Friday, February 28, 2014

創新麺庵 生粋 Kissui: the taste of mackerel

The Japanese title of filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu's understated final masterpiece, An Autumn Afternoon, is sanma no aji, which is "the taste of mackerel pike." Sanma is a long, knife-shaped fish that is most prominently found in stores in the fall. Cooked shioyaki, or salted and grilled, it's a fish that is served with its silver skin on, head and guts intact, luminous, rich, and smoky. Those guts are highly nutritious, but also gritty and bitter. It is, in short, a fish that appropriately captures the feelings of Ozu's swan song, a melancholy etude to aging, loneliness, and obligation.

I walked into Kissui on a cold and rainy day, just before the lunch rush. I was the only customer inside, and the ramen wasn't completely ready yet. 

Instead of using the typical bonito or skipjack tuna dashi of typical shops, Kissui specializes in a shoyu ramen that is derived nearly entirely from sanma. While the fish is most plentiful in the autumn season, it can be found all year round. And thank goodness.

Shoyu soba (700yen)

This is a bowl that is as rich and savory as any I've ever had. The smoky essence of the sanma comes through in the first bite, but the quality of the fish never becomes cloying. 

The key to Kissui's bowl is its balance, as the soup has so much umami that the toppings need to be slightly restrained, yet never mediocre. The soup clings to the springy noodles; the smoked, thick-cut chashu has a great dry texture; and the onions and mizuna greens provide a great freshness. This is a bowl greater than its parts, whose every player has been orchestrated to evoke an emotion, and whose subtle simplicity displays a martinet control.

Sometimes words can't completely express the feeling of contentment. This was a masterful bowl.

Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Ikebukuro 2-12-1
Closest stn: Ikebukuro

Open from 1130am-3pm and 6-1030pm (closed Tuesdays, slightly earlier on weekends)


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