Tsukuru Izakaya – Numazu

3 07 2011

Tsukuru Izakaya – Numazu  North Side

Just as the tendrils ofNumazu’s back alleys release themselves into built up suburbia, there are small oases of restaurants designed to feed the locals houses and apartments. In one little area on the North side ofNumazu, a little beyond two major supermarkets, Coop and Maxvalue, lies a small string of such restaurants.

Lately, my wife and I have been taking this route home from our regular Tuesday afternoon grocery shop. Each time we pass this area we declare, in the perfect cliché of a long serving married couple, that we “really should try one of these places out one of these days.”

Investigating these types of places can sometimes fill you with trepidation. You just don’t know if you are going to enter some territorial hotspot. Will you be met with the cold hate filled stares of regulars, as you are about to park your derriere on the recently deceased Granny Suzuki’s chair, while the waiter triggers the panic button under the counter calling for a horde of samuri obaasans to decent upon you and tear you to threads with their devilishly sharp elbows?* Alternatively you could be welcomed in with a warm smile and greeted with an excellent meal. You just never know.
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Fortunately this time it was the latter. As my wife and I entered one of the restaurants in this little food oasis called Tsukuru 巣くる or, as a waitress explained, Create. This little classic style izakaya with a quirky striped white pebble and black timber walkway was an excellent choice. There are only four seating areas two tables on the side wall and a traditional style raised sublevel with recesses under the tables to plonk your feet.
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We had arrived early so we took our orders from the chef and settled down to a couple of beers. While we were waiting for our meals two waitresses arrived and prepared themselves for their evening.

First to come out was a prawn and cheese spring roll halved and placed on a bed of lettuce. This was delivered by an impressive young woman who had eyelashes that were no doubt designed to provide shade from the summer heat for her and a small tribe of pygmies clinging to her lower boughs. The spring rolls were light and crispy with a delicate minced prawn aftertaste mixed with the mild cheese.
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Another round of spring rolls ensued. This time they were a cold salad spring roll filled with salad herbs and thin slices of ham and drizzled with some sweet chili sauce. This was a refreshing cleanse from the deep fried treat we devoured earlier.
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Next came an exceptional dish of splayed avocado topped with slivers of smoked salmon and finished will small dollops of cream cheese. This unctuous treat lay in a bed of mild vinegar and soy. The unusually soft texture of the salmon and avocado was surprising to my palate but nevertheless enjoyable.

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Just like any red blooded man, I have an uncontrollable urge to order fried chicken when ever I see it on the menu (I also make myself a mountain of fried chicken to gorge upon when ever my wife is out on the town with her friends, so I can release the true animal within; sitting on my haunches and rendering flesh from bone with my gnashing teeth as globules of grease drip upon the massacred remnants of chicken bone strewn below…but that story is for another time). Tsukuru’s fried chicken was very good. It was extremely well spiced to the point of competing with the ‘Colonel’ but a little over cooked in the centre leaving the meat a little stringy.
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To finish off our little feast my wife and I shared a bacon and mushroom spaghetti carbonara that proved to be a deliciously good filler.
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IzakayaTsukuru was the perfect end to a busy day. Its staff were eager and attentive and, it seemed, very happy to see foreigners so far out into the suburbs ofNumazu.

* This is an increasingly all too common occurrence in Japan  and heralds the coming of the New World Order run by supprisingly sprightly obaasans. For more Conspiracies on this check out this post. 

Style: Independent Izakaya.

English Menu: No sorry Japanese.

Picture Menu: Some pictures

Phone: (055) 925-9330

 Hours: 17:30~3:00hrs

Price: Dishes average around 650yen Izakaya Stlye.

Directions: Numazu North Side north of Coop just before Route 1

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Sakanya – Numazu さかんや

17 06 2011

Sakanya – Numazu

Sometimes it is an absolute pleasure to be shamefully wrong. In a recent article,  I accused a friend of having a terrible sense of direction and as such I shrugged off his directions and took my wife and another friend on a wild goose chase around town trying to find a pizza place.

I did find a pizza place; Pizzeria El Palio.

It was exceptional.

It was also the wrong pizza place.

Once my friend had informed me that I was wrong and there is indeed a pizza place precisely where he had given me directions, there was nothing for it but to make amends and meet him there for a meal and shout him a pizza. The pizza joint he took us to was Sakanya and the pizza was out of this world.

Sakanya is a nondescript little family owned restaurant with a great whopping Italian flag out the front that you cannot miss, on theNumazunorth side. It’s across the road from Ito Yokado shopping center close to the new Shizouka Bank building. You can’t miss it. Well, you can miss it if you are me.
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The restaurant is a slice of tiramisu: long, thin, rich with laughter and comfortable like home. We arrived at 7:15pm on a Friday and the place was packed with regulars unwinding from a busy week. Around the walls were large oil paintings with beautiful calming scenes. The hum of the patrons proffered a sense of family. To my left was a traditional set up of tatami and squat tables and to my right was the bar counter and my friend.

My wife and I sidled up to the counter and greeted our friend. He was already getting stuck into some seriously good looking pizza. Between bites he gave us a little introduction to Sakanya. He told us that the one making the pizza was in fact an Italian man who had moved to Japan this year to work in his wife’s family owned restaurant. He informed us that the menu was split into a traditional Japanese short order izakaya with items such as okonomiyaki and gyoza on the menu, while the remainder of the menu was dedicated to pizza.
Sakanya
Our waitress brought us the menu and asked us what we would like to drink in English. We were pleasantly surprised and after ordering a few beers our friend informed us that this waitress was the Italian chef’s Japanese wife who not only spoke good Italian but good English too.

Our waitress shortly came back to ask us what we would like to eat. My wife and I in unison said pizza and asked her what she recommended was best. She proudly puffed out her chest and said all her husbands’ pizzas were good. Quickly perusing the menu I settled for a Napolitan and my wife, a seafood and garlic pizza.

Not long after, the Italian chef poked his head out the window to greet us. He was tall in his late thirties with dark hair and a classically Roman face that was open and friendly and hinted at a touch of cheeky humor. I asked the chef if I could see his pizza oven and the chef excited gestured for me to pop his head around the back into the kitchen. After a brief inspection of the oven I returned to my seat and my wife and friend.

Two sizzling disks of red, rimmed in crusty brown, greeted us about ten minutes after talking to our friend. The combination of melted cheese, tomato sauce and baked bread seduced my gustatory senses. A simple black olive formed the axle of my pizza around which a vibrant red sauce sat atop a light crunchy pizza base. Mozzarella cheese was lightly dispersed over the pizza and a delightfully pungent anchovy rested luxuriously on each slice. The pizza was simple with a sauce tasting of roasted tomato and herb. It was entirely satisfying.
Sakanya
My wife’s pizza was equally remarkable. White wafers of garlic pocked her pizza amidst prawns and scallops. The sauce was delicate enough to allow the seafood to shine but not so light to be boorish.
Sakanya
After we finished our meals the Italian chef stuck his head out through the kitchen and asked us, with a knowing smile, how we liked our pizzas. My wife and I chorused a litany of compliments in English and Japanese before abashedly attempting a “bellissimo.

The pizza was so good that my wife and I decided to order another small pizza; this time one with translucent slices of pancetta. By this time my friend had ordered from a secret stash of tiramisu that the chef had prepared earlier.

When our small pizza arrived I immediately knew that the pancetta atop the pizza was not of the usual Japanese type. The flesh was a lot darker like the pancetta that I had tasted inEuropeand like the pancetta that I make at home. This was an ingredient that was sourced with care and subsequently perfected the dish.

Again I accosted the chef and congratulated him on his excellent pancetta and asked him where he had sourced it from. He told me, in his broken Japanese, Italian and splattering of English, that he got it from his home town inItaly. I told him about my hobby making cured meats and sausage and he showed me his salami (no pun intended) and pancetta while my wife found some photos of my smoker and cured meat on her phone. This all led to the chef and I having an animated discussion about cured meats that was mediated by his wife’s translation.

Sakanya was a joy; delightful atmosphere, gracious staff and, above all, exceptional pizza. It was so good that I almost did not want to write about it and greedily keep it for myself.

I have learnt an important lesson from this experience. When it is comes to food, sometimes it is important to be wrong. Because the experience of correction often involves good food.

Style: Italian Pizzaria and Family owned Izakaya

English Menu: No sorry Japanese. But if you are really kind you could ask one of the waitresses who speaks great English.

Picture Menu: No sorry.

Phone: 81 55-925-8898

 Hours: Evenings except Mondays.

Price: Small pizza 600yen and Large Pizza 1000yen.

Directions: Numazu North Side near Ito Yokado





Pizzeria Il Palio – Numazu

31 05 2011

Pizzeria Il Palio – Numazu

Amendment: It appears that I am the one that should be replacing his big Coke bottle glasses. I am pleased to say that I stand corrected. My friend, let’s just call him ‘Mr Awesome (formally known as Mr Lost) ‘ was indeed correct in his directions. I just couldn’t find it. I owe him a pizza and I owe you a review of the real place he recommended. Read on below and laugh mockingly at my over confidence.

I should have known better, trying to get directions from a friend with the navigation skills of…well let’s just say someone who is geographically challenged was bound to be a disaster waiting to happen. But you just get plain excited when you hear of an exceptional pizzeria in town that you haven’t yet visited.

My wife and another friend of mine were riding through town one afternoon last week trying to decide what we would have for dinner. We conducted our usual procrastination over our choice of eats with gusto as we made our way south towards the station area and the centre of town.

Suddenly I remembered about my pizzeria conversations and begged some time to search it out. My wife, knowing exactly what ‘some time’ means, restricted my search to ten minutes. My friend who had tried to give me directions to this place (let’s just call him Mr. Lost for some clarity) had told me that he thought the place was on the north side of the station in the Snack Bar district. I had asked if it was near Ito Yokado, to which we was not sure until I mentioned that it was a shopping center and then he readily agreed.

I shared this information with my wife and friend as we set of in search for the pizzeria and we all concurred that it should probably been in the snack bar area in the north west relatively close to the station.

We were wrong.

Our ten minutes were up and we had not found the restaurant so we headed to the south side in search of an alternative and resumed procrastinating over where to eat. It was mid afternoon by this time and most of the restaurants were closed so this led us to wandering aimlessly from restaurant to restaurant in search of something open.

By now we were on the south side between the station and the library. As we were walking in search of a restaurant I casually looked up to see a Pizzeria sign. It suddenly dawned on me that this must have been the pizzeria that Mr. Lost had recommended. It was close to the station as he said and it could be very loosely described as being in a Snack Bar district and I guess that the Seibu could be described as a shopping center. I also should have remembered that he had mentioned a bar that foreigners frequent being somewhat nearby. Yep I missed the obvious. Here I am rabbiting on about my friend’s lack of direction all the while I am having conversations as if my big fat ears were painted on.

The Pizzeria we had found was the Il Palio. By the time we had found it the restaurant was not quite open so we went and had a coffee at a nearby café until its dinner opening time at 5:30.

The Meal


The Pizzeria Il Palio was a rare treat. The restaurant has a large covered terraced area that blends into the restaurant and the open kitchen proudly displays a pizza oven you would sell a kidney for.

We wanted to chill out before the main meal so we had a few snacks over an excellent bottle of Ameroe Red that my friend, the ever astute culture buff, recommended. For snacks we ordered a plate of mixed cured meat of suprising quality far beyond the usual bland massed produced rubbish that you find in most Italian restaurants in Japan. The meat dish included Mortadella, Proscuito and Salami. We also ordered a cheese and mushroom creamy baked casserole and some bread and olive oil on the side.

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It was a quiet night in the restaurant so we did not feel compelled to rush our dining experience. We picked through out snack and chatted over our wine as the sun went down and our hunger returned.
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Ready for dinner we called over our slightly nervous fresh young waitress. We opted for one of the dinner courses which gave us a starter, a selection of pizza, pasta and meat dish for a main and dessert and coffee or tea to finish. We asked our waitress to leave our dinner to what ever the chef recommends and proceeded to enjoy our wine. A little perplexed our waitress went to ask the chef if this was okay.
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For our starter we had a mixed plate of delights. A deliciously spiced pork pate on oiled toast was my favorite, but I also enjoyed the baby octypus with real balsamic vinegar, the tomato and bocconcini, sashimi white fish in olive oil and a little more proscuito.

First of our mains out was our pasta. A concoction of prawns, scallops, a Japanese style spinach in a tomato sauce with shavings of dry cured smoked salmon on top. This was a exceptional mix of texture and taste with identifiable flavors in each bite. I would have loved to have seen it with some home made pasta but this just does not seem to be done in most Italian restaurants in Japan.
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As we made our way through the pasta a large pizza appeared on the table with a small bowl of honey. I could see that the pizza crust was light and crunchy and stippled with spots of brown that is the signature of a good pizza oven. One half of the pizza was smeared with tomato sauce with big globs of mozzarella cheese and topped with a basil leaf. While a slice of this was incredible the other half of the pizza stole the show. On this side were large melted slices of rich gorgonzola. I would have been overbearing on its own but with a spoon full of honey to balance it we were met with an exotic delight. Upon the first few bites you are struck by the two intense flavours of the cheese and the honey until they blend into a remarkable flavor in your mouth.
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Next was our meat course. My wife and I ordered the fish and my friend, the meat. For our fish dish I was met with a beautiful plate of what appeared to be perch lying on a bed of mussles in a buttery liquid sauce. The succulent flakey fish was done perfectly and eaten with a guilty dip into the sauce. Begging a bite of my friends I was pleased with the tenderness of the meat.
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Dessert was a not too rich tiramisu with a side of super creamy mascarpone cheese. The tiramisu was exceptional and not too overbearing. We finished the night discussing the exceptional food over a treat of Amarula.
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Numazu’s Pizzeria Il Palio is one restaurant that I will not have trouble finding again.

Style: Italian Pizzaria

English Menu: No sorry Italian and Japanese. Well, at least you can kinda work out what it means.

Picture Menu: No sorry.

Phone: 055-963-5677

Website: http://www.hotel-miwa.co.jp/miwa.nsf/doc/shop_palio

Hours: Lunch 11:30 – 14:00 Dinner 17:30 – 22:00

Price: lunch starts at 900yen for pasta and 1000 yen for pizza. Dinner starts at 850yen for pasta and 1100yen for pizza. Courses start at 1800yen.

Directions: Numazu South Side close to Speakezy






Maruten no Honten – Numazu, Shizuoka

20 04 2011

Maruten no Honten

When it comes to queues for restaurants I break down into a puddle of cognitive dissonance. Two strong emotive forces compete for dominance in my mind. One is a very distinct loathing for waiting in line particularly for a leisure activity. I don’t know why I can justify waiting in line at city hall or the bank but for leisure pursuits such as theme park rides and restaurants I resent, to the point of rage, having to pay money to queue.

In strong competition to this disdain for queues is the core gourmet instinct that screams at me that if the locals are patiently making a line for this food then you know it is going to be good. However it is usually by dislike of queues that wins control and I leave embittered by the fact that I have missed out on what would a probably be an epicurean delight.

It has been this way many times with Maruten no Honten – Maruten to the locals – every time I pass it by when I wander throughNumazu’s fish market area. whenever I mention to a Numazu native that I have been down to the fish market area always ask me if I lined up for Maruten. They don’t even ask me if I went there; ‘lined up’ is the term of choice.
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However on a recent passing of Maruten I was pleased to find no queues and an open welcoming door which lead to an autopilot beeline for the entrance. A lucky break.

With my wife and a friend in toe we took a squat table in the tatami area and sat down to order. The décor is pretty similar of these establishments; homely comfortable, nothing ostentatious and just enough to keep you focused on the plain good seafood before you.
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The darling obaasan’s in their t-shirts and aprons sqwark out orders to the cooks as we sip green tea and decipher the menu. There are a few picture in the menu that highlight their specialties and the three of us hone in on these.

My friend orders a large bowl of tuna sashimi that is served in thick slices and garnished with Japanese sweet omelet, nori wasabi and pickled ginger. This is accompanied by delicate crab and miso broth that has a knobby piece of carapace floating on top just to dare you to say that it wasn’t done properly.Maruten 08

My wife and I order a starter of tuna sushi that is presented to us on a wooden board. The tuna is vibrant in colour and rich in taste. A large clump of some wickedly fresh grated wasabi from the nearby Ito area takes me by a pleasant surprise on my way down through the tuna and downwards to the sushi rice. I am already reaching down for another piece before I have finished chewing.

A lightly crumbed seafood set was my wife’s selection. Crispy king prawns, calamari, crab croquet, horse mackerel and a small nondescript bait fish with a side of cabbage mashed potatoes. Simple plain fare done well.

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I order the kin media, or Golden Eyed Snapper, is a rich sweet soy and mirin based sauce. The fish sits boldly pink on my plate with a simple garnish of shredded scallions (or what we misname shallots inAustralia). Using my chopsticks I break free large flakes of beautifully white flesh. The fish has a delicate sweetness but the sauce, a treat in its own right, is a little to overpowering to get a true taste of this fish’s special flavour. Nevertheless, I enjoy the meal enormously.

After our meal we head out to pay and call our thanks through the open kitchen to the cooks while dodging the low lighting not made for someone six foot four. At the cashier counter is a selection of preserved marine goods that has me thinking that I during my dining I did not quite avail myself of the full experience that Maruten could offer.Maruten 04

As I go out the front of the restaurant I look at the displays of dishes on the outdoor tables and around reed covered sake drums. I missed the deep fried towers of breadcrumbs fish and crustaceous goodness, tuna tail stew or even an uber fresh plate of sardines. I will have to come back but if the queues are like they usually are, and rightly so, it may be some time before chance another lucky break.
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Style: home style seafood

English menu: no sorry.

Picture menu: there is a selection of items in pictures but if you want you can do a Google translate on their website to get a better idea of whats on the menu.

Gaijin friendly: for sure. The staff are encapsulate the identity of the fishing industry.

Phone: there are a number of stores around Shizuoka prefecture and two in Numazu. The one we went to is phone 055-954-1028

Link: www.uogashi-maruten.co.jp

Hours: 10:00-21:45hrs. Last order 21:00hrs.

Directions: south side of Numazu in the Port district.





Riviere Lounge and Bar – Numazu Tokyu Hotel

25 10 2009

In Japanese culture a person’s identity can be traditionally referred to in two forms; Honne, inner truth, and Tatemae, outer display. This can often be frustrating for a foreigner with a western upbringing that encourages the physical display of your true inner emotions. Conversly, a Japanese person may have inner desires and feelings about a person or subject but will display an air of indifference if they feel that their desires and feeling are not socially accepted. But occasionally when trust has developed in a relationship with a Japanese person you are can be honored with a glimpse of Honne.

In Japan, as in the West, restaurants, cafes and bars are a medium for expression; a place where the diner can explore a slice of the inner mind of the proprietor, honne. It seems to me, that in Japan restaurants shyly protect their honne from the outer world in the same way the people do. Allow me to explain; most restaurants in Japan show very little of them selves to the outside world of the bustling street. More often than not the outside, tatemae, of their establishments are very sober in appearance and give away little of what is truly inside. Once entering a restaurant I am often surprised by the level of detail and personality in both the food and decor. To me this is a great bearing of the soul as if as a reward for taking that inquisitive step beyond the outer walls and into the hear of the place. It’s all or nothing.

To carry the metaphor further, restaurants, cafes and bars in Japan rarely position themselves with little thought for the view from the windows of their establishment, often preferring to black out the windows on busy streets to prevent the casual pedestrian from peering into the inner truth of the establishment.

However, like some Japanese people, there are exceptions to the rule. Quite often when honne merges into the open display of tatemae something quite extraordinary can emerge. Riviere – Lounge and Bar in the Tokyu Hotel on Numazu’s south side is one of these beautiful and inspiring exceptions to the rule.

Riviere is a display of 20 century decadence, and it is on show to the world. I approached Riviere from the high ceiling Hotel foyer, supported by elegant pillars. Potted stands of greenery make a bikini’s attempt at modest privacy. I stumble down the few steps to the sunken level of the lounge bar. On first entering all I can do is make the briefest glimpse at the lounge bar before being captivated by the lazy flow of the Kano River and luscious green peeks of the Numazu Alps just beyond the outskirts of town. The massive floor to ceiling bay windows expose the full length of Riviere to the world beyond and in turn the world beyond becomes part of Riviere and you.

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A noble looking waiter, with black vest and elegant long black skirt, escorts me to a window seat. Piano sounds playing in a distant hall sooths my ears as I crumple into creamy couch chairs.  Chilled water, hand towel and a menu arrive with barely a notice. I feel exposed with my immediate proximity to the bay windows on my right and the occasional bobbing of heads from guests in the lobby above and to my left. However, this exposure is cathartic in its beauty and rewards you with an atmosphere of honesty and trust.

Riviere

Drinks and food are not cheap, but nor would you expect them to be in such an establishment. With a cappuccino coming in at around 800yen, a trip to Riviere is a treat, a splurge for your senses.

I order a cappuccino and my wife orders a pot of Earl Grey tea.  We talk quietly as if we are in a library, sharing smiles and recounting old stories. It is as if the openness of Riviere compels you to recount your inner thoughts, your honne.

My chocolate dusted cappuccino arrives, a creamy foam bobs on top. One taste and I am content. I pour my wife’s tea. She adds her sugars and milk, stirs her cup and sips. I see that she has closed her eyes, her shoulders have visibly relaxed and a small moan of pleasure emanates from her. Perhaps for the tenth time we have been to Riviere she tells me this is the best tea she has ever had. I can smell the rich oil of bergamot in her tea. I steal a taste and am pleasantly surprised with the mild orange flavor; a testament of a good Earl Grey.

My wife and I chat for a little longer before two of our friends arrive. They barely see us, captivated as they are by the view beyond the windows. I smile at my wife. She returns a knowing smile. Our friends will be in for a treat and we will be fortunate enough to share it with them.

Locaton: From the south side of the station head directly south along the main road for about 500meters on your right you will see the Tokyu Hotel. Enter the foyer and head up the stairs it will be straight in front of you. For a map check out the link here MyMaps at MapBuilder.net

Stlye: Cafe and Lounge Bar

English menu: sure did

Picture menu: There are some pictures.

Gaijin friendly: Yes. The hotel is part of an international chain that often receives international guests. English, in varying levels, is spoken by staff.

Phone: 55 952 2411

Address: 100-1, Agetsuchi-cho, Numazu-shi, Shizuoka  410-0802

Link: Tokyu Hotel Numazu

Cost: Cost of a cup of tea came in at 750yen and a cappuccino was 850yen.