Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Rating: Very good
Price: 800 yen
Payment: Credit Cards accepted
Dish: Chicken Miso Katsu
English Menu: Yes
Ootoya (pronounced with a long strong Oh) is a very much part of my regular routine. I eat there usually at least once a week. They are a chain, so you can find them in most malls, and they consistently have some of the best affordable Japanese comfort food I've found. Sure you can always find the same stuff in smaller mom and pop places, but unless you already know what you are getting, the actual quality can be hit or miss. But sometimes you just need to know what you are getting, so I often take guests to Otoya for their first or only "Japanese restaurant" experience, especially if they are squeamish.
The Ootoya in Yokosuka is in Daie Mall, which is easily accessible from the base's Daie Gate, a pedestrian only gate that opens right onto the waterfront side of the mall. It is open for limited hours during weekdays, and not at all on weekends. Therefore, the mall and its restaurants are frequent destinations for lunch for those of us who can easily walk to it.
I love the kanji in the restaurant name because they are so simple: 大戸屋
大： Oo - big or large
戸: to - a door or entrance to a home
屋: ya - shop or store - not so simple, but a very common kanji you see everywhere
So...big door restaurant? You have to be careful about taking the meaning of a name directly from the kanji it uses, but it's always nice when you see a string of kanji as a meaningful unit instead of isolated symbols or gibberish.
The Daie restaurant has a nice, open atmosphere. There's a huge square table in the middle, and then the usual smaller tables around the edges. The outer walls are slats of wood with space in between, so it feels breezy. The big table is for hitori diners, so I usually sit there. If it gets busy, which it does most days around noon, it will fill up and you have to sign your name onto the waiting list and indicate the number in your party. There are lots of other places to eat around, so I usually never bother waiting. Since I go to lunch at 11am, I usually have no trouble since Japanese people seem quite punctual about lunch time being at noon.
Ootoya has seasonal dishes and frequently changes up their menu, so it's worth checking back now and then. Right now there's nothing particularly interesting, so I went back to the basics. Miso Katsu is a dish of deep fried chicken or pork (usually pork), which then has a dark red miso sauce poured over it. I didn't actually know what this dish was until we visited Nagoya, which is the home of the dish. You can get it everywhere there! We went out to dinner with a couple there and they ended up taking us to Ootoya, which could possibly have started there for all I know. I didn't mind even though I'd already eaten there in Yokosuka. In our area, the only place I've ever had a miso katsu dish that I liked is Ootoya, so it has a special place in my heart (or stomach).
It's a rich dish though, so I don't get it very often. Since I usually get the pork version, I tried the chicken today. It was equally as good. A nice touch is the big clay bowl the bring the food in, and the egg they put in the middle adds some nice richness.
They do have an english menu, but the pictures are minimal. I prefer to order off of the Japanese one and muddle my way through. One thing they will always ask you about after you order (if it comes with rice) is how you want your rice. Despite the time I have been here, I still can never catch what they are asking (that darn super polite Japanese form), but I know when I've stopped understanding to tell them first the size (small, medium, large) and the type (futsu = normal rice, mochimochi = some kind of grain mixed in). I recommend getting the mochimochi rice if you want something with a little more flavor/chewiness. As with most meals, it comes with miso soup (unremarkable) and a delicious pickled item that seems covered in powdered dashi (bonito flake). Just a few bites of that are all I need. They've got a nice salt/sesame seed shaker on the table if you like, but the shichimi (japanese red pepper) does *not* like to come out of the shaker, so I twist it off and sprinkle liberally. You can hardly call it spicy, but it's has a pleasant flavor.
Another dish I really like there is the cold soba/oyakodon combo. Their oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice) is one of my favorites for two reasons. First, they actually roast the chicken and you can taste the roasted flavor big time. Second, for some reason they always provide a special spice with this dish. I think it's sancho (sichuan) pepper and it has the strange property of numbing your tongue, in addition to having a pleasant taste. I don't know why, but I like it. I also really like their cold soba, but that's pretty hard to mess up.
I do like that most restaurants in Daie take credit cards, and I was able to confirm that yes, my card does in fact still work (unlike yesterday's fiasco). I should also mention that they have a point card system here (one of a few cards I keep) which gives you one stamp per meal you eat there. After a certain amount, you get a free meal! Very nice for regulars like myself.