When we were in Sapporo 札幌 (my home town), Japan, recently, I asked my mother if there was any restaurants she would like to try. She mentioned a new Japanese restaurant that opened a year ago that was on her route to the supermarket. When it opened up, she happened to walk by and got a flyer (she did not have it any longer). After a quick Internet search, we identified this restaurant as “Munakata” 円山鳥居前 むな形. The chef owner was reportedly from Hokkaido (a.k.a. Dosanko 道産子*) and opened up this new restaurant after having worked in another Japanese restaurant in Sapporo called “Otowa” 日本料理 をとわ. According to my mother, the location previously had been occupied by a Belgian chocolate store and the store front was rather small. She was wondering how a Japanese restaurant could fit into the space. I made a reservation and we had a course dinner one evening.
* Dosanko refers to a small but very sturdy horse used in Hokkaido and literally means “child of Hokkaido”. The proper way of reading the three ideograms should be “Dousanko” but the “U” sound is typically omitted. Dosanko also could refer to a person who was born and raise in Hokkaido (without any negative connotation). I myself certainly classify as “Dosanko”.
The restaurant had nice light colored wood interior with a counter which accommodates 4-5 people (see below, I borrowed this from http://tabelog.com/imgview/original?id=r1437126198545). My mother’s question was answered by the owner/chef who said the space was narrow but very deep and the previous chocolate store was using only the front as a retail store space.
There are a few tables as well. We were ushered into a private room (I am not sure but they may have 2-3 private rooms). Our private room was very nicely equipped with a table and chairs which accommodates 4 very comfortably and even had a small closet to hang our coats. We chose sake (I am sure I chose sake from Hokkaido but I cannot recall which one) to start.
And so the courses began. The appetizer was very nice with delicate (I think this may have been yuba 湯葉 but I’m not sure) flavors (upper two in the composite below). It was served in a modern-looking coffee cup. The second dish (lower two in the composite below) was a dumpling made of potato and either fava beans or edamame which appeared to be deep fried to add a thin delicate crust in a very rich sauce. My wife thought it was corn-based but when we asked the chef, he said “no” and said baby corn was used as garnish but did not divulge any additional information.
So far, we were impressed and it was a good start. Then came “Otsukuri” お造りor small sashimi dish which was very nicely presented. Shako シャコ or Mantis shrimp (cooked) was the best. Squid (probably Mongou-ika 紋甲いか or cuttle fish) was scored and slightly charred but the meat was thick and the chewy texture was not my favorite. Others included bonito and white meat fish (I assumed “hirame” 平目 or flat fish). While it was good the sashimi dish could have been better. We proceeded to tempura (see below composite upper right). One of the tempura was very unusual (see below). I think it was not too salty umeboshi 梅干し. It was nicely executed and we liked it.
Now came the least impressive dish. This appeared to be “Hassun” 八寸 (middle left in the composite below). The main one was an ocean caught salmonトキシラズ鮭. Which was grilled with cheese and slices of Japanese pepper or 万願寺唐辛子. I personally would rather have had this without the cheese or pepper. Other items were a bit disjointed in terms of the combination of tastes and textures. The meat ball made of squid (one with tooth pick) did not have much taste and had a watery consistency as if it was previously frozen and just thawed. The smoked pickled daikon or iburigakko いぶりがっこ was nice by itself but did not necessarily go with the rest of the items on the plate. One more small dish (middle right) and we were getting really filled up. But the next dish, which was beef nicely grilled with a miso-based sauce was excellent. Despite being fully satiated, all of us finished everything. Then came the rice and soup or “Oshokuji” お食事. The rice was “Fukagawa meshi-like” 深川飯風 with seasoned small clams. I was too full to enjoy it but my mother really liked it. The miso soup was classic akadashi 赤出しwith nameko mushroom ナメコ and was good (bottom picture) . As dessert, the citrus gele was light and refreshing (lower left in the composite below).
Rice and soup.
In general we really liked this restaurant. Despite a few stumbles with some of the dishes, the majority were very creative and inspiringly delicious.The service was impeccable. I am glad this level of Japanese restaurant is located very close to my mother’s house.