Shiki report (embarrassingly long)
so I'm here on a brief family visit (currently live in England and get back home about twice a year), and checking in on some new restaurants is a top priority as always. I'd seen the Boston foodpress reviews of Shiki in coolidge corner and was psyched to try it, as I spent the fall and winter of this year in Tokyo have really missed the Izakaya food and atmosphere. Last night I took my parents and a family friend, none of them notably adventurous eaters, to Shiki at 7:45pm; we were seated promptly and proceeded to have a MOST enjoyable evening out:) . one regrettable dietary restriction: my dad eats shellfish but no 'real' fish, so all main-dish fish was out for the night. still, i think we managed beautifully. Here's what we ate, in the order in which it arrived:
* dashimaki tamago -- usually called 'rolled Japanese omelet' or the like -- basically a square-shaped scrambled egg concoction, staple of bentos and sushi bars. they cooked it and rushed it out hot, cut into thick rectangles, and it was absolutely delicious; not too sweet, with a little hint of dashi stock and the perfect moist consistency (not too runny, not too hard). accompanied by a little grated-daikon tower with a dab of soy sauce at the base.
* tsukemono -- five or six kinds of pickles [i remember carrots, lotus root, spinach, a couple kinds of cucumber] attractively arranged on a long plate. beautiful colours, lovely variety of textures. these lasted about 15 seconds.
* oroshi daikon with nameko mushrooms -- i ordered this just to be cheeky, because my dad picked it out and refused to believe that it would be as i described. as anticipated, most of this got left in the dish, through no fault of the kitchen's; we're all just your standard Western neba neba-phobes. ('neba neba' is the 'slimy' category of japanese food, covering natto, okra, yamaimo, and this stuff.)
* hiyayakko -- a couple of cold tofu blocks garnished with scallions, gari and a pile of bonito whispies (fish flakes; they look a bit like woodchip shavings), with some kombu and grape tomatoes flanking. served with a little jug of soy sauce that you pour over your tofu portion. cold, soft, perfect for summer. this is my favourite tofu dish, every time, so i was thrilled.
around now the soup/steamed things arrived: one chawanmushi, two dobinmushies. the latter is dashi broth in a heavyish teapot with nice things floating inside it: a chunk of salmon, two juicy shrimp, two scallops, some mushrooms (bunashimeji maybe? in Japan i saw them everywhere...), some cabbage. they passed around four little cups about the size of sake cups, so you pour some of the fish-infused soup into your cup, add a piece of something from the teapot, and eat. at least that's how i did it. anyway, i had this dish all over the place in tokyo and thought this was a really wonderful version. i didn't try the chawanmushi (egg custard with shrimp, fish cake, and vegetables mixed in), but it looked very legit.
* avocado salad -- basically a fat cylinder of creamy chopped avocado topped with cucumber, lots of delicate crab meat and some lovely unannounced fish roe. this looked amAZing and was a HUGE hit. it was a dressed with the ubiquitous japanese mayonnaise/'sausu' combo, which looked dramatic but had a pretty modest effect on the dish as a whole -- really just perked up all the other flavours. very ace.
* somen noodles -- from the specials list, basically thin pale noodles (are they a soba-ramen hybrid?) overlaid with shitake, cucumber, radish, super-thin-sliced ham, and a couple of cooked shrimp, with nori scattered over, in a light but strong-flavoured ginger dressing. again, very very popular with this group.
now they brought three bowls of japanese rice, which was good; soft and not too sticky, just like what my Zojirushi rice cooker made for me every day. also some green tea, which tasted strongly of kombu (kelp). i remember drinking that kind of thing in Hokkaido a lot; maybe it was from there? and then came two more dishes:
* ebi fries -- three long fried shrimp, with some thick fruity dipping sauce, on a bed of salad. another winner. i had high hopes for this kitchen's frying skills and they were not disappointed; these were light and greaseless and tasted clearly of shrimp. too bad that there were four of us and only three of them :( .
* kurobuta shioyaki -- broiled pork tenderloin with a salty crust. the pork was trimmed into maybe ten half-moon-shaped bites and served on a long segmented plate that also held some enoki, three snappy broiled asparagus spears, and one perfect new potato. some pieces were a little dry, but on the whole this was a much richer, more satisfyingly meaty dish than anyone expected. and that potato was dynamite.
* vegetable tempura -- i think we got two squash slices, two shitake mushroom caps, one chunk of eggplant, two lotus roots, two asparagus, and more of that thick tempura sauce. just a highly competent version of this, continuing the generally high standard of the cooking.
i should mention, just in response to some grumbles on this board about the long waits and pacing problems at their meals, that the dishes were served in very good time and at sensible intervals. then again, the room was maybe only 2/3ds full.
so that looks like quite a haul, doesn't it? i should note that ALL that food -- plus a green salad, plus a sake tasting, two hot sakes, some tea, an asahi, and a glass of wine -- came to something like $31 a person. the kind of negative-sticker-shock that i recall fondly from many nights out with japanese buddies. amazing.
all in all, as you've probably gathered, i was totally delighted with the place; found the cooking, quality of ingredients, and attention to presentation to be as good as that at any izakaya worth its salt in Tokyo (eg very good); and deeply envy you Boston residents for having so authentic a casual Japanese restaurant at such close range. My only thought on how to improve the experience: that they introduce that commonplace and divinely Inspired fixture of the izakaya: menus with pictures.
thanks, good review. I've been to Shiki a couple of times, and yes, since visiting Tokyo it's the only place around to settle those izakaya cravings. I have enjoyed pretty much everything I've had there, and I have had a number of the dishes mentioned above.
Sake; they have a strong and reasonably priced sake selection I think perhaps a little overwhelming even. I've been exploring the world of sake lately too and recognize a few of the entries there. I think the staff will certainly help if you can describe your preferred "style" of sake and a price range.
Shiki really is the only place to get your fix for this type of cuisine. If you're interested in trying several sake, they have a good deal on a sampler (about $15, 4 shot-sized tastes, 3 fixed and one you can choose from any but the two most expensive on the list).
Anybody know what the deal is with their hours? I went for a Tuesday dinner and they were closed. I know they used to close Monday and Tuesday, but from the website it looks like they've expanded to cover everything except lunch on Sunday and Tuesday. When you're expecting Shiki and end up at Fugakyu, well, that's just disappointing, isn't it?
Here is what the site says (and since they had to change it from the previous Wed-Sun, I assumed it was right).
We are open...
Lunch: Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri, and Sat Noon to 3 pm
Dinner: Sun 5pm - 10pm
Mon through Thurs 5:30pm to 10:30pm
Fri and Sat 5:30pm to 11pm
finally made to shiki tonight and it was excellent. the highlight of the night was the broiled yellowtail collar bone. we got it was sea salt (the other option is with teriyaki). my hubby and i raved about it all the way home.
they have a pretty extensive sake list. ended up with a japanese cedar-aged bottle. fruit forward with a clean and dry finish. really fantastic on a hot & humid night.
The Roka in Cambridge used to be pretty good back in the 80s, when it was in the Square proper. It went downhill when it moved to the Mass Ave location, until it just went belly up. The space has been vacant for years. It sounds like this new place is take two for the owners, let's see how long it lasts.
That all sounds wonderful. We've only been once, and I can confirm that chawanmushi is delightful. We also liked the tsukemono and vegetable tempura. On the downside was some chicken that was quite pink and something neba-neba with yamaimo.
When you say "negative sticker shock", does that mean it was less than you expected? Because it's still more that we usually care to spend for dinner.