A few of the folks I play tennis with got together for an evening out in Kagurazaka, at a restaurant modeled after an old-style Kyoto merchant's house. Shoes off, sliding screens, floor cushions around a low table, private room, space heater. The course menu, always a risk, was a real winner. Aces, even. (OK I'm outta puns.)
First we were given a tasty block of green tea tofu with a pretty little goji berry (a.k.a. wolfberry) on top
Next: delicate folds of tofu skin (yuba) and a dollop of sesame tofu, with freshly grated wasabi and a carrot flower
Third course: flaky white fish with pickled ginger root, fresh fig and candied walnuts
4th: yet another type of tofu (soft, warm, yummy-- still not tired of it!) topped with tasty bits of grilled beef and a stringy red herb we couldn't identify (is somebody in the kitchen tweezing the legs off spiders?)
5th: a light stew of root vegetables with prawn and fish cake (and there's that green tea tofu again)
6th: tempura vegetables (a food stylist could make this look a lot better)
7th: yummy soba noodles
8th, last and yes, least, dessert: tofu with sweet red bean sauce.
It looks a little sad, doesn't it. It wasn't terrible, really. But it didn't matter because by this time we were all pretty much satisfied, even though we were taking, like, three bites of food every 10 minutes.
It really is all about pacing (and using chopsticks, which I still can't seem to get to hold more than three grains of rice at a time). When you are forced to eat smaller amounts over a longer period of time, you eat less. And you enjoy it more. (American restaurants take note.) You eat everything, and savor everything, even the garnish.
You also drink more. Opting for nomihodai (all you can drink) for 2,000 yen per person for two hours kept the sake, grapefruit-shochu sours and umeshu (plum wine) flowing.
The point is, you're not stuffed, you're content. It's why I try not to serve everything together anymore when we have dinner at home. When I think the boys are at their hungriest, I put out some raw carrots. Gone in 2 minutes. Out comes the steamed broccoli. Inhaled. Only then does the chicken appear. Some time later, I pour the milk. Still hungry? Here's a nice hunk of crusty bread. And so on. One thing at a time. It stretches out the meal time (from 5 mins to maybe 15) and I get more green stuff into the boys. It doesn't always work, and I don't always time things properly, but when I can get it right, it's good.
So I highly recommend this restaurant in Kagurazaka, only it's not easy to find. The signs out front are all in Japanese and it's down a dark little cobble-stoned alley off one of the main drags through the neighborhood, a narrow street-with-no-name packed with izakayas and other places to eat and drink a few blocks south of, and running parallel to, Okubo-dori, west of Iidabashi (a stop on the Tokyo Metro Oedo line as well as the JR Sobu Chuo line).
Click here for a map and a free-drink coupon! Click here for another link with more info (in Japanese).
Kagurazaka Kyoto Gion Oshinbo
4-8 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
Phone no: 03-3269-0779
Meanies on the Court (from left to right): Laura, Sally, Stuart, Amy and Nikki, outside the restaurant, Feb. 16, 2011