Destination, Japan…sort of.

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2010 is here, and adventure is the only thing for it!  Shrinking savings and disapearing careers have a tendency to cramp the adventurer’s style, so in that light we are attempting to have experiences closer to home and easier on the wallet, while still maintaining a quality of adventure.  Our first endeavour?  Eating out, Japanese salaryman style!

 

View of the restaurant from the street, can you see it?  I can't.

Izakaya Masa is a tiny (maybe 10 tables) Japanese restaurant hidden in a small business complex in my neighborhood, so hidden in fact, that I passed it several times on my first attempt to dine there.

Yup, those are specials.  Nope, I can't eat them.

Inside, Japanese posters, maps and hand written notes describing the specials covered the walls. I can’t read Japanese, so I can only imagine the culinary goodness I missed, but we made do with items on the menu. The food looked awesome, mostly small plates of a few bites (think “Japanese tapas”), sushi, rice and noodle dishes – all tasty and curious, simultaneously satisfying the love and need for food and adventure, even if only on a small scale.

First order of business: a large pitcher of Asahi “Super Dry,” light, crisp, easy to drink and good with spicy food. After vanquishing the first pints, we felt ready to attack the menu.

L.G.A VS Masa…   FIGHT!

Round one: Ankimo (steamed monkfish liver), fried whitefish with yuzu and sweet potato tempura.

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Gentlelady Ames was not thrilled at my choice of the ankimo, but Gentleman Bass dove in with gusto. The liver, pale beige and pink, chalkier than foie gras, and tasting slightly metallic, arrived in a pool of seaweed, soy sauce and vinegar, topped with shredded scallions.  Very nice.  The acidic accompaniments all served as fantastic foils for the fatty luxury of the ankimo.  Ames eventually agreed that it was good, better in fact than any she had eaten.

Fried whitefish tastes better than the plain name would suggest.

The whitefish were mild, crispy fillets, drizzled with the lime/meyer lemon/tangerine flavor of yuzu. Piquant diakon sprouts were there, but not important. We ate the hell out of this dish.

That's me, needing chop stick practice.

Sweet potato tempura was so crispy, not at all soggy and thick. We could almost see through the thin tempura crust. Lightly sweet, slightly starchy. We almost missed the pile of grated daikon that hid under the last few pieces. Ames stole it all, then grudgingly doled it out to Greg and I to stop our begging.

<DING!>

Round two: Grilled beef tongue, kimchi, pork sausage, shrimp shumai and another pitcher of Asahi.

Gentleman Bass likes the grilled beef tongue, but asks "When do you know to stop chewing?".

The chef cut the beef tongue into thin slices, then marinated and grilled it.  Slightly spicy sauce, more grated daikon, and more fighting for the last piece. One of the things I love about non-American restaurants is eating all the bits: tongues, livers, feet, cartilage. It’s all so good, and we don’t even consider it food.

Don't fear the kimchi.

Spicy pickled cabbage is good food. Ours was still connected at the root end and a bit hard to eat, but eat it we did. We all appreciated the second pitcher at this point.

The pork sausage was similar to to a kielbasa. Oh well, they can’t all be wins.

CAUTION!  The tiny yellow splotch in the corner is MAGMA hot mustard!

Caution, the shumai are hot! Bass and Ames engaged in a reverse blow technique battle, each trying to suck cool air into their mouth to cool, while shifting the scalding dumpling from cheek to cheek to avoid serious burns. Eating out can be a good spectator sport.

A pitcher of Asahi "super DRY" with a widget to heep the beer cold.

Asahi: still very nice.

<DING!>

Round three: katsu don

Three friends, one bowl!

Katsu don is fried pork cutlet simmered in a sweet broth with onion and egg, served over rice. It is classic student/comfort food. We all shared out of the same bowl, fighting each other for bites of fried pork and rice like American barbarians. Gentleman Bass has a fierce rice defence technique, immune to any other system.

<DING DING DING!>

And the winner is, Izakaya Masa.  The L.G.A. will be back for a rematch.

The music was bizarre and hilarious; j-pop, Japanese covers of American standards, themes from anime. It was in perfect union with our dining experience; disorganized, entertaining, odd and in the end, wonderful.

Here is to more adventure in 2010.

Lee Dunteman

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