Where should two girls go when they’re so starving they can barely remember each other’s names? A Japanese Izakaya restaurant, that’s where. Like Guu, remember? It’s pretty much Japanese tapas, and not only do you get to try many different things, but they’re brought to your table QUICKLY. Keyword, right there.
Though I couldn’t remember her name at the time, Dana and I decided on Nan Chuu, in the heart of Alexandra Road, a.k.a Food Street. We practically ran to the front door, then panicked slightly upon discovering its size, which you’d call ‘intimate’ if you’re of normal mind, and ‘unbelievably miniscule’ if you’re mad with hunger. At 6pm it was busy already, and we worried we’d wouldn’t be seated right away. But they squeezed us into a tiny booth, which had the condiments box cleverly fixed to the wall to make space for food on the table.
We began sorting through the novel’s worth of menu pages in front of us. There’s the big, picture-laden menu, then the daily specials, then the drinks, and others I’m not even sure if I got to. Our servers were really friendly, and happy to take our first order while we decided on others. All in all, we went with a bowl of Japanese pickles ($3.50), 4 pieces of Takoyaki ($3.75), Tuna Tataki ($6.95), Gyoza ($5.25), Saba Shioyaki (grilled mackerel, $6.75), and a bowl of Tan Tan noodles ($9.50), which our server recommended. She also said the Miso Ramen is excellent, for you ramen fans out there.
Our dishes arrived faster than I could say “Dana, I’m so hungry I might eat this chopstick.” The first two were the Japanese pickles and Takoyaki, which – if you remember the Sushi Han post – are octopus dumplings. They came garnished with a drizzle of Japanese mayo and teriyaki sauce, as well as a handful of bonito flakes, which were like little flags waving around on top! I was so mesmerized I had to film it:
Later, when I googled “bonito flakes” to learn more, I found I wasn’t the only person who’d filmed my dancing dish. The flakes come from skipjack tuna (bonito) that’s been dried and smoked, then shaved into paper-thin flakes. They’re not only used as a condiment, but are the key ingredient in dashi, a common Japanese fish stock. Here’s a more in-depth article on them, and I also came across this very informative video. As for the Takoyaki, the dumplings were custard-like on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside, and especially rich with their drizzles of mayo and teriyaki. Just about the best thing you could eat to relieve hunger pains.
The pickles tasted awfully plain at first – they were just mildly-pickled cabbage – but then they grew on us. We snacked on them between courses, and they acted as a sort of palate cleanser. I don’t think I’d order them again, though.
Next up was the rosy pink Tuna Tataki, with its perfectly uniform sear and garnish of shredded daikon.
It was fresh, well-seasoned, and just the right amount for two people. Not extraordinary, but very good.
Then, onto the Gyoza. We couldn’t find these on the menu, but saw others eating them and asked for some ourselves. They were pan-fried and crispy brown on the bottom, and had great texture. Without the sharp, vinegary sauce they were good, and with the sauce they were excellent. Some of the best I’ve had so far in Richmond.
The Saba Shioyaki came at the same time, and we gave it a minute to cool off. The mackerel skin had been scored and broiled, and its golden-charred surface was still bubbling as our server set it down. It was all so simple; just the fish, a wedge of lemon, and daikon pureed so finely it looked like snow. We squeezed the lemon over top, had our first bites of fish, and lost our minds.
Holy mackerel. Had to say it. It was SO GOOD. Upon first bite, Dana described it as “almost creamy,” and she was right. The fish was perfectly cooked; so soft you barely had to chew. There were a few small bones to navigate, but for the most part it was easy to eat, and that’s exactly what we did. This is a must-order.
Lastly, we shared a big bowl of Tan Tan Noodles. After I had my first bowl of this classic soup I was hooked, and Round II didn’t disappoint either. The broth was somewhat thick and tasted of sesame, peanut, and chili; the noodles were quite firm; and it was topped with finely-chopped green onion, bean sprouts, and incredible braised, shredded pork.
It was spicy, addictingly-so, creamy, and nutty. I would ABSOLUTELY order this again, and look – we even had leftovers!!
I don’t regret choosing this over ramen, and why do I mention ramen? Because Nan Chuu (if I understand this all correctly), now houses G-men Ramen, which was a popular spot owned by the same people that had to shut down due to rent issues.
I just love love the tan tan. And think I always will will.
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available