Mikawa Zezankyo, Tokyo, Japan みかわ是山居

by Josh

When Tina first suggested Mikawa to me, I wasn’t terribly excited. After all, what I knew as tempura was shrimp and vegetables deep fried with thick batter. It can taste good, but none the less is one that gets tiring quickly. A whole meal of tempura seemed a bit too much. Or so I thought. But since Tina did all the research on food, I didn’t put up much of a fight when she insisted on making reservations. “It’s supposed to be really good!” she said.

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By this time in our trip, my friends Benny and Cindy made it to Tokyo to join us on our honeymoon! We met up at Shinjuku station and took the train over to Monzen-Nakacho. Trying to find this place reminded me of how difficult life was before smart phones and GPS. Even then, it wasn’t clear where this place was. Wait, what’s that kanji on that wooden placard? Doesn’t that say Mikawa? You’d think, but Nope! Actually it reads Zezankyo, but I thought it read Hoshiyamakyo because of the way it was written. I also didn’t know what Zezankyo was in kanji. After asking a guy that was passing by we found out we were standing right in front of it the entire time. To the service of those that plan to come here in the future, the above photo is the main entrance.

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The restaurant is situated in a 4 story building, where the main dining area is on the ground floor. The ambiance felt unusually welcoming and homey. It is as if we stumbled into someone’s home to have a meal. I have to say this was a very unique feel for any restaurant I’ve been to. I quite liked it. Despite the very intricate decor and the really cool ceiling tiles (each piece was uniquely designed), there wasn’t an ounce of pretentiousness in this space. Unlike most “Michelin experiences”, this felt easy and comfortable.

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I love it when restaurants are creative and design conscious with their menus, and we all collectively wowed at the sight of this beautifully drawn menu done by none other than Chef Tetsuya Saotome himself. I never spent as much time marveling at a menu before that day.

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As my friends and I are in the midst of discussing the menu items, the familiar sizzle of a deep fryer caught our attention. Everything served is edomae. So there was a great deal of preparation done by the time the shrimp hits the fryer. Here at Mikawa, Saotome-san does all the frying. First up was ebi (shrimp) and botan-ebi (shrimp head). Served on a folded piece of paper, which if you notice is folded in such a way that covers the maximum amount of surface area on the grill. Totally nerdy, but I appreciate these kinds of things.

Go ahead and search google images of tempura right now. Is there one where the batter is as thin as this? No. There isn’t, because I looked myself. I swiftly dipped it in a bit of sea salt and took that first bite. Yep, Tina was right. This was really really good. The thin batter contributes just enough to the taste by giving way to the juicy delight of the shrimp. It’s not greasy at all. I know that by taste, and also by how little residual oil is left on the paper. Both were mad delicious. We were told we can dip it in either sea salt or grinded daikon doused in a green tempura dipping sauce. Entirely up to you, but I personally preferred sea salt while occasionally using the latter for balance when the grease started to build up in my mouth.

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Next was kisu (Japanese whiting), followed by ika (squid). Good ika to me needs to be fresh and have just the right about of chewy texture to it. This was just that. The kisu on the other hand was very tasty and soft! The combination of that with the crunchiness of the batter made for a solid piece of tempura.

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We were given a bowl of dashi soup with a dumpling. Many restaurants served this during our stay in Japan, but the one at Mikawa was probably the best of the bunch. What made it special were those small vegetable chunks coated with gelatin. The texture and taste complimented the soup very well.

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What followed was one of my favorite dishes of this meal. May I present you, the shiso wrapped uni. It tastes as good as it looks. The shiso in particular really made this whole. If you love uni, you’re going to love this.

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In the time we spent in Japan, matsutake mushroom was in season so many restaurants served them. I already love mushrooms in general, but matsutake mushrooms quickly rose through the ranks and became one of my favorites by the time we left. The ones served at Mikawa were as juicy and flavorful as they come. Since being back in the bay area Tina and I have been on the look out for them, none have come close in quality.

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Ginger tempura! We use ginger a lot in Chinese or Taiwanese cooking, but it’s usually added for flavor and not meant to be consumed directly. So I did hesitate for a second before trying this. Tasted better than I had imagined.

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Meguchi (three little fish) followed. Soft and tender. Much like the kisu that preceded.

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I find it hard for anyone to dislike anago (sea eel). The combination of it’s rich flavor and melts-in-your-mouth texture makes this the perfect tempura fish. Definitely another highlight of the meal.

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We were given a choice of two veggies from a list of 5~6. The one we didn’t try was asparagus. I chose the shishito pepper and shiitake while Tina chose eggplant and sweet potatoes. The shishito pepper was our favorite of the bunch followed by eggplant.

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Now we’re nearing the end of the meal. Usually by this time, something with rice is served. We were given the choice between kakiage (mixed tempura) over rice or ochazuke. Doing what couples do, Tina got one and I the other. The ochazuke was much like the dashi soup served earlier in the meal. I personally preferred rice, but that’s also because Japanese rice is so darn good.

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Finally, the sweet ending to wrap it all up. Sweet red beans with some powdered sugar.

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As the waiters cleaned up the tables, Saotome-san asked for Tina’s menu and began drawing a shrimp and signing it in calligraphy! When I handed mine over for the same treatment, he looked at me smiling and said: 「女性だけ!」 (ladies only)

Our meal was about $160 (~17500Y) per person which was the more expensive of the two options. I can’t remember what we got on top of the basic menu, but the price difference wasn’t by much. We were stuffed by the end of the meal, and all of us enjoyed it thoroughly. A local sitting next to us told us that this was his favorite tempura restaurant. I’d love to go back again one day, but not before trying some of the other options in Tokyo. Next time!

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One Comment to “Mikawa Zezankyo, Tokyo, Japan みかわ是山居”

  1. The food looks deeeelish!!! Lucky ducks!

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