As the late September typhoon rain descended, the traffic along Kannana Dori slowly ground to a halt. It was going to be long, slow, crawl home.
The words, "Shall we stop off in Shimo for something to eat?" were barely out of T's mouth, before I had wiped out my iPhone, fired up the tabelog app and put a call through to the best izakaya option in the area, Tobusakana. One step ahead of you, kiddo.
Unbeknownst to me, Tobusakana has two stores directly opposite each other on a small side street a few minutes from the south exit of Shimokitazawa station. The original store (where I thought we had a reservation) is a tiny space made up of a counter and a squishy table at the door; the place has the well loved (read: tatty and worn) look of a shop that has enjoyed many years of regular patronage. The new annex store (where we actually had a reservation), stands in stark contrast; bright & breezy, designed to resemble a hybrid of an American diner and, err... my uncle's corrugated iron boat shed.
The place has got a fish market feel, with the day's catch displayed in ice packed styrofoam boxes at the door (today's specials were kinmedai and Hokkaido crab), and a counter topped with glass cabinets brimming with fishy delights. In keeping with the ichiba feel, the service is boisterous and to the point. "Weclome in!...Now, what do you want?" Sometimes, that's all you need.
What do we want? Well, it took us a good 20 minutes to come up with an answer, as the menu was a metre long scroll of stylized kanji. While it made for amusing reading, it inexplicably came with two volumes of supplementary food & drink menus - Yikes! Fish, meat, poulty, vegetables, noodles, rice, fried dishes, grilled dishes, & probably even flambeed dishes are available on any given night. Now I was worried; a restaurant that tries to be all things to all people generally only produces a few things well and the rest mediocrely. Then there is the issue of keeping such a diverse range of ingredients in stock; cost/time saving measures such as buying in pre-made, or frozen food to be reheated to order are usually employed so an over extended kitchen can cope. I think a big edit is needed here for the sake of the customer and the kitchen. We gave up halfway through reading the regular menu, and decided to stick with the specials of the day.
First up, our otooshi of nemitsuba, enoki ohitashi and a small bowl of oden, which arrived with our drinks order.
As T has got a little 't' on the way, it was up to me alone to explore the list of 20 odd sake varieties. And a fairly good list it was, too. Again, there was something on it to please everyone's taste: a few honjozo's from the well known big brands; some junmais & ginjous of varying styles & providences, along with a couple of less well known brands for enthusiasts. I went with the Jikon (而今) junmai ginjou, from Mie, which I had previously enjoyed at Kudan. It was full and fruity, though as it was the end of the bottle it tasted a tad oxidized.
The MろQ gave us something to nibble on as we waited for the rest or our order to arrive. A standard izakaya dish, it's basically just cucumber served with a chunky miso made with fermented barley called moromi miso (もろみ味噌). Together the dish is called moromi miso kyuuri - or morokyu/MろQ for short.
A little salty, a little sweet, a little nutty... a great little drinking snack.
Shitake on a stick! Nicely grilled and still retaining some moisture, though the stacks should have probably stayed on the cutting board.
I've seen a lot of these little fellas this month, and I've eaten quite a fair few of them, too. The sanma shioyaki was grilled to crispy perfection on the outside and fatty & delicious underneath. It lacked the pleasing smokiness that one gets from the charcoal grilled variety, but it was greedily scoffed up none the less.
Fresh fish is what Tobusakana does best and the main attraction of the night was definitely the moriawase. Nice, generous chunks of katsuo, kampachi (amberjack), mizu tako (fresh octopus), kinmedai (yellow-eye snapper), hotate (scallop) and ika (squid), made up the selection tonight.
Disclaimer: this wasn't actually our sashimi moriawase, but rather that of the friendly chaps at the next table, as someone demolished half their plate before realizing it hadn't been documented for posterity. Thanks fellas!
If you find yourself in the backstreets of Shimo in need of some place to eat, then you would be hard pressed to find anything better than Tobusakana in terms of good fish, friendly service & cost performance. Thanks to the rain, we were easily able to snag a prime seat at the window, but in more clement weather the place is usually packed all night, so be sure to book ahead.
While it wasn't the greatest meal, it was a good one and, just like it's name - 帰って来た とぶさかな - I will return to the flying fish... but, maybe to the original shop next time.