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Posts Tagged ‘mochi’

Osechi-ryori is the Japanese style of traditional foods eaten on New Years Day. It typically consists of many different small dishes that are served in stacked jubako (fine lacquer boxes similar to bento). To purchase a ready-made Osechi can set you back well into the hundreds of dollars. Or, you can spend all of that money on an airplane ticket to Japan and let your mother-in-law cook all of the food and arrange the jubako for you, Kawabata family style. Now, I’m not completely sure of all of the ingredients that were used, but I’ll sure do my best to fill you in on what filled my belly.

First and foremost was a delicious bottle of sake. My father-in-law always gets a really nice bottle when I come to visit. This is a bottle of Junmai Daiginjo from Aomori (Aomori is the farthest north area of Honshu and I once hitchhiked from central Tokyo all the way up there, but that’s a story for another time) called Denshu. It’s one of the best bottles in Japan and you won’t find it anywhere in the States. Junmai Daiginjo is sake that is made from pure rice without any added alcohol or sugar, rice that is polished at least 50%, and cold brewed at less than 5 degrees celsius. While you can find some Junmai Daiginjo in the States, you won’t find any as nice as this. It’s smooth as a baby’s ass! Even if you don’t love a baby’s ass, you’ll certainly love this bottle of sake.

In this box there was some simple steamed pea pods, shiitake simmered in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), boiled satoimo potatoes, simmered lotus root, simmered carrots, and koya tofu (freeze-dried tofu, something I’ve never eaten before but really like the texture).

Here we have braised beef wrapped gobo (burdock root), salmon wrapped in kombu, sweet-pickled daikon and carrot, and sweet shoyu glazed yellow tail.

This level of jubako contained dried herring roe, white and pink fish cakes, ikura (salmon roe), mashed sweet potato, soy-glazed dried anchovies, Cool Breeze Amongst Pine Trees (Uichiro’s name for his famous meatloaf, don’t ask me how he came up with that name, some things are probably better unknown), and ham.

Next to the jubako was a plate with some grilled red snapper. I’m always disappointed when I order red snapper in Chicago. I’m never disappointed with I eat it here in Japan. Tamiko got the skin nice and crisp while keeping the flesh moist and juicy. Extremely fresh fish.

Then, she brought out bowls of soup. A clear broth made from kombu and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) filled with mitsuba greens, fish cakes with good fortune written in the middle, mochi (an absolute necesity at the Japanese new years table), shiitake, and slices of yuzu peel.

Last, but surely not least, she served up some red snapper sashimi that was cured in kombu. A touch of wasabi was all it needed.

Dessert was simply fresh strawberries and green tea. Strawberries are extremely expensive here in Japan so they’re always a treat.

To wipe our mouths we used “Year of the Dragon” napkins since 2012 is the year of the dragon. I was born in a year of the dragon as well.

Happy new years everyone!

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So, yesterday one of Yuki’s supervisors decided to take her crew out to dinner at Gyu-Kaku, a yakiniku joint downtown. That left me by myself to eat, drink, whatever. My plan was to meet up with a buddy of mine from the Playboy Pilot at Five Star for a couple of drinks, then pick Yuki up around 7 or so and grab a jumbo char dog from Portillo’s on the way home to absorb the alcohol in my stomach. Things didn’t work out as planned. About 7 I got a text that they JUST got to Gyu-Kaku! What? How long would I have to wait for a friggin char dog! Hungry, I took a couple of Chinese Steam Buns out of the freezer to tide me over for a couple of hours. Shortly thereafter I got a text asking me if I wanted to join them. Absolutely! So I cruised on down and got there as they were about to order dessert. Oh well, that didn’t stop me from eating some beef.

Since they were already drunk and I was a little drunk I didn’t really care what I ate. Doug, one of two white guys in Yuki’s group, ordered one of the Kalbi’s for me along with a beer. They’re having a Sakura Festival (Cherry Blossoms) special with $3 beer and 50% off harami skirt steak so I’m sure that’s what I got. All I know is that a dish with some beautifully marbled beef covered in sesame seeds showed up alongside a nice cold draft beer.

Then, the waitress showed up with some white rice, red leaf lettuce, and red miso so that I could eat the beef properly.

Since I was too busy helping Doug make fun of Eric, the other white guy in the group, Yuki grilled my meat for me. That’s how you know you got a good one…when she grills your beef so you can drink and have a laugh.

I took the lettuce, smeared some miso on it, topped it with the beef, and chowed down! Oiishii!!! No offense to Koreans, but the quality of the meat is so much better than anything I’ve had at a Korean BBQ. Tender and juicy, the way a good cow should be. I do have a groupon for Gyu-Kaku that I can’t wait to use so that I can eat other cuts of beef along with different animals, both with legs and with gills. Oh, some veggies too. Yuki told me that their ramen was pretty good too.

At any rate, the dessert they ordered were a bunch of different doriyaki ice creams. Bowls of ice cream with red bean paste served with pancakes and mochi that you grill. Good ice cream, but they burnt the mochi. (No Eric, it didn’t taste like shwag, it just tasted burnt)

As we were getting ready to leave another co-worker of theirs who wasn’t part of this group sent over two little bottles of sake for us. Between Doug, Eric, and myself it didn’t take long to polish those babies off. Mmmmm, sake!

The best part about Gyu-Kaku is that they use really strong down-draft ventilation systems for each grill. Those things suck that smoke right down. Unlike Korean BBQ’s what have over-table hoods, you don’t have to hop in the shower and wash your clothes immediately when you get home to rid yourself of the smoke. If you have a Jewfro sponge on your head like me, your hair will definitely appreciate that!

I do have a back story regarding Gyu-Kaku. It’s a chain that started in Japan and there’s one off of the train stop near Yuki’s parent’s house. A few of years ago Yuki and I had dinner there with her sister and brother-in-law. I remember the basil marinated chicken to be fabulous. I thought that this would do really well here in Chicago because all we had were Korean BBQ joints up on the northwest side of town. There wasn’t anything downtown. So, I went to their website and saw that they’ve already hit the west coast, that really got my hopes up that I could bring them here to Chitown. I sent them a nice long e-mail letting them know about the niche they could fill here, yada yada yada. I hear nothing back from them at all. A couple of years go by and Yuki texts me, “Gyu-Kaku is coming to Chicago”. Eh? Those bastards cut me out of the deal! That’s my idea! I felt like Kramer with his ocean cologne. The least they could do is feed me for free for life since coming here was my idea from the start. Oh well, what can you do. The food is good so I will definitely go back, especially since I’ve already paid for a groupon.

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Last weekend I did a little searching to try to find the best ramen noodles in Chicago. It’s damn near impossible to find a good, authentic bowl of Japanese ramen in this town as all Japanese restaurants seem to be the same neighborhood sushi joint serving up Americanized sushi (ie- California Roll, Dragon Roll, Philly Roll, etc.). While that’s all well and good, what I wanted was ramen!

While searching online I came across very positive reviews of newly opened (only about 3 weeks old) Arami on Chicago just west of Wood. Billed as an authentic Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood I got a little excited, tingly you might say. Not really in the mood to cook last night I decided to take Yuki out and give Arami a go. Very wise decision indeed.

The decor is true to Japanese philosophy, very simple and natural. The entrance is a big torii (traditional Japanese gate) and sets the atmosphere off right. The walls are very light, somewhere between eggshell and wasabi green, but more on the eggshell side. The tables are bamboo and the fixtures look to be made of reclaimed wood. I especially like the bar. It’s just a big slab of tree trunk.

Service was excellent. Usually, when a restaurant first opens up, the service is the worst part of the experience. The place ran like a veteran. Our server, Tiffany, was very knowledgable of the menu and very attentive without being annoying. Food came out in timely order and nothing was rushed.

As I get to the food I want to apologize as I usually do when posting pics from my phone. They are terrible! I do my best to make the food visible, but my phone’s camera is a piece of  junk. Keep that in mind and don’t let my pics deter you.

We started off with the Togarashi Seared Tuna. A beautiful strip of tuna coated in togarashi and seared perfectly, about a millimeter cooked all around the edges with the center completely raw. There were 6 pieces served on top of a seaweed and kelp salad with a meyer lemon dressing. The seaweed and kelp salad was excellent. A lot of times seaweed salads are just dripping with vinegar. Not this one. Perfectly dressed and a nice compliment to the natural fat of the tuna and mild spice of the togarashi.

Next, we got the Akami Ankimo. Akami is the red part of blue fin tuna and ankimo is monkfish liver (one of my all-time favorite ingredients). The slices of akimi sashimi (you could tell that they were cut by professionals who understand the subtlety of cutting fish) topped with small slices of ankimo and some sort of sliced green. Yuki thought it was a kind of pepper, but I think it’s just the green part of scallions. Doesn’t matter whose right, it was outstanding! Too bad Arami doesn’t yet have a liquor license as sake would have matched this perfectly.

For an entrée Yuki got the Kimchi Ramen. Hands down the best ramen I’ve ever tasted in this city! The broth was maybe a little too light to be considered authentic (in Japan the best part about ramen is all of the gelatin from using bones to make the broth, your lips should feel a little greasy), but the flavor was fantastic. Thick chunks of pork belly, cubes of tofu, sliced kimchi (not an authentic Japanese flavoring for ramen, but a delicious one), a par-boiled egg with a nice runny yolk, and sliced scallions for garnish. The only real problem is that it’s too hot in Chicago right now to eat ramen. Yuki was sweating a little from eating it. That didn’t stop her though as it was friggin fantastic.

When ever I see short rib on a menu there’s a very high likelihood that’s what I’m getting. Combine that with my love for all things donburi and I had to get the Short Rib Donburi. I really nice short rib braised in a soy-based broth served on top of rice. To counter the fattiness of the meat they serve it with sliced pickled asian pear and scallions. The rib was very tender and the broth flavors almost penetrated completely through. I’m glad it didn’t to preserve the natural flavors of the meat itself. Another winner in my book.

Dessert is the one area they fell short on. The only two options were the typical mochi ice cream balls or three different gelatos. I asked if the gelato was made in-house and Tiffany said it wasn’t. We still opted for the gelato though. They had three flavors (green tea, ginger-lemon, and muscato) and you get two scoops per order. We were told that we could only pick one flavor, but Tiffany talked the chef into letting us have two, so we got the green tea and ginger-lemon. The green tea was terrible! Overly sweet and very chunky. It was not a good product and they need to get rid of it immediately! The ginger-lemon, however, was great. Not too sweet, nice and creamy. They could do more with desserts though. I’m tired of every Japanese restaurant serving mochi ice cream and ice cream. There are so many things that can be done with Japanese ingredients to make great, simple desserts. Green Tea Pot De Creme with Adzuki Ganache was an idea I gave Tiffany. She seemed to like that idea, so hopefully she can get the chef to open his mind and make some real desserts. You don’t have to be a pastry chef to make good desserts.

At any rate, Arami is our new favorite Japanese restaurant in Chicago. While we didn’t try a lot of the sushi, we could see that they know what they’re doing. We will definitely be back over and over again, especially once they get a liquor license as I was told they’ll have a killer sake list! Sushi and sake, sounds good to me.

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So, Yuki made dinner for Meatless Monday this week. As you can see from the pic, she cooks a totally different style than me. She prefers numerous different plates with different items while I usually cook more of a one-pot gig. But, with it being Presidents Day and a day off work it was her turn.

Starting with the top left dish, she simmered some daikon radish. For the broth, she boiled niboshi (small dried sardines) in water to extract that flavor into a deliciously light dashi. Then she simmered the daikon until they were softened, but still retained some texture. She topped the daikon with yuzu-miso and some sliced green onion.

The top right dish is sato imo, a hairy potato that made my fingers itch when I peeled it. It’s worth it though as it has a more pronounced earthiness in its flavor than the potatoes we’re used to here in the States. She first had boil them in some vinegar. These potatoes are very slimy and by boiling them in vinegar the slime is removed. After they were boiled she sautéed them in olive oil with some onions and garlic. Then she added some ponzu and a little mayonnaise.

The bottom bowl is harusame soup. She used konbu dashi for the broth, a very typical broth for Japanese soups. The noodles are harusame, made from mung bean starch. Also in it were some enoki mushrooms, shiitake, wakame seaweed, sliced aburage (deep fried tofu skin), baby bok choy, and an egg that was poached in the dashi.

She also made dessert, shiratama dango. They’re little dumplings made out of mochi rice flour. Simply add water to the flour, roll the dough into little balls, and boil them till they float. They’re usually grilled afterword to make them a little more savory before adding various sweet sauces. We used three of the more common sauces. On the left is azuki bean paste, the middle is mitarashi (a sweetened and thickened soy sauce with mirin, sugar, and corn starch), and the right is kinako (soy flour mixed with sugar).

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Alright, here’s Uichiro’s famous Kawabata-style Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is Japan’s version of a pancake of sorts. It’s base ingredients are eggs, flour, and shredded cabbage. Not entirely sure if Uichiro uses water or dashi, or what else he puts in his mix (highly guarded secret but I’m sure there are green onions in it) but it sure is tasty.

You start off by getting out the old table-top griddle. Once its hot add a little oil and pour some of the batter to form a pancake. Next to it lay out some sliced pork and start cooking it a little.

Once the batter starts to cook lay the pork slices on top.

While the okonomiyaki cooks grill various veggies. We had eggplant, green peppers, onion rings with quail eggs, kabocha, matsutake mushrooms, and various mochi cakes. Once the bottom is done you carefully flip the okonomiyaki to cook the other side.

Once it’s fully cooked spoon on top some bull dog sauce (a semi-sweet vegetable and fruit sauce), mayonnaise, shredded ao nori, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger on the side. Since it’s family-style you just cook and grab as you go. It’s a ton of fun and extremely tasty.

And if you aren’t full yet, don’t worry as yakisoba is up next. Once the batter is finished cook up the rest of the pork and veggies, add some bean sprouts and noodles, then eat it up.

Please, no dessert.

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In light of my great respect for the fine art of Kaiseki, Yuki’s mom decided that she wanted to take me out for another style. That woman loves me! Frankly, I can’t blame her. At any rate, a friend of hers had recommended Ushiyama in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo, so we gave it a shot last night. And what a shot it was! Slam dunk!

It started off with a plate of carrots, shiitake, and mibuna with grated apple. Who would have thought of putting grated apple on mushrooms? Ushiyama, that’s who. I’m damn he did, it was amazing!

After that came a dish of four. I ate them clockwise from bottom left. Ama ebi (sweet shrimp), raw sardines with thinly sliced onion that’s been soaked in cold water to remove the sharpness, warm salted ginko nuts skewered on pine needles on top of seitan (wheat gluten) cakes on top of grilled sweet potato that was shaped like a ginko leaf, and uni in a lily blossom. No, I did not eat the maple leaf in the center of the plate nor the pine needles.

Next was the soup course. I heavily bonito flaked dashi broth that was nice and smokey with a rinkon (lotus root) and mochi dumpling and a bok choy leaf with some yuzu zest. It ranks right up there with the best soups I’ve ever eaten, next to the one I ate a few years ago at Iron Chef Michiba’s restaurant.

After the soup course was the sashimi course. It consisted of suzuki (sea bass), melt-in-your-mouth tuna, and ika (squid). It must be ika season because the ika I’ve eaten on this trip is by far the softest and sweetest I’ve ever had.

Then they served us home-made soba noodles in a light soy-dashi with some thinly sliced negi (green onions) on top. I’m telling you, there is absolutely nothing like top quality freshly made soba noodles. I don’t know if I can go back to store-bought dried soba when I get home. I mean, of course I can, but it just won’t be the same. So chewy and clean tasting.

Next up was the grilled course. Sawara (a cousin of the spanish mackerel) grilled with yuzu-miso and served with yuzu-miso konnyaku and daikon that was cut into a flower with a small slice of red pepper. I’ve never had yuzu-miso before, I’m a huge fan!

After that was the simmered course which was kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) in a ginger sauce. It was served with spinach and daikon radish with chawanmushi in the middle.

For the fried course we got a dish with some tempura. Shishito pepper and ebi imo (a kind of yam) served in a light dashi with momiji oroshi and chopped chives.

Then came the rice and miso course. The rice was a glutinous rice with chirimenjako (baby sardines simmered in saltwater, dried in the sun, and covered in a sweet soy marinade), sliced shiso, and served on top of a cherry leaf. The miso had mizuna greens in it. There was also some lightly pickled cucumber and daikon on the side (yes Nick, I even ate the pickles!).

Finally, for dessert we got sweet potato mousse. It was so soft and lightly sweet, it was really more like a light sweet potato cheesecake. Served with a sweet potato chip on top.

This Kaiseki was Kyoto-style which is considered to be the most sophisticated and delicate of all styles. Hard to argue as the food was simply magnificent! Plus, all of that food for only $50 per person! I challenge anyone to find a deal half that good for a meal of that quality prepared with that caliber anywhere in the states. Thanks so much for bringing me here Tamiko!!!

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