March 6, 2009

Izakaya dining

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It's been a while since I last met up with a couple of friends for dinner, so I caught up with them on a Friday over a casual meal at Irori (いろり), my favorite Japanese izakaya (居酒屋). Our last dinner together didn't work out so well, but I was excited to go back to Irori for another visit.

My friends arrived early and ordered the grilled marinated blow fish (ふぐみりん干し) and the gyoza (餃子) - both standard fare at any izakaya. From then on I took over and got us a bunch of my old favorites from the joint.

Aji tataki (鯵たたき) - haven't had this for a while, and it's nice having it with all the chopped spring onions. The deep-fried bones were good, too!

Tomato in sesame sauce (胡麻トマト) - this is a classic that I always order, and my friends were surprised that every table had a plate of this. Always love the cold, refreshing tomatoes.

Grilled ox tongue with spring onions (牛タン葱焼き) - I can't go to an izakaya without having some ox tongue, and this is buried under a mound of spring onions that neutralizes the "heat" of the grilled meat.

Deep-fried chicken cartilage (軟骨唐揚げ) - just about my favorite dish here, but this seemed a little sub-par today. Maybe not enough batter? As usual I doused shichimi (七味) all over to give it a good kick.

Crab miso (蟹味噌) - this is crab roe that was seasoned with a bit of lemon juice. I love the intense taste but would have preferred it raw, without the lemon juice. But I suppose that wouldn't go well with the Hong Kong palate...

Pirate cheese (海賊チーズ) - read about this on the internet so decided to order it. No clue why people rave about this. It's just blocks of Philly cream cheese topped with some spicy, mushy chopped seafood. Definitely not popular with the group.

Mochi pizza (もちピッザ) - always cool to order, these bite-sized mochi pieces are topped with ham, cheese and tomato sauce just like a pizza. Pretty fun to eat.

Deep-fried fishcake (薩摩揚げ) - this is actually pretty good, and my friends couldn't stop eating it.

It appears that appetites weren't satiated by this point, so a few more dishes were ordered...

Deep-fried sweet potato chips (薩摩芋チップ) - these are actually pretty good since they are freshly fried. The plate was decorated with some pine needles and looked pretty.

Braised fatty pork (豚の角煮) - the menu called this Japanese 東坡肉, which really isn't too far from the truth. You can take this into a Chinese restaurant and I would have definitely called it Chinese...

I always like to finish an izakaya meal with a grilled rice ball (焼きおにぎり). The grilling was well done, but I wish there was a bit more flavor to it. Had to drip some soy sauce and shichimi on top.

I did bring along my bottle of sake, this time it was Kakunko Junmai Daiginjyo (花薫香純米大吟醸) from Sudohonke (須藤本家). This unfiltered brew has always been one of my favorite sakes, having ground the rice grains down to 27% seimaibuai (精米步合). I was excited to drink this again, and I decided not to ice the bottle since it came from the wine fridge.

This turned out to be a mistake. The warmer temperature of the sake meant that the nose was much more pronounced, and as it turned out I didn't like it so much. While there were lots of tropical fruits such as banana, pineapple and orange in the nose, it also distinctively smelled like the Chinese white wines (白酒) that I dislike so much. Just smelled so "artificial". I started to wonder whether I had aged the sake for a bit too long. It's been 3 1/2 years since this was bottled... Definitely cloudy, and smelling like Chinese fermented rice (酒釀). I decide to ice the bottle, and the experience improved dramatically, as the lower temperature restrained the nose. I guess I'll stick to icing my sakes from now on...

A great meal for a Friday night, and a happy return visit to Irori after a prolonged absence...

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