Saturday, April 12, 2014

Nodaiwa 野田岩 : Unagi Restaurant since 1850

I used to hate eel when I was young because it was a hassle to eat with numerous bones and little meat. Fortunately, I grew to love it, though it is considered a prized delicacy in Japan. Nodaiwa (pronounced noda-iwa) is a Michelin-star restaurant that has established its presence since 1850. Currently in the 5th generation, the flagship store in Higashi Azabu has spun outlets in Tokyo and Yokohama. Even though we went to the Yokohama restaurant, we were impressed by the wooden interior with traditional Japanese touches and excellent service by the ladies dressed in kimonos.

Like any other eel house, Nodaiwa serves two types of unagi—Kabayaki (basted with tantalizing tare and broiled till caramelized brown) or Shirayaki (lightly steamed, grilled and served with shoyu at the side). I was surprised that there are so many version unagi sets even though the main star was just unagi. The basic unagi-ju box comes in four sizes  and one can choose the style of unagi he/she prefers. All unagi sets come with pickles and kimo-jiru (unagi liver soup). We skipped the basic ones and picked the kasane, dual-layer unagi box (5040 yen) because it offers a taste of both styles of unagi. It has been said that the shirayaki aka white-grilled is for the diehard unagi purists though I find that it can get boring after a while with the shoyu. 

But what appealed to a first-timer like me for the shirayaki style was that I could finally be enlightened by the true texture and flavor of unagi, unconcealed with a delectable and aromatic surface crust. Still, I crave towards the Kabayashi style, for it was juicier, sweeter but not drenched in sauce. I never come across O-naka-ire (3990 yen) in Singapore. It resembles a unagi don, but is a luxurious version of 4 layers (rice-unagi-rice-unagi) prepared in Kabayaki style. We love the unagi here so much that we ordered more as ala-carte, only to be pleased further when it was served in a metallic lacquerbox that keeps the unagi warm.

While Nodaiwa has demonstrated its expertise in unagi, it seems to have a knack for chicken cuisine when it serves up a hearty bowl of oyakodon (1575 yen). One might have to wait longer than usual for the eel, because effort and care is devoted towards grilling the fish. Though it is not the season for wild-caught eels,  it did not matter much to us because the fillets of Shizuoka freshwater eels were juicy and delicious. At least they did not import them from other countries.

Eel does not come cheap nowadays so if you are thinking on splurging on some for your trip, Nodaiwa is a worthy one.

Onaka-ire Set
Closing up on the Onaka Ire (Eel-rice-eel-rice)

Kasane (2 types of eel with rice)
Ala carte order of Shirayaki Eel
Simple yet beautiful custard pudding
Nodaiwa 麻布野田岩
1-5-4 Higashiazabu, Minato, Tokyo 106-0044
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