Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nakajima – Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

The Metro is Tokyo’s buried treasure, and you have to see it to believe it. It surprises me…because it never does. Even during the busiest of rush hours, the next train pulls up predictably, and you never wait more than a minute. You’ll wait way more than a minute at Shinjuku’s Nakajima, but this one is worth the wait.

At a mere 800 yen for lunch, you may think you’re getting shafted. After all, this is a kaiseki restaurant whose delectably varied dinner earned a Michelin star. But these sardines are from another world, a more affordable preview of just how divine the dinner must be.

Breaded and Fried sardines are easy, especially for those who don’t like the stinging sensation of an oily, fishy fish. Each piece is perfect in Panko, crisp, and surprisingly airy and light.

With all the other fish out there, the sushi chefs have bigger fish to fry and easier fish to filet. Sashimi usually comes in thick, generous slices, and chefs crank them out in minutes. Sardine Sashimi is not so easy. Each sliver is barely half a centimeter, dissected precariously from the several spiky sets of bone.

You have to work to get to the good stuff. The Broiled Sardines in Sweet Soy Sauce are a satisfying mix of savory, salty, and sweet. The meat is soft and tender, and it strips off the bones in self-made slices. Still there is some wrangling when bones won’t leave the flesh, and I can only imagine how much harder it is when the fish is raw.

Tokyo is the very soul of streamlining, efficiency in all its elan. The uniform is a stiff suit or a blouse and skirt, salarymen packed like sardines on the subway and at the bar. Striding through Tokyo subway awakened my long-dormant New Yorker, and it was too easy to fall into a perilous pattern of on-the-train, off-the-train, do-something-in-between-the-train-rides. But sometimes something makes you stop and smell the sardines, and it’s places like Nakajima that make you see just how amazing the small stuff can be.

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