Makkoli bar in Nishi-Shinjuku
I had a great meal recently at Tejimaul in Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo, which bills itself as a "makkoli bar." They serve 11 different types of makkoli, a milky white alcoholic beverage similar to Japanese "cloudy" sake, plus a whole bunch of makkoli-based cocktails. I've only ever seen one or two kinds of makkoli on a typical Korean restaurant menu, so I was surprised by so much variety.
The first makkoli I tried seemed to be made with black beans in addition to rice, and it had a sweet, nutty flavor, a lot like hazelnut. I also tried an interesting "okage" version (okoge is toasted rice), and a "dongdongju" which was much smoother and closer to a Japanese nigori-zake (which is my main reference point). I still have 8 more makkoli to go, so I'm due for another visit soon.
The food menu is also unusually big and varied for Tokyo. The specialty is gourmet pork - three different breeds - and they grill up various cuts for you over a little portable gas-stove contraption right at your table. (http://tejimaul.com/s/gensen.html shows the different breeds of pig they use.) They also serve sashimi and raw beef, chige stews and soups, and a lot of original dishes like "chanja carbonara" and canapes on nori. I had one of the best kakuni (slow-cooked pork stew) I've ever had there.
There's no English menu, so go with a Japanese-speaking friend (or better yet, a Korean-speaking friend). It also helps if you really like pork, and don't mind some pork fat.
Went to this place the other night. The makkoli was fab but the so-called ji buta kalbi was inedible. It was kind of salt pickled,and was thrown on a rock grill that was barely warm, which didn't help things along. By the time it was cooked it had become salty, dry, tasteless and full of hard rubbery hunks of fat, and the meat itself had a kind of creepy texture. I guess Koreans don't eat rice with their meals because I asked the waiter and waitresses no less than 5 times to please bring me the rice I had ordered. Finally gave up. Eating at the bar with elbows in, shoulders hunched and my knees in my chest did not add much to the experience. Can't imagine I will be back. Robb, did I accidently go to Tejmaul's evil twin? Like so many places in Tokyo, a great concept that falls way short on execution.
Oh, I'm very sorry to hear that. I've been three times so far, and I've always had wonderful food, although I haven't tried the kalbi. Looking at the pictures on the menu (http://tejimaul.com/s/menu_hiraboku.html ), it seems to be the only cut that's marinated or pickled or whatever, so maybe that's the problem. I also always got the little portable gas grill, which seemed pretty hot.
I have to admit that I did have one dish that was just a little too weird for me - the "bossum" seemed to be a salad consisting of greens and huge slabs of pork fat with tiny bits of meat attached. But the other dozen or so dishes I had were all quite good.
I wonder what the problem was with the rice. Maybe they have the same custom they have in sushi bars where they don't serve rice while you're drinking sake? (Or maybe they were just having a bad day...)
I think it was a combination of over brining and starting the cooking before the stone grill was hot. The rice problem was probably because the kitchen was in the weeds. Looks like a combo of bad ordering and off night. I'll have to give it another try on a quieter night. When I went on Friday it had moved past being lively and was slightly hysterical.