta Saryo, Center Minami (立田野茶寮 サウスウッド店)

We like nothing better than a snack between meals. Expecially when both kids are asleep and it feels like a little date, except that there's a tank-sized stroller with a sleeping toddler next to one of us, and the other one has a sleeping baby physically strapped to their chest.

But who doesn't like 'matcha soft', as we call it in the big city (and also in the provinces, because Center Minami is sure as shootin' not the big city, despite its big station and lots of new development.

The most entertaining thing about this place was the big group of guys who had come from a  wedding, laughing and carrying on loudly and being elaborately polite about getting out of our way despite being extravagantly wasted.

This is kinda the whole hog of items that they offer - green tea ice cream, red bean paste, sticky rice balls, brown sugar syrup. Delicious.

The worst things I can find to say about this place are that the portions are small and the prices are high. But y'know, prices don't vary that much across Japan. It's not like you get a deal by going to the hinterlands. It's not like you get a deal anywhere, really.
I'll tell you how good this place was, we went back a few days later and it was out of business. Who knew this was a 'happy closing!' post?

I guess sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. 

So weird, they only have 4 stores. 3 if you count the fact that this one's closed but the web site doesn't show it. It's almost like dainty, expensive quick-serve food isn't a thing. Who woulda thought?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Rakeru, Shinyurigaoka (ラケル 新百合丘OPA店)

Opa! I always feel festive and a little Greek when shopping at the Opa complex in downtown Shinyuri. Not as festive and Greek as I feel watching that Eurovision video, but a little.

We were out and about shopping, someone went home with Mrs. Peel, and Catfish and I were left to our own devices until it was time to party at the park later.
We had our own little party. I confess I kinda jumped into the first place I saw, but I've seen this place for a couple years, and Catfish does like his omrice.

These folks liked Catfish too. They had a little line in catering to his type, if you know what I mean. It's a good thing too, because they wanted to park my American-size tank-shaped stroller, and I assented, and they parked it in the entry to the kitchen so that every staff member doing anything during our stay had to squeeze past.

I'd like to say we ate fast, but Catfish is a slow eater and won't be rushed. Wait until Mrs. P starts stealing food from him.
Until then he can chicken omrice to his little heart's content. I got him an adult size because he has a healthy appetite, and because I was expecting to help him finish it, but he surprised me by getting through the whole thing by his lonesome. Good one, boy! He didn't even eat all the ketchup first, which I was expecting. Not enough corn syrup in it, maybe.
I went for one of the house specialty plates, a curry omrice with a side burger, a nice salad, and their famous rice flour bread. Supposedly that's what keeps the punters coming back, the bread, but I have to say I don't understand it.

I don't really understand yoshoku either, but once in a while I like it, and I can tell you this is a good yoshokuya.

All this time I could have been going to their Toyosu shop too. What was I thinking?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Soregashi, Gotanda (酒場 それがし)

Soregashi is known to many...or at least to my circle of hardened fellow travelers and explorers. It showed up on my list of potential things to do in greater Meguro, and then when I realized it was on Woodrow's list from a few years ago, the deal was closed.

I met up with You, who was fresh in for the weekend from his current posting in Niigata. As with all the places I've found to take him over the years, this met with strenuous approval. As it should. Woodrow's review was essentially "This is about as good as Tsukushinoko", and that's not off, nor do I feel bad about telling you what that place is called, because it's now booked several months in advance and none of us are going. I do and don't like to think that I played a part in making it that popular. Certainly I was able to secure same-week reservations in the past...

Come to think of it, Soregashi was a challenge. I only called a few days out, and the manager was solicitous but very down on my prospects until I mentioned that I only had two people, whereupon we occupied the last two seats.

Come to think more of it, You was pretty proud of himself for having been to the chicken version of this place down the street last year. But he was forced to admit that this one is better.

This is what happened shortly after we sat down - a pleasant plate of mixed stuff. Potato soup, fuu with dengaku, kinkans, greens... It didn't taste as upside down as it looked.
Kind of a Kyoto-style piece now, with kiwi, persimmon, asparagus and greens underpinned by tofu sauce. You'll see this if you have kaiseki in Kyoto. You might not like it the first time.
You can like this every time though. Or not at all. Can you eat rare fish?  I have no memory of this fish.
I have some memory of this fridge. How many times did the staff delve into it to pour us another kataguchi of something or other? At least 10, I'd say, which is sweet considering we were on the Y1500/person pairing course. We had ordered the higher-level 'seasonal' food course too, but I don't think that influenced the saki selections or quantity.
Well, nothing says 'seasonal' like firefly squid. Amirite? But this was a first for me. A whole squadron of the little soldiers, and a big, tasty bath for them, and lots of vegetable-shaped pool toys.
Oooooooh, glisten-y.
Miso-cured grilled pork. Bamboo shoots with prickly ash leaves, a very seasonal thing.
This is seasonal too, it's some kinda sakura version from Hyaku Juro's mask series, previously seen here as well as in my home fridge. They poured us some Senkin at some point. It really seemed like you're not supposed to ask, so I gave up quickly, and they certainly kept coming with new pours.
We're already wrapping up here, despite seeming like we just got started. Tasty rice porridge. Do wooden spoons make things taste better? It feels very rustic, that's for sure. Like you're camping, not like you're approaching completion of a long meal.
Obviously it's time for dessert. Here's your dessert sake. Or milk. Whatever.
Tasty bites of tea and bean finish us off. That's good, it's less simple and humble than fruit.

There's enough simple and humble right between my ears. I don't need it on the plate too.

Did you notice the variety and quantity above? The quality is just fine too, mighty fine. And the price is more than reasonable for all this. Book in advance and go with friends; there are many more places that are more hospitable for solo diners.

Fuon, Meguro (風音)

I got all excited when I learned I was going to be working in Meguro for two weeks. I say 'learned' like I didn't bust my hump to arrange it... but as soon as it was finalized, the ol' obsessive habits kicked in and I was busily cataloguing every izakaya, ramen, and romantic European restaurant of note within striking distance of the office.

And here's one of them.

The banner at left has nothing to do with the shop's name, which is 'The Sound of Wind". The owner writes something on his web site about being a little crazy and opening a hole-in-the-wall place far away from what anyone would consider the right area to do so.

'Hole-in-the-floor' wouldn't be a bad description for it. The obsessive that he is, he's been peeling and pasting saki labels for a loooooong time. Let's descend to the nether regions.
I was just here for a refresher before meeting You, you understand, so there's not going to be any deep exploration. That really requires some time and multiple people.

The counter reminded me uncomfortably of this uncomfortable place in Nakano. Don't go there. It's probably gone by now anyway.
This is decent though, right? I'm sure you can recognize those labels despite the coverage - Ho Ou Biden, Nogomi, Bijoubu. Good stuff, if it's in stock.

What's in stock? Can I get the menu?

"Heh heh," he chuckles with a little embarassment, "We don't have a menu." This is usually the kiss of death for me, but he says he'll bring some stuff if I tell him what I like, and I can try them and have a full go of whatever.
Sure, he'll just bring some stuff. Are you kidding me? He pulls out these three and pours me a little glass of each like it ain't no thang.

For the record, I did not drink the obvious choice.

It makes you wonder what else is in his fridge, doesn't it?
I'll tell you two other things that are in his fridge - water eggplant and water shield. You'll never catch me not ordering those when they're offered. I've never met a water eggplant I didn't like. Why are these not a thing in America?

"Hey, lemme get some raw eggplant slices with my beer, aiiight?"
These, sure, I can see why they're not a thing. They're really weird. It's hard to bite into them because of the funny coating of slime that coats every part of them slimily. I don't even know why we eat them.

But eat them we do, with a little tear for what we've lost. 

l'Asse, Meguro (レストラン・ラッセ)

I approach this review in a quiet residential neighborhood with some trepidation.

What's on tap for lunch today?
A HUMMER? Are you sure? What's it like?
Oh, it's LIKE NOTHING ELSE. Well, I can get behind that.

Wait, what the heck IS this place?
It is indeed, truly, verily, a 'House of Tail'.

Without further preamble,
Let's tap this Asse.
As befits a top-level Italian restaurant, there are gratuitous Italian touches everywhere. Like the plates of Murano glass that grace every place setting. Interestingly, this eschews the more formal 'stars and flowers' patterns for something that I believe translates into English as 'cloaca'.

Squeezing out into this starter plate is a mound of...well, we have this joke in my house about primitive art - "Oh, that's nice. When did your kid make it?" So it looks like a mound of something my 1-year old daughter made. (Hi Mrs. P! If you're old enough to be reading this someday, please tell daddy, ok?)

Of course it's really some middling-quality uni, and a big asparagus stalk, and a cooked mussel, in a sauce based on egg yolk. I don't make this stuff up.
I don't pile this stuff up either, a pile of flowers to cover...something stinky beneath? It's snapper carpaccio, and the only stinky-ish thing is the oddly-strongly tasting seri, a Japanese vegetable here served raw. All of this stuff is way too much for snapper carpaccio, and I didn't even remember the sauce.

Bottarga, which is of course the salted and dried feces of grey mullet, is always a welcome addition to a meal. In this case it's topping pasta, with mushrooms and tiny fish mixed in. Despite the luxury ingredient-ing, this felt throwaway. I can't help but be unimpressed by commercially produced pasta in a lunch at this purported level, although it may be the done thing.
This is the chef's specialty, and the source of much mirth at table. We had a little bet going, an over-under on exactly how many raviolos would be included in the special 4-cheese ravioli dish. I lost heavily, being inclined to 4 but lowering my actual bet to 3.

In fairness it was delicious, with the overriding facet being the cream-cheesiness of the sauce. Maybe you could make this at home with melted cream cheese?

I hear that the chef is famous not only for the flavor of these, but also for the round, supple curves that resemble nothing so much as the body part that gives his restaurant its name. I love how Japanese chefs weave their concept all through the dining experience.
Having a choice of fish or meat we chose meat, which I don't think was a surplus chargeable item. It was also delicious despite being a bit crap looking. The beef was Japanese, and it reminded me how long it's been since I had wagyu. The mushroom sauce, nice, the bamboo shoot, seasonal, and the pickled daikon, there for sour counterpoint.
Mmmmmmm, sour counterpoint. 

With that, we were on to dessert. There was a 'line of bites' board and then one larger item. Let's inspect.
Little creme brulee bites.
Vanilla mousse cones.
Chocolates. Looks like something my son made on a bad day.
Candied orange peel. Scraping the bottom of the barrel here, interesting-content-wise.
By this time it should go without saying that these mini-profiteroles were positively oozing chocolate cream.
This was the main dessert - supreme'd orange with champagne jelly and...prunes. Prunes! Of course! Stay regular!
Finishing strong and on-message, this hole is the last thing you'll see before leaving the restaurant.

You'll remember it later too.

But really, if you want a fancy lunch in this neighborhood, just go to Requinquer.