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Posts Tagged ‘sashimi’

Ah yes, horse, the other red meat. You know, I’ve never understood why horse meat was off-limits in America. I mean, it’s an animal not all that dissimilar to deer or elk and we certainly have no problems eating them. Is it because we ride horses? Would you eat a cow if you rode it? I don’t know. I do know that many other places in the world do eat horse, and Japan is one of them. While it’s not a prominent animal in the extremely large, diverse, and interesting encyclopedia of animals consumed by the Japanese, it is featured in various areas where other meats might not be as readily available. As such, in places like Tokyo, there are restaurants dedicated to serving this animal on a platter rather than saddling it up for a gallop. The other night I finally got my first opportunity to enjoy the succulence of these animals when a friend of mine asked me if he could take me out for a horse. Not only is that the first time another man had ever asked me that questions, but that was a proposition I was only too happy to jump on. So, we headed out to the Ebisu district of Tokyo and headed to a place called Uma Yakiniku Takeshi. Uma is horse in Japanese, yakiniku is the style of grilling meat at your table, and Takeshi is the name of the proprietor of this establishment, he also happens to be a well-known Japanese comedian. Before I get to the food, one thing I love about Ebisu is that there are numerous interesting little izakaya’s serving up weird and exotic cuisine that you would never find unless you stumbled upon them. We ended up walking around for about 15 minutes before finding our destination.

When we sat down we were greeted with a cold glass of draft beer and some lightly pickled cucumbers with salted kombu. I’m not a big pickle or cucumber guy by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, this wasn’t too bad at all. I even think my younger brother, he who has even stronger negative feelings toward pickled cucumbers than me, would eat this. At least he would if he was hungry enough to eat a horse.

We started off with horse tataki. Rolled in black pepper and lightly seared on all sides, this piece of meat (what part of the animal is still up for debate, but I think it’s the tenderloin) was covered with in thinly sliced onion and chopped scallions.

After a quick dip in ponzu (the horse meat, not me) here I am about to have my first taste in equestrian delights. MMMMMMMMMMMM! Honestly, it reminded me of kosher pastrami. I could throw this on some rye bread, slather on the mustard, and wash it down with a Dr Browns and be a happy man. Very delicious and surprisingly familiar to me. I had heard that horse tasted quite a bit like beef, but I think it’s a little more like bison as the muscles don’t have as much fat as cow does.

Next up was horse sashimi. Just think of this as beef carpaccio, except that it went nay instead of moo. A bit of fresh grated ginger and garlic, a splash in some tamari, and down the hatch. A little sweeter than beef, and much more tender than I expected. I can’t recall ever eating a beef carpaccio that I enjoyed as much.

Then we got the yakiniku going. The first plate had some napa cabbage, eggplant, the green part of the scallion, and, of course, some horse meat. This part of the animal comes from the belly/rib area. Think of it as thinly sliced ribeye.

Here’s our tabletop grill in full effect. I didn’t get a pic of it, but we each had a dish with three different dipping options for the grilled meat. There as a ponzu-based sauce that was my favorite, some sea salt, and some rice vinegar.

For the next cut of horse to be grilled my friend thought he’d throw me curveball, something I’d be hesitant to shove down my throat. He was wrong as it turned out to be one of the most delicious pieces of meat I’ve ever grilled yakiniku-style…the heart! I’m telling you, this was so tender and sweet, with a bit of black pepper it was heavenly! I’d jump a fence to get me some of this.

So good, the heart was (that’s my Yoda speak), that we had to get more on our next plate. Besides the heart and horse food (vegetables) this dish also had blood pipes. I don’t know if they were arteries or veins, but they were also delicious. A little rubbery, but after a few chews the clean flavor of the animal really came through. It was almost like eating thick intestines, but clean intestines. Very good indeed.

We put the grill aside after that and got a plate of horse weiner. No, not that kind of weiner, I don’t have that big of an appetite. This was a plate of weiner-style sausages. Again, a little sweet, but a very deep, rich flavor. It was also very juicy.

Our final dish was horse fried rice. With a little scrambled egg and some scallions this was a very typical fried rice, but with horse meat.

I have to say, Americans are a weird bunch. We shun so many different food items that the rest of the world consumes. As I write this blog it becomes clear to me that the reason we’ve not been exposed to things like horse as an edible creature is solely because of politics. If the beef lobby wasn’t so powerful I think we’d be eating all sorts of other animals…guinnea pig, various insects, horse, etc. It really is a delicious animal, and one that doesn’t contribute nearly as much to Climate Change as cows do. If we open our minds as well as our mouths, there’s a lot of tasty things out there we could enjoy. Mr Ed, sorry, but you are one delicious creature!

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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, Yuki had some coupons from unused miles on United Airlines. Last night we used one at Ai Sushi.  I dvr’d the Bears-Giants game and we headed down to Ontario St for some grub.

Parking was a pain because all of the meters were “For Residents Only Until Oct 4”. We did find a spot about a block away so we didn’t have to spend on valet. Tonight we could have gotten a spot right in front. Oh well, can’t blame that on the restaurant.

The interior is really nice. It has the open loft feel with exposed brick and wood beams. The art on the walls was not flashy at all and instead complimented the brick. Colors were soft and very intimate. It has a real nice setting inside.

I did use my phone’s camera, so these pics are terrible.

First thing we got was the Sunomono Moriawase. Shrimp, real crab meat, and octopus lightly cooked along with fluke sashimi in a dashi vinaigrette with daikon sticks and seaweed. It was really good, fresh fish and not to vinegary at all.

Next was one of the specials of the night, Wagyu Tobanyaki. 5 slices of real Kobe beef imported from Japan, enoki mushrooms, and shimeji mushrooms that you cook yourself on a hot stone with butter. The beef was so soft and delicious. It was definitely the real thing, none of that cow from Nebraska.

After that we each had a bowl of Kabocha Corn Soup. Simply a puree of kabocha and corn, probably with onion. It tasted like something I would make, which is to say it was pretty tasty.

Then came the Chawanmushi. A Chinese style egg custard with shiitake, shimeji, and enoki mushrooms. The custard was the perfect consistency. Not a fancy dish, but a good one.

The first maki roll we got was their Habanero Lobster. It had tempura lobster, kampyo, ginger, mango, avocado, habanero, capers, cilantro, and sour cream mayo. We’re not usually fans of rolls with more than a few ingredients, but this one was pretty good. That habanero packed a punch, but not so much that you couldn’t taste the lobster’s sweetness. It was pretty good. They also put a few slices of smoked duck on the plate. They serve smoked duck sushi and must have needed to get rid of it, but it tasted pretty good to me, so I didn’t mind.

The last thing we got was one of the night’s special rolls, Orange Maki. It had tempura shrimp and orange zest inside and was topped with salmon and black tobiko. It was really good! Light, sweet, and refreshing. I would definitely order that roll again. Also, there was more smoked duck on this plate.

We didn’t have any room for dessert and didn’t even look at the dessert menu so I can’t comment on that.

The service was professional. We never had to wait long for anything, we weren’t rushed or bothered to hurry up, and our server was very knowledgable of the menu. The only gripe I have, and it’s nitpicking, is that the food should have come out in a different order. The beef should have been last and soup served before the chawanmushi. Other than that, I have no complaints at all.

I would have to say that Ai is one of the better sushi restaurants we’ve been to in Chicago. I wouldn’t call it the best, but it is definitely worth while with some creative offerings as well as some classics, all very fresh and properly prepared. I would go back without hesitation.

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Alright, back to the Land of the Rising Sun. Better known as Japan. Yuki was at a gathering with a bunch of her friends one of the Saturday nights we were there last November. Instead of hanging out with her parents, whom I love to spend time with, I met up with an ex-coworker of hers that I am also friends with, Reiko-chan, who moved back to Tokyo. We decided to meet up at the Ebisu train station and then head to one of the many Izakaya in that neighborhood. Izakaya are Japanese-style bars. Much different from what we’re used to they usually have a great chef that focuses on creative small bites that match with different types of alcohol. I had done some research and found this great little Izakaya called Ippo that focused on seafood and sake, my drink of choice.

Ippo is an extremely hard place to find. We walked all over the neighborhood for about 30 minutes trying to find it. Since Reiko is Japanese, and being Japanese speaks Japanese, I left it to her to ask various retail stores for directions. No one seemed to know exactly where it was even though we had an address. About to give up and go to a different Izakaya, I turned around and noticed the big Fugu hanging in front of the door. Finally! I needed some sake!

When we sat down the bartender handed us each a couple of little starters. One was a cold pork and green bean salad, the other was a macaroni salad in a mayonnaise dressing. Nice little starters, good with either a beer or sake.

Speaking of sake, their list was over fifty long, all written in Japanese. I had no idea where to start. Luckily, one of the bartenders lived in Las Angeles for a while and spoke fluent English. He also knew that sake list off the back of his hand. There were all varieties of sake from brewers both large and small as well as from every region of Japan that produces it. I honestly can’t remember what all I drank, but throughout the night I ended up putting back 4 cups of different sake, all delicious in their own way. Some more floral, some herbal, some sweeter, all fantastic selections. When I say 4 cups I don’t mean those little sake cups we’re used to getting at sushi joints, I mean 4 12oz cups filled to the rim! Love it!

We started off with a plate of sashimi. I don’t know all of the different types, some of the communication was lost in translation, but there were two kinds of tuna and three different kinds of hamachi. I do remember that they were all fresh as can be (they get their fish every morning from the Tsukiji Market) and cut by a chef who knows how to cut a piece of fish. You can’t get sashimi that good here in Chicago.

After the sashimi we got a plate of the house specialty, Namero. It’s basically a tartare of mackerel in miso, ginger, and scallions. Mackerel is a strong-tasting fish with a lot of natural oil, but this was incredible! The miso and ginger masked the strong fishy smell and fit the flavors perfectly. I can see why this is a house specialty as it was probably the best match with sake I’ve ever had.

Then we got the Daigaku Imo, candied sweet potatoes. These were prepared different than normal though. They’re usually deep fried and then coated in a sweetened soy sauce with black sesame seeds. Here, they lightly coated them in batter that had black seseame seeds mixed in before frying, basically tempura style. The were sweet enough that they didn’t need any added sugar. Served only with some grated daikon they were a great snack to eat at a bar.

Kaki was next up. Some of the biggest, juiciest oysters I’ve ever seen on a plate! Removed from the shells and grilled all the chef did was add some herbs to them. With a squeeze of lemon they’re ready to go. If you’re a fan of oysters, you’d love these. If you hate oysters, you’d still probably love these.

After the Kaki we ordered up some Ankimo. Steamed monkfish liver served with grated daikon, ponzu, and green onions this is one of the great delicacies of Japanese cuisine. It’s called the foie gras of the sea, but in all honesty, I think foie gras should be called the ankimo of the land. It’s so soft and creamy. If not for the next dish I’d call it Japan’s greatest contribution to the world of food.

Here it is, one of the greatest things in the world. An item that will make most Americans sick to their stomach but makes my mouth water…Shirako. The king of seafood. Meaning “white children” in Japanese, shirako is the soft roe of male fish, usually monkfish, cod, or fugu (pufferfish). Basically, it’s the male fish’s genitalia. You read that right, it’s a fish sperm sack! You may be wincing at the thought of eating that, but think about it, you eat caviar don’t you? Well, this is the male counterpart to caviar. It’s extremely soft and delicate with a slightly sweet briny taste that literally melts in your mouth (and it’s not sticky!). Ippo serves it raw with ponzu, scallions, and sesame seeds. It can also be steamed. Any way you look at it, I luz me some fish balls!

My experience at Ippo really makes me sad that we have nothing like this in Chicago, or really anywhere in America for that matter. Sure, there are a handful of Izakaya-style bars throughout the country (mostly on the west coast), but nothing quite like Ippo. Just a long bar in a hidden space that serves up some of the best quality seafood and sake one could ever ask for. Why are we stuck with bars that serve nothing but big greasy burgers (not that there’s anything wrong with that), frozen wings, and chicken fingers? Let’s get some creativity into the American bar scene! Great chefs don’t need to be in a white cloth atmosphere to shine. We’d all be better off for it there were Izakayas scattered throughout the country.

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Restaurant Week just started here in Chicago. Probably the best week in Chicago for foodies, especially broke foodies like me. Restaurants that participate offer 3 course pre fix meals at $22 for lunch and $32 for dinner. Of course drinks, tips, and tax are not included. However, it’s a great deal at some of the joints that do offer up these meals. It allows people to try out different places that they normally wouldn’t without breaking the bank. We’re taking advantage this year and hitting up a few places. The first one was last night at Japonais. Before I get into my review I want to apologize for the quality of pics on this post. I used my phone’s camera instead of my Canon. Since Japonais is kind of loungy, the lights are low. Because of this, the pics didn’t turn out so well. So please, bear with me on this one.

The pre fix they offer consists of an appetizer, an entrée, and choice of either dessert or cocktail. We decided to split one dessert so Yuki got their signature cocktail, the Floating Orchid. It’s a martini made with Absolute Vodka mixed with fresh pear and lemon juices with an edible orchid garnish. It wasn’t that strong, but it wasn’t a bad drink. It is definitely a chick drink though.

At Japonais all dishes are intended to be shared, so they aren’t concerned with bringing things out at the same time. That fit our agenda so it worked out nicely. The first dish they brought out was Bin Cho, baby tuna sashimi marinated in a citrus vinaigrette and served with a daikon salad and arugula. The tuna was fresh, soft, and delicious! Very high quality fish.

Next came the lobster spring rolls. They were served on top of a mango relish with a cilantro sauce and blood orange vinaigrette. The sauces matched the natural sweetness of the lobster quite well. There were also some pea shoots on top as garnish that added a touch of pepperiness.

The first entrée brought out was the soy braised short rib. Food should be brought out lightest to heaviest. Seeing as this is the heaviest, it should have been done last. Oh well, that’s getting a little nitpicky. The rib was perfect, extremely tender and very flavorful. Served with poached pear, a few brussel sprout leaves, and sweet potato puree this was a very satisfying dish. Another pic disclaimer, the sauce is smeared in this pic because I almost started eating it before taking the pic. My bad.

The next entrée was the chestnut crusted chicken. There were some initial problems with this dish. It took quite a while for it to show up after we finished the short rib. Our server stopped by a couple of times to apologize for the wait and to tell us that it’s on the way. Fine, just bring it already! When it finally did arrive I cut into it only to find that it was pink and raw. I know they were running late with the dish, but there’s no excuse for serving raw chicken. Take the 2 extra minutes and make sure it’s cooked! So we had to wait a little longer. The manager did make up for it, I’ll show you how once I get through the chicken review. When they brought the second chicken out I cut into it only to find that it was also a little undercooked. Not nearly as bad as the first one, this one was mostly edible, so we dug in and ate what we could. I do have to say that it was delicious. The ginger-lemon sauce was outstanding and went really well with the crunchy chestnuts. The shiitake rice was fantastic and the brocolini was pretty good too. While a professional chef should know how to cook a piece of chicken, they did get the rest of the dish right. Also, my last pic disclaimer, this pic came from yelp as mine turned out horrible.

While we were waiting for the second chicken the manager brought us this tuna sushi plate on the house. Again, extremely high quality fish with some sort of ginger cream sauce. He definitely made up for the chef’s lack of chicken cookery. This was a great plate of sushi.

Dessert was a chocolate marscapone mousse topped with berries and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. The name is misleading though. It’s really a marscapone mousse with two chocolate wafers inside and coated with cocoa powder. It was ok, but nothing to write home about. It was by far the weakest dish we ate, but at least it wasn’t undercooked.

I also didn’t mention that our table was 20 minutes late. There’s a cocktail lounge in the basement, so we waited at the bar and had a drink. 20 minutes is about as long as I wait before I start to bitch to the host. So they just made it. Overall though, I have to say, I was impressed. I expected it to be more pretentious than it is. Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely a place to see and be seen, but it is also a little more laid back than other loungy places. The food was high quality, and for the most part extremely well executed. While there were a few mishaps in service, all was made up with the comped sushi as well as comped drinks on our bill. It is definitely a place worth checking out.

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It seems like every other program on Japanese TV has something to do with food. One program that I watched featured the biography of Nobu Matsuhisa, he of the restaurant Nobu. One of the dishes he showed on TV piqued the interest of Yuki’s mom, so the next night we set out to try and replicate it…Fluke sashimi.

It’s really quite simple. Slice a piece of fluke as thinly as possible and arrange on the plate without overlapping each slice of sashimi. Mash some garlic and lightly brush a little over each slice. On top of that lay down thin sticks of ginger and chives. In a small pot heat up equal parts soy oil and sesame oil until smoking hot. With a metal spoon dish some of the hot oil on top of the fish so that it sizzles a little. Then, drizzle with some ponzu and toasted sesame seeds.

To go with it Uichiro made his special harumaki, spring rolls. He “took the two best recipes and combined them into his own which is now the best.” I won’t give you measurements so I don’t spoil his secret, but the harumaki contain shiitake, bamboo shoots, leek, pork, ginger, oil, sake, chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, pepper, starch, and spring roll skins. Cook it all together, roll them up, then deep fry them to golden perfection and serve with Chinese Mustard.

There was also some clear broth soup with shredded green onion and wakame.

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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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