"It’s the soup of the future," declared our friends as they flipped molded tubes of fishcake in the bowl. It was a small pot, packed with scarily processed shapes swimming in a light broth. A fritter of tofu, sesame, and chopped vegetables bobbed to the surface. Another extruded tube bumped against the konnyaku, a flecked yam jelly the color of dirty mop water. It wasn’t really from the future – it was the nebulous, one-pot Japanese soup called o-den – but it sure looked that way, like the home cooking of Transformers. Spicy mustard comes on the side. The only thing immediately identifiable is a hard-boiled egg.
O-den is from the Japanese-only menu at Makoto, a handwritten note the waitress keeps in a pocket. The official menu is full of boring standards, enthusiastically subtitled in English – a waste of time. Ask for the specials, where you’re more likely to find simple, delicious things like shell-on roasted gingko nuts with salt, grilled winter bamboo shoots and Makoto’s best dish, monkfish liver. If foie gras swam free in the ocean, it would taste like this – buttery, vaguely marine, begging for a slice of crusty bread. The only thing missing, thankfully, is the taste of a fish’s liver. The special menu isn’t faultless, though. On our visit, they flubbed a miniature salt-rubbed sea bream grilled for far too long, and a heavy tempura. A bland stew of gelatinous beef tendon and radish held our interest less than the aquarium of sole, delicately referenced on the menu as “live sashimi”. The mom-and-pop Japanese owners supervised from a table in the back, and still have a trick or two left from the past – smiling as they give you the bill.