From the entrance, this unpretentious little basement shop looks like an ordinary after-work hangout, with a solid wooden counter lined with sake and shochu bottles and a blackboard announcing the daily specials. Yufuna is surprisingly spacious inside though, with several other dining spaces beyond the front counter - all cozy and attractively decorated. Wherever you happen to sit, you'll get great Kyoto home-style cooking - small, tasty dishes made from the finest seasonal ingredients - plus a small but impressive selection of local sake to wash it down.
The pride of the kitchen is food and drink from the Tango region in the very north of Kyoto Prefecture, facing the Sea of Japan. The menu features a constant stream of fresh seafood and vegetables brought in from that area, varying according to the time of year. The sashimi platter of the day (Y1200-1500) is a sensible way to sample the best of it. There's also a good assortment of grilled dried fish - sardines, flounder, mackerel and squid - and these go especially well with sake. A Kyoto variation on the dried-fish theme is called "sakuraboshi," where the fish are first seasoned with mirin and sesame, then dried overnight and grilled, resulting in a much sweeter-tasting fish.
A big section of the menu is devoted to the local cuisine known as obanzai-ryori - home-style dishes from Kyoto. Obanzai-ryori is a free-wheeling style of cooking with plenty of room for originality, and we enjoyed some unusual dishes like the deep-fried salmon and lotus root - sort of a lotus-root sandwich with crunchy, thick slices of lotus root serving as the bread. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of spicy and garlicky dishes on offer, like the spicy green beans in sesame dressing, and the very impressive charcoal-grilled pork belly. The pork was beautifully streaked with fat and skillfully grilled, with flavor intensified by a hefty dose of extra garlic. Even a simple dish like zosui (rice porridge) was exciting, filled with aromatic mushrooms and greens that somehow captured the essence of the season.
The sake list includes around a dozen well-chosen varieties, including four very local brews from the Tango area that are well matched to the food. You can also choose from various types of shochu, ten kinds of umeshu, and some intriguing fruit-based drinks, like the very sweet momoshu (peach liquor) and the more tart yuzushu (made from the yuzu citrus fruit).
Yufuna's prices are very reasonable - you can easily get away with Y3000-4000 per person with ample food and drink, or far less for a quick snack and drink. There are also set menus (Y3500), and an all-you-can-drink shochu deal. Although there's no no English menu, the set meal is an easy way to order without working your way through the Japanese menu.
Yufuna is located in the basement of the Kyoto Mitsui Building, on the corner of Shijo and Karasuma and just above the subway station.
by Robb Satterwhite