Local Taste's Japanese Restaurant Journey Vol.1
According to my dining experience and years of searching for the best unagi, I believed Kabuto, Obana, Unazen, and Uomasa are among the best in Kanto. Each shop is very popular and distinctive in its own way.
Kabuto would be ideal for diner who loves dining in a shop that is quaint and serves as a reminder of how dining in an old small neighborhood restaurant is like. At Kabuto, they executed live eel and ripped off its beating heart in front of you. So this is not for the faint-hearted. Diners got to try different parts of eel. After dinner there, I need to fast one day after to recover from unagi euphoria. It’s a very big dinner so I also suggest light lunch before dinner there.
Obana is good for walking in as they don’t accept booking at all. However, it became a tourist destination so u see hungry tourists with luggages in the queue. There’s a long wait although it’s not a small restaurant which diners are seated in the floor. Still, lunch there is lovely and I love the sauce. No live execution though.
Unazen is a small shop near Tokyo sky tree run by a lovely old couple. Eel is kept alive before executed and grilled to order so it took time to prepare. One can walk in and my trick is to visit during off peak hour when nobody else is dining at that hour. I love both unagi and the sauce.
Uomasa gave me the feeling of dining in a box. The room is plainly decorated. However, what lacks in stylish ambience was made up by the most delicious unagi with nice aromatic sauce. Booking is not very difficult but a must as many walk in were turned down by the sign in front of the shop announcing being sold out.
In contrary to what I believed that I have already visited most of the best unagi restaurants around Kanto. Thanks to my sarge in Tokyo who led me to Shizuoka. Unagi Shun In Shizuoka is situated in an assuming neighborhood a bit far away from Shizuoka station. What a hidden gem! When I walked in, I couldn’t help admiring how beautiful the garden around the restaurant is. Shun got excellent ambience with one counter and one big table. How relaxing! Lunch offers a la carte while dinner is omakaze course. Diners at the counter can see the chef in action grilling most aromatic unagi while the execution is done in the kitchen behind the scene. This is friendlier to the faint- hearted, except one has to watch out not observing to close to the grill. The sauce got deep complex umami flavor with the right balance without feeling heavy. Grilled eel’s liver and liver soup are lovely. Big table made it ideal for diners in a group.
I’m impressed by the quality of Shun’s excellent raw material. Thanks to it’s proximity to Hamamatsu where is famous for two things: eel and piano factory. Piano from Hamamatsu is also of top quality. My Japanese friend who came from Hamamatsu once said he wouldn’t eat eel in Tokyo and now I could guess why.
Although Shun is run solely by husband and wife duo, service is top notch. His wife is friendly while being highly efficient. There were no foreigners when I was there so both plus other diners seemed a bit surprise to see a foreigner. However, I felt touched by their friendliness and hospitality.
Unagi is on my to-avoid list and my unagi meals have been cut downed drastically over the past years, not because of the fear for heavy metal which is easily accumulated to oily fish but the diminishing eel population. Besides Japan and international diners who follows suit, other cultures e.g. Spain also love their baby eels dish, called ‘angulas’ or elvers in English, which just drove the price up and the supply down drastically over the past years. At this rate, we might not see much of unagi in the next ten years. Even with the advance in marine biology and latest technology, breeding unagi in a farm isn’t really successful. All farmed eels got the baby eels from the wild before farming them. Wildly caught unagi became rare and it’s supply isn’t consistent. Only maybe 3 restaurants from the top of my head, Kabuto, Amamoto, and Teru sushi (with his gigantic wild unagi burger) seem to have the ability to source wild unagi regularly.
Walking in might be possible during lunch but booking is recommended. Due to the distant from Tokyo, I don’t recommend unless u considered yourself an unagi geek. For serious foodies who found venturing out of Tokyo in a day trip for excellent meal as easy as a walk in a park, Shun should be on to visit list. Besides, maybe you could schedule one meal at Shun and another at Tempura Naruse to make it worthwhile visiting Shizuoka.
For regular diners, I recommend enjoying unagi just once in a blue moon only in a very good unagi shop. We might as well let people in the later generation enjoy unagi too.
◆Sumiyaki unagi SHUN
Address:260-1, Arinaga, Shizuoka, Shizuoka Prefecture
Budget: 6,000 yen and up (lunch) / 15,000 yen and up (dinner)
Local taste had taken a long journey searching for delicious meals long before the dawn of social media, roaming from one city to another from the Far East to the west, over 160 cities in four continents and more than 400,000 miles during the last 37 years.
His dining spots over thousands of restaurants range from eating in a hole in the wall in Asia to all ten Michelin 3-star restaurants in Paris. More than decades was spent on chasing for perfect xiao long bao.
Because he is not in food business nor food writer, his article won’t be found elsewhere but exclusively on tokyotabletrip.com as a tribute to Leo Saito’s altruistic deed to help international visitors discover the beauty of Japanese cuisine.
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