Sunday, March 16, 2008

Grill heaven

Japan post #1. Today is our second day in Tokyo and if we had checked its website, we would have known that Fukuzushi is closed on Sundays. So there we were in Roppongi wondering what to do for dinner, when we decided to take a chance on a restaurant that we had passed just a minute ago and had looked intriguing.

First off, we almost missed this restaurant, for there wasn’t any big neon sign (a rarity in Japan, for sure!) or even what appears to be a door. The whole fa├žade looked like a side of a big barn, with very discreet slits cut into one side enabling you to peek into a counter full of boisterous folks enjoying themselves. The sliding door is cut into the wooden front, and you’d have missed it since the door handle is a shy little small black thingy.

Anyway, we thanked the heavens we saw it because we had our best meal in our short stay so far. Joumon (or Jyoumon as it is spelt on the menu) is a kushiyaki (grilled goodies on small skewers) restaurant, and we managed to find a seat on the counter right in front of the chef and his grill.

The Kurobuta pork was sinfully delicious, oodles of flavour cascading out of the small pieces of alternating fat and lean part. J was in a schizo mood – switching between moaning about how superb it was, to admonishing me about how bad it was for my health! We also ordered Joumon’s other signature pork skewer – this time Iberian, which had an equally rich yet different flavour signature from the Kurobuta. The Iberian was much leaner, yet juicy and deep, proving that good flavours exist not only in the fatty bits of meat.

Other sticks that passed our way had chicken thigh (ooh, yummy), chicken gizzard (my favourite) and duck with onions (this was the only one to come in below excellent). Of the non-meat stuff, we had gingko nuts and asparagus wrapped in a thin slice of pork (did I say non-meat?), but the standouts were the eringi mushroom and the zucchini, both of which were testament to the axiom that the very best fresh ingredients need only to be treated simply and with respect, in this case, lightly grilled.

The highligh of the night for J was the off-menu special, the grilled smelt (shishamo)…


… which had imbibed the roasty, charcoaly aroma and was juicy, tender and crispy at the same time. J wolfed down the tail half while I took care of the head bits, leaving no evidence of our gluttony behind. We loved it so much that we had seconds, and after that, stared accusatorily at a gaijin also sitting at the counter who had ordered the same fish but had nibbled a little at the middle parts and left the rest of it untouched. Sigh!

Overall, it was a happy experience, for we even managed to strike up a conversation with the young Japanese woman sitting next to us – no mean feat since her basic English was tonnes more than our non-existent Japanese! We've had some good yakitori in Singapore, and we used to be a regular at Norikonoko in Berkeley (an understated place with a mean robata menu), but Joumon is quite exceptional.

Joumon (or Jyoumon)
5-9-17 Roppongi
Minato-ku, Tokyo
03-3405-2585
Opening hours: well, we know they’re open on Sunday nights!
Most skewers are between 100 and 400 yen each.

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