Robataya is such a special place, as is all the TIC Group establishments. I was so happy Grant became a fan as well, so when Aki came to town we couldn’t wait to introduce her. We were nervous about coming here on a weekend night with no reservations but it wasnt much trouble. They are old fashioned with no reservations and no pictures. If you’ve never been, you sit around a rounded bar with grill masters in the center slow-grilling over hot charcoal, reaching over the cornucopia of raw local organic and imported Japanese ingredients between you with a super long oar. This style of cooking is called robatayaki. It is wild! And so fresh and delicious. But how does robatayaki differ from other Japanese grilling techniques?
- Robatayaki: like a large barbecue surrounded by diners, where a combination of morsels of seafood, vegetables, and meat on skewers are slow-grilled over hot charcoal.
- Teppanyaki: a table built around a propane-heated flat surface grill and what we have all seen at Benihana.
- Hibachi: a bowl of charcoal with a grate on top for heating, no cooking.
- Yakiniku: cooked by the diners on a grill built into the table throughout the duration of the meal – aka Korean BBQ. the grill traditionally sits over flame of ogatan charcoals but often the more modern gas/electric option is used.
- Shichirin: small light-weight charcoal grill, like a hibachi except this one is made for cooking not just warming. It can be used for up to 4 hours, with only a small amount of Binchōtan charcoal.
- Binchōtan charcoal: the white charcoal made of ubame oak used in yakitori/kushiyaki grills and shichirin and is the traditional charcoal of Japan. The high quality of this coal can be attributed to steaming at high tempuratures while releasing no smoke or odor. It is also harder than black charcoal and rings with a metallic sound when struck.
- Ogatan charcoal: Japanese charcoal briquettes made from sawdust used in yakiniku grills.
The food here is always fantastic and delicate. The first time I came and thoroughly enjoyed some kobe beef. I literally didnt want to swallow it so I just chewed it for as long as I could. This time, I didnt see kobe on the menu. Somehow the menu seemed a bit smaller which was strange since this was the first time I had been here on a weekend. We did get the duck which was incredible and I again savored every moment and didnt want to swallow it. The duck udon at their sister restaurant Hasaki has been a favorite of mine for many years. I hope to have both in one meal soon. They also didnt have an assortment of mushrooms which Im pretty sure I ordered the last time, so I just ordered my favorite mushroom, the eryngii mushroom, also known as king trumpet mushroom, French horn mushroom, king oyster mushroom, boletus of the steppes, or trumpet royale. We also had an array of delicious treats, none of which I have anything bad to say.
But what about the sake? So they have a very unique collection of sake. All but two are from the cold region and the others are described as smooth. So looking for one thats clean and smooth with a little sweetness and easy to drink was not an issue. The problem was finding the right one. I really wanted to taste them all. I chose the Kubota Senju Tokubetsu Honjozo sheerly because it was the sake I TRIED to order at Satsko when they mistakenly gave me and taught me to love taru sakes and Niigata has never steered me wrong. It was certainly smooth but not the cleanest sake I have ever had. For our second round I wanted something with a bit more flavor but still a smooth finish. Didnt even look at the menu, didnt even know if they had it. I ordered the Dewazakura Oka Junmai Gingo from Yamagata. It is a classic sake that is sold at most reputable Japanese restaurants. It has a very pleasant licorice flavor but still has a clean finish. It is a great second sake because the flavor is very different but it is still very drinkable.