Tonight, we were looking to eat in a Japanese restaurant in front of the bookstore/gadget vending "Village Vanguard", to find out that it was unfortunately (or fortunately) closed. As we were standing bummed in front of the closed restaurant, a very nice smell of dashi caught our nose (soup stock made of boiling Kombu (kemp) and Katsuo-Bushi (dry Bonito shavings)). The aroma was coming from this place we never really paid attention to (though it's right across my favorite Village Vanguard) called “ごはんごはん” (Gohan Gohan, literally Rice Rice), which we decided to go to after checking out the menu outside, full of relatively cheap dinner fares.
I can not say that we first felt welcome in this place. As we entered, the yakuza-looking cook wearing traditional clothes with a dragon motif on it (how more mafia-like could you get?) first stared at me for a good 3 seconds without a single smile or nod, which doesn't happen a lot in Japan believe me. The kind of introduction that makes you regret you even entered the joint. I'm not even sure he even eventually said hi when we sat in front of him at the counter.
The menu in the restaurant is written by hand and pretty much unreadable if you're not used to read manuscript Kanjis (here again, you wonder whether they actually want to sell anything to customers) so just remember that the place is specialized in "Kama-Meshi" (traditional japanese rice dish cooked in a Kama iron pot. Click here for the wiki article). Wanting to try something else, I asked the slightly more welcoming lady for some recommendations, to which she proposed the "Ni-Zakana" (fish simmered in a water-mirin-sake-shoyu sauce).
While waiting for the food, the lady brought us a pretty good "Ika No Shiokara" (squid fermeted in its own guts) that we munched on with the help of a bottle of beer. We found out at check that the Ika No Shiokara is charged around ¥350 per head, as a table charge fee...Shio-Kara can be very fishy, but this one is delicately flavored. It's still an acquired taste so eat at your own risks.
Ika No Shio-Kara
After 10mn or so, the dishes got to us. While leaving the Ni-Zakana in front of me, the lady told me that it was simmered Shake (salmon) and that I could eat everything besides the white part around the eyes, even the bones. The plate came with a big bowl of rice, some good pickled Chinese lettuce and an EXCELLENT Aka-Dashi miso-soup (made of regular "Mame-Miso" fermented bean paste and "Kome-Miso" fermented rice and bean paste) which was amazingly pungent. I know it sounds weird but the flavorful and dense soup almost remind me of a hot-chocolate.
The first impression I had was that the dish looked very dark in color. Ni-Zakana usually look slightly lighter than the one they offer here. Although it is typical of the northern half of Japan to offer recipes that are generally saltier and densier in taste and darker in color than the southern part cuisine, this Ni-Zakana was still very brown in color and powerful in shoyu and sugar aroma.
The first bite was surprising. It was DELICIOUS. So good that I actually forgot about the lack of hospitality. I even had to tell the cook that I loved his fish. That's probably when the ice broke: from then, he became smily and managed to talk a little bit.
Not only the sauce was good, but the fish parts all kept their characteristics even after a long simmering. A fleshier, drier and fibrous flank, and a fattier and more cartilaginous head. Not the messy puree some restaurant sometimes serve you...
Just like what the lady had told me, the bones were unbelievably soft and eating them was a walk in the park. Seriously, I have NEVER eaten bones stewed to such texture. It's hard to explain, but it would be close to a meringue feel: just a little hard at first and quickly disintegrating in your mouth as the melting process goes on. No fears of choking in this place. A revelation.
I asked the less-scary-by-now chef how he did that, to which he replied with a smile "I let it simmer for 8 hours". The below picture is what was left after 20mn: nothing. Bones, skin, flesh, eyes, name it. Gone. Unbelievable. Good stuff.
I have already rumbled for too long (sorry to anyone still reading up to here), so I'll be quick from hereon.
The Tai Kama-Meshi (sea bream Kama-Meshi) was pretty, as you can see, and good. The fish was deliciously tender and excellent in taste, as well as the rice which was well impregnated with the aroma of all the present ingredients (fish, bamboo shoots, carrots). My wife very much enjoyed the dish.
We ended up paying ¥3,500 for both dishes and a bottle of beer. Given the amount of rice and the quality of the cooking, I think it's a very decent pricing.
Don't expect to get a hug here. You might not even get a single smile, but if you want to eat some good Japanese-style fish dish, I strongly recommend this place. Order what we had if you can't read the menu and you will hopefully like it.
Forgot to ask when they are closed. They also have a lunch. (Shall Update asap!)
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-9-2
Click here for a MAP