I was all set to get back to a sushi place called Ginpachi that I really enjoyed the last time I spent time in Okayama. I was looking forward to some of the specialty items there, like the tsun-tsun maki and their good quality course menu, and their katsuo-tataki. (I wrote about my experience at Ginpachi here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/263642 ) But it wasn’t meant to be. One of the problems of being in the “inaka” (meaning country, although Okayama is a decent sized city) is that many restaurants tend to close on Sundays. My friend, who I was visiting, forgot to check their schedule and when we rolled into town and were getting ready for dinner, we realized the situation. He and his wife tell me that this is a usual Sunday dilemma in Okayama. Fortunately, they have the hotline for “the monk”. The “monk” is a well connected, well... monk, who is also quite a gourmand, and knows pretty much all the good places to eat in Okayama. They usually give him spending parameters and a type of cuisine (and/or a neighborhood), and he supplies them with a few dining options. So after a call to the monk, we got a list of three places, and while we found two of them closed, luckily, the final place on that list was open.
Uotori is a slightly sleek, modern izakaya, with a fairly typical menu, and a page-long list of daily specials. The menu is a jumble of classic Japanese dishes along with updated items like pastas and salads. And as far as I can tell, it’s all good. Now that this trip is becoming a distant memory, I’m having trouble recalling everything we had. But I remember being pleasantly surprised by everything we had. A couple standouts were the kaki-furai (fried oysters), the maitake (oyster) mushroom tempura, satsuma-age (fried fish cakes), and the fish head nitsuke (can’t remember what kind of fish it was now). Among the many fried oysters I’ve had in my life, this one approaches the top of the list. Whoever was frying them knew how to preserve the texture and flavors of oysters and knew how to fry gently, just forming a good crust around the delicate oysters. It really tasted like they were crusts around a raw oyster. Not as well known as their neighbors to the west in Hiroshima, the oysters in Okayama are also very good and plentiful during the season. The same person must be frying the maitake tempura because these were expertly fried as well. They were crispy without being the least bit oily. Pretty difficult to achieve with this kind of tempura. The fish head nitsuke (simmered in soy/sake/mirin) was another hit. Nitsuke can be difficult because it requires a perfect understanding of balance. If any of the soy/sake/mirin flavors dominate, then it’s flawed. But not the one at Uotori. The pasta was also a hit. I’m having trouble remembering what it contained, but it was a wafuu (Japanese) style pasta. We basically sampled a good number of items and there wasn’t a single clunker.
Uotori also had a large shochu and nihonshu list, with many recent arrivals written on the blackboard at the bar. However, they were out of two imo-shochus that my companion read about and wanted to try. I guess these are the bottles in high demand. They also seemed to have a full bar for any kind of cocktail (not certain about this though).
I wanted to take a peek to see who was cooking in the kitchen, since I could then put a face to someone cooking and executing traditional and modern dishes. I was also afraid I’d peek in and see a bunch of young kids cooking, and that would be discouraging. Either way, Uotori is a great solid place to hang out for drinks or for munching your way around their big izakaya menu.
Uotori info: http://www.hotpepper.jp/A_20100/strJ0...