Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Culture and Yaki Niku @ Grill Miyata

When most people think of Kyoto, they think of gorgeous gardens, simple but achingly lovely tea houses, and the world’s most breathtaking temples.

I think of beef.

Here’s how this happened: Once upon a time, I was also seduced by Kyoto’s cultural treasures, always connecting it in my mind with the magic of Japan itself, the seat of some of the globe’s most special places. But then my good friend (and former dissertation advisor) from Boston, P, came to Kyoto on a prestigious, highly-scholarly semester-long fellowship. Left alone one night, he decided he wanted to try some delicious Japanese beef, but didn’t want to go to a fancy steak house. He discovered a place called Grill Miyata that seems to have a cult following on Internet. He went there. He ate some steak. He called me and said I had to go back with him―soon. And then, despite his status as a highly cultured academic, one on of the most serious and stunning thinkers I’ve ever met, he turned me―his former doctoral student, no less―into a cultural heathen. Because now when I go to Kyoto, I scoff at his suggestions to see some Noh drama or explore the aesthetic particulars of a famous rock garden.

“Um, let’s just, like, eat some steak at Grill Miyata,” is my current rejoinder of choice.

Grill Miyata is unique in several ways. First of all, it is really, really not fancy. It resembles a sixties diner, with a long counter cluttered with bottles and dishes, lace curtains that look like Sears-issue circa 1950, and even the occasional chip in the woodwork. But therein lies its charm, tucked away at the edge of Gion, where the antique shops give way to signs of girls in pink bikinis. The menu is simple. (Grilled steak, chopped hamburg steak, or grilled chicken and shrimp.) An old DVD player croons American blues and jazz. And a charming, 80-year old Miyata-san, clad in a bandana and glasses, presides over the whole scene with tales of secret war-time bombings of Kyoto, undercover crime operations that “even the CIA doesn’t know about,” and how he was the first person in all of Japan to serve garlic chips.

The last time P and I went to Grill Miyata, my husband T, enjoying a rare night off from his salaryman job, was able to join us. P and I ordered the 200g grilled steak (¥9000) and T the high-value 200g hamburg steak (¥3000). Both courses came with a free drink of choice, salad, smoked salmon, the ubiquitous corn-soup that Japanese steak houses always seem to serve, a croquette of crab and shrimp, and rice or potatoes. But the crowning glory was the beef itself, a tender, sublime Sagagyu variety from Kyushu, grilled over charcoal so it’s less greasy than teppanyaki-style steak, and topped with garlic chips and green sprouts. In combination, every bite starts with a kick of salt, then blooms into richness from the beef, deepens with the sharp flavor of the garlic, and lastly lifts slightly with the fresh crunch of sprouts.

T, always a man of few words, was similarly happy with his hamburg steak―which was chopped with spicy onion and then layered with a rich brown garlicky-Worcestershire-like sauce―proclaiming profusely, “Mm, good!”

Maybe it’s just my new-found anti-intellectualism, but I found this commentary more eloquent, more pitch-perfect, than any other proclamation of Kyoto’s riches I’ve yet to hear.


Grill Miyata
Gion Nawate Shijo-agaru.(1 block E and N of Shijo-Ohashi intersection)
Open 5-10:30pm (LO).
Closed Mondays and Thursdays through June 2009, just Mondays from July 2009 on
075 525 0848
Menu in English & Japanese; staff speaks some English


Kelly said...

I just found your blog! Grill Miyata sounds great. If I ever go to Kyoto I will definitely go there.

I hope you don't mind but I'd like to add a link to your blog from mine.


Gourmet Girl said...

Sounds great, kelly--thanks for stopping by!