Wednesday, May 12, 2010
[台北] 一心日本料理 Ishin Nihon Ryori Taipei
Ishin 一心, or in kanji "one heart", is a fine example of a Japanese restaurant in Taipei where Japanese people would go eat, versus Taiwanese Japanese places that caters primarily to most of the locals and their tastebuds. This was a pretty popular place a few years ago, but with so many other places like it in the area, I'm not sure how they are faring these days.
But this is not to say that Ishin is enitrely hardcore, far from it, it is actually a mom and pop type operation, run by a chef husband who spends most of his time between the kitchen and the counter area where he does all the sashimi slicing, and the wife or okamisan who interacts with customers, assists them with ordering and anything else in between.
Ishin is also one of multiple restaurants in the immediate area that services local Japanese, expatriates, and those who are on business, travel, or working for the goverment/diplomats, in addition to those with like minded tastes, who need to relax, unwind after work, social with fellow employees or important clients, or even just hang out with friends. I suppose you can say it has an izakaya feel to it, but absolutely nothing like the trendy fusiony places in the Silicon Valley (Northern California)
Ishin like most other intimate small humble restaurants, require advanced reservations in order to be guaranteed spots at this 24 seater place. Similar to virtually all Japanese food businesses in Taipei (including food retail places), photography is prohibited of the food and generally of the premises, but the okamisan was gracious enough to allow me to photograph the exterior and interior as no other customers were present at the time. (I looked this place up in google.com.tw search....lots of bloggers took quick snapshots with their smaller cameras and smartphones! Guess it's not easy to stealth with a giant SLR)
Once you go past the sliding entrance door, you need to remove your shoes and place them on the shelf adjacent to the shelf that contains numerous bottles of sake (now isn't that a weird juxaposition of alcohol and smelly stinky feet!)
The menu in memory, breaks down into the following categories (in no particular order)
nabemono 鍋物 - hot pot
agemono 揚物 - deep fried items
yakimono 焼物 - grilled items
tempura (anago and kisu tempura I believe were available)
and one or two more categories I cannot remember.
Be sure to check the specials menu, which is a fine sheet of paper listing the items entirely in Chinese (kanji) which you read from top to bottom. Of note, but was not ordered, were grilled tuna chin (lower section) at NT$690, aji no nambanzuke 南蛮漬.
The Okamisan was one of the most friendliest, patient, and gracious
hosts I've ever encountered. She is very fluent in Mandarin (for obvious reasons) and her husband speaks a little bit. I'm told he drives frequently 30 to 60 minutes north into the port of Keelung (north coast of Taipei) to hand pick the freshest fish for cooking as well as sashimi (why raise costs by importing similar fish from Japan?)
1) Combination sashimi - local maguro, salmon, tako, hamachi with an additional order of scallops and uni, which 3 small lobes of it averaged US$8, not cheap. But it was all very great quality and fresh. Kudos to the chef using as much local seafood as possible, even if limited compared to other parts of the world.
2) Stewed potato with pork, carrots, and cabbage. The sauce/broth soaked into the potato, very nice. Could this be a version of niku jaga?
3) Hokkaido style nabe (hot pot) with salmon, cabbage, carrot, and bean thread vermicelli noodle in white and red miso base mix. Very hearty and warming in cold weather.
4) Julienne Japanese Mountain Yam (yamaimo) appetizer. This was supposed to be yamaimo and okura, but I only saw yamaimo. Served with wasabi on the side. Excellent.
5) Chicken karaage - mind blowingly good. Crispy sexy crunchy toasty flavorful skin, with really juicy chicken meat on the inside.
6) Charcoal grilled saba shio (saba shioyaki) - a little bit fishy, but was very nicely done.
7) Okinawa style Goya Champuru - arguably using Taiwanese local mountain bitter melon (not bitter at all compared to the stuff in the US). Stir fried with pork (belly?), tofu, eggs, soy sauce. Super homey and delicious dish, no surprise it appealed to Chinese tastebuds as well. Went well with rice, one of the highlights of the meal.
This was a very high quality, simple yet homey food, pretty low key, and definitely intimate, warming, and great vibe kind of place (as a result of the warmth of our okami-san). Service was a tad bit spotty when it got really busy, but that's understandable. Great use of local and imported ingredients to make something that I would guess is not that far off from Japan.
一心日本料理 (Ishin Nihon Ryori)
台北市中正區中山北路1段121巷36-1號 (Zhongzhen District, Zhongshan North Rd, 1st portion, 121 Alley #36-1).
Tel: (02)- 2560-5801
6 pm to 12 pm (Closed Sundays)