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.
photo 5(1)

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.
photo 1

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.
photo 3
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.
photo 4

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.

photo 1(1)
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.
photo 2(1)

photo 3(1)

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.
photo 5

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

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.
Sakanya 2
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.
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.
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.
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

From Wank to Winner – Seiko-En, Numazu

31 08 2010

Seiko-en, Numazu

A little while ago you would only find certain types of people visiting this place. You know the ones; calloused hands and coke bottle glasses dashing from car to entrance in a desperate attempt not to be detected*. Then some time later, the same ones exit again with both pants and newly acquired bag bulging.

But honestly, how long would you expect a DVD porn shop to last on the M1 when there isn’t even a discrete back door for secluded entry. The shop just stood out there proudly on the highway like Dirk Diggler’s todger. How many times has little Miki or Yuki sitting in the back of mother’s car on the way back from cram school call out “Hey mum, look that’s daddy’s car” in gleeful recognition as the mother fights off the boiling stroke inducing rage from her own recognition.

However,  some months ago things changed. The shop was gutted and a heavy duty spermacide was sprayed on the walls and floors and then Seiko-En was conceived.

Hand’s down,Seiko-En has the best Chinese food I have found in Japan. You would think that Japan, being so close to China, would have exceptional Chinese restaurant’s on every other street but Chinese or Taiwanese restaurants, particularly good ones,  are hard to find.

Seiko En’s décor is spartan and uninspiring almost as a proclamation of regained virginity. Nevertheless the meals elicit the same sort of feelings as the DVD’s might have done in the shops previous existence. Besides, this time around you can bring the wife and kiddies, and enjoy it all together.

For our first meal at Seiko-En my wife and I sidestepped the traditional sets and went straight for a selection of dishes. To start things off I ordered a spicy beef dish with, oh so tender flesh, bedded in beans, carrots, bamboo shoots and button mushrooms with a delicate broth and soy reduction. Every flavor had room to move and greet the taste buds.
spicy beef
Our waitress next laid down a prawn and cashew dish with a wonderful aroma of garlic and ginger. We were not expecting what before us. What we were expecting were maybe four over cooked prawn with the same amount of cashew nuts buried in a bed of vegetables ala Japanese style. What we received was a mass of prawns and cashew nuts in an ample but subdued bed of vegetables. The prawns were cooked to perfection for this classic dish with the garlic never threatening to overpower the delicate flavour of the prawns.
Prawn cashew
Moments later and the waitress presented us with spiced pork meat balls in sweet and sour sauce. None of that cloyingly sweet fluorescent construction worker’s vest colour rubbish on this plate; this was another deliciously well presented dish done to text book perfection.
Finally, the fried rice arrived. Light and moist with a surprising little side of egg drop soup. This became an excellent palate cleanser between indulgent spoonfuls of everything else.

Everything was done right, from the ample portions to the crunch of the vegetables. The staff were smiling, friendly and calm. Calm being a contrast to the average deer in the headlights, glazed eyed brain washed cult member look you get from the average overworked izukaiya waiter. It was refreshing.

If you do go for the dish option then you find that prices range from around 500yen to 1000yen per dish depending on what you want. But if you go for the equally tasty looking sets then prices are around 900yen per set. The best part for the ignorant foreigner is that we have a photo of every dish and set on the menu.

Maybe it’s the lingering pheromones from the previous occupants but I walked out of Seiko-En lustfully sated with another bulge, but this time several inches higher than my crotch.

*While yes I do have calloused hands and coke bottle glasses I maintain that I have never visited these types of establishments…recently.

Stlye: Chinese Restaurant

English menu: no sorry

Picture menu: Each dish comes with a clear picture and a little chili indicator for heat.

Gaijin friendly: Yes. Very friendly happy staff.

Phone: 055-926-5388

Link: None

Cost: Sets are around 9oo yen

Magic India: Roots of Spice – Numazu

10 07 2009

It is truly amazing what a friendly smile and a little bit of incense can do to alter your palette. I know that my taste buds were positively biased by the time I sat down at Magic India. No sooner had we walked into the second story Indian restaurant, in the middle of Numazu’s Nakamise, we were greeted by one of the cheery Indian cooks. The two other Indian cooks poked their heads out from the kitchen with another set of sincere smiles while the sweet perfume of Chandan incense and pungent spices from the kitchen curled their way into my nostrils. I was sold before I even sat down.

Our little group was seated by a window that afforded an excellent people watching spot of the Nakamise. The youngest of the cooks greeted us shyly in some words of English and waited patiently for our orders. I ordered the Chicken Masala with Naan bread dinner set for 980 yen (you can choose rice if you want too) and my wife ordered the smaller two curry dinner set, of mushroom and saag curry and butter chicken curry with Naan that set her back a mere 850yen.

As the rest of our group ordered it became evident that the cook’s level of Japanese was limited to restaurant lingo pleasantly interspersed with a few English words. For an expat like me with an equally limited grasp of Japanese, I felt quite at home and I wanted to make him feel as welcome serving us as he was making us feel. He was one of us.

Our meals arrived, trailing steamy vapors enriched with cinnamon and cardamom. Great wedge shaped Naan billowed over our plates as our table became obscured by food. Our conversations ceased, or were muffled, as we dove in.

I tore of a chunk of freshly baked naan and spooned curry onto it. The light, slightly chewy texture of the bread and the creamy curry made for a great combination. The curry was mild but full of flavour that was accentuated by fennel seed, its sourness subdued by the coconut milk.  The first bite of curry laden naan is the best. As you take your first chew through the bread you can feel and then taste the curry pour onto your tongue. The bread sustains the curry’s richness in your mouth longer for your pallet to interpret each nuance of spice. The tastes lingered in the mouth as kudos was dished out to our friend who suggested this eat.
Somewhere along the line one of our party suggested that the naan was so good that they had to order another. I was up for the challenge too and ordered a second naan. Although the cheese naan or the cheese and bacon option looked tempting I was thoroughly enjoy the simplicity of the original bread. This time round I asked one of the cooks if I could catch a glimpse of them baking it. They were more than happy to oblige.

Walking over to the open kitchen I noticed that the cooks were actually using a traditional Indian wood fired clay oven. No wonder the bread tasted so good.  One of the cooks was slapping away at a ball of dough until it made its traditional wedge shape before he palmed it onto the inside walls of the oven. Even before they put the lid back on the oven you could see air pockets starting to rise on the bread through the rippling heat emanating from the coals at the pit of the oven.
Was my opinion of my meal influenced and manipulated by warm smiles of the cooks, the burning incense and the clay oven? Of course it was. Though I imagine I would have had a great meal without these little sensory bonuses, I know that a meal is much more that what you consume. It is your attitude, the company, the aromas and the atmosphere that plays an equally important role in dinning. When the two come together, as they did for me at Magic India, you know you will be in for a treat.

Location: From the south exit of the Numazu Station follow the path right until you get to the entrance of the Nakamise. Head south down the Nakamise. Magic India is two blocks on your left.MyMaps at MapBuilder.net

Style: Indian

English menu: Some English on the menu.The rest is mostly in Katakana.

Picture menu: Yes some pictures for you to make your selection.

Gaijin Friendly: Sure is. Run and operated by real live Gaijin like you and me.

Phone: 055 962 8202

Hours: 11:00am-11pm

Cost: A dinner set will cost your between 850yen to 1000yen. Lunch comes in cheaper at between 700yen to 850yen. Most side orders start at 250yen.

Numazu Fish Markets and the opening of the Numazu Minato Shinsenkan

18 05 2009

I have to say that I was driven by the potential of freebies. I had never been to a shopping centre opening before so what better way but to cut my teeth and start small on an opening of a little shopping complex at the Numazu Fish markets called the Numazu Minato Shinsenkan.

Numazu Minato ShinsenkanNumazu Minato Shinsenkan

It was the weather that set the mood for the day; pushy gusts of cold ambushing my wife and me on our bikes as we made our way to the fish market port. The static in the air charged the mind and triggered every kid in the vicinity to foam at the mouth and send their parents to an early grave.

Our arrival at the port was greeted by a group of Lucha Libre’s, Mexican wrestlers, plugging in guitars and keyboards and setting up drums. Of course, I didn’t immediately get their connection to the opening of the shopping centre until my wife pointed out that one of the masked men was wearing a mask that could be a loose depiction of Himono, a type of dried fish. Mind you, he could have also been wearing a giant squid on his head with two holes cut into it so he could see out.

Numazu Minato Shinsenkan

It was around ten-thirty in the morning and the centre was starting to fill. We made our way into the shopping centre. The centre extended out in a straight line for about 100 meters. On either side of the main walk way ran café’s, restaurants, grocers, fish mongers (of course) and food stores featuring Numazu’s regional specialties. I could see all this easily from the entryway because of my six foot four height and the four foot nothing swarm of hunched over grannies filling up the walkway with wisps of grey and black.

My wife charged on into the foray as I hesitated. I have experienced the sheer power of Japanese grannies in the past. Most of these interactions have been during grocery shopping. They are surprisingly nimble and their short stature puts them under my radar as they squeeze their way in front in the check out. If I do however, manage to catch them before they push in, they resort to using their sharp deadly elbows that dig holes into my ribs startling me enough for them to get in front. All the while they tactfully act like sweet little grannies in complete ignorance to the cracked ribs they have just given me. These are the modern day ninja and their name is obaasan. Fear them.

Now I stood before a plague of obaasan’s, jostling each other for potential freebies and the best deals of the day. Was I stupid enough enter this frightening mass of predators? For you, dear reader, yes. No more than a few paces into the crowd I took and elbow to the ribs as I was jostled about from stall to stall making sure that every obaasan had a shot at me, all the while my wife danced and dodged the crowd. An ice cold chill ran down my spine as realization dawned, some day my wife will be an obaasan with frightening abilities.

Numazu Minato Shinsenkan

As my ribs numbed to the jabs, I started to appreciate what was on offer in this shopping mall. The mall was a display of all the delicacies and local produce of Numazu. Each stall specialized in something. One store I was propelled towards sold a selection of dried seafood goods all packaged and ready to be sent on their way as gifts. Next to each type of packaging was little sample taster jars. I tried a number of dried seaweed and was surprised with their delicate nuances of flavour.  In another jar was tiny little fragments of dried fish which exploded with sardine and soy flavours under each crunch.

Further around the store I was greeted by a grinning obaasan, a sales woman this time, with an open jar shoved under my nose. It seems to be an universal phenomenon I have noticed during my travels. If you are in a foreign country and the locals can see you are a tourist, then expect their most foul tasting delicacy to be thrust into your face as a challenge. There is no way for you to really win in this predicament. The local has all the cards. If you decline the offering, then you have insulted their culture and they have won. If you taste the offering and spit it out, vomit or even show a hint of displeasure then you have insulted their culture, but at least you tried. The last option is the best for your ego but this time your stomach looses. This is what I have chosen to employ in these situations. It is simple; take the ‘food’ offering eat it while showing absolute delight and then help yourself to more. You have just earned cultural brownie points (of which you may need to eat said brownie as soon as you are out of site to take away the horrid taste) and possibly a new friend.

So without looking at the contents, and putting on a big smile, I took the food from the jar and chomped away, and away…and away, at the very crunchy, dried baby crabs covered in sesame seeds and tasting exactly the same way that aquarium fish food smelt when scattered over vomit. It took everything I had to reach in the jar for another, but I did, and that wiped the grin of the obaasan’s face. It seemed like she told the rest of her kind because I noticed far less jabs in the ribs for the remainder of my time in the shopping centre.

Traveling up the main aisle I came across a stall that specialized in wasabi, the sinus blasting florescent green mustard most commonly found as an accompaniment to sushi or sashimi. The Izu Peninsula is famous for growing top quality wasabiThis little shop was displaying more that its common paste form you see chugging on you local sushi train. Wasabi rice and prawn crackers were a spicy treat. Though, my favorite wasabi product was the oil. The oil was light on the palate and ended refreshingly well, in a similar way that a good quality extra virgin olive oil leaves your mouth clean and ready for more tastes.

Yet further along the shopping centre there was an interesting fish monger with squirming octopus, crab and crayfish. Each fish eye was brilliantly clear with freshness. Even the giant tuna head sitting on totem display for customers to appreciate looked a little curious as to where the remainder of its body went.

Numazu Minato ShinsenkanNumazu Minato Shinsenkan

On the port facing side of the market ran half a dozen restaurants, taking advantage of the view of the port with its dramatic View-O tsunami gate in the distance.. A seafood broth was the purvey of one restaurant, while another offered sashimi. One café that caught my eye had cozy little spaces for couples to look out over port or even sit outside on a calmer day (it looks like my old gripe about the lack of balcony dining is going by the wayside). The restaurant’s accessibility to such fresh produce will tempt me back there for a tasting very soon

Finally to top off my tour of the Numazu Minato Shinsenkan, I was greeted by cheeky little characters wearing masks with the funniest expressions I have ever seen. Exaggerated smirks and grins beamed from their masks. Accompanying pelvic trusts and playful trickery heightened their display. Were these the dirty old men sent to frighten the obaasan’s out of the centre before they tore it apart? I never quite figured out the story behind the masked frivolity. But I certainly enjoyed it.

Numazu Minato Shinsenkan

All in all, the opening at the Numazu Minato Shinsenkan was a great way to waste a couple of hours until lunch. While the shopping centre is unashamedly focused on the Japanese tourist market, it was really a great way to see what seasonal food offerings there are in the Numazu local area. Not to mention, the really great dining on the boardwalk running along the centre.

The Numazu Kaijinsai and Numazu Port Festival is going to be a big event for the Numazu Port area and is happening on the 23 May 2009. So take a trip down to explore, get festive, get cultured and wear your stretchy pants, the food is great. 

For more information check out the Numazu City Hall, April Newsletter, here.

Getting there: From the south side of the station continue to head south directly down the maim road for about a kilometer or so.  Check out the MyMaps at MapBuilder.net here for more details.

Niie Restaurant – Numazu

1 10 2007

I’m on a mission. I’m in search of a place that I can just wander in, find a cozy corner with a deep couch and loose myself in a book while sipping on my favourite beverage.

Really, it does seem like an ideal concept but how hard is it to find a cafe, bar or restaurant like that these days. Particularly in a country that offers shoe box accommodation so small that it almost squeezes you back out into the world in order to relax and socialize.

Niie Bar Restaurant

However, apart from the comfort gleaned from Japan’s Internet ‘hostels’, finding a decent comfy spot to have a cuppa, glass of wine or beer are nigh on impossible.

Sheltering in a nuclear bunker before saying this; Starbucks does have the right idea. Soft earthy colours, deep couches and no pressure for you get back on the consumer conveyor belt.

It was these thoughts that I was hurled under the pressure of the confines of my apartment out into the street to search for such a wondrous place.

I have had my eye on a new place on the Numazu south side for a while. Its strange shuttered frontage and non nondescript entrance had me reluctant to potentially jiggle at a door that may or may not be open. But this was the time to bite the bullet and see if Niie was in fact open for business.

Thankfully it was. The white mat interior was subdued by the warm yellow lighting and contrasted well with the black tableware. As you enter Niie you are greeted with a bar and a full range of assortment that would have tempted me had I not been in the mood for just a simple sit down, coffee and a read.

Niie Bar Restaurant

I ventured past the bar (and tried not to look into the kitchen) and up a stair level to a cozy dinning area with, yep you guessed it, couches. Eureka! I do love dumb luck sometimes.

I snuggled into a two seater under a stairwell and ordered a coffee. My host presented me with a glass of water and offered me the lunch menu. Unfortunately this time I had to decline a meal. Though, after smelling and glimpsing what other customers were getting I was cursing myself for eating earlier.

My coffee came out brusquely and in a clear coffee cup. This sparked some recognition from a previous trip to Gotemba Premium Outlet. the cutlery was Bodum. Stylish.

Niie Bodum

After taking a few picture of Niie it was time to really give it a road test. I got out my book and settled in for a comfy read.

Niie is certainly a stylish retro bar-restaruant with its acid jazz flowing out of speakers and funky decor. While the floor plan is a little odd, not taking full advantage of the windowed frontage, it certainly does create a relaxing mood for a good read.

Niie is well worth another visit.

Location: South side of Numazu station near go straight south about 100 meters from the western underpass. For more details check out the map here;MyMaps at MapBuilder.net

Style: Jazzy retro style bar and restaurant.

Contact: 055-951-0330, email; info@niie.jp, website; http://www.niie.jp