Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bar Fly in Japan: Yaegaki - Part I

I almost thought I'd have to miss this blogging event, since at first, I couldn't think of any good bar-side dining experiences I've had recently. But then I read Sarah's post more carefully and noticed that 'bar' could be very loosely interpreted. If dinner at a sushi bar counts, I have a 'bar' in Japan that I want to share with everyone!

Yaegaki (八重垣) is my favorite bar-side dining locale. And no, this is not going to be yet ANOTHER sushi post. This is a whole new kind of bar-side dining, one that I have not seen anywhere in the US yet... Yaegaki is a TEMPURA bar!

Customer sit around Chef Kunio-san and enjoy his tempura across the bar from him. He fries each item himself and the lucky diners are served pieces of tempura one or two items at a time. The concept and style are very similar to a sushi bar. Kunio-san runs the place with his friendly wife, seating only about 15 people at a time.

The oil is a secret blend of various frying oils. Kunio-san inherited the recipe from his father-in-law, who ran a very prestigious tempura store, the original Yaegaki, in Nagoya. In fact, it was so prestigious that rumor had it that getting a reservation there required a recommendation from another regular. Kunio-san inherited both the name and the secret oil recipe when his father-in-law retired, but he did not inherit any of the reservation rituals. Kunio-san has built an entirely new Yaegaki under his direction, and it is a warm and welcoming restaurant.

The tempura at Yaegaki is seasonal, as seen by the baby ayu river fish above, and the offerings change depending on what he finds at the market. A typical meal consists of his top recommendations (omakase course), and those of us with heartier appetites supplement the omakase course with a la carte items.

These two items here are my two favorites: shrimp wrapped in shiso leaf and anago (ocean eel). Anago is similar to the more commonly known fresh water eel, unagi, but it is meatier and less greasy. I prefer anago over unagi, but I've been told that anago is more difficult to prepare and is less abundant due to its not being farmed (unagi is farmed). The crispy batter is a perfect accompaniment to both the tender anago and the textured shiso-shrimp.

The batter compliments everything Kunio-san has selected, and the harmony of the crunch with the different textures inside is pure pleasure. The sweetness of the onion was brought to life by the tempura method of cooking.

This is a kakiage, which could very well become a nightmare of a fried dough ball, but at Yaegaki, it is a delicious mesh of batter, shrimp, and greens.

Kakiage is not something I would recommend anyone to get unless the tempura oil is pristine and the chef skilled. But a good kakiage is a true treat, full of crunchy, soft, and chewy components all coming together for a pleasurable exchange in your mouth.

The squid tempura came with a nori belt, and the scent of the nori was highlighted by the tempura method. The squid was meaty and strong, a perfect partner for the fragrant nori.

One of the best things about bar-side dining is the interaction one gets with those behind the bar, and in the spirit of bar-side dining, Kunio-san was an active participant during my photo-shooting dinner. He carefully arranged my plate and made suggestions on what was most photographic of his tempura offerings. These were some of his suggestions: the shirauo ('white fish'; tiny 5 cm fish) and the hotate scallop. The nori plays an important part in both tempura creations, acting as a belt for the shirauo, the symbol of the Spring in Japan, and as a casing for the scallop.


The casing allows for Kunio-san to fry the scallop to that perfect temperature where the inside is juicy and tenderly soft. The nori also adds a wonderful fragrance to the scallop tempura.

We're only about half way through my meal at Yaegaki, but I think I'll split this into two posts. There's so much more to share, but I want to write a few words about bar-side dining and to contribute my two cents to the Bary Fly theme.

The interaction between those behind and infront of the bar is what makes bar-side dining so enjoyable for me. I've always preferred sitting at the bar over sitting at the tables in any situation. The bar is where the action is at: you get the best views of what the Chef/bartender is doing, you can ask questions about the meal/drink as you go along, and you can establish a relationship with the Chef/bartender by sitting close to him. This interaction is something I often feel like I am missing at fancy Euro-American restaurants, where the Chef is put on some strange pedestal, unavailable for questions from the common folks. Best of all, bar-side interactions between the Chef and diner at Japanese restaurants often create a communal feeling, and other diners join in on the fun and conversation. New friendships are built around the bar- right, Molly?- and the meal becomes an joyful experience shared by all. I eat to be happy, and bar-side dining is a happy kind of dining - whether we are eating sushi, tempura, kaiseki-style, or even plain-ol' American sports bar offerings!

And that's really what bar-side dining is about for me.

Thanks for a great theme, Sarah!

And don't forget to come back tomorrow for more Yaegaki offerings, including a yummy table-side Tempura Donburi (Ten-don; not 'tendon', ha!)!


Anonymous said...

what's the address of this restaurant? It reads like it's in Nagoya. I'll be there next month. Thanks!


Sam said...

somhow I had an inkling you would interpret the Bar Fly theme this way! Thanks for sharing.

The Papa Bear said...

Your photographs look so good!

Until these recent articles, I've always had the chance to taste the food that you photographed, so I knew from experience that they were good; thus, the effects from the photographs were diminished.

But these, I didn't get to taste personally. And the pictures are making me HUNGRY!


Alice said...

Hi, Ed,

Yaegaki is definitely worth a visit if you are going to be in Nagoya!!! As are the croissants at the Vie de France Fushimi store next to the UFJ Tsubasa!! Have fun!

The address for Yaegaki is:
3-1-1 Kikuzono-cho, Showa-ku, Nagoya
tel: 052-851-9105.

One note of caution: they do not take credit cards and meals cost around 4,000-10,000 Yen, but it's worth every penny. You won't find anything like it here in the US. Kunio-san speaks English too!

Yeh, how'd you know??? I didn't want to be boring with another sushi post, so the tempura bar was a perfect opportunity for me to contribute to the meme in a fun way!

Unfortunately, there is no way I can reproduce tempura so light and crispy... You'll just have to make the trip one of these days!