Unagi in Tokyo?
Today for lunch I went back to a restaurant I visited when I was in Japan about a year ago. Unatetsu in Shinjuku (Kabukicho), just round from the Shinjuku ward office. (There are several Unatestu restaurants in Tokyo -- this seems to be one of the less popular of them, judging by google hits.)
When I visited last year a few days before New Year's Day, all the tables and the seats at the bar were filled. Today, there was just another couple there when I arrived, and another one entered as I was leaving. (Maybe Mondays are a bad day for eel.)
Sitting at the bar, you can watch them grill your eel kebabs and fillets as you wait. When I was there last year, the server selected several kinds of kushiyaki for me (and apart from various eel bits, they also offer other seafood). This time I just had a set meal of two kushiyaki, soup (went for the miso instead of eel liver soup), and unagu. The fillet had a nice crunchy lightly-carbonized exterior from the grill, with softer yet still firm inner flesh.
All in just under 1900 yen.
Thanks to Silverjay for referring me to this thread.
I visited Obana this past Saturday for lunch. Very popular -- every table was full, and there was a line outside of about 15 people waiting to enter. (The line moved very fast, and I got a table within 15 minutes of arriving.)
After ordering I noticed that most other diners were having unagi over rice boxes along with yakitori-style unagi and pickles (I think in some cases also soup). I had a "medium" order of unagi with a separate bowl of rice.
The wait after ordering wasn't too bad -- just 20 minutes or so, as E Eto said.
It was good, but not as good as I had hoped. I generally like the sauce a bit sweeter and the textures a little different. The sauce in my order was fairly salty with just a trace of sweetness; the meat, even the outer layer, was very soft and delicate and fell apart easily.
A bit expensive (for lunch) -- my medium order and rice with a soft drink (yes, roll your eyes) was 4700 yen.
Below is from a Japan Times round-up. A Japanese website had 3,000-5,000 YEN as a range for lunch....
"Many people -- the Food File included -- believe that the finest kabayaki in Tokyo is that served at Obana. It's certainly the oldest unagi shop in the city, dating back to the time when Senju was one of Edo's execution grounds and the eels grew fat in the nearby watercourses. These days, most of their unagi are still caught from the wild, although sourced from far less grizzly environs.
The architecture is traditional, gleaming from recent refurbishment. You will not find fresher unagi than this -- it is gutted and fillted to order, before being broiled, over charcoal, of course. That's why you can wait in line for as much as half an hour to get through the door. Bring your parasol.
Obana: Minami-Senju 5-33-1, Arakawa-ku; tel: (03) 3801-4670. Nearest station: Minami-Senju. Open: Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 4-7:30 p.m. (Saturday, Sunday & holidays 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.); closed Monday. No reservations taken -- just get in line."
Also, the dining area is the traditional tatami floor with small tables. No table seating (with chairs). It does take at least 20 minutes from when you order to receive your food, since the eels are freshly killed, filleted, and cooked to order. Just FYI if you have trouble sitting on the floor for a long meal.
Another article, from a JapanTimes blog.
On the most popular time for unagi:
"why people eat unagi on this day. There are many theories ... though the hypothesis that seems to be the most accepted is that some time during the Edo Period (1603-1868) fishmongers got together to promote eel because it didn’t sell as well as other fish and hit on the idea of saying that it boosted stamina during the dog days of summer. In other words, it was a marketing ploy, and just as American greeting-card companies effectively created Mother’s Day....."
"In recent years, there have been many scandals involving unagi distributors who have purposely mislabeled unagi from Taiwan or China as having been grown in Japan. Domestic eel commands a higher price...."
According to this same article, if you want to get unagi at Obana around the most popular time of the year for it, expect to wait an hour to get into the restaurant (100 people in line) and then another hour for your meal to arrive after placing an order.