It is Friday night after a long week. So where do the worker bees of Japan Inc. go to eat and relax after dark? Come with me and take a seat at Suishin Japanese Eatery (Izakaya), in the crossroads of the Kyoto Subway network in downtown Kurasama Oike, and just moments away from the Kyoto International Manga Museum.
“Kyoto is a city with a distinguished culture, one that values historical traditions, as well as one that has evolved with the times, and resonates with the community" says Mayuzumi Kaisha, the owner of Suishin. It had served Kyoto locals and travelers for more than 40 years and each restaurant is personalized to the tastes of that neighborhood.
If I was ever to chronicle an encyclopedia of popular Japanese cuisine in the 21st century, I could do no wrong by starting at this restaurant. From Agedashi tofu to Yakitori, you can taste every conceivable dish that is ordered by mainstream customers.
Suishin provides a dependable, middle of the road fare, and is a good introduction to Japanese cuisine for those not quite ready to jump in to some of its more exotic local variations. The beverage list is also comprehensive, carrying everything from draft beer to cooling Yuzu citrus drinks.
We started off with some Yakima beef and mashed taro croquettes topped with Tonkatsu sauce on a bed of lettuce. The batter was light and fluffy, and the taro was warm, soft and very comforting.
We then had some asparagus skewers wrapped with a thin slice of pork, lightly brushed with a glossy caramelized sweet soy glaze. Bite sized and ever so appetizing, it was a good balance between the crunch of the asparagus and the chewy texture of the pork.
The nikujaga is sweet and homely, with a clear stock and just enough taste. The story behind this meat and potato casserole like dish came across the mountains in the port town of Maizuru over a hundred years ago, when a naval officer wanted something served like the British beef stew. Now served with snow peas, onions, carrots and simmered with some sake, it is a living example of how Kyoto cooking has evolved with new influences.
The highlight though is the grilled chicken and umeboshi skewers, tender and tasty throughout. Called “ume shiso tsukune”, it is infused with shiso and preserved plum flavors, with the texture of a lightly cooked minced chicken meatball.
After a few more tapas like selections, it is easy to see the plates and the bill pile up. While the dishes are quite inexpensive, once you had a few you can easily exceed 3,000 yen per person. Maybe it was the convivial atmosphere got us over enthusiastic with our ordering. While reasonable value, a set three course menu for 2,000 yen or less is a good alternative.