Musashi the Izakaya

    Gyuu tan – sliced and grilled beef tongue, brightened up with a touch of lemon and raw daikon.

    So I was going to write a really scathing review on this Joshu-Ya Brasserie place in Berkeley, but midway through the draft I went to Yelp to read my friend Kristen’s review for that same dinner by which we were both gravely disappointed. Not only is her review already detailed and scathing enough, but she’s also been to Joshu-Ya several times. Me? I don’t give restaurants second chances, even first chances are rare. So I figured no way I’d know and write about Joshu-Ya better than Kristen. Also as we immerse in this holiday spirit and on our way to a brand new year, I’d rather be all cheery about a restaurant that I love. 😉 It’s so close to me yet so secluded from the flock of eateries downtown that I hadn’t tried it until last month. Tried it once, then I went nuts and suggested Musashi the izakaya(*) to myself and everyone every time somebody says Japanese. Beware though, this is one of those places that you need to go with someone in the know to get the real things. There’s no fake thing per se (well truth be told I’ve only been here with someone in the know), but the real things will make you that much happier blowing your wad. Even better, your wad gets blown a lot less here than at other izakayas in the block: Musashi is cheap.

    What are the real things? Please, no California rolls. (**)

    Eggplant tossed with sesame and sweet soy sauce (goma ae). Healthy, no frills, and strangely addictive.

    A fresh start is the 3-piece nigiri sampler (salmon, tuna and hamachi), but Musashi first blew me away with their simple green beans tossed with sesame, miso and sweet soy sauce (さやいんげんのごまあえ|saya ingen no goma ae|?). A similar eggplant dish started the next dinner we had there, good but I’m no eggplant fan. Of course we have no say in the free side dish, but if the stars all line up right you might just get the green bean. 😉

    They have all of the common izakaya food like karaage (fried chicken), sunagimo (chicken gizzard, mmmmm), teba (chicken wing) and every other chicken thing, but my staple go-to has been the gyuu tan: a heap of sliced beef tongue, so lightly grilled that it doesn’t turn rubber, for a measly $6! (UPDATE: Musashi has the BEST gyutan in Berkeley!)

    Hamachi nigiri - fresh and chewy as I like it

    Hamachi nigiri – fresh and chewy as I like it

    Clockwise from left: mune (chicken breast), tsukune (chicken meat ball) and karaage (fried chicken).

    Although it’s possible to fill up on the skewers (I’ve done that at, of all places, Ippuku), it’s more economical and less confusing to fill up on something with rice. The nice thing about Musashi is they often have these few-day specials with ridiculous discount, such as this bowl of curry rice for $6 topped with a tonkatsu for another $1. The first time I had Japanese curry at a Korean-owned Japanese restaurant I was bored out of my mind, but Musashi’s sweet, slightly peppery curry works for me, with some tsukemono (pickled things). Unaju (rice with unagi) would also make a perfect choice any day.

    That said, you can order all of these things without knowing Japanese, because they’re on the menu. The real deal isn’t, but somehow your Japanese friend knows it exist and asks the hostess, she nods welcomingly “hai! hai!” and you just enjoy the ride.

    For example, buri daikon – fatty hamachi (yellowtail) and daikon simmered in soy sauce and mirin ($8.50), or  saba no misoni – saba (makerel) simmered in miso sauce, which, to my surprise, tastes almost identical to the Vietnamese cá kho despite the different ingredients. The sauces are watery and great over rice. If you’re afraid of (fish) bones like me, then ask her for buta no kakuni (braised pork belly), same concept.

    Finish with black sesame ice cream.

    One Monday evening I planned to meet a friend here, only to find out that they’re closed on Sunday and Monday. I was very sad.

    Address: Musashi Japanese Restaurant
    2126 Dwight Way
    Berkeley, CA 94704
    (510) 843-2017

    (*) There’s Musashi (宮本 武蔵) the famous samurai whose life stories inspired several works of fiction, such as the historical manga Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue. It’s bloody bloody, and bloody sad, nonetheless I’m at volume 34.

    (**) I know. These American rolls can be good, and the place to get them would be Anzu.

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