Rikyu (Sendai, Japan)

Rikyu Gyutan
4-9-7 Chuo Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi 980-0021‎
Dining date: 10/26/12

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Our team spent a weekend in the northern part of Japan (in the Tohoku region) doing a project in Ishinomaki, one of the cities most heavily hit in last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. In short, much of the area has been cleaned up but there is much recovery still to go. While in the area, we spent the evening in the capital and main city of the region, Sendai. It just so happens that Sendai is known for its gyutan – beef tongue. Amazingly, there are shops everywhere specializing in the cut – I’ve never seen such specialization in America. Our hosts on the trip picked out a popular chain that specializes in tongue; not too surprisingly, some of my American team members were very apprehensive. However, I’ve had it on a number of occasions (though never a meal focused on it) and was excited to try it in Sendai.

The menu was definitely beef tongue-centric with a number of a la carte dishes and a few set menus. We were advised to go with the sets due to ease of ordering. With each course there were a few delicious options available.

seaweed, daikon, fish cake cooked with soy and sugar

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The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this starter. It was cool and refreshing, with a nice balance of sweet and savory.

beef tongue salad

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The parade of tongue began with this dish, cured duck tongue in a green salad. The tongue really tasted like pastrami with a nice smokiness and peppery bite, countered by the crisp green lettuce.

Two options were available for the next course – a stew and a soup.

beef tongue stew

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Another team member opted for the tender chunks of tongue in a warm and hearty stew.

oxtail and beef tongue soup

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I couldn’t resist going for the oxtail and tongue soup. It was a comforting and simple bowl of hot beefy broth with tender and delicious chunks of oxtail and tongue. A little bit of onions added some crunch and sweetness.

grilled beef tongue

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The main dish was this plate of grilled beef tongue served with Japanese pickles and rice. The tongue was chewy and meaty – loved the texture. I haven’t had a ton of beef tongue prepared like this in the States to compare, but this was pretty tasty. A couple of different pickles provided some heat and acidity to work in tandem with the fatty meat.

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A fattier cut of tongue was available called “extreme tongue” and we ordered a side to share. However there was a miscommunication with the kitchen…and we actually just received more of the same tongue. The other American diners had enough of the exotic cut, so I had most of this to myself. No complaints here!

This was a satisfying and enjoyable meal and I was glad to be able to try a specialty of the region. I think my team members that were initially apprehensive eventually came around to the tongue, though I’m not counting on them to order it back in the US.