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Michinoku: Tohoku eatery serves up a northeastern menu

by Robbie Swinnerton

Zunda-mochi dumplings, hatto-jiru soup, hittsumi noodles: These are far from mainstream Japanese foods, and rarely found on restaurant menus. But they’re essential landmarks on the culinary landscape of the Tohoku region. They are also core items on the menu at Michinoku, one of the very few eateries in Tokyo that serves the specialties of Japan’s northeastern prefectures.

Too many restaurants that focus on the foods of far-flung regions tend to do so in a self-conscious way, as if embarrassed to be showing off their provincial flavors in the bright lights of the big city. But Michinoku, tucked away on the second floor of Ginza Inz, the building that runs below the expressway overpass in Yurakucho, has no such qualms.

Cheerful and modern, at lunch it offers simple teishoku set meals. Then in the evening, it morphs into a bustling izakaya tavern where the hearty dishes are washed down with liberal volumes of sake, and the air fills with cigarette smoke and laughter.

There are plenty of dishes here that need no regional translation, such as the deep-fried wakame seaweed or gyūtan misozuke-yaki, strips of beef tongue which are marinated in salty, savory Sendai miso and then grilled. But it’s also worth picking up a little of the terminology ahead of time.

Hatto-jiru is a hefty, stick-to-your-ribs stew from Iwate, in which dumplings are cooked with seafood and vegetables in a rich miso broth. Zunda-mochi, a Sendai specialty, is a dessert of pounded sticky rice covered with a layer of sweetened green edamame beans.

The region of Michinoku originally signified just the area along the Pacific coast, but now it covers all of Tohoku. The same applies at Michinoku the restaurant. Other dishes on the menu include Akita grilled kiritanpo rice dumplings, and Yamagata imo-ni simmered taro yams.

Food like this demands to be paired with sake. Fortunately, Tohoku produces some of the best in Japan, including local stalwarts Nanbu Bijin (Iwate) and Urakasumi (Miyagi). With the anniversary of last year’s disaster now behind us, this is the right time to commemorate and celebrate the distinctive food culture of this region. Michinoku is just the place to do that.

Michinoku, Ginza Inz 2 2F, 2-2 Ginza-Nishi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3561-5336; r.gnavi.co.jp/g293416. Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-11 p.m.; closed Sun. and holidays. Nearest station: Yurakucho (JR and Yurakucho lines). Lunch from ¥900; dinner course from ¥3,800; also à la carte. Japanese menu only.