by Rebekah Chan
Nodaiwa, a small, rustic kura (storehouse) situated in the middle of the city, is 160 years old and has been managed by the same family for five generations. Famed for its traditional approach to preparing unagi (eel), the restaurant was recently awarded one Michelin star for 2010.
I was escorted to the third level of the house by a kimono-wearing obaa-san (grandmother) to a room with bamboo ceilings and walls lined with dark wooden beams. The ambiance suggested you might be in Takayama (from where the kura was transported) in the Edo era. The set courses started at ¥4,500 and went up to ¥15,750 for the caviar course. It being my first time at Nodaiwa, I opted for the ¥4,500 irodori (colorful) course.
The appetizer quickly arrived, and I became fascinated with the eel jelly cubes served. The savory taste of eel in a bouncy, gelatinous texture was new to me. Afterward came the shirayaki, a metal box with unflavored eel and salt, with soy sauce and wasabi to taste. At the first touch I was impressed with the exceptionally soft texture of the eel. Soon after, my main course of unaju was served: grilled eel with tare sauce on a bed of rice with sides of eel liver soup, pickled vegetables and grated daikon. Despite the delicious taste of the grilled eel with the family secret tare, I was already beginning to feel full after my first serving of unagi. As I sipped the soup loaded with refreshing mitsuba leaves between mouthfuls of the sweet tare taste, I had a close-up view of the eel liver at the bottle of the bowl filled with fresh and flavorful broth. A fruity jelly signaled the end of the plentiful course.
Although it can get pricey for unagi, if you can appreciate the heritage, tradition and dining experience Nodaiwa has to offer, then surely it is worth a visit to try the outstanding freshwater eel.
1-5-4 Higashi-Azabu, Minato-ku
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