Instead of just staying in Kyoto for the Christmas holidays, as we have done these past three years, we decided to bring Tokyo into the mix in 2015.
When in Tokyo, I never miss a chance to see Abe san, my ex-director who set up our office and worked with me for many years in Manila. He is a very good friend and a true gourmet who always introduces me to extraordinary dining experiences.
Since we had Martina with us, Abe san decided to go to a "safe" chicken place -- I suppose he knows all kids like chicken. He met up with us at the Iidabashi subway stop and together we walked along trendy, tony Kagurazaka district until we stopped at this narrow staircase.
Our destination, Sumitora is on the basement at the bottom of these steps.
This is the door that leads into the restaurant. Sumitora serves primarily chicken but not just
any kind... they serve prime Mitsuse Dori chicken, a variety grown in Saga Prefecture.
There are a few tables, all of them reserved. The lighting is subdued and does nice things for my
sleep deprived sallow complexion. There are few diners when we arrive at the early hour of 6 pm.
The six of us are seated at the counter -- right in front of us, chicken parts are skewered waiting to be grilled. The young chef stands at his position behind a charcoal grill. Premium sake, shochu and imported wines are on the racks on the wall. Sumitora looks very much like a high end wine bar or a gentrified izakaya.
I think Abe san had quite a different notion of what a child friendly establishment is. I wonder that perhaps the other patrons may not like to see a five year old sitting at the counter.
Martina was the only child in the restaurant that night but I needn't have worried as no one seemed to mind.
But first, cheers to seeing a very dear old friend once again. Abe san, kanpai!
I look at the wine list but my proletarian tastes prefer beer. Abe san also shuns the list and sticks to his favourite shochu, 45 proof, distilled from sweet potatoes.
We start off what would be the first of many appetisers -- thin slices of a roasted chicken ham with my favourite pickled red ginger and tasty bites of fried yam. Those little berries are not Christmas decorations, they are edible -- tart and sour, they complemented the rest of the food on the plate.
Abe san had said that we would have chicken nabe or boiled chicken stew. What he didn't say was that we would also be having different yakitori as precursors to the main course.
This was very novel and interesting dish -- ground chicken meat, formed into a flat disc, grilled with tare sauce and on the side, a perfect small egg yolk. The chef told me to break the yolk, blend it with some of the tare sauce and use that as a dip for the grilled ground chicken.
I want to stand up from my chair and shout Oishiiiiiiiii! But I restrain myself and wait for the next stick.
In bare bone outdoor yakitori joints below the railway tracks in Yurakucho, one of my favourites is the dreaded chicken bottom. Just seeing these small, fatty and meltingly good tidbits rises my cholesterol level by several notches.
There are two ways of having yakiniku -- shio (with salt) or tare (with a sweetish teriyaki like sauce). For chicken bottoms, shio keeps the flavour and richness intact, without any other distractions.
From sinful bites we moved to healthier bits. I don't normally like white meat but these were juicy and had an almost buttery taste. A little bit of chicken skin also helped make it more to my liking.
Instead of a sherbet to cleanse the palate, the chef handed out individual bowls of a very soft boiled daikon topped with a sauce made of chicken broth and finely crumbled chicken meat.
It tasted very light and clean and made for a taste break after the rich, grilled food.
We were also given platters of hand torn pieces of cabbage tossed with a mild ponzu dressing
to eat with our yakitori.
I much prefer gizzard to chicken liver but the tare grilled chicken livers at Sumitora had no mineral-ly iron after taste at all. They were also very well grilled with nice crisp charred bits.
The yakitori skewers may be small but believe me, after the fifth stick, I was quite full. Abe san also passed on some of his yakitori to us saying that at his age, he could no longer eat as much. However, he certainly could still drink as much as he used to.
After the last skewer, the chef put stoves in front of us and placed a pot filled with with makings of the chicken nabe, the main course of the night.
There were different cuts of chicken and ground chicken balls and many kinds of vegetables -- green onions, cabbage, celery, mushrooms ....
After the nabe had boiled, it was ready to be eaten. I had a small piece of tender chicken meat and the ground chicken balls which were really flavourful.
I am sorry to say but we were not able do justice to the nabe. I asked Abe san if he could take the remaining chicken home but apparently that isn't done -- at least not with nabe.
However, Abe san said his favourite part was coming up. The chef removed all the remaining ingredients from our pot ... chicken meat and vegetables and left just the broth.
He then poured in cooked rice, broke in a few eggs and topped it with some green onions and seaweed.
Voila ... chicken porridge or zosui which Abe san certainly ate with gusto.
When eating nabe or even shabu shabu or sukiyaki, zosui typically ends the meal.
When I see the zosui, I always have mixed emotions of regret and relief.
Regret because I know the meal is about to end and relief because I know the meal is about to end.
The chef gave us some pickled vegetables to go with our zosui but really, the rice simmered and steeped in the hearty chicken broth was more than enough.
We all enjoyed our marvellous and abundant yakitori and nabe dinner. Martina had her first experience with a (prettified and more refined) izakaya but more importantly, she finally met Abe san. Thank you again Abe san for your unfailingly amazing gourmet choices and for the many meals we have shared together.