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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Onibus Coffee, Nakameguro

Let me just start by saying "Cheese and Rice, some people are serious about this stuff. Eric has far more to say than I ever could."

I mean, I was just wandering around after ramen and saw a coffee place and had a quick iced coffee and chat with the staff. What a cool place, all recently-outfitted.

'Onibus' is a cool name too. Is it 'omnibus' mispelled, or is it a hip thing about the 'demon bus', like 'get on the bus, because Beelzebub's roasting coffee with his beard clippingz!"? The possibilities for pleasurable misunderstanding are multifaceted.

Everything about this place is cool.

Except the roaster, which is hot. They had some third-wave beans just hitting second crack as we ordered. It's Tokyo, so of course they have to roast their own beans. I learned from the link above that this is the main rosticcieria for the other 3 stores under the same owner (is it a chain? Is it still hip?), and that's even more Tokyo. It's tiny, it's hip, but it's the hub location for 3 tinier, hippier places.

Oh, so it means 'public bus' in Portugese. F-n Portugese. Because the owner discovered coffee in Australia. Of course. Because Tokyo. Because coffee. Because oni. Because life.

I drank an iced coffee too, whatever. 

Deguchiya, Nakameguro (出口屋)

I walked by this place 4 times total (because it took me two days to hit the Yakumoz due to the fact that they're CLOSED ON TUESDAYS) and every time thought it looked pretty sweet. They've been in business something like 80 years and have an attached bar (Bar Exit, geddit?). They must be doing something right.

The something right that they're doing includes these festive paper bon-bons. These are harder to make at home than you'd think, as someone will attest. She'd be jealous of these.

Whereas I'D be jealous of the fridge. Lots of nice saki in here, names you know mixed with names you don't - in a way that makes you think the names you don't are probably pretty good. Also bears mentioning that they have a good selection of American micro beer. If you live in Tokyo permanently and can't get Ballast Point at your local Trader Joe's, this is your place.

This is also your place for a very full-size display should we translate this? Morning Sun Cross? Anyhoo, Juji Asahi is a cool brewer that's known for strong flavors and aged bottles. You never see this much from one brewer in one place, and it's even more remarkable when I tell you that those shelves that look like multiple facings of the same bottle are usually different vintages of the same bottle. I think the oldest was a BY19, so 9-year old saki right there. Lots of options in the BY24-26 range, including the one I bought.

These posts always lead up to a punchline, right? In this case it's tasting counter. If you're not careful and ask for the Juuji Asahi or Gunma Izumi tastings (the two on the right), they'll just take the bottles off the counter and pour for you. That stuff's heavy enough that you really want it warm to appreciate it. In fact they asked if I wanted it warmer.

There were two other options chilled, including the new-to-me Tamagawa 'stork' label, for the women, young people, and light drinkers.

But the good lord knows that ain't me when I'm in Japan. 

BTW, I told Woodsy that I stopped off in a cool liquor store in Nakame for a drink and he said "Oh, Deguchiya?" The explorations continue apace and in parallel.

Yakumo ramen, Ikejiri (支那そば 八雲)



 OK, that's out of the way. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find a video of a sweet potato truck playing the traditional song, without a white guy on the front babbling for 2 minutes about he's exposing the soul of Japan. Even that video kinda sucks, so you knead to know what joke I'm making. And even then.

Love was in the air, with late-blooming pink sakooras falling in the water along the Meguro right where it curves across Mountainhand Road, just south of the Big Bridge of Pond-Butt.

I maintain that Japanese place and family names are positively poetic. I once showed a Chinese friend, and couldn't get over the idea that someone was named 'duck river'. MOVING ON.

Yakumo is totally famous. It was Tabelog's 'Tokyo Best Ramen' two years running. That's an interesting but not overly important stat. If it was #1 on ramendb I'd be really impressed (it's #43 today. Just for the record, the place across the street, that you can see while you're waiting, is #13.) because that's where the cool kids post all their reviews. The cool kids know that the second floor of this building is where the noodles lurk. 
There's a lot of lurking going on, because even at 1 PM on a Wednesday (REMEMBER THEY'RE CLOSED ON TUESDAYS, DUMBASS) there are people waiting. Birdz and I got on the joint at an auspicious time, we were only the 4th and 5th people waiting outside; by the time we got to move to the 10 seats inside the restaurant and wait some more, there were people going down the stairs and out of sight.
Then we waited at the counter. Which gave us a chance to check out some of the ingredients of the forthcoming bowls. Everything here has a unique spin, and this pork is no exception. For starters, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks like chicken breast squeezed into brick form. (I forgive you.) It's coated with a Chinese-y tasting rub, and they cut it pretty thick, by hand, to order.

One of the real differentiators here is the wontons. For a start, they exist, and ramen places that do wontons aren't that common unless they're some kinda old-style Chinese crap. For a finish, they come in shrimp and pork, and the pork ones are in-frickin-credible. Worth the trip, I'd say. I liked the shrimp a lot and all, but I would ignore the advice of every other blogger that's ever visited this place and just get the pork wontons, 6 of them, in your soup.

Said bloggers also make a big deal about how cool it is to order off-menu to get your 'mixed' wontons, half and half, but that's the double-size button at the top of the ticket machine, so I think the Yakumos got wise to that game.

They're pretty wise, honestly.  That's why I forewent the other clever advice of ordering 'mixed' soup. They have a 'white' soup (pictured) and a 'black' soup, but black seems to be just "It includes a ladle of soy sauce".
There's nothing wrong here. (Aside from the mere presence of menma, which I'll just put aside.) Again, this is the 'shiro' soup; there's plenty of salt even without the shoyu, don't worry yourself, so why not just taste their carefully-constructed broth? Again, the clever bloggers who say you've gotta order off-menu and get 'mix'...they're almost imperceptibly too clever for me.

Now that I think about it, this is awfully Chinese in aspect. The wontons and the Chinese-spiced pork (again, not chicken)... You know, the pork (not chicken) was maybe the weakest thing in the bowl (again, pretend the menma don't exist). Can you just get a huge bowl of wontons? Pork wontons?

That's almost worth going back to find out. ALMOST.