Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tempura Yamanoue, Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Store, Tokyo

Tonight's story is a sad tale.

It begins with me picking a tempura restaurant I really, really wanted to try in Tokyo (Michelin-stared Kyourakutei), 3 of us venturing all the way there (it was quite out of the way from our hotel), and finding it ... closed.  On a Saturday night.  (Don't worry, I went back a few days later, stay tuned for that).

I frantically consulted my list of back-ups, but there was no where, of any cuisine type, anywhere near where we were.  The best I could come up with was a tiny outpost of another tempura place on my list, Tempura Yamanoue, about 30 minutes away (walking to subway, subway ride, another walk).  Not ideal at all, but, we were determined.

Tempura Yamanoue's main location is at the Hilltop Hotel, but they also have locations in Ginza and Roppongi.  These are all pricey locations, with dinner offerings that are set menus, starting at 13,000 yen for a vegetarian selection and up to 20,000yen for the "Chef's Menu".  Not quite what we had in mind for the night, and not places we'd be able to get in without a reservation anyway.

But I knew they had a location inside the Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi food court that is more casual ("food court" doesn't quite explain this, if you haven't been to a Japanese mall food area before, I don't know how to better describe it, but, it is numerous stalls, offering up all sorts of specialty and gourmet items, more like Eataly than a mall food court as we know it).

We arrived at the mall, and were totally lost.  There were multiple food courts, spread out over multiple buildings.  And the giant food court in the basement that we stumbled upon was ... well, giant.

It also, as we quickly found out, was closing soon.  Everything closed at 7:30pm (and we knew that Japanese punctuality meant on. the. dot!), with many places taking last orders by 7pm.  It was 6:55pm.  We had to frantically find it.

And, we did, actually.

Tempura Yamanoue had a takeout window, but also, a tiny side area with seating, directly in front of a chef.  It had exactly 3 seats total at a counter, and, there were 3 of us!  This area also had one table for two.  What a tiny place.  We were welcomed in with open arms, and menus, at 6:58pm.
Great Seats!
Our chef cooked for us right on the other side of the counter.

He spoke no English, but, he did watch our reactions, and was interested in our experience.  Our server also spoke no English, but both she, and the final staff member who hovered on the side watching us, were amused by us the entire time.  It was quite clear that they are not used to non-Japanese speakers (although they did have an English menu).

The food was prepared very quickly, and served quite fresh.  Unfortunately, I didn't like it.
Since this outpost is a casual place, designed for the shopper to just grab a quick bite, the menu is small.  Basically ten-don (tempura over rice).  And that is it.  You could opt for slightly different tempura sets (veggie, kakiage, mixed seafood, prawns & veggies), or the single tempura meal, but that is it.
Teishoku: Grated Diakon Radish, Rice, Pickled Vegetables, Miso Soup, Salt, Dipping Sauce.
I opted for the Teishoku set (not entirely knowing what I was doing, much confusion with ordering to be honest), as did one other diner.

We were brought platter containing (from left to right):

  • Grated daikon radish
  • Rice
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Miso soup
  • Salt
  • Dipping sauce

Along with chopsticks and of course a wet towel.

The rice, daikon, and pickles were pretty standard, although not particularly good.  I kinda think my flights had better pickles.  The dipping sauce seemed to be a light soy sauce.

The miso soup was extremely salty, lukewarm, and contained tiny little clams (in their shells).  This turned into a comedic event, which at least made the night fun?

I decided I wanted to try a clam.  But I couldn't figure out how.  They were incredibly small, and I couldn't manage to just pick a clam out with my chopsticks.  I tried to hold one with my chopsticks and somehow suck out a clam, but, alas, no that didn't work either.  Finally, I got a great idea: I'd put the clam shell in my mouth, and just suck it out!  Great!  It worked!  But ... uh, then I had a little tiny clam shell in my mouth.  I knew I wasn't supposed to spit it out.  Or swallow it.  I panicked.

I tried to ask my dining companions what to do.  "I have a wittle bitty clam shell in my mouth", I tried to discretely say to them.  "Halp!"  They mostly just laughed at me and didn't offer any suggestions.  The staff very quickly picked up on what was going on, and tried so hard not to laugh at me, but totally failed.  One women was in the corner, behind a curtain, just giggling.  The other kept covering her mouth to hide her giggle.  I'm glad I amused everyone?
Vegetable Tempura. Y3240.
My main order, since I somehow turned it into a set, came as the tempura on a platter, rather than ten-don like the rest of the menu.  One of my group did order regular ten-don, and his came over rice, with a sauce drizzled over it, and miso soup on the side.

I was really craving vegetables at the time, so I opted for the vegetable version, expecting fun Japanese vegetables like lotus root, daikon, Japanese sweet potato, and maybe some tempura corn.

The tempura came all at once, rather than piece by piece as it was cooked, as would be common at the nicer places.  Strike one.

It was also incredibly heavy, and very, very, very oily.  I realize I was ordering fried battered food, but, I had tempura every day for lunch at my office, and it was not oily like this.  I expected that super fresh tempura would be even lighter, even less oily (which, I discovered when I went somewhere else a few nights later, can be true), but here, it wasn't.  I tasted too much oil.

My set contained 7 kinds of veggies: 2 asparagus, 1 eggplant, 1 pumpkin, 1 string of beans, 2 lotus, and 1 giant mushroom.

The lotus was the only one I liked, crunchy, almost refreshing under all the oily batter.

Everything else just couldn't stand up to the oil and batter.  I guess the bean one (second to right) was interesting in that I hadn't really seen that form before, it was some kind of beans attached somehow in a row ... but not quite in a pod.  They did taste like soybeans, but, I don't think were.

The mushroom was my least favorite, which shocked me, since I love mushrooms, particularly more "exotic" ones, but it was incredibly chewy, to the point that I really had trouble getting through it.

Let's just say, I didn't like anything, and dipping it in the sauce, or the salt, didn't help.  But I had the chef right there watching me, and the other two staff hovering around, so, I had to smile and eat it.

We quickly paid and left, and I tried to rush back into the rest of the food court to get something else, but, alas, it was 7:30pm by then, and, well, closing time.
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