Part 3 of 3: Fear and Small Plates (Tanuki)

Tanuki…oh Tanuki…your dark mysteries call. A little fear makes the thrill that much stronger, and yours are the ties that bind.

lanterlogotext2I wandered in an innocent, a fool, a virgin, though the “No kids, no sushi” sandwich-board sent a frisson of warning up my spine. Tiny, I knew, but not a single four-top? With only half our party on hand we meekly backed out the door, bowing and scraping, vowing to be Johnny-on-the-spot should adjacent two-tops open up. (Okay, bb is never meek, but even HE was on good behavior.) Out in the sun, away from the cold cynicism of weary eyes, I was once again able to draw a deep, clean breath. But after a whiff of your darkness, it tasted a little saccharine, a little too bright.

Attitude can come in many forms and have many causes: ignorant youth, flat-out-stupid, a surfeit of shallow beauty, undeserved strokes, a lifetime of paying dues, a singular vision. I was well-primed to find the source of Tanuki’s brashness, and prepared to enjoy the ride.

Just as our Basta happy hour snacks were set on the table our fourth arrived and frantically flagged us from across the street. Four chairs together! Ready! Team RacoonDog deploy now! Slamming drinks and money on the table, ignoring the food (well, I may have snagged a calamari) we scampered across, and though nothing was said, I detected a hint of approval that we’d so obviously hustled to play by the rules. We were ready–nay eager–for whatever Tanuki wanted to dish out.

And dish it out, it did.

The spirit of our $30/pp omakase meal’s well documented at Eat. Think. Drink., but it took a team effort to recall everything we ate. Edamame, dried anchovy and seaweed salad paved the way as we discussed and poured sake, settling more deeply into our seats. Skewers of bay scallop, shrimp (overcooked, unfortunately), meat (beef? heart?) and Portuguese sausage helped ease us into the dark universe. Then a plate each of hamachi with white miso and uni slammed us into Tanuki-land. No color commentary needed beyond OMFG. (Pics over at bb’s, with his money shot borrowed below, and a fantastic catalog of shots at The Goodist. Tim’s reviews are what first put Tanuki on my radar.) Followed fast by raw oysters with kimchee ice, all we could do was hold on. Hold on, taste, revel, and bask in the fresh flavors and the adventure of not knowing what was next.

dscf3678And what was next? In no particular order, a large fillet of unagi, with salty-sour umeboshi to cut the sweet bbq sauce, a fresh and flavor-filled clear soup with raw…nearly raw? razor clam, a slightly sweet rice-dish of clams, sausage and cherry tomatoes, and another of vegetables with monkfish liver. bb has a photo of salmon tartare with cuke and green onion…how can I not even remember that? I’d accuse him of hiding it on his lap but the variety of food was so generous, there was no need to covet. Out of this bounty there was only one item, which I’ve dubbed “Band-Aid Flavored Soup” that was not to my taste. K opined that the meal, like Moulin Rouge, had a brilliant first act but then got a little messy. That may have been our fault for increasing the server’s recommended $25 budget to $30, but for a first visit, I don’t regret having had the variety. In the famous words of, well, pretty much every hedonist, “Too much of everything is just enough.”

So what makes one server’s snark and another’s ditzy misstep (Shared Plates post part 1) so off-putting, while Tanuki’s rules and attitude draw us in like a magnet? Why did Park Kitchen’s foie mess leave such a lasting impression, while bandage soup was easily shrugged off? Perhaps it’s ascribing a price to a whole meal rather than valuing individual dishes…or even courses. If we’d gone with the prix fixe PK menu, we may well have been happier…but the dishes would still have been overworked. Tanuki, at its most successful, showcases a hero, and then supports, frames or twists it for added depth. I’ll leave the debate of “authentic”, etc. to others. All I know is that I like a hero, especially when it rides in on white miso. Or sleeps on a bed of home-made kimchee.

Finally, there’s the whole vibe, the ability to embrace one’s vision and lock it down in a death grip. Which MBA program instructs biz owners to taunt its detractors and potential customers via social media? (“Dear Idiot…” “Please don’t breed…” “Bite me…”) If such a program doesn’t yet exist, it should. When you run 10 to 12 tables it’s your world, your rules, your vision, your domain, and “bite me” sounds like a pretty good idea with food this good.

Tanuki, you’re a black-hearted bitch. Delectably skewered and grilled, and I want more.

BTW, our server was lovely. Recommended a great sake, kept water flowing, and unobtrusively shuttled full plates to, and empty ones away from, our table. No exaggerations in this post should reflect on her. I hope we tipped well…but between my food drunk and the flying cash due to the rule against split tabs, I can’t say I remember.

01
August 17th, 2009 11:27 am

Damn you for writing this! I haven’t even been to the place and yet I’m quaking in my boots about a review I’ll have to write that would approach it. ARGH!

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