The Ultimate Unagi

The Ultimate Unagi

Experience the peak season for grilled unagi, the famous river eel of Gifu Prefecture in Japan. Visit Shigeyoshi, a local favorite restaurant in Seki, and savor the caramel-y, roast-y aroma and the perfectly smoky and tender unagi fillets served on a bed of rice. Discover the savory sweetness of the restaurant's secret sauce and indulge in the ultimate unagi dish.

Happy Fourth of July everyone! I'm in Japan now for a quick trip, and when I rolled into Gifu Prefecture yesterday, I asked the usual question -- what should I eat? Simple: Grilled unagi, the river eel this region is famous for, which is in peak season right now. In fact, one unagi joint after the other dotted the main road into the town of Seki, my destination. My host here directed me to place called Shigeyoshi, on a side street. "It's where the locals go," he assured me. A crowd milled outside the restaurant when we arrived. Walking towards the door, I was instantly intoxicated by an unbelievable caramel-y, roast-y aroma from smoke billowing from the grill inside. Oh my god. As I waited for a table, I watched the grill cook as he laid unagi fillets over glowing charcoals, the eels skewered, bloody and glistening fresh, and deftly roasted them to perfection. Just before he pulled them off the fire, he dipped the fillets into an earthenware vat filled with inky black tare, the restaurant's secret sauce, and quickly finished them on the coals. We were seated forty minutes later. We ordered and awaited salvation: At last, the glorious grilled unagi arrived, resting on a bed of rice. What can I say? The skin was perfectly smoky and toasty, the flesh tender, fatty and delicate. The tare added a caramelized, savory sweetness, but totally subtle and complementary. As I dug into the rice, I discovered another layer of eel hiding inside. The ultimate unagi, simple as that. Some pictures follow. (Phone 0575-22-9566 in Seki.)