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Kushi Bar Muramoto

November 16th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Muramoto is building a small empire in Madison.  There are now three restaurants in his name.  I dined at the most recent addition, Kushi Bar Muramoto, this weekend.  It lives in the original Restaurant Muramoto location on King Street.

The concept is new to Madison.  In Japan, it’s called a yakitori restaurant.  You sit in a loud, smokey, dining room and order small skewers of meat and vegetables.  Ideally, this is all accompanied by a large volume of alocohol.  Sake, shochu, or beer are all fine.

Muramoto’s interpretation of this concept is very different from its roots, though.  The dining room is quiet, dark, and trendy.  It feels more like a PF Chang’s than an after-work hangout.  For $1.50 skewers of food, I’m not sure that’s appropriate.

When we first got there, the place was empty.  Completely.  We were allowed to sit anywhere we wanted, so we grabbed a table against the wall.  There was one bartender and one waitress, that’s it.  I thought more staff would come as the meal went on, but that wasn’t the case.

Instead of starting off with a description of the concept or going through the menu, the completely unbusy waitress just moved right to ordering our drinks.  They have a large variety of sake and shochu.  I had an $8 glass of Wakatake, which was great.  The beer selection is smaller, but they do have Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo on tap.

Again, offering no explanation, the waitress took our meal order.  We got about eight skewers of meat and vegetables and an order of the satsuma fries to start.  The fries, crispy sweet potatoes served with a spicy aoli, were excellent and probably the best thing we had all night.

The skewers were acceptable, but small.  Everything had a char on it, especially the beef.  Char is good, but not when the meat is so small that the char is all you taste.  The mushrooms left much to be desired as they were very, very dry and too light to even feel like you were eating anything.  The nonspecific gizzards were chewy, charred and too small to taste as well.

You get four sauces to accompany everything.  The best for the beef was a Japanese style sweet worchestershire, but the spicy miso mayo went well with everything.  Somewhat out of place was the curry cream.  The last, a spicy sauce, was good, but splattered all over when I squeezed it from the bottle.  Perhaps serving the sauces in small dishes or small bowls with spoons would be better.

After another round of skewers we were still hungry so we ordered a spicy miso pork rice bowl.  Very simply, it came with just bits of pork over rice.  The pork was great, but not spicy like advertised.  The rice it was served over would have been better if the sauce didn’t break it apart and make it difficult to eat.

Even after that, we were still hungry.  With nothing else left to order, we decided to call it a meal.  While we were eating, the place filled up and no additional servers came on.  As a result, the service was miserable, so we left only a basic tip.

I overheard the bartender answering the phone a few times.  At least half the calls were people looking for the other Muramoto restaurants.  A few diners stopped by to ask for directions to the other muramoto as well.  The group that sat next to us asked if sushi was served.  It’s not.  Kushi != sushi.

Turn up the lights a bit, promote large bottles of Kirin Ichiban, and make the portions larger and you’d have a restaurant I’d come back to for sure.  I’ve been saying we need a Gyu-Kaku style restaurant here for a long time.  Kushi Muramoto is the closest thing to that, but doesn’t pull it off.

For reference, here’s the food I got at a yakitori place in Tokyo:

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