Monday, February 28, 2011

Serious Eats

Gastronomically speaking, Japan's cuisine, as far as taste goes, doesn't disappoint. At risk of sounding a tad stereotypical, however, the portions do leave a little to be desired. A phrase that I sometimes find myself saying in a restaurant is 大盛り出来ますか (oomori dekimasuka?, are extra portions possible?).

On February 12, during our trip to Sapporo, I was extremely surprised and thankful to find a restaurant that not only shattered this stereotype, but ascended the throne to sit and to reign and to shine like a beacon over all lesser man food establishments everywhere. Breweries are cool and manly to begin with, so by definition a restaurant at a brewery is double awesome, but this restaurant didn't rely just on its association to be good. The Sapporo Beer Garden restaurant, on the grounds of the Sapporo Brewery, had food, atmosphere and service that was unbeatable.

Sapporo Brewery

Sapporo Beer Garden and Restaurant

The entrance and waiting area of the restaurant were regal. A huge hearth warmed the entire room. Given that it was a Saturday night and the last night of the Snow Festival, we had decided to make a reservation earlier in the day, and it really paid off. We didn't have to wait at all upon arrival to be seated. While being led to our table in the eating hall, one could not help noticing how big the restaurant was. The eating hall was cavernous, and with the rustic wood, brick and metal decorations, the atmosphere definitely Beowulf-esque. This particular restaurant's nickname is "Genghis Khan", an apt title considering that not only do you feast on lamb and vegetables, but actually grill everything yourself on a huge grill on the table in front of you. On top of that it is 食べ放題 and 飲み放題 (all you can eat and all you can drink) for 2 hours. Mmmmmmm...

Once at the table, we were handed gigantic plastic bags. We were then told to put our jackets and top layer of clothing inside and then to seal it. Why would we have to do such a thing? To protect our belongings from the smell and splatter of everything that roasting lamb and vegetables on your table for two hours entails, of course. After the clothes were safely stowed, on came the gigantic bib. Barbaric? Yes. Crazy amazing? Absolutely.

Like any Texan preparing for an all-you-can-eat, I half starved myself throughout the day to ensure I began feasting at the peak of ravish hunger. We were doing incredible damage early, but the service absolutely shocked me. Typically at any similar type restaurant the service is horrible. They purposely take forever bringing seconds so you start feeling the "full" sensation and slow down, whatever that is. That was not the case here. As soon as any beer or meat platter even hinted at nearing completion a fresh draught or platter appeared at our table. We took full advantage and plowed through as if it were the last meal we would have for weeks. Most of the memories I have of what occurred between stuffing my face with countless amounts of meat and mead are a blur, but I distinctly remember a Japanese man with a pony tail serenading our group with an accordion... and children (and then the childrens' parents) becoming infatuated with Kyle and coming to hang out at our table...

At approximately 110 minutes into the 120 minutes of feasting the pain began. Not just physical mind you, but emotional as well. Having gained 10 pounds and hardly able to stand up, I was about to request a wheelchair to cart me out of the restaurant when a wave of shame came washing over me. My friends and I had just wiped out an entire herd of lamb, feasting to the point of exhaustion. The following photo says it all.

Truly, only the king of man food establishments makes you put your clothes in a plastic bag to protect them from the feasting, makes you where a massive bib, challenges you to eat to the point of shame and has a guy in a bear costume give you a hug you on your way out. Sapporo Beer Garden, I solute you.

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