Wednesday, June 8, 2011


A few months ago, before the quake, I had an amazing meal at Robata over by Yurakucho station (1-3-8 Yuraku-cho). Jane Hirshfield, poet, essayist, translator, and foodie, was in town for a reading, and the infinitely connected Leza Lowitz suggested this place, which has been host to Allen Ginsberg and Octavio Paz, among others. I've actually passed it for years, wondering how a crooked, blackened little building like that managed to survive. Who knew?

Inside, the place is an absolute warren, with tables tucked into nooks, and a counter covered in gorgeous plates of food, from which your meal is chosen for you. The proprietor, Inoue-san, is beyond old-school in his kimono and round glasses, and he speaks so softly I had to ask him about the dishes over and over. And yet he is no strict traditionalist--the cuisine is a mix of Japanese and European flavors, but without the showiness of the usual fusion. The plates are a carefully curated collection, some of which are made by the master craftsman Morioka-san, who Leza tells us is something of a wild mountaineer. I still can't believe I didn't break anything.

The first platter was like a Japanese antipasto, with grilled asparagus, tofu and goya (bitter melon), smoked salmon, cured mackerel, kabocha salad, and something like an eggplant caponata with sweet caramelized onions. We grazed until there was nothing left but a streak of tofu cream.

 Asari clams, potato, and shimeji mushrooms cooked with garlic and wine.
The dishes kept coming. Jane said it was the Chez Panisse of Japan, which was not crazy talk. The clams and shimeji mushrooms had something French going on with the wine and brine, and the oyster risotto had a little Venetian vibe, but everything retained a Japanese character with the local ingredients, like sweet, melt-in-your-mouth daikon radish.
A creamy risotto of oysters and mushrooms--just a little sweetness

Bonita sashimi with daikon, shiso sprouts, and little yellow pods that evidently grow into trees if they aren't tossed in a light ponzu dressing and gobbled up.
A crispy fried fish covered in a sweet and sour sauce, sauteed vegetables, and raw apple slivers.
The fruit over the fish was amazing, and the sauce was made with black vinegar. We picked the bones down to Smithsonian cleanliness.
Wagashi sweets to end the meal
More wagashi studded with pistachio
The dense little sweets were a perfect ending. We were full and swooning already when we heard that a very statuesque woman at the next table was William S. Burroughs' daughter. Is that possible? I think I misheard, but I like imagining how that might have been possible. Upstairs, we took a little tour of the salon where there are sometimes readings, special meals, and such. You know, like with artsy types. Every corner was crammed with books, paintings, and drawings--even a little sketch by Juliette Binoche. What? She's artsy.
The third floor salon
Inoue-san and Jane upstairs
It was a marvelous evening of lingering over each dish. We thanked Inoue-san for taking such good care of us, and stumbled back into the street, happy and amazed.

1 comment:

  1. I read about Jane's visit (and this place!) on Alan Botsford's blog, I believe. It sounds (and looks) marvelous, indeed. How I miss Japan.