March 30, 2012

Smoky kaiseki

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I met up with a friend from Hong Kong tonight.  He was here on business, and we caught up over dinner and some wine.  I wanted to continue exploring Japanese restaurants in town, so I suggested that we try out Toutouan (燈燈庵).  The main restaurant in Japan was never on my radar, but I learned about the opening of the Taipei branch from a fellow food blog, and it's always good to find a decent kaiseki (会席料理) restaurant.

We decided to take the Toutouan set (燈燈庵 会席).  We're still being served the March menu, but the final course was substituted for the item that will be in the April menu.

Mugwort tofu (先付  惜里豆腐) - I don't remember having mugwort (艾草) before, but I guess I could taste the herb in the tofu.  Served with some yuzu (柚子) sauce along with a prawn and some slices of bamboo.

Assorted starters (八寸  旬菜七品)
Mozuku in vinegar (水雲醋)

Madeira vine and Chinese yam (川七山藥)

Vegetable fern (過貓) - apparently this is different from the 龍鬚菜 commonly seen in Taiwanese restaurants.  With shredded tofu puffs (豆腐泡) and chili.

Lime beans (皇帝豆) - coated with sea urchin sauce.

Yuzu lily bulb mash, baby corn, sakura shrimp (柚子百合, 玉米筍, 桜海老) - the mash was pretty yummy, although I suspected it wasn't made with fresh yuzu but yuzu jam.  The sakura shrimps were yummy.

Fishball with clams (碗物  蛤蠣饅頭) - this was very sweet and fluffy, with a few clams encased inside.  Pretty yummy.  Typically the soup was very light and delicate with a hint of yuzu.

Sashimi platter (造里  生魚片四品盛合)young yellowtail (魬), tuna (鮪), striped jack (縞鰺), sea urchin (雲丹)scallop (帆立貝).  The sea urchin was particularly creamy and yummy.  The scallop was lightly cooked on the outside yet a little soft and mushy inside.

Salt-grilled rosy seabass (焼物  紅喉鹽燒) - we've been smelling this throughout our time here… all that smoke coming from the cedar needles being heated by the charcoal.  The rosy seabass (赤鯥, also called 喉黒) was very nicely done and very delicious.  The Chinese yam (山芋) was flavored with sakura (桜), and had collected smoky flavors in the process.

The chef came out to serve us the dish, and used a brush to draw branches on the plate using balsamic vinegar.  The Chinese yam was cut into flowers and placed strategically to compose the picture.

We were served a cup of warm longan ginger jujube vinegar (桂圓薑棗醋), which cleansed our palates nicely.

Steamed red snapper (溫物  鯛魚櫻花蒸) - pretty sure this was already cooked before it reached us, but once again the chef came to finish the preparation table-side.  Hot stones were placed inside the clay pot, causing water to evaporate into steam.  After a minute or so, the lid was removed and the fish was served to us.  The snapper actually sits on a ball of sticky rice which has been flash frozen, and comes from Domyoji Temple (道明寺) in Osaka (大阪).  Served with seaweed (のり) sauce.

Abalone (強肴  鮑魚) - this was a little surprising.  We did not expect that we would need to cook our main course…  We were given gas-heated little hotplates, on which we would cook our food.  I didn't want Japanese wagyu (和牛), and got abalone (鮑) as a substitute.  The abalone came steamed and sliced, and all I had to do was heat it up with some butter to give it more flavor.

Steamed mixed grain rice with ark shell (食事) - a combination of sticky and mixed grains, steamed in dried bamboo leaves.  Delicate flavors.

Black soybean mousse (點心  蠶豆慕斯 水果) - for some reason I thought it tasted like black sesame instead of black soybean (黑豆).  Served with some muscovado.

We can't possibly do a meal together without wine, so we brought 2 bottles to dinner:

2007 F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibner Berg - my friend opened this bottle the night before and drank less than half the bottle.  Very floral with lots of white flowers, white pepper, mineral and a little sweet honey.  Round and rich on the palate.  Very nice despite having been exposed to oxygen for a day.

1990 Nicolas Potel Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - initially pretty closed, with some marmalade, sweetness on the nose but slightly bitter.  Over time the nose opened up and some of the classic toasty nose of Meursault came out, but overall it was a little green and straw-like.  Not like a Meursault at all, and pretty disappointing.

I thought dinner tonight was reasonably good.  There wasn't anything that I felt was below average, and a few of the dishes were very enjoyable.  The only problem I had was that a few of the dishes - notably the grilled fish and the main course - made for a very smoky dining experience.  This may not bother the average diner, but for the two of us intent on enjoying our wines, our olfactory senses were temporarily overloaded.  With the grilled fish, we not only were smelling the smoke while we were being served the dish, we also got a whiff of it each time the dish was being served to other tables around us.  That wasn't so good.

I'd be interested in revisiting this place in a few months, and see what seasonal ingredients the chef will be putting on the menu.


Michelle Chin said...

have you had mugwort daifuku before? that's usually a common daifuku flavor... :D

Peech said...

I haven't eaten a daifuku probably in at least a decade… but maybe I've had some similar Japanese sweets that had mugwort without realizing it


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