Down to Izu we headed from Tokyo in a rented Prius with both human and canine family members in tow. Because not all ryokan on the peninsula accept pets, we were a bit strapped for choices but nevertheless, managed to find Matsushiro-kan, a modest place in Izunokuni run by a middle-aged couple. While not extremely regarded on a gourmet level, the meals received very good reviews online for their value in terms of quantity and variety. Izunokuni is on the north central part of Izu, not far from the reknowned fish market town of Numazu and close to Osezaki, one of the better scuba destinations in the Tokyo area.
After checking in and hitting the onsen, we settled down promptly at 6:00 for our first night's dinner spread. What a variety of things laid before us. For grilled fish, we were served shio yaki "ayu" which is a fresh water delicacy. It's often translated as "sweetfish" and when completely raw, can smell like melon or fresh cucumber. More often though, I find that it can taste bitter as the innards and head of the fish have something in them that overides the sweetness of the flesh. Nevertheless, it was a nice gesture to serve it, though, we all did find it bitter on this occasion. The sashimi portion included some unremarkable akami maguro, amaebi, and hokkigai. "Nasu dengaku", a huge slice of eggplant marinated in grilled in miso and topped with scallions appeared prominently in this set as well. We were told it was American eggplant (Bei-nasu). I happened to be wearing a purple-ish shirt at the time and someone pointed over at me and said- "Look, another Bei-nasu". "Ha, ha, ha" I feigned as I reached for the "shokuzen-shu" which is a small glass of booze meant to be quaffed before you start eating. It was tasty, taste bud-enlightening ume-shu. So nice on a hot summer's night.
The meat courses were two: One was a plate of what they call in Japan "raw ham" but I suppose we would call prosciutto, or at least prosciutto in style. Very nice summer selection and a salty companion to my cold beer. The second meat course, which cooked under lid with a small burner at each of our place settings, was our own individual little sukiyaki bowl. With the requisite raw egg for dipping, it was nice to have something warm waiting for us after everything else. Before that though, we still had an array of really what I would call, "otsumami", which are little drinking companion snacks. Ok, so maybe I attached my own meaning to them as I moved on to the shochu course in the beverage lineup, but there's nothing more fun than picking through small treats and washing them down. The "ostumami" plate consisted of four items: fried whole and crunchy sakura ebi (cherry blossom shrimp), a thick eshallot onion with pungent chunky miso dip, a novelty mochi snack filled with bean paste and made to look like a yuzu fruit, and a single mussel topped with a strip of sharp cheese. Wow, that's some pretty wacky stuff. But it was fun to eat. I absolutely loved all four, but was intrigued with the mussel as I never would have thought cheese would make its' way into a ryokan meal like this. After all this, I was beginning to wonder what happened to the fried course. There were a couple of tasty fried and lightly pickled sardines topped with onion slices, but they were kind of typical. Luckily, we were rescued when the matron came in with two paddies for each of us of freshly fried "kaki age", which is a catch all name for a batter fried pancake. In this case fresh local seafood, onions, and potatoes. Wonderful either in the tsuyu or simply topped with salt. And a nice gesture that they fried it and then ran it upstairs to serve. Many places would have just pre-made it and included it in the table setting.
Once we finished the kaki-age, it was just in time to dig in to our sukiyaki. It was way too much food at this point, but a sweet end to a filling meal. Afterwards, we kicked back to watch Japan battle Brazil in the women's volleyball gran prix. I managed to refill the shochu till the final ice cubes melted all the way down. It's too bad the Japanese ladies were not as successful in their endeavor against Brazil.
Photo 1- Complete dinner setting
Photo 2- Ume-shu
Photo 3- Grilled "shio yaki" ayu
Photo 4- Miso glazed American eggplant
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