After decades of nothing but fond nostalgia for the food at Furusato Japanese Restaurant, we finally managed to have dinner there a couple of weekends ago. I didn’t think Furusato was still on the map of Metro Manila. Heaven knows how many times I’ve driven along the entire stretch of Roxas Boulevard, hoping for a glimpse of its signage, and totally missing it.
Then, I came across a restaurant listing on the Internet that said it was beside the Traders Hotel and off I went with my family. To make sure that we’d have an easier time locating the place, we decided we’d have to be in the vicinity of Traders Hotel before the sun went down. And so we were. At six in the evening, we entered the service road and Traders Hotel was about 20 meters away. For a few minutes, I thought that the listing on the Internet was wrong — that, perhaps, it was outdated and no one bothered to delete the information on Furusato. Where was Furusato? We actually had to pass it to find it.
See, Furusato is now in the midst of a neighborhood peppered with small sleazy-looking bars — the kind of neighborhood you don’t bring your teenage daughters to unless you intend to take them on an exposure trip. And we almost turned back, really, because the girls were already getting uncomfortable thinking that Furusato was of the same class as the joints we had passed with their dingy frontage and signs screaming karaoke and GROs with half-naked men (who looked like they had just woken up with a hangover from the previous night’s drinking) manning the entrances.
We didn’t turn back though. The moment my husband saw the Furusato sign, I opened my window, asked the security guard if they were already open for dinner and, after confirming that they were, he proceeded to guide us to the parking slots allotted for Furusato diners.
It’s been over three decades since my last meal at Furusato and those 30 years were evident in the physical environment of the place. Where the dining area used to be glitzy despite the muted lights, the wooden furniture had become worn with time although the pendant lamps looked new. Curiously, the overall old look did not detract from the charm of the place. In fact, it made the place look warm and welcoming with none of the cold industrial look of modern restaurants that almost always makes me flinch.
There were still those large tables and benches covered with futons. The kitchen with the see-through glass panes dominated the center of the first floor dining hall. We were handed copies of well-worn menus and I was thrilled to note that the food served at Furusato had the same unassuming “hometown” quality that made me fall in love with it the first time. We placed our orders and waited excitedly for the food.
Now, note that it was the first Furusato experience for my husband and daughters. As a family, we have dined at so many Japanese restaurants around Metro Manila and I felt a little trepidation that they would find the food at Furusato plain and unexciting. But as soon as our orders began to arrive, all my worries dissipated.
My husband was so pleased with his oyakojyu (sweet soy sauce flavored pan fried chicken and eggs served on a bed of rice and topped with green onions) that he offered me a bite as though to prove he wasn’t exaggerating when he said the chicken was ultra tender and delicious. There was miso soup, tori kushiyaki (grilled chicken braised in teriyaki sauce), tonkatsu rolls (tonkatsu served as rolled sushi), Furusato’s signature futomaki (so huge that the girls appeared shocked and wondered if a piece could be eaten in one go) and, of course, the thing that had me dreaming of Furusato for over 30 years — ‘sukiyaki’ that is just as wonderful as I remembered.
Furusato isn’t a hip place the way that restaurants have become associated with fashion and style. There’s no hype associated with Furusato and it doesn’t even boast of celebrity chefs. It’s simply a place you go to when you want really good Japanese food. And the fact that it’s still there and still serving the same comforting food for over 30 years should be enough testimonial for itself.
Does the unassuming image of Furusato mean that the food is inexpensive? A meal for four people would be anywhere from P3,000 to P5,000 depending on the items ordered. Order kobe beef with your sukiyaki instead of US angus and that jacks up the price. But if you’re the kind of diner who doesn’t mind paying a hefty price for really good food, you’ll like Furusato.