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The tastes of Tango

by Robb Satterwhite

Outside, Yufuna looks like an ordinary after-work hangout, with a solid wooden counter lined with sake and shochu bottles and a blackboard announcing the daily specials. This unpretentious basement shop is surprisingly spacious inside though, with attractively decorated, cozy dining spaces beyond the front counter. Wherever you sit, you’ll get great Kyoto home-style cooking — tasty dishes made from the finest seasonal ingredients — plus a small but impressive selection of local sake to wash it down.

The pride of the kitchen is food and drink from Kyoto Prefecture’s Tango region next to the Sea of Japan. The menu features fresh seafood and vegetables from Tango that are seasonal . There is a good assortment of grilled dried fish — sardines, flounder, mackerel — that go well with sake. A Kyoto variation on the dried-fish theme is called sakuraboshi, where the fish are first seasoned with mirin (rice wine) and sesame, then dried overnight and grilled, resulting in a much sweeter-tasting fish.

A big section of the menu is devoted to the local home-style dishes from Kyoto, obanzai- ryori. Obanzai-ryori is a free-wheeling style of cooking with plenty of room for originality, and we enjoyed some unusual dishes like the deep-fried salmon and lotus root. We were pleasantly surprised by the spicy and garlicky dishes, like the spicy green beans in sesame dressing, and the impressive charcoal-grilled pork belly. The pork was beautifully streaked with fat and skillfully grilled, with the flavor intensified by a hefty dose of garlic. Even a dish like zosui (rice porridge) was exciting, with aromatic mushrooms and greens that captured the essence of the season.

The sake list includes a dozen well-chosen varieties, including four local brews from the Tango area that are well matched to the food. You can also choose from various types of shochu, 10 kinds of umeshu, and some intriguing fruit-based drinks, like the very sweet momoshu (peach liquor) and the more tart yuzushu (made from the yuzu citrus fruit).

Yufuna’s prices are very reasonable — you can easily get away with ¥3,000-4,000 per person with ample food and drink, or far less for a quick snack and drink.

Yufuna is in the Kyoto Mitsui Building’s basement at Shijo-dori and Karasuma-dori; Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. For more information, call (075) 211-3161