As the days draw in and the nights get chilly, what greater pleasure could there be than settling in by a warm hearth stacked with glowing charcoal? One thing only: watching the meal you’re about to eat being cooked on it. That’s the kind of enjoyment delivered at Tadenoha.
Traditional irori (open hearths) are still found in rural parts of the country, but they’re not what you expect in the heart of the city, least of all on the second floor of a nondescript building in Aoyama. Don’t be deterred by the simple rustic look. Tadenoha offers brilliant dining along with its fireside comforts.
The name chosen by chef/grillmaster Kiyofumi Kozuru for his restaurant is apt. Tade (water pepper) is a herb that grows alongside rivers, especially those sufficiently clear to support populations of ayu (sweetfish). And its delicate, spicy leaves — tadenoha — are often incorporated into dipping sauces for those fragrant freshwater fish.
One such pristine watercourse is the Kuma River in Kumamoto Prefecture, which is where Kozuru hails from. Since opening his restaurant in May, his menu has focused on wild ayu caught in that river, flown directly to Tokyo and usually served the very same day.
After a selection of appetizers — mostly seasonal vegetables and mushrooms that go well with sake or Kumajochu, the renowned shōchū from Kozuru’s home region — the dinner unfolds through half a dozen courses.
The ayu, simply salted and grilled, are superb although, surprisingly, he does not always use tade leaf in his dip. In spring, the fish were small enough to eat whole, bones and all. Now, they’re much larger, and the females often plump with roe.
A plate of tempura follows and then another fish course. Last month, Kozuru was treating customers to wild eel grilled on the bone and then filleted and slathered with a rich, savory sauce. Unlike any dish you will find at dedicated eel restaurants, this is one that hopefully he will keep on his menu as long as supplies allow.
Courtesy of the hunters of his home prefecture, Kozuru has access to outstanding wild duck and deer.
Last month, he was serving duck liver as yukke, a smooth but chunky “tartare” topped with quail’s egg yolk for extra creaminess. And he grills the duck meat in generous chunks until the skin has just the right degree of crispness.
The arrival of winter means that ayu will soon be off the menu. In their place, Kozuru is planning to bring in other riverfish or game.
But the real highlight of his menu from now on will be bear, sliced fine and served as shabushabu or in hearty nabe hot pots. The intense, fatty meat will be just what is needed to keep the cold at bay.
Set dinner ¥10,000 (prior reservation only); a little English spoken; Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.