Sunday, January 17, 2016

Village Sake - Fairfax

I had to kill my inner demons and debunk the ghosts of ex-boyfriends and fianc├ęs to drive into Fairfax the other night to check out the new Izakaya I had been hearing about.   Why oh why do ex’s end up in the same town, and why oh why does it matter so many months and in some cases, years later? You can chalk that one up to age, I think.  I don’t remember ever being phased by that shit in my 20’s, or 30’s – I think the risk of an inopportune sighting limiting my movements into certain zip codes began in my 40’s.  I find it interesting that we are supposed to be getting better at shit and some stuff we just get worse at (or more self-aware and un-cocky, perhaps?)  So there I found myself, New Year’s Eve, I finished up my appointment in Tiburon, made a run around Belvedere Island, dropped into West Elm to waste a little time, did a quick change artist into better clothes in the backseat of my car, and headed over to Fairfax to the newish Village Sake, ghosts be damned! 
 It’s become sort of my ritual to have Japanese food at 5:00 pm New Year’s Eve.  No reservations required, one can often drop into the most popular place in town, belly up to the sushi bar, and be out before taxi’s start dropping off the would be partiers for their special night out.  Yawn…
I called to see if they took walk-ins, and their message stated they don’t take reservations, and that one could call or fill out a form online to be put on the waiting list after 5:30.  Since they opened at 5:00, I figured I’d slip in as the door unlocked.  I started getting a little nervous that I wasn’t the only person with this idea as I pulled into Fairfax to full parking lots and double parked cars of people waiting for spots.  And cops.  There was no way everyone had my idea.  I turned onto Bolinas Avenue, figuring I’d pass the venue first. There was a formidable line forming, it was 4:45 pm!  Damn, maybe everyone DID have my idea.  Thankfully I found a spot and ambled over as fast as I could, as it just wasn’t in my idea of reality to have to wait for a table at 5:00pm for chrissake!  A chilly 40ish degrees outside, bundled up diners chatted happily.  “have you been here yet?” the couple in front of me asked, “it’s awesome.”    
Living in Sonoma County, my finger is definitely not on the pulse of the Marin and SF dining scenes anymore.  I stopped reading Michael Bauer’s reviews back whenI threw in my GM hat and headed north to cow country.  Somehow though, news of this hot spot had reached me a few months back.  Scott Whitman, formerly of Sushi Ran fame, had opened his own place in Fairfax and it apparently was a hit.  I remember thinking then, oh shit, Fairfax?  Does it have to be in Fairfax (ghosts flying around…)?  I had to push through my demons though, having dined many a New Year’s Eve and beyond at Sushi Ran in Sausalito.  Scott knows what he’s doing, and if news had reached me 30 miles north, there was something to be said.
I scanned the line ahead of me – no ex bf’s (whew!), but a four top, two top, a three top and two dueces – calculating how many tables there were inside and how many tables there were ahead of me,.  For sure I’d be seated right away.
I opted for the 7-seat bar, and being the OCD that I am, took the third seat in:  Room for two on one side of me and for 4 more on the other side.  I know how this shit works.  And that is exactly what happened.  Literally 5 minutes after the door was open, every table and seat in the restaurant was full.  Talk about the kitchen getting slammed!  I love this shit, chef venturing out on his own, into a town not necessarily known for it’s dining scene, but more for it’s patchouli wearing townies sporting beanies in the local 70’s style music venue.  Wait, I should really take that back, because Fairfax has come around.  Aside from it being the main hub to cyclists on their 40+ mile weekend rides on bicycles that probably cost more than my car,  there is an amazing ice cream shop, a way nicer organic grocery store than Whole Foods, and a couple of newer, hip restaurants.  And still a fair amount of patchouli and sandlewood.  A good blend…
The room, full of dark wood, a row of booths on the left, and more tables toward the front and on the patio, was authentically appointed with noren curtains hanging in just the right places and a row of tasty looking sake bottles blocking my view of the backbar. 
 Scanning the amply appointed sake menu, I opted for a beautiful junmai ginjo called “Green Ridge,” because I was in Fairfax  surrounded by beautiful mountains, not because I’m any kind of an aficionado.  People around me ordered hot sake, which was served in an elaborate hot water contraption, avoiding the preheating or even worse, micro-waved schwag that some places try to get away with.  Mine was cold as I prefer,  and I slipped an order in for Takoyaki to start, before my waiter got too busy and to assure I didn’t get too drunk.   It’s beautiful mouthocoating texture, nutty tones and crisp dryness formed a perfect balance with the takoyaki that arrived soon after.   
Two bite balls of crunchy goodness, topped with finely shaved bonito flakes, grated ginger and a drizzle of sweet sauce, gave way to a creamy inside studded with morsels of chopped octopus.  The guests around me couldn’t help but stare as my expression changed from perhaps the best version of this dish I have ever experienced. 

With the menu having a nice mix of hot and cold small plates, sashimi, and 10 or so sushi rolls all at moderate pricing, it was really hard to pick and choose, one of the drawbacks of dining alone. 
Tai Sashimi
I opted for Tai sashimi next, needing to have the obligatory raw fish at least once during this meal.  It’s texture, clean, fresh, toothsome - 3 ample pieces served with shiso and long strands of grated daikon, a simple,  yet perfectly traditional presentation. Curried spaghetti squash was next, it’s slight starch providing a creamy texture to the hint of curry, cilantro and lime, and was surprisingly reminiscent of true pasta with pesto.  What a great idea and something I will have to try at home.  
Curried Spagetti Squash
The Scallop Roll was a difficult choice among the delectable sounding combinations.  Eight perfectly cut pieces arrived, and every bite was savored, as the scallop had that perfectly fresh headiness one expects and was offset by the crunchy of the tempura. 
Scallop Roll
I ordered another sake, my excitement hard to contain, as the meal thus far was a 10 out of 10.  Somehow containing my tendency toward overindulgence, I ordered only one dish more, as I was already well-sated but remembered I wanted to try some skewers, as one can’t leave an Izakaya without a sampling of yakitori or the like.  Another difficult decision pushed me toward the most traditional: Chicken Thighs and Scallions, but it was a hard choice as the Pork Belly and the Steak were also calling my name.  The sweetness of the tare sauce was the perfect cap for a satisfying meal, my 2nd sake almost finished. 
Chicken Skewers
I really really wanted another, as I noticed my favorite Double 8 Dairy  had a new Black Sesame Gelato, made from local water buffalo milk, on the dessert menu.  But then I remembered the local law enforcement patrols, and self-preservation took over.  I managed to make it out of town with no ghost sightings and my palate still wanting. I’ll save the rest of the menu for next time, with a couple of friends, the holidays safely behind us, and hopefully, a driver.