I had remembered reading about this soba/yakitori house a few years ago when working on my business plan. In fact, I referenced them as one of the newest non-sushi serving Japanese restaurants to open in a sushi denominated scene. So let's just say, I knew to expect excellent dashi (broth) and other cooked dishes, but had no idea I would be stepping into a cultural space warp when i approached the wooden front door, with the requisite noren curtains wavering over the threshold and heavy wooden interior.
Almost immediately I knew i was in for something special. Expectations aside, the stand up only sake bar with an opening facing the street for a quick sip of sake, soju or plum wine would have been enough to draw me in. Pleasantly surprised by the ambience is an understatement.
Tatami matted climb-in seating with small families and kids crawling around lined the right wall, and private booths occupied the left side of the long narrow room. A few seats were available at the tiny noodle bar in the back, the place where one would expect to see a sushi counter, but instead, was teaming with a few young Japanese looking guys sweating below a large hood sysem that is only meant to cover a smoke and steam producing cooking surface. Yup, no sushi here!
I was already "in love" before the food arrived. The rough hewn booths, naked wood, funny wicker lampshades, long skinny bowling alley feel, dark and timeless - could have been 50 years old or just opened last week - right up my own "alley."
The soba set arrived, with pickles and shichimi, as well as the tori-shiso maki, with tempura dipping sauce. The cucumbers made it to my table a few minutes later, which was all fine, since i was in lust and this restaurant could pretty much do no wrong - all predetermined before any food morsel had even hit my tongue. Such a sucker for ambiance!
The food, however, did not disappoint. It's two days later and I can still imagine the taste of the dashi marinated chicken breast and perfect crunch of the tempura outer crust. Its simplicity partnered with originality and succulence would call me back for that dish only.
I found myself not wanting to leave, but unless imbibing in their great sake and soju list was on the agenda, there was no solid reason to stay. I visited the bathroom on the way out, to find cool LED lit bottles the only light source which made the area outside the bathroom sexier than any bathroom area should be in the light of day... Once inside my trip to Japan was complete, as the warm Toyo toilet seats, replete with a warm front and back wash bidet, pretty much put me over the top. For $28 bucks, less than the cost of a round trip shuttle ride to the airport, the trip to Japan in Berkeley was worth every cent.
|Tori no shiso|