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Posts Tagged ‘nori’

The other night Yuki and I met up with a bunch of her ex-coworkers who have moved back to Tokyo. They got a table at a modern, hip Yakitori joint in the Hibiya neighborhood. If you want to buy a brand new Hermes bag, Hibiya is the place for you. It’s a very swanky area filled with great food. The place they met us at is called Yakitori Akira. It’s in the basement of a large office/shopping building along with a handful of other slightly upscale food joints.

When you walk in you take your shoes off and walk past the open counter where the chefs prepare the chow. The tables are sunken. I was a little nervous at first because the tables were floor level and my knees are terrible. But, the floor was recessed making them regular table height, something that is becoming more common in newer restaurants, sort of fusion if you will.

The first dish, after a cold draft beer of course,  was a salad of raw Nappa cabbage swimming in a mayonnaise-based dressing and topped with sliced kombu.

After that came some natto topped with sliced green onions and nori seaweed. Natto is a love-hate food. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a type of fermented soy bean and has a really pungent odor, like ripe armpits. It also has a very sticky texture. It’s commonly eaten with Chinese-style mustard to mask some of the smell. Yuki loves it, I don’t prefer it. Very few Westerners can tolerate it and, these days, not so many of the younger Japanese do either. But, I had to try it since they put it in my face. Needless to say, I took one bite and the quickly proceeded to chug some beer!

Then we had some chicken karage, Japanese-style chicken nuggets. Unlike your McDonald’s variety of processed crap, this is big juicy chunks of thigh meat. I have no idea what kind of sauce this one came with, but it sure was tasty!

This here is the dish I was most looking forward to…rare chicken meat! The meat from the neck was quickly seared, almost completely raw (the pink you see in the picture is indeed raw chicken), on a hot skillet and served with some yuzu kosho. Rare chicken is extremely controversial, for obvious reasons, but given the upscale atmosphere I was certain they were using fresh, high quality birds. Since I have yet to get diarrhea or vomit profusely, I’m pretty sure the meat was clean. Flavor-wise it tasted like chicken, oddly enough. The texture was a little chewy, chicken al dente. Honestly, it’s nothing really special, it’s just chicken meat.

Avocado sautéed in some sort of shoyu sauce came next. Coming from Chicago I’m used to Mexican preparations of avocado. This was a nice change to what my taste buds are used to. The sauce carmelized a little while the avocado stayed nice and soft.

After the Avocado we spiced things up a bit with some kimchi. It was served with some chopped green onion, julienned daikon, and a shiso leaf.

Next came what is probably my favorite snack of the night, deep-fried chicken skin. Japan’s answer to chicharones. Crispy, buttery, all-around chickeny goodness! I may have to make this a staple of my future diet.

What tour around the bird would complete without some chicken wings? These were deep-fried with either basil or shiso in the batter, I couldn’t really tell. With a squirt of lemon they were delicious.

The main course of the night was the table-top charcoal grill. Instead of eating yakitori style (chicken on skewers) we ate yakiniku style (grill yourself). The first pieces we grilled were breast meat wrapped in shiso leaf.

The other pieces of chicken we got were neck meat, 2 parts of the heart (heart skin and heart meat), meat that was dangling off a piece of cartilage (I think the breastplate), and skin. We also had a few pieces of okra to grill.

Once the meat was grilled we dipped the pieces into an onsen egg. Basically it’s just an egg that’s been barely soft-boiled to the point where the whites were just set and the yolk is still runny. To me, this is natures most perfect sauce.

After all of that chicken we decided to get a few cuts of pork for shits and giggles. We got shoulder, cheek, and side meat and grilled them all the same as the chicken.

As Yuki and I were leaving due to having Otis back at grandma and grandpa’s, everyone else ordered up some soup. I really have no idea what was in the soup, but I imagine it was miso. From the pic I took here as I left I can definitely tell you it was topped with nori and had a shtickle of wasabi.

All in all, I thought Akira was a great izakaya. They call themselves Yakitori Akira because the chef’s specialty is chicken, but to me it’s not a yakitori restaurant at all, even though they do serve yakitori. The menu is much too diverse to be called yakitori. Since they serve up numerous small plates and whatnot with a nice beer and sake list, its pure izakaya to me. That said, what’s in a name? An izakaya by any other name’s chicken would taste is sweet.

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This dish is actually from this past Sunday night. Since Yuki’s parents love seafood, like most Japanese, I wanted to grill some red snapper for Tamiko on Mother’s Day. Our friends that gave us the Rick Bayless cookbook were up at Tensuke Market so I had asked them to bring me some snapper. Unfortunately, they did not have whole snapper, just filets. They did, however, have Sanma. I remember Tamiko made Sanma for me once in Japan so I thought it’d be fun to grill some up and return the favor.

Sanma is a Pacific Saury, commonly called Mackerel Pike in English. About a foot long and slender it’s simply salted and grilled, complete with the guts. You can certainly eat the guts, as Yuki’s brother-in-law Jun does, but they’re very bitter. I don’t eat them, too bitter for me. After grilling you simply pull the skin and meat off the bones and chow down. The skin gets very crisp and tasty while the meat stay moist.

To prepare the Sanma I simply washed them down with cold water and patted them dry. Then I heavily salted both sides of the fish and let it rest for about 20 minutes. This allows the salt to stick to the fish and add the depth of flavor while keeping it a little less oily.

I had some fingerling potatoes that needed to be used up so I halved them, drizzled them with olive oil, and sprinkled some salt and shichimi togarashi on them.

I heated up the grill to med-high. The potatoes went on the top rack while the fish were on direct heat. I cooked one side of the fish for about 8 minutes then flipped it over and cooked the other side for about 6 minutes. Not sure why, but Tamiko said you should cook the first side a little longer. Since this was my first go at grilling Sanma I happily took her experienced advice. Glad I did because they cooked to perfection!

Sanma is typically eaten with grated daikon radish that has a little soy sauce poured on top of it. So, I grated some daikon and we poured a little soy.

Tamiko made Bara Sushi to accompany the Sanma. Bara loosely translates to spread out, so it’s basically just spread out sushi. She made two cups of rice and mixed some rice vinegar, sake, and mirin (maybe a little sugar too, not exactly sure what her blend of sushi rice consists of, but you can find multiple recipes for sushi rice online if you feel like trying your hand at it) into the rice. I fanned the rice down while she mixed the vinegar mix in to help rid some of the moisture. Then, she mixed in some smoked salmon, thinly sliced pea pods, thinly sliced lotus root, thinly sliced soy simmered shiitake, and carrot matchsticks. She then made some scrambled egg crepes, thinly sliced them and placed them on top. Finally, it gets garnished with thin strips of nori seaweed. It is absolutely delicious!

The soup was a simple clear dashi broth with wakame seaweed and eryngii mushrooms.

I wish more Americans would cook whole fish instead of the typical flavorless tilapia filets you see at every grocery store. Sanma is such a flavorful little fish that really would be a waste to add more than just salt. By keeping the guts inside you really get a full fish flavor, and you certainly don’t have to eat the guts. Full of omega-3’s and lower in mercury, it’s a great fish to grill up and enjoy with a cold beer or some cold sake.

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The other night we made Onigiri for dinner. Onigiri is great because you can pack in smaller amounts of protein which saves cash, while still making a very nutritious meal. It’s also fun to make and eat. We commonly make Onigiri to take with on bike rides and hikes.

Besides warm white rice the main ingredients are typically nori for wrapping and then some sort of cooked fish or dried seaweed. For the dried seaweed the idea is that the warm moist rice will kind of rehydrate it while leaving a little texture. I used some salmon and some of these rice mixes, Mazekomi, that are available at most Asian grocers. The mazekomi in our cupboard are wakame and sesame seed, wakame and cod roe, and wakame and dried sardine.

I made 2.5 cups of rice earlier in the day so that come time to make the Onigiri it’d be warm and not hot. I simply roasted the salmon with a splash of soy sauce at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Once it cooled down a little I broke it apart into pieces.

On a piece of plastic wrap I put down a little of the rice and spread it out. Then I topped it with some of the salmon and mazekomi. I covered it with a little more rice.

Using the plastic wrap I packed it down and formed it into a triangle. With 2.5 cups of rice you should be able to get 6-8 Onigiri no problem.

To eat it you simply wrap it with a piece of nori (if you have the regular sushi width nori sheets you’ll want to cut them in half) and let your chompers do their trick.

To go with the Onigiri I made some Miso Soup. I used about 3.5 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of dashi soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of miso, 1/2 onion sliced, some daikon chopped, 1 carrot chopped, 2 red skinned potatoes skinned and chopped, 3 shiitake sliced, and some salted wakame rinsed and soaked.

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I’m just not as young as I used to be. I can tell that I was at an izakaya last night because all of that sake floating around my liver is taking its toll. However, slow-moving Saturdays usually mean fun Friday nights.

A group of Yuki’s co-workers got together last night for food and drinks at Chizakaya, a newly opened izakaya here in Chicago. Actually, it’s probably the only real izakaya in town. While there are a few places claiming to be izakayas, they’re really just sushi places. Chizakaya doesn’t serve any sushi at all. I first heard of Chizakaya a few months ago when my mom sent me an article in the Huffington Post about the very fact that there aren’t any real izakaya’s in Chicago, until now. It also mentioned that the group that opened Chizakaya came from L2O, arguably Chicago’s finest seafood restaurant. Naturally, it made the list of places I wanted to go. With Yuki’s group meeting there last night I took the opportunity and ran with it.

I got there before the rest of the group, except for the two white guys in her work team (everyone else is Japanese). We sat at the bar and had a glass of sake while waiting for everyone else. I will say that the bartender knows his sake! It’s not a huge sake list, but a very well put together one with a good variety at all price points. He also gave us each a sample of sweet potato shochu, something none of us have ever had. It’s actually quite good.

Once everyone showed up they took us to the back room at one of the two big tables. I like it much better back there because the kitchen is open and the atmosphere is a little more izakaya-like.

Our waitress was also well-trained in the art of sake flavors as well as their menu. True to being an izakaya, the menu is based on small plates and nibbles to go along with drinking. We ordered a bunch of things and just grabbed and ate as we went, along with numerous bottles of sake. Since I’m drinking for 3, I’m struggling to keep my eyes focused as I write this.

As we sat they brought out little bowls of miso soup. Really good miso, they got the ratio of miso-to-dashi right. Instead of wakame which is typically put in miso soup they used hijiki.

Japanese sweet potato fries with spiced mayo.

Puffed pig ears with togarashi soy dipping sauce. Move over potato chips, these little cracklins are fantastic!

Crispy pork with a slow poached egg.

Pork shoulder gyoza. The gyoza could have been a little bit crispier, but the braised pork shoulder filling more than made up for that shortcoming.

Oysters with bacon and shishito. I don’t know if the bacon was over smoked or if they added a little liquid smoke, but there was a bit too much smokiness to this one. The natural sweetness of the beautiful little oysters was lost. Cut back on the smoke and this one is a winner.

Grilled ika togarashi with a yuzu vinaigrette. This was some of the most tender squid I’ve had in Chicago.

This was one of the night’s specials, duck liver karaage with scallions. Little deep-fried nuggets of ducky deliciousness!

Home-made basket tofu with bonito flakes, scallions, ginger, and soy sauce. You haven’t had tofu until you’ve had a really good home-made tofu. This was a really good home-made tofu. Totally different beast than the store-bought packaged tofu. Very clean, very light, very tasty.

Crispy-braised lamb belly with chopped edamame. This one was another of the night’s specials and quite honestly, one of the most special dishes I’ve ever eaten! I’ve never had lamb belly before and after eating it am wondering why. You see pork belly everywhere as it’s one of the more trendy cuts of meat these days. As much as I love pork belly, and I do love pork belly, I’d drop it in a heartbeat to sink my teeth into some lamb belly. That layer of belly fat may be the most lamby of all lamb flavors that animal has. I absolutely luz it! The only thing that would have made this dish better would be to puree the edamame into a thick sauce instead of leaving it chunky. Otherwise it was perfect.

Now, I’ll show you all of the kushi-yaki (grilled skewers of meat) that we had.

Chicken skin, mother of schmaltz how I love thee!

Chicken meatballs.

Chicken gizzards, next to liver and sweetbreads my favorite offal.

Beef heart, surprisingly tender and juicy for such a hard-working and lean muscle.

Beets with shiso, both red and golden.

We also ordered a the ramen and oden. Both of which were, quite honestly, very disappointing.

The ramen came with braised pork, fish balls, a slow poached egg, radish, bamboo shoot, shredded scallions, and some nori. The ingredients were all top-notch, but the noodles were overcooked and soft while the broth wasn’t quite were it needed to be. With everything else so high quality I wonder why they’re using regular old store-bought quality noodles. This bowl of ramen just wasn’t up to standards. If it’s ramen you want, head over to Arami instead.

The oden wasn’t even close to what oden is. Oden should be a dashi broth filled with various fish cakes, potato, hard-boiled eggs, konyakku, etc. It’s something that we make at home a couple of times every winter. This was nowhere near oden. This was a soy-based dashi with overcooked soba noodles, a few spinach leaves, a couple of pieces of potato, some slices of radish, and a few adzuki beans. It wasn’t a terrible noodle soup, but they shouldn’t call it oden and they should be more careful with the noodles.

Now, on to desserts, which were all very creative and well-prepared.

Yuzu cake with green tea ice cream.

Tofu cheese cake with kuro mitsu (black honey) and adzuki bean sorbet. Usually you see adzuki bean ice cream, making it a sorbet was a nice touch.

Chocolate ganache with puffed barley and black sesame ice cream.

I will say, that all three desserts are among the best desserts I’ve ever had at a Japanese restaurant.

Overall, Chizakaya is a fun atmosphere with great food. There were a couple of lows, oversmoked bacon and poor noodle soups, but the rest of the food was outstanding. Don’t come here expecting a substantial sit-down meal. Come here expecting a great list of sake, beer, and cocktails with delicious small plates and skewers to match. In that sense, this is a true izakaya. They also use top quality ingredients from local sustainable farms, and you can taste the difference. I will definitely go back, I just have to be more mindful of the amount of sake that I guzzle.

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Last night we finally got to try Ruxbin Kitchen. It was our third attempt, and I guess it’s true what they say, the third time’s the charm. You see, Ruxbin Kitchen is a new restaurant just down the street from us that opened up this past summer. They don’t take reservations and word must have gotten out quick about how good it is because the first two times Yuki and I went there the wait was 1.5 hours. Yesterday we planned on going early, at 6pm, to ensure a table. We got our table, and while I don’t think there was a wait after we got there, the restaurant was full, for good reason.

It’s a small space, only about a 40 person capacity maybe. It’s real kitschy inside. Comfortable seats, wood tables and fixtures, cookbooks displayed on the walls, and pages from cookbooks plastered all over the ceiling.

Service was good. Not the fastest, not the slowest, but a nice pace. Our server was knowledgable of the menu and didn’t push us in any direction. It is BYOB, so be prepared. They do offer the proper glasses and openers. They also brought out popcorn sprinkled with ground nori to nosh on while perusing the menu. That replaced bread service.

We started off with the Crispy Eggplant. It’s sliced, quartered eggplant coating in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Served with roasted beets, sticks of cucumber, frisee, and honey-cardamom yogurt. There’s also some pepper sprinkled around one edge of the plate for you own pleasure. I have to say, as much as I love the classic beet salad with mixed greens, walnuts, and fried goat cheese that everyone serves, this was a really nice change of pace. Even though it’s called Crispy Eggplant, for me, the beets were the dominant flavor. Very nice salad to start with.

Next, we shared the K-Town Empanadas. Two empanadas stuffed with masa, kimchee, Oaxaca cheese, and covered with a chimichurri creme fraiche. Who on earth would put cheese and kimchee together? Chef Ed Kim, that’s who. What a stroke of genius! The kimchee took center stage while the cheese added a subtle sweetness and the masa some texture. definitely a winner.

We split two entrees. One was a perfectly cooked piece of trout with nice crispy skin and moist flesh. It was served on top of a bulgur wheat tabbouleh with black sesame seeds and dates, asparagus spears on top, and basil pesto drizzled around the plate. I’m not usually impressed by trout, but this dish was fantastic. The sweet dates, bitter asparagus, earthy bulgur wheat and sesame seeds, and herby basil all worked really well together.

The other entrée we got was their play on chicken and waffles. There was roasted breast with crispy skin along one side of the plate. That came with a citrus sauce of some kind. Then was a cumin cheddar waffle with dark meat carnitas and apple walnut compote. The waffle was sliced in half with the carnitas sandwiched in between and the compote on top. The rest of the plate was a slaw with arugula. The waffle was outstanding. The most creative take on chicken and waffles I’ve ever eaten and another home run by Chef Kim. My only gripe with the plate was that the breast was a little over salted, not so much that it was bad though. That’s something that most chefs do and I’ll never understand. I like salt, but chefs almost always put a little too much on chicken. Oh well, the entire dish was great.

We didn’t have any room in our guts for dessert so I can’t comment on them. Next time we go back we’ll keep it to one appetizer so that we have room for dessert. And believe me, we’ll definitely go back! Not sure it’s worth a 1.5 hour wait (I don’t think any restaurant is worth that) but it’s definitely worth waiting for a while if you get there and it’s full. I love having a joint like this so close to my place. A great place to take out-of-town friends who want something hip that’s off the beaten path.

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Last night I made another Japanese flavored spaghetti dish using sake hogushi and aonori. Sake hogushi is simply cooked salmon that’s been flaked into small “crumbs” and jarred. Aonori is a type of nori, Japanese algae, that’s been ground into a powder. The two ingredients can be used in a variety of ways like being sprinkled on white rice, mixed into cream sauces or dressings, or used like I did last night to name a few. Great ingredients to have on hand and available at any Asian grocer.

First thing I did was get my side vegetables ready. I had three beefsteak tomatoes and 1 large Japanese eggplant. I sliced the top off the tomatoes, sliced the eggplant in half length-wise, and then cut the eggplant into 2-3 inch pieces. I coated the tops of the vegetables with panko, then drizzled some olive oil on top, then sprinkled some aonori on top of that. I roasted them in a 350 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes, just enough time for me to get the rest of dinner ready.

To make the spaghetti I used butter, the sake hogushi, half on onion sliced, 7 button mushrooms sliced, and 4 garlic cloves. In a large hot skillet I poured about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then melted 1 tablespoon of butter in that. I added the onion and let it sweat for about 4 minutes. Then, I added the garlic and mushrooms. At the same time I cooked my noodles in boiling water until al dente. The garlic and mushrooms needed about 5 minutes which was about the same amount of time the noodles took. After draining the noodles (I reserved about 1/3 cup of the water) I added about 1/4 cup of soy sauce along with 1/2 cup of the sake hogushi to the onions, garlic, and mushrooms. I let the soy come to boil for about 2 minutes and then added the noodles and reserved water with some black pepper. I let the noodles coat with the sauce and most of the liquid boil off then turned off the heat and covered the skillet.

Then, I took two baby bok choy that I had seperated the leaves of and put them in my steamer for about 4 minutes. That’s just enough time to cook the stems without having the leaves wilt too much.

To serve, I put the baby bok choy on the plate then the spaghetti on top of that. I sprinkled it with some aonori and then put a tomato and some eggplant on the side.

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