Thursday, November 20, 2008

Slightly More Than $10 Trip to Tokyo

It's not like I'm going to secret Japanese holes-in-the-wall in NYC every day, but I have gone to more this year than in the last couple of years combined (2). Last night, we went to a fundraiser event for Leadership Prep (an awesome Charter School in Brooklyn) and my friend O had cleverly made us a dinner reservation for afterwards at a place only 2 blocks away (it was below freezing out, so close was key!)

We rounded the corner and he pointed us to an office building, but right there in front of it was a little light box with 1BF and the name of the restaurant: Sakagura. These things are all over Japan - and basement restaurants in an office building are a lot more common. This felt oddly authentic in it's external impersonal charm. The stairs down were less authentic - more basement-y. But walking through the door I landed right back in Tokyo.

We were a bit early, so we had to wait but they were nice and the reception area had space (basically just a way of saying that I would recommend you go with a reservation, not as a walk-in, because if it was packed on a freezing Wednesday night on the day the Dow dips below 8...).

We ended up with a table, though the next time I would request a booth as they were cute and spacious. We decided to do it sort of small plate/family style and seemed to have pretty consistent ideas about what sounded good. We started with the plate of sashimi. It arrive looking beautiful with: Salmon, Red Snapper, Tuna, Fluke and Uni (Sea Urchin) - I was in heaven (I love uni). I started with the salmon (my least favorite) and it was good, so I prepared to enjoy. But the tuna was above my expectations - a perfectly oily, delicious piece of fish (did I mention the wasabi was fresh) and the uni shattered them - it was potentially the best uni I've ever had. It was musky and sweet. If I hadn't been hungry, I would have stopped them - why ruin perfection. But I was hungry, and thank goodness for that.
Next came the Tuna Tartare. This is one of C's favorites and here (no surprise after the sashimi) it was great. I big circle of tuna on a bed of cucumbers covered with half dark roe and half light roe (it's only now as I'm writing this that I start thinking yin-yang). It was fantastic - though not as differentiated as some of the other dishes.
Next came the Agedashi-dofu (deep fried tofu). This is one of my very favorite Japanese appetizers (it's deep fried, so how bad can it be), but I've been somewhat disappointed by what I've found in the US - merely adequate versions of it. And then this. What may have been the best agedashi-dofu ever! The tofu was silky and kept breaking apart, the fried covering was light, the broth was perfectly flavored and there was enough grated daikon (white radish) and horseradish to perfectly season it. If I had been hungry at the end, I might have ordered another one just for me. I didn't, so instead I have a compelling reason to go back (like I'm dying for it right now - I'm guessing though that they don't deliver).
Then we had Daikon (white radish) with Beef Cheeks - this was very good, the beef was tender and the broth gave the daikon a nice flavor. The only issue was it was hard to share (they had brought bowls for the agedashi-dofu, but not for this).
Then we went for the Eggplant with Miso. It was eggplant with three different types of miso, I had the dark, heavy one and the light green one - completely different flavors, but both very good (the first one was still a bit hot when I ate it - beware).
Finally we got our last order, the Deep Fried Mashed Potatoes in a Doughnut Batter. Now, I was totally into ordering it, but I was pretty convinced that it would be a warm pasty mess, not particularly distinctive. It wasn't - it was amazing. It was like a little beignet, with a surprise inside - but better. It was just a bit sweet - and served with a bit of dipping salt. And it was delicious. I could have eaten more, but that would have been piggish.
At this point, we were trying to decide what to do next. We decided on sashimi for dessert (seriously, that uni was sweet!) and treated ourselves to an order of the cold buckwheat noodles on the side.
We looked at the dessert menu, but while some looked interesting (Black Sesame Creme Brulee, Chocolate Sea Salt Sorbet), we decided to skip dessert (even after years in Japan, Japanese desserts still aren't my favorite (there are some I like, just none that get me the way the regular food does)). We sipped the tea and waited for our check. And while it wasn't as cheap as Tsukushi, it wasn't bad at all (and significantly less than even coach to Tokyo).

As we were leaving, I grabbed a business card so I wouldn't forget to come back (like that's possible) - and here again we're talking authentic (I know, what makes a business card authentic - if it's in Japanese, it's not as useful to the customers - and what else is there...)

Nope, that's not it. It's the back

Tokyo has the worst address system of any place I've ever been (the buildings are numbered in the order they were built, not in any order that would be useful to people trying to find them (e.g., the order that they line up on the street)), so maps are not just useful, but necessary - all restaurant cards have them.


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