Uokin Izakaya in Hamamatsucho 魚金 居酒屋

The kanji for Uokin Izakaya actually stands for Goldfish. Goldfish seems to be a very popular name for Japanese izakaya establishments and I’ve had tremendously good luck with them. My favorite izakaya in the Pacific Northwest is also coincidentally named Goldfish; in Japanese kanji it means the same thing but it is instead pronounced as Kingyo and located in Vancouver, BC. This has nothing to do with the name (or how cute I find it) but Uokin in Hamamatsucho, Tokyo also happens to be my favorite izakaya in Japan! Looks like I had better search out Goldfish-themed restaurants wherever I go in the future!

Uokin is a very popular but small chain of izakaya restaurants in Japan. It is nowhere near as large or commercial as Watami or Doma Doma but the quality is much higher and closer to an independent restaurant, with some very unique offerings. They focus on seafood and use the very freshest produce to create simple but refreshingly delectable small plates which pair very well with alcohol.

We started off with a small platter of grilled salt and pepper pork chop cubes with a tangy and very appetizing Dijon mustard dipping sauce. The food at Uokin is relatively simple but absolutely delicious. There’s no gimmick here; just very fresh produce, treated in the way best suited to it. Although simple, some of the flavor combinations still managed to surprise me in a good way. In this case, the Dijon mustard dipping sauce was really amazing and complemented the perfectly grilled, slightly fatty pork very well.

This was the only dish that I hated at Uokin, quite possibly making it up to the most detestable food I’ve ever eaten in my life. What a strong statement but I’m hardly exaggerating. This was kujira, whale meat! I know I’m bordering on hypocrisy here by refusing to eat whale meat when I relish other meats such as pork, beef, chicken and so on but a whale just seems so much more sentient, endangered and precious than the common chicken and pork that are bred for the table. Left to my own devices, I would never order this detestable food but our Japanese hosts insisted multiple times that we had to at least try it and so we relented eventually. I had one small bite and the fishy smell was horrifyingly overpowering. I have no idea if Uokin is just inept at preparing whale meat or if whale meat in general is just very strongly fish-flavored. It tasted of rotting flesh that came from the sea and I don’t think it is just my embellished imagination at work here.

Moving on… this was simply delightful. Katsuo or bonito, pressed sushi. I’ve eaten pressed sushi many times but this was just that slightly more unique because of the added piece of konbu kelp on top of the raw fish. It added an extra dimension of taste and texture to an otherwise simple but delicious dish.

Uokin really excels at their seafood (with the exception of whale meat!) and this was no exception. Freshest possible yellowtail sashimi drizzled with yuzu citrus ponzu sauce and some kind of pesto. This will make you want to order that one, more pint of beer.

 Dashimaki, savory Japanese rolled omelette made with dashi broth. Typically velvety and juicy but Uokin ups the tastiness quotient by including a gift of mentaiko fish roe in the center. Decadent and yet comfort food at its best. I would have been happy with just a bowl of rice with this.

I can’t remember the exact name of this dish but it was based on katsuo bonito. Bonito sashimi is not really common outside of Japan so we really indulged as much as we could, particularly since June is also the season for bonito This was a fresh, refreshing yet strongly flavored salad so that you can easily pair it with your favorite beer. A mouthful of fresh bonito with garlic chips, shiso, onions and a swig of beer? Match made in heaven.

 Yakisoba, stir fried Japanese noodles with a sweet-savory sauce mainly made of Worcestershire sauce and sprinkled with bonito flakes. This was ordered towards the end of the meal which is quite typical of a Japanese izakaya session. After lots of alcohol, they start craving for carbohydrates while I begin craving for them right at the beginning of the meal!

Fried cheese and buttered garlic toasts with honey lemon! This can get very addictive! I’m so tempted to make some right now just looking at the photo… it doesn’t seem too difficult. Breaded deep fried mozzarella cheese cubes with buttered garlic toasts and a dip of literally just honey and lemon bits. Simple but astonishingly addictive.

Goya chanpuru, an Okinawan stir-fry dish of goya a type of bittergourd with spam, tofu cubes and egg and topped with katsuobushi. Japanese bittergourd is kind of different from Chinese bittergourd. It has a more ridged surface, dark forest-green instead of the light pastel-green of Chinese bittergourd and tastes more bitter but goya chanpuru is a really tasty dish when done right.

Sudachi sour. The first of many drinks but the lighting was so dim that I gave up on taking photos. Sudachi is a type of Japanese citrus, closest to lime but with a stronger fragrance. Sugar syrup, sudachi, shochu and club soda. Although each dish is not really difficult to recreate, the allure of an izakaya is really the atmosphere and convenience of being able to sample multiple dishes at very affordable prices.

 

 

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I’m typing up this post while eating a slice of matcha honey castella cake that I’ve brought back from Tokyo and it is so intensely delicious that it brought up all these strong memories of all the mindblowing food that I’ve eaten on this trip. Only in Japan will you find specialty shops making just that one type of dessert or just one type of ramen or just that one specific type of food, in this case, tonkatsu. Nowhere else in the world will you find so many people so devoted to one thing that they are willing to spend so much time and effort perfecting it and of course, in turn, there’s nowhere else in the world with so many people willing and able to appreciate this singleminded devotion.

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In Japan, the honten or first shop is pretty important and held in high regard. Usually, the first shop will uphold the old ways of making the food that first propelled it to fame. Subsequent newer shops may employ more operationally efficient methods such as using food from central kitchens or cutting down on some steps in order to churn out orders more quickly. So whenever possible, visit the very first shop! Maisen is so well-known and popular that it has food counters in many department stores around Tokyo and other restaurant locations but the tonkatsu at their first Omotesando location is truly much better than any other place, as evidenced by a disappointing quick meal that I had at one of their other restaurant locations in a mall.

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