A Wagyu and Kobe Degustacion at Yakiniku Motoyama

The Shin-Okachimachi area of Taito-ku, Tokyo – where we crashed for a few nights with family – is relatively relaxed and laid back compared to the rest of the bustling megapolis. There aren’t many attractions in the area, although touristy areas like Ueno to the northwest and Asakusa in the northeast are easily walkable. I was ecstatic to find out that the original branch of a pretty popular yakiniku restaurant was just a block away from the apartment.

Yakiniku Motoyama opened in 1975, selling Kobe and A5 Kuroge Wagyu beef at an affordable price. You won’t easily come across their first restaurant in Okachimachi via Google, as you will most likely be directed to their Shinjuku branch, which is more popular with foreign tourists and usually ties up with tour packages for the infamous Robot Restaurant. I found out about their flagship store only by using the useful GPS/map-based find-a-restaurant functions of local apps Gurunavi and Tabelog. These apps, especially the latter, also tend to be more reliable in terms of figuring out where to eat, as the reviews mostly come from locals, and not boring old tourists.

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We walked over to the restaurant, hoping that they would not only be baby-friendly, but English-speaker friendly. Luckily enough, they were! We were the first ones there at just after 5:00 pm, and by the time service picked up, we were the only non-Japanese diners in the house. They have an extensive ala carte menu, but we decided to go with one of their degustacion “banquet courses”. The middle-of-the-road Nagomi was their standard, with 17 courses or dishes (still not sure how they do the count), at a very reasonable 4980 Yen (+8% tax).

I also ordered the nomihodai, or all-you-can-drink for ninety minutes. Family restaurants have a drink bar, where one could sugar themselves up with all the juices and sodas offered. I was excited to finally see a restaurant that had a similar deal for booze. After all, nothing goes better with yakiniku or Korean barbecue than a cold beer, soju, makkeoli, or as I would discover, whisky highballs and plum wines.

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We were quickly served our first round of dishes: an assortment of six namul (lightly seasoned Korean appetizers such as sprouts, carrots, and anchovies or dilis to us Pinoys); three kinds of kimchi; their Motoyama salad. We didn’t eat all of them right away, instead tasting here and there and using them as palate cleansers between dishes. Oh, and of course, what could probably be considered an amuse bouche, if you will: melt-in-your-mouth, tears-in-your-eyes Wagyu nigiri.

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Surprisingly, what may be their signature dish (as it appears on prime space in both their menu and website) arrived early to the show: their beautifully marbled Prime Beef Santen Mori. The Misuji, which is folded into a tent, comes from the back of the shoulder blade. A 600 kg cow will only yield 2 kilos of this, making it a rare luxury. The round, darker colored Tougarashi is described as light, sweet, and fortified with iron. The pink Sankaku was the beef version of the luscious o-toro (fattiest tuna belly) which can be eaten as sashimi as well. The staff was adamant that we grill each piece of meat for no longer than six seconds. Due to the language barrier, I could not ascertain whether this meant on one side, or both. This being, wagyu, though, I decided to go with three seconds on each side, for a total cooking time of six seconds.

Seasoning for such rich and flavorful meats must be limited to salt and pepper or a smear of wasabi and soy sauce. One does not waste their marvelously marbled wagyu on tare sauce.

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Next came the prime beef tongue and two kinds of “bornless” short rib of Sangenton pork, a crossbreed of Large Yorkshire (Large White), Landrace and Duroc pigs, from Hirata ranch – a regular and tontoro or fattier version. This plate was served with a cabbage and sesame salad, which apparently pairs perfectly with any fatty pork dish (see: Tonkatsu).

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After a short break (also known as the vegetable course), during which I made sure to make the most of my namihodai while grilling the relatively longer-cooking leeks, onions, green peppers and mushrooms, the penultimate course of “born-less” Kobe short rib, tenderloin and hanging tender was served. We had the charred veggies as a side to our beefiest course yet.

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For the grand finale, one of the items on my Japan eats bucket list: horumon. Pronounced “hormone”, this is the Japanese catch all term for offal or innards, particularly of beef and pork. I have no idea what came on the plate, but I guess these were parts of the stomach, heart and instestine. Luckily for me, my wife doesn’t eat yummy food for the masses like offal, as a reformed vegetarian can only go so far. I thankfully appropriated and grilled up her share of the treasure.

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“Your course is finished,” gently explained the helpful host. But I had a few minutes left on my namihodai and I was getting the munchies after trying to figure out which drink best pairs with glorious, fatty yakiniku*. I thus decided to get a drink for the road and also ordered an extra serving of “born-less” Kobe short rib. At 980 yen before tax, it’s quite affordable, and with a bowl of rice, both you and your wallet will be full.

*Answer: all of them, but when in Japan, get the plum wine (umeshu, if I’m not mistaken) since it’s really easy to find and much more affordable there, while you can get beer, soju, and makkeoli anywhere. Highballs are also good. Try a whisky highball or the fresh fruit juice and shochu highballs called chu hai.

In all, the banquet course for two, drink buffet for one, a bowl of rice for the baby (whom we also fed some slightly overcooked beef just to be safe), a couple or so a la carte drinks and an extra order of short rib all came out to under 15,000 yen. That’s probably half of what you’d pay for the same quality and volume here in the Philippines, so that’s definitely a great deal. Plus, they gave me a hand towel with their motto printed as a souvenir: “No Yakiniku, No Life.” Indeed.

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