Today the MSG150 crew ate at the last restaurant in our Japantown route. We have now eaten at every International District restaurant west of I-5. This is a feat that has never before been attempted and will surely win us a place in Guinness. Or at least a Guinness. I'm buying.
We set out for Tsukushinbo again today which, as we learned last week, is closed on Monday. We showed up at 11:40 to find out that it doesn't open until 11:45. Luckily the sun was out and soon we were in to give it a go.
Luncher: GearyLunch: Katsu Don - $6.75
Tsukushinbo is the most hole-in-the wall and likely the most authentic Japanese restaurant in Japantown. And, if they were going for the run-down restaurant feel they nailed it. The sign and storefront are in need of an update and a good wash. The interior is dark and also in need of a good wash. There are short curtains that hang over the doors just low enough that your head (at least my head) gets a light brush that as a result have started to turn a little brown along the edge. All of the plastic chair cushions are cracked with exposed foam. Mine also had a small helping of last night's dinner crusted too it which I had to brush off before sitting. Our server was nice, possibly the daughter of the owner, and passed out menus and answered questions. Although, either through profiling or neglect, she failed to bring us green tea for our meal. However it wasn't all bad. In fact the food was mostly good.
I ordered the Katsu Don to see how it stacked up to Ichiban, my current favorite. It was $1.20 cheaper which was a good start. It was very good, however, my dish somehow had a big dollop of cold, uncooked egg white that was hard to overlook. I tried to stir it in, but the rice and bowl weren't quite hot enough to cook it so it just turned the rice a little gooey. However, I'm not chicken when it comes to raw egg so I dove in anyway. Like Ichiban, there was lots of sauce and the pork was nice and tender. I ate every bite.
If you're looking for a sterile Japanese dining experience, you'll have better luck across the street. However, if you are looking for an authentic, family run, slightly grungy Japanese restaurant experience with tasty food then look no further. You won't be disappointed.
Luncher: EmmettLunch: Sanma Shioyaki & Tonjiru with Rice - $7.50
Well god damn. You could walk by this place and not even know it exists, but once the door opens, you enter a warm, welcoming, inviting place. There is a sushi bar in the rear right corner, and a smattering of tables fill out the rest of the room. There's a white board of specials that all look intriguing.
On the Tuesday we visited, the daily special was Sanma Shioyaki with Tonjiru. I can't recall ever having Sanma, or Mackerel Pike in English, but it was a short fish about an inch in diameter. Briefly before my meal came over, I saw the Sushi Chef with a blow torch, and I can't help but wonder if the blow torch was doing it's number on my Sanma. It was delicious. A little bony, and it took some work to get the fish off, but it was juicy, savory, and delicious. The Tonjiru was the star of the show. Basically Miso soup with sliced pork. Why didn't I think to try this before? In a word, awesome. The special was rounded out by a mediocre green salad with some macaroni thrown in. Forgiveable. All for $7.50.
Besides being a delightful surprise (and relative bargain), the daily special menu is tempting me to come back. Jay Friedman gushed recently about their Top Secret Friday shoyu ramen. I can't wait to stand outside on a Friday morning at a quarter til noon to try this.
Thank you Tsukushinbo, for reminding me why I do this. 5 chops.
Luncher: AdamLunch: Oyako Don - $6.50
11:45AM is a weird time for a restaurant to open. Normally, we would get there after the time, but Dave is an early luncher, so we had to wait outside the door for 5 cold minutes.
To be honest, Don buri dishes have never sounded that appetizing to me; they sounded really boring. After everyone got done raving about the Don Buris at Ichiban (and my experience was crap there), I decided to go with the Oyako Don. Hot dang! It was good. The little marinated chunks of chicken thighs (my favorite part of a chicken), mixed with well-cooked eggs (not runny but not dry) and the sweet sauce they put on the rice was a winner. I spiced it up with some Shichimi, and enjoyed it some more.
Overall, I think the Don Buri was good but will remain a dish I keep on a back burner. It's good, but it's simple and gets old after a whole bowl of it. If the windows in our office opened, I could throw Geary, and hit Tsukushinbo. I'm pretty weak, so let that give you an indication of how close this place is. I'll definitely hit this place up again, for both it's proximity and good food.
Luncher: DaveLunch: Oyako Don - $6.50
Tsukushinbo is an unassuming little place, and a little dingy; it's showing some definite signs of age and neglect. This maybe isn't the place to impress a date. That said, you don't eat the decor, so down to what matters: this was a darn good bowl of oyakodon. I love donburi -- if it's on the menu, that's what I'm getting. To me it's comfort food: steaming rice, scrambled eggs, sweet mirin-and-dashi sauce. This bowl was exactly what I wanted: the balance of sweet and salty in the sauce was spot on, the eggs weren't overcooked, and the chicken was tasty enough. The bits of seaweed and the pickled radish garnish were great, and the unexpected strips of fish cake were a nice textural contrast. And as a bonus, the price is right. I can definitely see this place making its way into the rotation, at least for me.
Luncher: TorreyLunch: Curry Udon - $7.25
Tsukushinbo Menu (cont.)
Sanma Shioyaki & Tonjiru with Rice