Yesterday, Akemi and I did breakfast Tokyo Convenience Style, sitting down to a lovely spread: spicy orange-hued chicken nuggets devoid of any real chicken taste or texture, a soggy pork bun, another much better barbecued pork bun we received instead of the actual pizza bun we had ordered, an alarmingly runny aloe yogurt (with the
fruit plant at the bottom) and, to wash it all down, a bottle of milk soda. The verdict? I was pleasantly surprised by the milk soda that tasted like Japan’s famed Calpis soda. As for the rest….Well…
With our breakfast sitting in our stomachs like quick-drying cement, we headed to the Yushima neighborhood for lunch at Kurogi, a popular kaiseki restaurant. Having never visited Kurogi, or the area, before, we decided to get there a little early and walk around…
A map of the area showed what appear to be two stairways, one named The Men’s Slope, the other The Women’s Slope. Not sure whether there are any hard and fast rules about men walking up the women’s slope (and vice-versa) but, according to Akemi, word has it that anyone who fall while climbing up either will die in three years – or lose three years off their lifespan. “Where’d you hear this rumor?”I asked her. “Not rumor,”she informed me. “It common sense.”
As we continued our walkabout, I noticed Akemi slowing down. It turned out her feet were killing her. Her boots were NOT made for walking. And so, we ended up stopping off at a discount shoe store where Akemi bought this – er – stylish pair…
Ultimately, she wasn’t that worried about how they looked so long as they were comfortable.
Well, they were comfortable for about a half an hour – after which she had to purchase some band-aids to keep the inside of the shoes from chafing her heel. That helped. For maybe fifteen minutes and, soon, Akemi was back to strolling in her original boots.
We wound our way around the small side streets and alleys, brimming with character and tiny restaurants. I stopped to help a middle-aged woman who had slipped and fallen and couldn’t get up. She thanked my while her friends remarked what a gentleman I was. Oh, tondemonai!
We finally arrived at our lunch reservation and discovered other diners awaiting the 12:30 seating…
We filed in at a little after 12:30 and were seated at the main counter where we were presented with our lunch. No ordering. It’s an omakase (chef’s choice) set lunch comprised of snapper in a sesame-based sauce, pickles, salmon roe, miso soup, and rice. And we were informed we could have as much rice and sashimi as we liked. Akemi had a second bowl of rice. I did both rice and sashimi. The two older women seated to my right had three bowls of the sashimi.
While we ate, we watched the chef’s prep for the more elaborate dinner service. Here a chef prepares the delicacy Bottarga, the salted and cured roe of the mullet fish:
A quick and casual kaiseki meal but no less delicious. And one of the most economical I’ve ever had at roughly $10 per person. Dinner is roughly double the price – but an equal bargain considering the expanded menu. If you’re in town and want to try kaiseki (traditional Japanese meal) without breaking the bank, be sure to make a reservation: http://www.kurogi.co.jp/pg14.html
Well, I haven’t tracked down that Neon Genesis Evangelion cover for my new iPhone, but I did find THIS equally cool substitute:
We unwound back at the hotel, then walked over to the Matsuya department store for a snack at La Maison de Chocolat. A couple of hot chocolates, a chocolate-pistachio macaron, and –
I was especially looking forward to dinner because the place we were headed – in the city’s rougher, working man’s section of Ikkebukuro – was a far cry from most of the high-end eateries I’ve visited over my many trips to Tokyo. We were going to Kabuto, a tiny, family-run restaurant specializing in grilled eel.
The place was even tinier than I expected, comprised of two tiny tables and a long counter. The customers sat on one side, offering about two feet of clearance behind them for people to negotiate the room, single file. On the other side, the unagi master ran the show while (I assumed) his wife and son, did the honors: taking our orders [you have a choice between the small (one eels), medium (one and a half eels), and large (two eels) meals], pouring the sake, plating the food and, in son’s case, gutting and cleaning the eel that were kept in a bucket below the counter. He would pull one up, kill it by severing its spinal cord with a quick slash, then nail its head to a designated area. Thus secured, he would use his knife to slice it neatly in half, remove its spine in another expert stroke, trim off any inedible parts, and then skewer the meat, ready for eating. Oh, he also demonstrated his knife skills by divesting the eel of its heart which is served raw and still beating. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the videos below.
Meanwhile, the unagi master, the star of the chef, grilled the eel, fanning the morsels. Our fellow diners were positively raucous – and super friendly. It was like one giant friends and family dinner.
Akemi has a heart:
Rustic, raucous, and utterly delicious. By night’s end, I was thoroughly stuffed – and a little tipsy. I bought a round for the two boisterous salarymen we had befriended (“From Canada,”the woman who took my order informed them), then paid the bill (cash only) and headed back to the hotel for my first blissfully deep and interrupted sleep in days. Restaurant Report – Unagi Kabuto in Tokyo – NYTimes.com