This small izakaya-style place downtown is in a late-winter mood. Some recent tastes:
-- Salmon-ball clay pot, or sake dango nabe (from the specials board): Clean, fresh flavors are front and center in this stew of pink fish balls, light and loosely packed with ginger, green onion and a little soy sauce, in a shiro miso broth with tofu, cabbage, more green onion, a bit of seaweed and a thick fresh shiitake mushroom. A warming, wholesome dish.
-- Ganmodoki (from the specials board): A patty of tofu and grated yam, filled with bits of carrot and cloud ear fungus (kikurage), soybean and gingko, fried and served in a bowl of thickened, seasoned dashi. The dab of mustard on the rim of the bowl adds a welcome heat.
-- Kabocha (from the specials board): Wedges of sweet stewed Japanese pumpkin in a bowl of dashi with bits of chopped mitsuba (trefoil) and a hint of yuzu. The broth is thickened with potato starch to the point of gloppiness, but that seems to be the intended texture, and the mouth-feel is actually rather pleasing.
-- Wakame salad: A refreshing, crunchy and colorful dish, in an enormous portion. Not as much wakame seaweed as first appears -- it's on top of a heap of shredded daikon -- but still quite generous, ringed by light green and red fronds of a different variety of seaweed. Dressed with a soy-sesame vinaigrette and topped with a scattering of katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Toss it all together before eating it.
-- Namako, or sea cucumber (from the specials board): If you simply can't abide this marine critter, also known as "the ginseng of the sea," read no further; this version won't change your mind. OK, anybody still there? If you've sampled this delicacy in Chinese dishes and just didn't get it, this appetizer may show the sea cucumber (or, less misleadingly, sea slug) in a different light. In Chinese cooking it's almost always dried then rehydrated by a process that takes days. Tanto serves it raw, sliced thin, in nihaizu (cold dashi seasoned with soy sauce and vinegar) with seaweed and shiso. First you'll note the characteristic crunchiness, but then a burst of fresh ocean flavor, salty and vaguely metallic. Still an acquired taste, to be sure, but this is one more means of acquiring it.
At the risk of losing the rest of you, I'll just add that fermented namako intestine, or konowata, was one of the Three Superlative Delicacies (tenka no sandai chinmi) of Japan's Edo period (1603-1868). The others were karasumi, or dried salted mullet roe, and the more familiar uni, or sea urchin ovary (this from "A Dictionary of Japanese Food" by Richard Hosking, Tuttle, 1996).
Below is an earlier post of mine with a rundown on the rest of the menu here.
120 Cyril Magnin St. (between Ellis and O'Farrell), San Francisco
Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday