When we arrived, the restaurant was quite busy and noisy. There were a number of tables as well as a counter along the front of an open kitchen (main kitchen behind the wall). In the center of the open kitchen, was the grilling station or "Yakidai" 焼き台 which appears to be using gas rather than charcoal or electricity as a heat source. As you can see in the picture below the decor had some Japanese touches but over all the atmosphere was that of an American neighborhood eatery. The clientele did not appear to be Japanese (while we were there I was the only representative of that group). They were mostly young, local residents.
The tables for two were very close together. We had to be careful when being seated to not knock something over on the table next to us. Conversation was almost impossible because of the high noise level. We sat for quite some time before someone acknowledged our existence. (It is torture to sit, hungry, in a restaurant and watch delicious looking food being delivered to other tables). Once we got on the wait staff’s radar screen, however, service improved. We started by choosing sake. They had a short but decent sake list (and beer, wine and chochu) and we settled for Wakatake Onigoroshi Junmai ginjo 若竹鬼殺し純米吟醸 from Shizuoka 静岡 (a safe choice). Because the service appeared slow, we decided to order most of what we wanted to try all at once and up front to avoid long waits between deliveries. Although we ordered everything in a jumble, we were impressed by how they sorted out the meal by grouping our orders. They did not serve everything at once. Dishes came out in an orderly progression that showed careful consideration to combining tastes and textures that went well together.
First came blackened Brussels sprouts. We have tried many recipes for Brussels sprouts and until we stumbled on blackened sprouts my wife was the only Brussels sprouts fan in the family. So, among the salads and vegetable dishes they offered, we chose this dish. It was a nice size for us to share. It had a nice sauce (soy sauce and balsamic vinegar?) and some heat (Japanese Ichimi tougarashi 一味唐辛子?) with thin strips of what appeared to be cabbage but later we realized it was "Yuba" 湯葉. We both liked this dish and it was a perfect starter.
We love Yakitori chicken wings but the yakitori menu did not contain wings. Instead, we found "crispy deep fried wings" on the not-on-a-stick menu and decided to try them. They served a generous amount (probably 6 wings and drummets) but we started eating before we remembered to take a picture. So the below picture shows just one each of wing and drummet. This was also a big hit. Very nice crispy skin and seasoning was just great. It was marinated first and deep dried with flour (rice flour?) and additional seasoning (some kind of flavored salt?).
Then the Yakitori started appearing. We had, neck meat ("seseri" せせり), skin ("kawa", かわ), and pork jowl ("kashira" かしら). Neck and Skin were rather small skewers but were excellent. Pork jowl is fatty meat from the head/neck areas of the pig(I learned that bacon made from jowl was very popular in the South). It is also delectably “deadly” as our favorite pork belly (picture below).
Then came what was probably the best dish of the evening--candied duck liver (picture below). It was a good sized portion; perfect for us to share (again we had eaten most of it before the picture was taken), deep fried coated in some type of batter and then seasoned in sweet sticky sauce served on the bed of lettuce and radons of bacon.
The duck liver was not gamy and had a nice texture (especially if you like the texture of cooked liver). The lettuce was a good cool contract to this rich liver dish.
We ordered few more items which were "tsukune" つくね with egg yolk sauce, bacon wrapped mochi 餅のベーコン巻き and "automnal tsukemono" 漬物. Tsukune was good, served with a soy sauce based sauce and a raw egg yolk (hope the egg came from a near-by "farm" and was safe). We loved the bacon wrapped mochi (it instantly converted my wife to an ardent mochi fan. How can you go wrong with bacon wrapped anything?) We’d like to try something similar at home later. The only disappointment of the evening was the "Tsukemono". They tasted almost like regular pickles out of a jar and did not have the subtle taste and crunch we would expect from such a dish.
Although we were quite full, my wife wanted to try "Black sesame ice cream"as a desert. It was quite good and interesting. For some reason, they gave us the dessert gratis (Thank you). We liked this place and will come again if we have a chance. After eating there we can see why it is so popular and forgive them the initial lapse in service. Next time, we will try the counter which will be easier for us to talk, although I am not sue if we can make a reservation at the counter.
Information on "Nojo"
Nojo restaurant 農場レストラン
231 Franklin Street, San Francisco