Category Archives: Sukiyaki

No need to break chains

Imahan

Restaurants where I can slide my feet back and forth against tatami mats are always soothing. As is this restaurant, where I slide my feet along the smooth wooden raised floors, decorated in tradition style, down the hall to the private tatami mat room in which we are seated. The small stone garden by the window is a nice touch, and I am surprised to learn that Imahan is a chain.

Chain restaurants are definitely not just cheap fast food joints, as I have learned in Japan, and lately, I’ve been devoting some time to trying out some of Tokyo’s benchmark institutions, despite the fact that they’ve often parlayed their success into better real estate and multiple locations. Imahan is definitely one of these. Established 112 years ago, and with locations throughout the city, Imahan is not exactly off the beaten path. As someone who likes to try out little, family-owned, or funky hole-in-the-wall places, however, Imahan was certainly off my beaten path.

We started with smooth thick sesame tofu, steamed root vegetables, and cool squid salad, and continued on to a delicious sashimi plate in our set lunch. Then onto a clear stew with mushrooms, beans, carrot, and daikon, which was hearty and satisfying. But of course it was the unforgettable main event that we had come for: the meat for the sukiyaki/gyunabe was marblelized and set out in large, thinly sliced pieces. Unlike some lower market joints, two waitresses in kimono arrived to cook the sukiyaki for each end of our table. The sauce was very shallow in the pan, they always seemed to know when to add more, exactly when to turn the meat over, and just how long each vegetable needed to be cooked.

At the end, each individual bowl of raw egg was served with the sweet meat and vegetables at just the same time. The juicy meat and egg were gone in seconds, and to my surprise, our bowls were taken away. Unlike at other sukiyaki restaurants, we were given fresh egg in our bowls for each helping. So on the second go around, the ratio of egg to sauce to meat to vegetable was completely unchanged, and perfect. I had no idea sukiyaki could feel so luxurious.

Of course, as most sets do, there was some sort of dessert at the end. An ice cream? A sorbet? Was there tea? In the amazement of having eaten such phenomenal dish, I have to admit anything that followed was quite a blur.
Imahan

Suzunoya Head office Building 6F
1-20-11 Ueno Taito-ku, Tokyo

TEL: 81-3-5688-0754

(Also other locations throughout Tokyo)

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What were we drinking?

Joumon

While most restaurants in Roppongi polarize into the super posh or decidedly not ( China Café 8, anyone?), somehow the Joumon vibe has avoided ending up on either end of the trashy-flashy spectrum. Right in the middle, the inspired design of Joumon is cool, while somehow still earthy and warm. This a laid back yet impeccably decorated joint would seem more part of the scene somewhere quirky and hip, and yet here it is, just down the street from Asahi Television headquarters.

Specializing in kushiyaki, all the traditional favorites were delicious and taken off the grill at the exact right moment. We loved the hearts, pork calbi, and tsukune, and the lotus root wrapped in bacon was good enough that we ordered seconds. Happily puzzled to find a cheese section in the kushiyaki menu, we enjoyed the skewered smoked cheese and camembert.

There were also some unexpected treats to change up the rhythm of our meal. A stewed pork dish was smooth and light, and an enormous croquette bomb, sitting in tartar sauce with a soft-boiled egg in center was rich and crunchy. We also sample the foie gras liver pate, which while irreproachable, would have been better as part of a different meal, with wine perhaps, which we were not drinking.

What were we drinking? Oh boy. Here is where Joumon really shines. The selection of shochu is the speciality, although the variety of choices is matched in pretty much any other drink category. Our friendly and genuine waiter led some of us to the “Kureha Royal” Umeshu, a unique plum wine made using Earl Grey tea, which was truly a revelation.

The only weakness to this otherwise strong menu was the dessert. While the brownie, creme brulee, and quickly forgotten third dessert that we ate were tasty, even the ones I can remember clearly didn’t leave much of an impression.

Sometimes a place can be impressive simply by being solid in all areas. Joumon is definitely worth a second visit, although after this first one, we are already planning to become regulars.

Joumon

5-9-17 Roppongi

Minato-ku, Tokyo

03-3405-2585