Friday, December 28, 2007
It has been long time since we've updated our blog....but we have a very good reason. We've been a bit preoccupied with the launch of our store, SAKAYA, NYC's first sake-centric shop which opened December 8. The reception has been phenomenal and we've been extremely fortunate that New Yorkers have so enthusiastically embraced it.
After a busy Christmas Eve, we were grateful to have Christmas Day off to relax and cook at home. Although we were not in the store, Hiroko was still thinking about new ideas for pairing sake with food. We would like to share her one of her inspirations, a carmelized onion tart which paired perfectly with Hatsumago Kimoto Junmai.
Carmelized Onion Tart
in 8 inch tart pan
1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil
1/2 cup Madeira
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere
salt and pepper
Pie Dough for 8-inch tart pan
1 cup flour
5 tablespoons butter
3 to 5 tablespoons ice cold water
Make the Dough:
1. Cut the butter into cubes. Wrap in plastic and freeze. In the large bowl, sift the flour, and combine the flour and salt. Put the flour mixture into a freezer to chill.
2. Dump the cold butter into the cold flour, and cut the butter using pastry cutter.
3. When the mixture gets coarse like oat meal, sprinkle the ice cold water 1 tablespoon at a time to incorporate the mixture, using fork or hand. As the dough begins to form clumps, you need to test it. If you can gather it up to form a ball, it is ready.
4. Gather the mixture into one ball, and wrap it in plastic wrap to chill for at least 1 hour.
1. In a large skillet, met the butter or oil. Add the onions, and cook over moderate heat until softened about 10 to 15 minutes. Uncover the skillet and cook until the onions are very soft and browned about 45 minutes or longer. While the onion is caramelizing, add the 1/4 cup of Madeira. When the onion is caramelized, add the rest of Madeira and cook until the liquid is evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the dough and place it in a tart pan. Prick the bottom of the shell with a fork and freeze it until chilled.
3. Line the tart shell with foil and fill with dried kidney beans (or pie crust weights). Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, and remove the foil and beans and bake it another 10 to 15 minutes, until the shell is golden color.
4. Sprinkle the Gruyere into the baked tart shell and spread the onions on the top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the tart is browned. Let cool for 15 minutes.
Monday, December 10, 2007
For more information about SAKAYA, upcoming events, and media coverage of the store opening, please visit www.sakayanyc.com and click on "visit our blog."
Saturday, October 27, 2007
On recent rainy day, Hiroko wanted to make a one-pan meal and decided it was time to make her first paella. And so following the original working men's dish tradition, we used whatever remained in the refrigerator...a reflection of Hiroko's flair for economizing. Rick searched through the crowded refrigerator and found some homemade chicken stock, a chicken breast, Spanish chorizo, tomatoes, and a half dozen or so unused fresh shrimp from previous day. Hiroko consulted Mark Bittman's recipe for paella, and set to work sautéeing the chicken. Once it had browned, she added minced garlic and onion, and cooked this mix until the vegetables were soft. She then added the chorizo, along with tomato paste, saffron, smoky Spanish pimenton, and....."just a bit more" paprika (Nigerian in this case) than the recipe called for. In fact, as Hiroko shook the paprika container (accidentally using the large rather than the smaller shaker-holed opening), a huge amount of the spicy powder spilled into the pot. The saffron tinted mix had morphed into a fiery red! "Whoops!" Suddenly, it had become an entirely new dish, paella a la Lagos!
Regaining her composure, Hiroko added the arborio rice, sautéed it until shiny, then added the stock and shrimp, and stirred all to mix the combined ingredients. Next, she placed tomato wedges on top of rice and put the pan in the oven to roast for 30 minutes. When the rice was done, she turned off the oven, leaving the pan of rose-tinted paella inside to "rest" (and steam) for another 10 to15 minutes. Meanwhile, Hiroko prepared a salad while Rick selected a wine to accompany the meal. Just before serving, a sprinkling of chopped parsley was added and... it was time to eat.
The dish was wonderfully smoky and of course, spicy! The amount of Nigerian paprika didn't ruin the dish as we had feared, but it actually added a new dimension to it. The edge of the pan was nicely caramelized and resulting "burned" rice was toothsome and tasty. Rick chose a Licia 2006 Albarino from Galicia which offered a great balance of minerality, acidity and green apple fruit to compliment the acidity of the tomatoes and the smoky pimenton-influenced spicy flavor of rice.
We love spicy food and often seek it out both when we travel and at home. However, little did we expect that an "accidental overdose" of a spicy seasoning would result in the delicious discovery of a new way to make and enjoy an traditional, time-honored dish like paella!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
There are a number of sake tasting events taking place in NYC around Sake Day. Some are solely for the restaurant and retail trade but there are also several open to consumers. The largest and most comprehensive sake tasting opportunity for sake professionals, devotees, and neophytes was the annual Joy of Sake on 9/27. Created by Chris Pearce, the founder of World Sake International Imports based in Hawaii, the New York version of the event was held for the fourth year at The Puck Building in the East Village. This year, an amazing total of 302 sake from 142 breweries was presented. Of this total, about 100 were not yet available in the US. Confronted with this "surfeit of riches", we decided to first focus on the floor featuring the non-available sake. Even though this reduced our tasting universe by 67% we were still faced with a serious sake sampling challenge....how to strategically approach this and gain the learning that we were seeking? We paced ourselves by segmenting our efforts to first taste the "gold award" winners (judged by a panel of experts prior to the event) and intermittently chatting with friends and new acquaintances who share our enthusiasm for nihonshu. We were delighted to see them and be in the company of so many other New Yorkers tasting and embracing sake for over three hours on a beautiful fall evening.
Coincidentally, our friend Melinda from Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass was visiting New York during the same week and we were fortunate enough to spend time with her. Along with recently annointed Sake Samurai Tim Sullivan from Urban Sake, we headed to Sake Bar Decibel for a midnight drink after dinner one evening. Even with full stomachs and a well fueled buzz, we still had the thirst to drink sake like salarymen in Tokyo. The fact that he had to work the next morning didn't dissuade Tim from joining us in the late evening hours for some of his favorite brews! Otsukare, Tim!
On the last evening of Melinda's visit, we had a dinner party for her at our favorite Greek restaurant, Snack Taverna in the West Village. Along with several of Melinda's other New York friends including Tim, we enjoyed the restaurant's gracious hospitality and an abundant feast of food and drink. Our most grateful thanks go out to our friend Adam Greene, the owner of Snack Taverna, who generously arranged the delicious assortment of mezedes, Greek salad, saganaki, and country sausage, followed by the restaurant's uniquely Greek style preparations of branzino, roast chicken, leg of lamb, stuffed peppers, baklava, sheep's milk yogurt, and rice pudding. As you might imagine, no one left hungry!
With or without sake, sharing drinks with friends is the spirit of Sake Day. We were fortunate enough to have the best of both worlds in celebration of Sake Day 2007!
Monday, August 13, 2007
Last week, we celebrated Hiroko's birthday. She is pictured here wearing her favorite gift...a special custom made Kewpie T-shirt sent by a good friend of ours, Tim from Urban Sake.
Thank you, Tim! You are the BEST!
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
What is yuba? It is the membrane-like skin that forms when soy milk is warmed. It is then eaten warm or dried (like pasta) for later consumption as a wrap for spinach for example. It is fairly common in Japan but very difficult to find in the U.S.
As you may know, baking is quite different from cooking. It is a combination of science and the test of one's patience. Yuba making is the same way. It is very important that the soy milk should not reach the boiling point however its temperature should kept at a constant 165 degree F. The best method for achieving this delicate balance is through the use of a double boiler. Bring the water to a boil, gradually warming the soy milk until it reaches the desired temperature. When the yuba begins to form on the surface, you'll be tempted to immediately scoop up the sheet. But, exercise restraint because the membrane will initially be too thin and soft to successfully be able to lift it. Wait.....until the surface becomes thick enough to form a perfect sheet.
The key to making yuba as we said is patience. On one hand, we were excited and ready to scarf down own homemade yuba, yet at same time, we knew that our palates would be amply rewarded by holding off for just a few minutes more. As we said at the beginning of this post, this is the toughest part of making yuba (aside from making the soy milk from soaking dried yellow soy beans). We don't know if we'll make it again anytime soon, but when we do, it will most likely be a special occasion. And believe us, this special treat is well worth the wait!
Sunday, May 20, 2007
About two months ago, our friend Melinda who we met at John Gauntner's Professional Sake Course in Tokyo in January, very kindly invited us to participate in her second "virtual sake tasting." Since then it has taken some time to pick sake that all in the tasting panel (particularly we in the "deprived" part of the world) could purchase that allowed us to meet the objective of comparing sake of two different (rice milling)classifications by two brewers . Ultimately, we were all able to acquire the Hananomai and Suigei offerings that came close to conforming to our goal. The panel's participants are Melinda, Etsuko, and Robert-Gilles from Japan, with Valerie, and Tim, joining us from the U.S. Check in with each of their blogs too to get the full global perspective on these sake and then, go try them yourself! Here are our notes and overall conclusions....
Hananomai: Junmai Ginjo vs. Junmai Daiginjo
The Junmai Ginjo had a pale straw color, with a nose of toasted rice and faint notes of roasted meat. Its flavor profile was dominated by lactic acid combined with a bit of sweetness on the mid-palate and a fairly rich texture. The flavors didn't linger in the mouth too long, but it had a richer finish than the Daiginjo.
In contrast, the Junmai Daiginjo had a hint of sweet vanilla aroma with more lactic acid induced vanilla yogurt flavors than the Junmai Ginjo. The finish wasn't particularly long nor was it short either, but strawberry flavors filled the whole mouth at its conclusion. While just a tad rich, it was a surprisingly simple and straight forward sake.
Suigei: Tokubetsu Junmai vs. Junmai Ginjo
The Tokubetsu Junmai had a faint aroma of mushroom and an anise flavor. It was richer than the Junmai Ginjo, and had a dry, slightly longer finish with a hint of caramel vanilla flavor.
The Junmai Ginjo's nose reminded us of fruit blossoms and its taste of fruit matched that promise. Its acidity and tartness were prominent, but well balanced and the overall character was rather dry. It was not as complex and multi-layered as the Tokubetsu Junmai, but it did have a very clean finish with sweet strawberry flavors that linger in the mouth.
Overall, we liked Suigei's high acidity level, which delivered a pleasing balance of sweetness and dryness. Hananomai to us was a little flat in the flavor department.
Our overall rankings:
Hiroko: 1. Suigei Junami Ginjo 2. Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai 3. Hananomai Junmai Daiginjo 4. Hananomai Junmai Ginjo
Rick: 1. Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai 2. Suigei Junmai Ginjo 3. Hananomai Junami Ginjo 4. Hananomai Junmai Daiginjo
Just for a fun experiment, we paired these sake with three cheeses: (a very inexpensive) fresh goat cheese from Spain, an Australian cheddar (mild), and Roncal, a sharp sheep's milk cheese from Spain.
These cheeses were not necessarily the "perfect match" for the sake that we were tasting but we like to subject all sake that we taste to the "cheese meter." The overall best match was the Australian cheddar with Hananomai Junami Ginjo and Suigei Junmai Ginjo. This Australian cheddar is not a sharp cheddar, but it paired well with both Junmai Ginjos. The creaminess of the cheese found its compliment in the acidity and tartness of these two breweries' JG offerings. The Roncal was a bit sharp for the sake, but if we had to pick one, our vote would go to the SuigeiTokubetsu Junmai, which had the tartness and body to stand up to it. With the goat cheese, the sharpness was well matched with the Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai.
Well, that's it for the moment but it's now time for dinner and we still have lots left in the bottles to try with our Asian tuna ceviche, kanpachi sashimi, ginger sauteed green beans, and daikon with mentaiko sauce....
Monday, April 30, 2007
Our sake friend Trevor from Australia, who we met in Tokyo while there for John Gauntner's Professional Sake Course, came to NYC for the Asian Art Fair recently. He works for Japanese art dealer, Kehoe Art Gallery, and he introduced us to Australian sake, which he was serving at his booth.
The sake is Goshu 40 Ultra Premium Genshu Junmai Daiginjo made by Sun Masamune in Australia. Sun Masamune was founded by the Japanese company Konishi Brewing in 1996. Currently the head brewing master is Hirofumi Uchiyama, who used to work in the Nada district (famous for sake brewing) for 30 years. Their sake is made from Australian Japonica rice and their own special yeast.
Trevor offered us a choice of sake cups from their display. All were colorful egg-shapes made by Kiyomizu Studio in Kyoto, and most of what they had brought had sold for $95 apiece.
We tasted the Goshu 40 which is milled to 40% and had a moderate alcohol level (particularly for a genshu brew) of 16%. There was a hint of the yogurt-like flavor of lactic acid combined with a smooth, round finish. While it didn't have the sophistication of the Japanese Junmai Ginjo sake we have tasted, it still possessed some lovely light rice aromatics, filled the mouth with its richness and lengthy finish. As the flavors danced on our tongues, all agreed that it was perfect experience to brighten the early spring afternoon, served up in a whimsically designed, colorful cup!
Saturday, March 24, 2007
From Vientiane we flew north to Luang Prabang. Surrounded by mountains and nestled between the Mekong and Khan rivers, it was the capital of Laos until the Communist take over of the country in 1975. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995, its colonial legacy, French influence, and Laotian tradition, have been woven into the fabric of a town that is a perfect reflection of the Lao culture. Luang Prabang is small, and just about everywhere worth checking out can be reached on foot.
"So pretty!" was our first reaction when driving into town from the airport. Seemingly frozen in time with its quiet beauty and tranquility, Luang Prabang is both relaxing and serene. The entire town is the epitome of "zen," no surprise since the town center is dominated by about 33 temples, home to nearly 1,000 monks and novices. They are so ubiquitous that it is nearly impossible to go anywhere without the sighting the familiar saffron robed devotees of Lord Buddah strolling or sitting by the temples.
Mornings begin very early in Luang Prabang, where locals are awakened by the bells and gongs from the temples, and a procession of monks and novices circuits the town to collect rice for the daily meal. The first gongs sounded at 4AM waking the normally somnambulent Hiroko . When they resumed their call at 6AM from the Wat Xiengthong, Hiroko was already standing on Sakkarine Rd. to witness the endless stream of saffron.
Hiroko's return and Rick's hunger motivated the early morning trip to the morning market by our guest house. By sunrise merchants had lined Manthatoulat Rd along the Mekong River, their intricately designed hand-loomed textile cloths spread before them filled with vegetables, fruits, chili, fish, and meat. There were numerous stands offering cooked food too. Flies were everywhere, particularly attracted to the meat and fish however, this seemed to bother no one... the merchants simply make a practice of waving their hands to keep them from alighting on the food. We were very tempted to try some of the delicious looking sandwiches or grilled chicken, but we had another mission in mind for our breakfast....kao soi noodles!
So we set off in the intense morning sun from the town center to visit a famous kao soi noodle place. It was about 30 to 40 minutes walk from our guest house, and even before 8AM, it was quite hot. The road leading out of town, although relatively empty, was still quite dusty and once outside of central Luang Prabang, there were only a few small guest houses along the way. We finally arrived at what we hoped was our destination, a shop where the tables were filled with people slurping away their faces buried in bowls of spicy noodles. There was no sign (which we wouldn't have been able to read anyway but this sight confirmed for us what we knew without asking....that we had reached our destination!
We sat and ordered "kao soi," but weren't certain that our server understood us. But a few minutes later, we were thrilled to see her arrive with two bowls of kao soi noodles and a plate full of local basil and bean sprouts. We squeezed the juice from the accompanying limes, added a copious quantity of basil and bean sprouts, and immediately began to eat the noodles before they cooked too long in the broth. The Thai version of Kao Soi has coconut milk in it, but the Lao variety instead uses a sort of local spicy miso-like paste similar to that used in pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup. It was so addictively spicy that our faces remained buried in our bowls until nothing remained.
After breakfast, and visit to a nearby wat, we picked up the sandwich at the market for a picnic lunch at Kuangsi Falls. These gorgeous waterfalls are about 16 miles (a one hour drive) from Luang Prabang. We hired a driver who adroitly navigated the dirt road to the waterfall. It was extremely hot, and the van's air conditioner hadn't worked in years. And, as badly as we wanted to open the windows, the "dust storm" kicked up on the dirt road was so severe that we didn't dare open the windows for fear of asphyxiation.
Having survived the sweltering drive, our joyful foray into the wooded area near the falls brought us face to face with several young tigers which were kept in a fenced-in area. We were told that this was a sanctuary for tigers which are still illegally hunted. Following the signs to the waterfall, we came upon a clearing where the silky water of the river flowed into a beautiful turquoise pool. Too inviting to resist, we took off our shoes and waded in. The water was cool and refreshing and a welcome relief after the ordeal of our "sweat box" van experience. We just sat on the rock and luxuriated in the tropical paradise-like surroundings as the cooling effect of the pool reinvigorated us. Refreshed, we picked up the trail again and followed the stream uphill where in another clearing we encountered the majestic waterfall directly in front of us. We found a bench nearby and unpacked our lunch. As we sat there in the spray of the falls eating our freshly made sandwich we drank in the surrounding scene which was as idyllic as anything in our previous experience .
After returning to town, we strolled the streets, then climbed Phusi mountain to view panorama of the surrounding countryside from its peak. It was a breathtakingly beautiful view in the dusky haze of twilight. Sunset was near, so we strolled down by the Mekong River to enjoy the spectrum of blazing color as the sun seemingly dipped into the river.
Laos, as experienced in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, was our favorite country of all that we visited on our month-long trip to Southeast Asia. Because of its rural economy and lack of industrialization, it was the country that seemed most untouched and unspoiled. We loved its tranquility, warm, friendly people and of course, the amazing food!
Thursday, March 22, 2007
We rented bicycles for a day for 20,000 Kip, approximately $2 ($1=10,600kip) to visit temples and shops. Since the climate was very hot and humid, we kept our sightseeing activities to a minimum during the midday hours and took the opportunity to rest at a cafe, eat, and drink some of the delicious freshly squeezed local fruit juice.
We found a wonderful sandwich shop, Nampou Coffee near our hotel. During breakfast hours, local people were eating a noodle dish like Vietnamese Pho, which we decided to give a try. We also found that in Laos people eat Vietnamese Banh Mi like sandwich as well. The sandwich was filled with pork, cucumber, and sauteed onion and carrots with mayo and was perfectly matched with Beer Lao. We tried three different sandwich shop, and concluded that Namphou Coffee's sandwich was the best.
For dinner, one evening we feasted at a small family run place, Vilayluc, which we found via a Japanese guidebook. It looked like someone's home turned into a restaurant. The proprietor was very friendly, and we ordered her recommendation of laap (like laab in Thai), spicy curry and a dish she called "waterfall beef" (also similar to aThai dish). Since their history is so intertwined it is no surprise that Lao food resembles Thai, though like Vietnamese food, not as spicy. Lao dishes are filled with herbs and fresh vegetables, and you eat them with sticky rice. Khao Niaw, as it is called , is eaten with your fingers, molded into a ball and used to mop up the juice of the dish. We still remember the dinner at Vilayluc as one of the best that we had in all of Southeast Asia.
57 Pangkham Rd., near the corner of Samsenthai Rd.
behind Wat Ong Teu
Other Restaurants & Sandwich shops:
turn left on Samsenthai Rd. on the road to That Dam
344 Samsenthai Rod.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Nabe is the quintessential winter Japanese dish, which is prepared in a hot pot at the table. It is sort of like a healthy fondue in that the cooking medium is not oil, cheese, or chocolate but a type of Japanese stock made from water, kelp, and/or dashi depending upon the type of nabe. Popular types of nabe include the familiar Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu, as well as lesser known (to U.S. eaters) dishes that are enjoyed in the various regions and families of Japan. The only rule for nabe is that you cook anything that you like in the pot at the table and that it be shared with your family and friends.
A nabe pot can be anything from ordinary to artistic. The "ordinary" variety can be easily found at Mitsuwa Marketplace in New Jersey or other Japanese grocery stores in New York area. We wanted something unique and special, so we waited until we were able to buy the beautiful black one that we had fallen in love with while looking through The Nabe Cookbook (purchased in Matsuyama on our winter '06 trip). Hiroko's always expert research located Doraku, the small family run pottery shop where it could be purchased.
"This is it!" we exclaimed after walking into the charming shop that was the first place we visited after our arrival in Tokyo. The Denenchofu area of Tokyo is an affluent neighborhood modeled after a similar section of London. Run by the Asami family, the shop was small and a little cluttered, and focused on artisan yakimono. Mrs. and Mr. Asami love yakimono and are quite proud of their shop's selection.
Mrs. Asami excitedly showed us the nabe that was the object of our visit. It is made by Shiro Yoshii in Kyoto, and is surprisingly light weight. She explained to us that this nabe was individually handmade and that it needs to be well cared for. She was ecstatic when we told her that we were from NYC and had learned about her shop and the nabe from the Nabe Cookbook. We happily purchased it, and told her how much we adored it. Our excitement made her even more excited so much so that we were thanking each other until we left the shop (in fact, they followed us out of the shop while continuing to thank us!).
Remembering our visit with the Asamis at their shop, we opened the long-awaited package from Japan. The nabe was wrapped meticulously and with lots and lots of padding. There was no damage to our nabe, no scratch or broken pieces, it is as beautiful as the first time we saw it. We were so excited to see our NABE finally sitting on our dining room table, and wasted no time in inviting friends over to put it to use immediately!
Saturday, March 10, 2007
More detail on the tasting, click here for the tasting note.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Lately, we've been doing a lot of dining out so, deciding that we needed to go "light and lean" for a day or two, we visited Fish Tales, our favorite local fish store. There on display we spied some basa, or Vietnamese catfish. Sparking our sensory memory, we thought that a Vietnamese dish would be a perfect for our spice seeking palates! We then recalled how much we had loved the dill, tumeric, and fish sauce-perfumed dish, cha ca fish, prepared by diners at their tables at the eponymously named Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi last winter. With the key ingredient in our possession, our subsequent search led us to a recipe on the Washington Post website.
With Hiroko's skillful preparation, we found the result to be so thoroughly authentic that we were momentarily transported back to the dingy but festive, smoke-filled restaurant in Hanoi. Only the owners' faded family portraits on the walls and 16 oz. bottles of Ha Noi beer on our table were missing!
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons water
Juice of 1 lime
For the fish
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pound firm fish fillets cut into chunks
8 ounces thin dried rice noodles, softened in warm water and drained
2 cups coarsely chopped dill
5 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
3 cups shredded lettuce leaves
1 cup mint and cilantro leaves
For the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, mix the garlic, sugar and chili-garlic sauce to make a coarse paste. Add the fish sauce, water, and lime juice, stiring to dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
For the fish: In a bowl, combine the fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of oil, the ginger, turmeric, and salt, and mix well. Add the fish and toss to coat. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the remainig oil and heat, and add the dill to the pan to sizzles at once. Add the fish and cook on one side for about 2 minutes. Turn and cook 1 minutes. Add the remaining dill and the scallions and cook for another 1 mintues.
Divide the noodles among the serving bowls. Add the lettuce and mint and cilantro. Top each bowl with pieces of fish, and drizzle with the dipping sauce.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Thursday, February 08, 2007
After getting off the train from Shibuya, we left Kaminoge station at 5:45PM with map in hand. Our reservation was promptly at 6PM, so we had little margin for error. We walked for about 10 minutes, winding our way through a network of dark, quiet residential streets. At about 5:55PM, we arrived at the location where the restaurant was SUPPOSED to be. We looked around, but saw no sign of Araki. Hiroko asked a couple who appeared to be waiting for a bus, if they knew where Araki was, and they pointed to the door directly behind us!
At 6PM, the door opened. By that time, the 10 people who had congregated outside practically stampeded through the door and quickly claimed their seats at the counter. We took the two remaining seats at the end and we all sat and waited for our chef to emerge from behind a curtain....After our drink orders were taken, he took his place behind the simple wooden counter. A serious, stern-faced man in his late 30's, he was assisted by an equally stoic, extremely adept young woman in her 20's.
The atmosphere was somewhat solemn, and we felt a bit like we were in a karate dojo where the sensei demonstrates his moves and the pupils observe in silence. Noticing a few exchanges of familiarity between the other customers and chef, it became obvious that they were all regulars. We were the outsiders, and though the staff was cordial (and spoke English to Rick), it was clear that this was to a certain extent, a club. The master chef would allow himself a slight smile now and then, but he never laughed. When he spoke (infrequently) it was curt phrases uttered in a soft voice. He was a man of a few words who was completely focused on his craft.
After painstakingly careful preparation, each offering was individually presented. We started with a variety of sashimi including hamachi, abalone, uni and iIkura, and aji (horse mackerel). The hamachi was so fatty and tender that Hiroko couldn't contain herself and after putting it in her mouth, broke the reverential silence with an exclaimatory "oishii!" The uni was sweet like panna cotta or custard, and it was the perfect compliment to the slightly salty ikura that it was paired with.
Following the sashimi we were served a succession of sushi; three different grades of tuna (maguro, chutoro, and otoro), river fish, shirako (everyone's favorite, codsperm), shrimp, squid, and at last anago. Everything that we put into our mouths was sublimely delicious, perfectly prepared and proportioned. And the shari (sushi rice) was the best we've ever tasted!
Alas, at precisely 7:50PM our "shift" was over. And, as the 8PM reservation group arrived and we prepared to retrace our path back to the station, all we could do was agree that Araki was without question, the perfect sushi experience we had sought.
Kaminoge Little Town 102
4-27-1 Nakamachi Setagaya-ku Tokyo
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
We ordered a shoyu and a shio ramen (which we were advised to be the standards) from the manager, a 40ish man was busily running around taking orders and clearing tables. Within 5 minutes, our ramen arrived, and before the noodles could soften (horrors!) , we joyfully dug our chopsticks into the bowl to capture and slurp the first few strands of noodle. The noodles were medium thin, a little curly and white, with a perfect chewy, al dente texture. The shoyu ramen soup delivered a deep, rich mouthfilling flavor. In contrast, the shio ramen soup was light, yet also flavorful and loaded with "umami." Toppings were simple; a slice of roast pork, crunchy fresh bean sprouts, and snowpeas. The belly-soothingly hot ramen made our noses run and caused us to break a light sweat as we happily slurped away until sadly, we caught sight of he bottom of the bowl.
We sat at a corner table with a space heater conveniently situated at our feet to keep our seat warm. The menu was a "build-your-own" style with a choice of noodles served either hot or cold, in soup or with dipping sauce. Plus, it also offered their special dish of noodles in sesame soup. There was also a long list of toppings to choose from, about 15 or so, ranging from scallion to tempura to slices of duck. Each order was accompanied by a bowl of mushroom rice and Japanese pickles.
Hiroko ordered the noodle in soup with scallions. Rick ordered the special noodles in sesame soup with scallion. Made from a mixture of yuba and flour, the noodles were thinner and not as springy as sanuki udon. They were delicate and soft and the soup broth was rich and aromatic...ub a word (Hiroko's) "beautiful." With hints of bonito and kelp flavors, the soup was light on salt and shoyu but delivered an abundance of dashi flavor. This "light flavored" soup is what Hiroko calls "Kansai style" (versus Tokyo or Kanto style which relies more heavily on shoyu).
Not to be overlooked, their rice was delicate and tasty as well. We devoured our lunch and then sat and savored it for a while longer over a nice cup of green tea. Through our visual sense, we had discovered a beautiful old house which yielded an equally beautiful sensory experience for our tastebuds, a bowl of yuba udon.
5-15-10 Shirokanedai Minato-ku Tokyo
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
At about 6:30AM at Shinagawa station in Tokyo, we searched for a bakery to buy our breakfast. Bakeries are as ubiquitous in Japanese rail stations as hot dog vendors on NY street corners. But at this hour, no kissaten (coffee shops) or bakeries were found to be open at such an early hour. At first our sole choice seemed to be a convenience store selling onigiri, sandwiches, and juices. Not thrilled with the prospect, we decided to take one more look around. It was then that we spied a soba stand that was not only open for business, it was packed with early riser salarymen. Well, nothing beats a bowl of steaming hot soba noodles in cold morning! Sleepy eyed salarymen were busy slurping the soba, their concentration focused inside of their closely held bowl. We bought the coupons at the door, and waited at the table to be served. Service was quick, we wordlessly and happily slurped our order, and we were out the door on our way to our train in 5 minutes.
We had learned the salaryman's secret for starting the day...soba is the "breakfast of champions."
Thursday, February 01, 2007
In Takayama, we went to a small izakaya, and ordered Hida beef sashimi. The ultra-thin slices of fat-marbled raw beef were served with both salt and soy sauce for dipping. Tender and very fatty, the taste was not unlike chu toro, medium fatty tuna.
The following day, just before leaving Takayama, we came upon a shop selling Hida beef sushi. How could we not try it?! Each piece consisted of a slice of beef cooked briefy with a blowtorch and carefully placed onto sushi rice. It was a simple yet unbelievably delicious treat..the buttery fat perfectly mingling with the vinegar flavored sushi rice.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Sake is very much a reflection of Japanese culture, where "aimai" or ambiguity is deeply woven into lives and personalities. Vagary rules. When it comes to gastronomy, anything goes as long as it sounds and tastes good. That's what we deal with in the world of Sake when it comes to both tasting and understanding the industry.
Sake World by John Gauntner