We were surprised to find Maisui, Yusaku Kaneshiro's design triumph, lying mere steps from Shinbashi station, in an alley of izakaya and cheap noodle joints and boasting a young female pamphleteer outside-this is obviously a salaryman haunt, we thought. Not that Tokyo's male office workers don't deserve a stylish watering hole where they can bitch about work, but these folks are usually in the market for little more than a few tidbits and some sake to wash them down with. Yet, as we approached Maisui's exterior, all signs pointed to this being just another stopover for the besuited and soon-to-be-besotted white collar crowd.
We were glad to be proven wrong. Taking a left on the landing leading down to B1, our jaws dropped when we glimpsed the dim interior suffused with an electric blue-pink glow. Kaneshiro, the internationally acclaimed talent also behind the dramatic interiors at Doce and Sui Sui, has said he took his inspiration for Maisui from mangrove fields, but if so he's been visiting the orchards of Hieronymous Bosch and David Lynch.
Maisui's food is bound to take a back seat to the spectacle of its interior, but in fact the Korean-Japanese cuisine approached the originality of the restaurant's design. Even the otoshi seemed thoughtfully devised, a kimchi-flavored ika salad, spicy hot and cut into strips. Likewise the takku calbi (¥780), a dark stew of mushroom and chicken, was intensely flavored, thanks to its kochujan seasoning. And just as we were thinking how the dish would benefit from a rice accompaniment, we bit into tube-shaped mochi and were gratified by their sticky heaviness.
The Korean pancake with duck and beef (¥780) was another delight. A large chijimi with gobo (burdock), the minced beef and tender duck were dolloped at the center, their distinct textures and strong and somewhat similar flavors an unexpected but heady combination. Our last dish, a chicken-leg skewer fully a foot long (¥600), came with shaved toasted garlic and a lime wedge, accompanied by Hokkaido salt, mashed daikon and miso.