Sorry for the brief hiatus everybody. After arriving back in SF from Japan last week, I set myself up for exhaustion by going straight back to work and also buying tickets for back-to-back-to-back Giants games against the Rockies on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Then I got sick on Thursday night and spent the weekend recovering. I'm back now though, and reinvigorated - although the Giants season looks pretty much over with a loss to the Diamondbacks tonight, I'm ecstatic thanks to the 2-0 49ers start. I am after all just a bandwagon Giants fan... my heart lies truly with the Niners and the Warriors.
I'm going way too off topic now.... so back to food in Japan. The day after RyuGin, we took a culinary break of sorts to visit Ukai Toriyama, in the outskirts of western Tokyo (aka, the Tokyo boonies). Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of food to be eaten there, but the place is just as much about the scenery as the grub. We figured it would be good to have a light (well, relatively) lunch in the middle of our constant crazy meals. Nobrin was able to join us for this meal - always great to have a Japanese ally when eating in Japan!
Apparently, the Tokyo boonies are pretty damn nice. Ukai Toriyama sits in a foresty but developed area near Mount Takao, which for some reason has a high density of love hotels. It's fairly close to a train station, but as you can see, there is no lack of greenery. The place is more a huge compound than a restaurant, with a giant garden filled with trees, streams, and huts with private dining rooms. It's really quite a beautiful place, and apparently it's a popular nearby getaway for Tokyo residents who need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. What follows is rather unprecented in Arthur Hungry history - 5 food-less pictures in a row of scenery, tracing the little adventure between Ukai Toriyama's front entrance above, and our own personal dining hut.
Pretty nice place to eat lunch, isn't it? Apparently, a bunch of the trees here are Japanese maples, and the leaves turn a fiery red in the fall (not coincidentally the restaurant's most busy season). Every party gets their own little hut like the one in the last picture, with a private dining room and a gorgeous view of the garden outside. You can choose from a few different lunch menus, and we went with a ¥4,800 option centered around grilled chicken. Now on to the food...
First up were these two big balls of taro. It had a nice smooth texture, and wasn't as overwhelmingly starchy as I expected. Still, 1 probably would have been plenty.
The meat in this meatball was so finely-minced that it's worth a special mention. It gave the whole thing a wonderfully delicate texture.
This piping hot chicken broth with a variety of Japanese mushrooms and grilled eggplant had a smokey, earthy flavor to it. Very nice.
Grilled ayu, called "sweetfish" in English according to Wikipedia, is a bit of a delicacy. The meat has a slightly sweet taste, while some of the parts inside have a strong bitter flavor. The crispy skin provides a nice char. Still, I find it a little more work than I like to deal with in the fishbone department, and I'm not too fond of the bitter bites. My dad loves this stuff though.
At this point, they brought the charcoal in for our built-in table grill.
Ukai Toriyama does offer Wagyu for grilling, and we couldn't help but order a serving for the table to share... just to check it out.
The beef was very good, but not quite at the level of a true teppanyaki place like what we'd eaten a couple nights before.
The main part of the lunch is the chicken, served in skewer form.
Ukai Toriyama's English website describes these as "Succulent Chicken Skewer" and I must say it's an apt choice of words. Our server showed us a grill, dip in sauce, grill more, dip in more sauce, grill more method of cooking. On this first batch, we charred and overcooked them just slightly. Batch two was perfectly tender and drippingly juicy. There's nothing like simple, grilled, dark-meat chicken!
As usual, we finished with a set of rice and pickles. Normally, this comes with some of grated Japanese mountain potato (tororo), also known as my most dreaded food item. We asked to sub out for something else (anything else). Thanks to Nobrin's negotiating skills, we were able to get it swapped out for these little dried salted fish, which were a great flavoring item for the rice. Still, even with Nobrin's excellent English, the best translation we could buy was "small fish." Oh well.
They finished us off with a simple sorbet flavored with some local grape juice. Intense, powerful grape flavor, and quite refreshing actually.
So there we go. It was most definitely the least extravagant meal of our Tokyo stay, but it was a great breath of fresh air. The idyllic setting is beautiful and relaxing, and worth a trip to see. Looking at their website photos, the fall is even more impressive. If nothing else, it'd be a great place to impress a girl... :)
Next up is dinner from this day, at 3 star Sushi Mizutani (no pics unfortunately, but worth a post anyway).