In Japan, people love to grill meat and devour offal at Yakiniku joints. This tradition, derived from the Korean-style barbecue, is perpetuated nationwide through cheap chains and eateries or expensive specialized restaurants.
I have been a big Yakiniku lover in the twenties, gradually eating less of it over the years (as I find the fat more and more difficult to digest with the age...) and finally reducing it to something like twice a year since the encounter with "Jumbo", a restaurant in the outskirts of Tokyo managed by a man from Osaka who serves you the MOST amazing meat you will find. I have since almost stopped eating Yakiniku elsewhere, as I know it will most probably not come close in quality and satisfaction to what this wonderful place offers.
So when the Bear Pond barista told me the other day he heard "you can get the equivalent of a ¥10,000 dinner for a cheap ¥3,000 at this place called "Nikunchu", you will understand I felt obviously a little blasé... but at the same time curious about that price difference.
I decided to give it a chance, since it would still give me something to write about on this blog even if did not live up to the expectations.
Well, let's say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality-price ratio of this place.
Since it was the last day of the week-long Golden Week holidays, they were out of almost all their usually recommended "Horumon" (from the English term Hormone, designating the offal by extension) stuff like Reba-Sashi (cow liver sashimi), Shio-Teppo (the salted intestine region close to the pork rectum) or the Harami (lean-meat-looking-but-in-fact-entrail around the cow's diaphragm), so we went with some of the other interesting guts and "regular" muscle meat.
I have to apologize for the terrible quality of the pictures, as I happened to forget my camera yesterday. Please bear with me...
We grilled some salted Tanshita to start with (the part of the cow tongue closest to the throat) and were later offered some Tansaki for free (the tip of the tongue) as an apology for being out of a lot of stuff: that's what I call good service.
The Tansaki was probably the closest to what Yakiniku places usually serve, that is slightly fibrous, whereas the Tansaki was more chewy. Both were a bit salty for my taste but the cheap ¥400 beer did its job in killing the thirst.
Kutsubera (left) and Tanshita (Right)
We then cooked some pork adam's apple "Kutsubera" (literally Shoe-Horn), a plastic-like white organ resembling a little shoe-horn, which is a quite rare body part at a Yakiniku restaurant . It was cartilaginous and fatty at the same time and simply seasoned with sesame oil and salt. Good stuff.
In keeping with the "weird" stuff, we opted for the pork Oppai (literally Boobs) which I assume has something to do with the "breast" part of the pork...but I'm a little lost here. It was very gelatinous and the bits looked like chunks of fat when they brought them fresh to us. Once grilled, they had the firmness of a stirred liver. It was seasoned beforehand with a Miso-based sauce that gave the Oppai a nice sweet flavor.
We also went for my favorite Marucho (cow's small intestine), which is basically a big chunk of melting-in-your-mouth fat around a little very chewy part. This always goes incredible in pair with your beer. Their Marucho is good and worth the price, as you spend quite some time chewing on the flavorful and rubbery thing!
We couldn't leave without trying their lean meat, so we chose some Kainomi and some Jo-Karubi. Both were salted beforehand.
The Kainomi, the meat around the cow ribs closer to the shoulders is a very precious part and usually costs quite a bit, though Nikunchu offers it at an affordable ¥1,000. The meat has the juiciness and fatness of the short ribs, but manages to be firm as well, so it's almost like the best of both world. Fat and fibrous at the same time: a Yakiniku lover's dream.
The Jo-Karubi, a fatter short ribs, almost like a Toro tuna, was juicy and not annoyingly fat, like it can sometimes be in expensive places where they seem to unfortunately associate FAT=GOOD.
We ended up paying approximately ¥3,000 per person, just as what the Barista told us, which definitely was a deal (though we need to remember that we mainly went with the cheaper Horumon. Might have been more expensive should we have ordered more meat). The meat and Horumon were fresh and tasty, the beers and other alcohol cheap and the service good overall. We had to wait close to half-an-hour before we got in, so you might want to make a reservation or be ready to wait a little bit.
I think it is an over-statement to say that it equals what you would get for ¥10,000 elsewhere, but the quality you get for the money is truly impressive. Try it, it's worth it.
Nikunchu has no fixed closing days and is basically open everyday from 18:00pm to 03:00am though they will close as soon as they sell out of most of their ingredients.
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-9-3
click here for a MAP