Ishinomaki, an izakaya, specializes in robatayaki (grilled) Japanese food, and offers value-for-money set lunches, starting from $17, and 7-course omakase dinner for only $50++. What is unique about this fishing-village-meets-industrial looking restaurant is that Chef Chi Pin Han, trained at Meguro Gajoen in Tokyo, receives “black box” deliveries. Only top Japanese culinary masters who have established trusted relationships with suppliers have the privilege to receive black boxes. And like the name suggests, you don’t know what the black box contains until it arrives at the restaurant. Surprise!
This is how the black box works: Restaurants only order seafood that fits their menu. To reduce wastage of seafood that doesn’t fit into restaurants’ menus, fishermen created the black box, containing fresh handpicked seasonal seafood. And Ishinomaki receives black boxes three times a week from Tsukiji, Hokkaido, and Kyushu.
The food here, meant to go with sake and beer, are heavy with salt, including the unagi rice box ($25). Hotate kai yaki ($20, fresh scallops grilled with butter and ginger) tasted like Chinese salted egg yolk, which we liked; this dish can be considered the star of the restaurant.
But even for salt-lovers like William and I, the baked salmon Hokkaido style ($16) was way, way overly salty for us, robbing the dish of any subtlety.
While some of the dishes could be less salty, the food was passable at a eclectic space, playing soothing lounge music. Some Japanese customers sat at the next table. Perhaps the primary edge Ishinomaki has over other Japanese restaurants is its affordability, as exemplified by the bountiful sashimi at only $35.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
This is an invited tasting.