03 August 2006
I just rattled off a bunch of stuff that sounded good from the menu, making sure to get the giant chicken meatball for which the place is renowned. The service was amazing. Every dish they brought, they separated up into four bowls and served it to us. Normally you have to pay big bucks for service like this. First was soft tofu in basket, served with sea salt, chives and ground ginger. It was very smooth and custardy. Really delicious.
Then came ochazuke, the tea-rice dish I loved from Tokyo. I haven't been able to find it here like I had it in Tokyo, served with Japanese pickles and raw marinated fish. They only do it garnished with a little fish, cod roe, or in this case, umeboshi plum, a very sour fruit that's not actually a plum. This also came with shredded nori and wasabi and chopped cilantro. The broth was very satisfying, even if it didn't quite match with the heat of the night.
A big and rather pedestrian sashimi dish came next. Not much to say here. The fish was decent, but it was at room temperature, which diminishes its appeal.
Now came the robata grill. In Japanese, robata means "by the fireside," and it's an apt description. Rather than yakitori, which skewers everything and grills it over charcoal, robata uses the radiant heat of the fire to grill. I do not envy those robatistas their jobs during this heatwave, but we did eat very well for their suffering.
We had grilled sticky yam (yamaimo), which arrived with sheets of nori for wrapping. The waiter instructed us to wrap the slices in nori and dip them in soy sauce. It was crunch and a bit textural. Not overwhelmingly great, but a neat experience. Considering the price ($6 for 8 slices of yam each about the size of two stacked poker chips), it was not something I'd walk across town for by itself, but it made a neat accompaniment to the rest. Ditto the grilled asparagus, thick spears chopped into 3" pieces and served with the first butter I've ever seen in a Japanese restaurant. Still, it was only two stalks at $3 per.
The standout was the pork cheek. A grilled piece of meat, sliced into salty, fatty morsels, served with a lemon for squeezing and an accompanying relish whose ingredients and taste I can't place right now.
The giant chicken meatball, our raison d'venir, was more impressive than the picture from the Flickr New York Cuisine Pool that had brought us here in the first place led me to believe. The paddle in the picture looks smaller and thinner than it actually is. The waiter sliced it off the paddle and carved it into six pieces for us. The meatball is big, teriyaki-sweet, and with the dip into the coddled egg, rich. If you go, make sure you order the teriyaki, not the plain meatball.
The bill with a few rounds of drinks, tax and tip came to about $50 a person for one of the best dining experiences I've had in a while. (Actually, not true, I've been blessed with an amazing streak of dining luck recently, but it was damn good.) I love good food, and I love not having to pay big bucks for it even more. I will definitely return, but there are some other izakaya in the neighborhood I have to check out first. I'm going to Ariyoshi with my Florentine friend tonight.