Sunday, January 07, 2007

Restaurant review: Kunitoraya

Yeah, it's about 3:40 in the morning and I'm nuts to be on the internet, but I still have this problem of not being able to go back to sleep if I wake up after 2 am. So here I am, eager to tell you about the best Japanese udon place in Paris!

The rez-de-chausee (main floor) seats about 10 people (a little bar along the window, and another little bar along the kitchen -- that's where I'm sitting next time when I go for lunch!) so it doesn't look like much when you go in. What drew me in? Well, I was specifically looking for udon noodle soup for Maylin and was disappointed to find on most posted restaurant menus that the norm was ramen! I saw Kunitoraya with its Japanese clientele slurping up udon and its nice lighting and interior (Higuma on the other side of the street, a little ways down, seems to favor flourescent lighting -- not my preference for any situation).

We were led downstairs and were seated next to a young Japanese family who was starting off with a dish that I had seen two other tables eating, too. I found out later that it was Odenmori, a small plate of fish cake (you wouldn't recognize it unless you've been served a home-cooked Japanese meal before), hard-boiled eggs (cooked in soy sauce, I assume), and some unrecognizable sauteed veggies. Everyone chose this as an appetizer although it wasn't advertised as an appetizer -- just buried in the menu. After, the Japanese customers ordered the udon -- some chose this tender noodle in hot soup, others chose cold.

I ordered the tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet, 8,5 euros) and assumed it came with rice. I was wrong -- I ordered a little bowl (2,5 euros) and ended up eating my dinner before John and Maylin's udon arrived since they served it as an appetizer. Every restaurant has its little quirk and now I've just learned it. By the way, the tonkatsu was delicious.

Maylin couldn't get enough of her udon soup (8,5 euros) -- an incredible flavor! But it was my unfortunate job to pick out all the teeny-tiny pieces of mini-scallion and seaweed (green and black stuff) for my picky four year-old. The noodles were really amazing. I often buy the instant udon which actually isn't bad and I think is usually served in restaurants (especially in the U.S.) -- horrible thought, I realize now. But these udon had the taste and consistency of fresh! Unbelievable!

John had the tempura udon (12 euros) which had the same stock, with one piece of shrimp tempura. Seemed a little skimpy to me, but the taste and quality is well worth the price.

The service is very good with young Japanese girls everywhere to serve you (yes, in this restaurant, every employee is Japanese -- I know because they all tried speaking to me in Japanese and I don't look Japanese!).

The ambience is great -- nice, soft lighting, and feels like a comfy cave (check out the rustic stone walls). It got a little hot with my neighbor who was sweating profusely and wiping his face with napkins which got stuck to his stubble in little bits (our comic relief). It was fine for me though and I was wearing a light sweater.

If you want incredible udon, this is the place. For rice dishes, I might recommend Naniwa-ya, at 11 rue Sainte Anne, a couple of blocks away. They are cheaper -- a popular haunt for budget-conscious students and Japanese clients longing for a good curry over rice.

Kunitoraya happens to have its own website, (available in Japanese and French), where I learned it has a sister restaurant in Japan. On the site, you can see the entire menu. You read it, I'll eat it!

[Note: No sushi or sashimi here.]

39, rue Saint-Anne
75001 Paris

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