The wall of narrow smoked glass booths was slightly disconcerting as we waited for our table, making us wonder if we would be dining or interviewing with the immigration service, but not to worry. As we soon discovered, this was the "modern" half of Kamonka, Akasaka, located in the ultramodern Tameike-sanno area, whose menus discreetly promise an oxymoronic taste of "Modern Classic Mainland China." To our relief, we were soon seated in the "classic" section in back, all dark red with lacquered tables and tiled floors and, instead of smoked glass, soft gossamer curtains separating one table from the next. From there, it was all good.
We started with appetizers of cucumber in garlic dressing and cold eggplant in a light soy sauce. Both were refreshing and delicious, especially the cucumber, which could have easily been overwhelmed by a heavier garlic-wielding hand. When our drinks came, we were frankly shocked at the size of the lemon sour, which took on the air of a table centerpiece, and whose tartness would last through dessert. The ume-shuu (plum wine) sour was tasty, and at half the size of the sour was still a good fistful. Chuckling over the drinks, both of which rang in under ¥600, gave us a chance to check out our fellow classic diners, which were mostly young couples enjoying Sunday dinner out, or small groups providing a pleasant conversational buzz that blended smoothly with the soft jazz coming over the hidden sound system.
For the main course we went a la carte, although there were some formidable-looking set meals ranging from ¥4,000 to ¥16,000 that were composed of Kamonka's extensive selection of dishes, which is, to be sure, a cut above the standard fried rice and sweet-and-sour pork. The sesame noodle soup fell heavier on the peanut than the sesame side, but the nutty spiciness was nonetheless hearty and satisfying. The lightly grilled pork with green onions and served with Chinese pancakes was spot-on, and gave our waiter a chance to showcase his mu-shu rolling technique. We couldn't finish it all. With both around ¥1,300, we got the feeling that sizable portions were a given in this place, as was spicy, although there were no tell-tale signs on the menu. In general, the service was good, if somewhat severe, with the exception of our nimble waiter, who allowed himself a smile while flipping the pork in to a neatly rolled tube.
Nearing the end of our drinks, we settled on a desert sampler with mango pudding, springy macha muffins, ice cream, sorbet and a frozen, cracked lychee nut, which took us full circle with its pleasant airiness. "Modern Classic" might be an oxymoron, but even so, Kamonka manages the suspension of linguistic logic skillfully.