Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ametsuchi, Gakugei Daigaku (あめつち)

Sometimes the whole universe is contained in a single sesame seed. This isn't one of those times. But it's cool. It's all good, baby. You'd think that the name of this place was about the rain and the soil, and the produce that they produce, but if you looked a little more you might start thinking it was about the 'Song of the Universe', the 9th century pangram. You'd be wrong though, there was no mention of the universe, just vegetables.

Great concept, just great. Take an abandoned storefront on a quiet shoutengai midway between hither and yon, do some minimal renovation, and open an izakaya serving vegetable-heavy food and saki. I wonder how much the rent is. I wonder if she's making any money or just doing it for the love, Japanese-style.  
She indeed! One of the many reasons I was so excited about this place is that the chef/owner/waitress/bartender/cleaner is a woman. That's so much rarer than it should be, and it connotes a different sensibility that I'm actively looking for.

Saki is the drink of choice here, with about 15 bottle in the fridge and a bunch more sitting out for room temp / heated drinking. As usual, Big Bird and I were plied with the classic 'trap for young players' saki master's trick - proposing a bottle with 1 cm left in the bottom. We didn't fall for that, and were soon drinking a cup of Kozaemon, which I once had an impromptu vertical tasting of and decided I didn't love it. Still don't.
I do love sensitively-cooked vegetables though, don't you? Love love love some kogomis on a Tuesday night, boiled to have a little snap left but strongly dashi-flavored. And I don't like boiled turnips, but I liked these. 
Being a Western barbarian, I often order the Southern Barbarian-styled items on the menu.This was 'bean snapper', so named because they're lil' and cute like beans, and they're lightly battered and fried and soaked in vinegar and topped with carrots and onions. You say Barbarian, I say beseecher. Or at least that's hat my computer tells me I mean when I write 'escabeche'.
It was right around here that I started thinking the low prices on the menu were less value-priced than I had been thinking, because you couldn't get less wasabi leaf and stalk in here if you used micro-tweezers. But I love this stuff so much - pickled in soy sauce, packed with wasabi flavor but much less heat than the root - that I'd pay double. Or go to the market and try to make my own.

It's becoming 'brown things on plates' night at Ametsuchi. 
Oh, 'light brown things' time. But I do love bamboo in the spring, with fresh seaweed and white vinegar miso. The miso was really interesting, a stronger, differenter vinegar taste than you're used to. 
And, you know, more brown things. We worked through a little saki with all of these but I was starting to wonder where the vegetable-foused creativity was going to come in.

Udo and gobo kinpira, walabi and tofu nimono. You're keeping score even if I'm not. 
Oooh, creativity!

No, I ordered the thing below, and since I can't go past a fuki miso I asked for a little dab of it on the side too. Still love it. She makes a nice smooth, lightly-sweetened version. 
And slaps it all over tofu and grills it up, 'fun-field style' Yummers. Fuki miso is on of those seasonal, hard-to-get, absurdly expensive things that you should just make yourself when fukis are in the stores. 
We were also a bit tired of the lack of saki list, but got one last shot of the hots. This Tamaka (kimoto jun gin) was nice and strong, just the way you like it for heating and eating. So thick you can spoon it with a knife.

Attractive servingware and good times in the background eh? Those people were having the course, which is substantially the same as what you see above. Maybe there's value in it or something? There couldn't be much difference in the dishes, not in a 7-seat restaurant with 5 customers tonight. 
These are 'bamboo flounder', which I ordered because I was thinking of the crazy-delicious 'willow flounder' I had many years ago on first meeting Common.

And I have no idea why he got that knickname, which is unusual - my stupid-clever knicknames usually come back to me regardless of the time gap. And I congratulate us on going to that linked restaurant, because it was awesome and we were ahead of the curve - the basic course is now twice what we paid.  
I'm digressing, which means either that I'm gazing at a black sesame seed in my navel as a metaphor for the universe or else uninspired by this post's concept. This ham was a pretty inspiring way to finish, especially since it was chicken, and Daisen chicken, and marinated in saki lees, and roasted for a long, long, long time. Texturally funny, delicious. 

Which is maybe a metaphor for life and the universe. Or not. If you read that pangram it might enlighten you, or you might just want to focus on slow contemplation of the pleasures of some wasabi leaves and saki. This restaurant is much more about the rain and the soil.

Although the poem is printed on the business cards.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back, Jon. I think I was bestowed the Common moniker due to a misinterpretation of my last name, combined with my visual likeness to the hip hop artist. If your schedule allows, I'd love to meet you for some saki in May.

    - common -