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Whole fish at Menkui Tei. Really - whole fish. [moved from Manhattan board]

My husband told me he went to Menkui Tei (3rd Ave., south of St. Marks) for lunch today and had a most unpleasant experience. We'd been there many times before and had recently enjoyed a grilled piece of mackerel with a not-too-sweet teriyaki glaze over the nice, crisp skin. Today, they had whole mackerel on the menu so that's what he chose. When it was presented to him, he dug in with his chopsticks and quickly came to realize that the fish had not been cleaned. Everything was there - gills to guts. When he asked the waitress about it, she said, "I'll ask the chef," and came back to say that, "Japanese people like it that way, so that's how we serve it." He paid for it without eating and went out for pizza.

Really, though - is this, in fact, the norm? 'Cause we've never seen it anywhere else. Granted, we've never ordered whole fish in a Japanese restaurant before.

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  1. At the risk of sounding like an unadventurous eater...ew. I've had the whole fish at Lan, and it had a head & a tail, but no scales or innards. Then again, I've seen fish intestine on plenty of Chinese menus, so maybe it was intentional.

    1. In Japan smaller fish are sometimes grilled with their innards in place, but even there, it is mostly "gourmets" who enjoy them most.

      1. yes, it is in fact, very, very popular in Japanese cuisine and something I grew up with and love to eat once in a while. The whole fish is so much more moist and flavorful. Of course, its not for the squeemish, but I definitely recommend it, especially with a little squeeze of lemon and a side of daikon oroshi.

        1. That was probably sanma no shioyaki (salt grilled pike mackerel), which is almost always made with the fish intact. Depending on the freshness of the fish, the guts can be the best or the worst part of the sanma. In Japan, if it's not eaten along with the fish, the guts are used to make sauces. But it's usually only sanma or smaller fish like shishamo (smelts) or small iwashi (anchovy) that gets similar treatment. It's too bad your husband didn't give it a chance. It's one of my comfort foods.

          4 Replies
          1. re: E Eto

            So ... "sanma no shioyaki" is served with "gills" ... "correct"?

            1. re: TheDescendedLefticleOfAramis

              Yup, the whole fish... just as it is ... sono mamma. I get plain ol' sanma (thawed, frozen) at the Korean markets all the time for grilling.
              See here: http://kyotofoodie.com/home-cooking-s...

              1. re: E Eto

                Home cooking is ... home cooking.
                Not to belabor a point ... I've known those south of 14th whose work is accomplished. Is this an aversion to "wata" (guts), or did the OP hit on on a poor dish?

                1. re: TheDescendedLefticleOfAramis

                  Yes, it was an "aversion to guts." And, no, he didn't give it a try after discovering the nature of the dish.

                  Granted, my husband is usually the only non-Asian diner in the place when he goes to Menkui Tei. I would say the waitress might have been a little more aware and warned him about the dish.

                  Thanks to all who responded because now he won't have a problem going back to the restaurant, knowing that what he was served, while shocking to him, was absolutely correct and authentic.

          2. Thanks for the heads up. This is a fall standard for Japanese. I'm happy to know it's served somewhere in the city. We don't cook it at home because the apartment smells for days afterwards. It's very tasty when cooked right and with a nice sea salt. Cold beer and sanma shio-yaki, the breakfast of champions!....And should I be concerned a ramen shop is doing grilled fish?

            1. There's definitely nothing untoward about serving fish, in particular fresh sanma (pike mackerel), whole and ungutted. Stateside it's best done with the freshest sanma which is flown in by air from Japan. Right about now it's starting to disappear from the store shelves, so the season as we see it from here is waning. But every year during this time I cannot seem to get enough of the sanma, freshly grilled with salt over a dry heat, guts and all.

              Here in San Diego at the sushi bar that I frequent they will occasionally mix it up for me by serving some cooked dishes to break up the meal. On one such occasion they had served me a salt-grilled (shioyaki) sanma. However as the sanma was already prepped to be used for sushi it was, of course, already gutted. I remember enjoying the sanma, but noting that it would have been more enjoyable had it been kept intact, guts and all...

              It does strike me as a bit strange, though, for a restaurant to take an order for sanma from a non-Japanese customer (I assume) without asking the proverbial "are you sure you want that?". I suspect if that was done in this case, that would have made all the difference in the world.

              Silverjay: I'm sure you've seen the Zojirushi (relatively) smokeless electric fish grills wtih the filter of activated charcoal in the cover. I find it does a decent enough job, but then again the smell never really bothered me that much even when I used to use just a plain 'ole ami (Japanese stove-top grill).

              1. I'm surprised the waitress had to ask the chef.