August 9, 2013

A lunch worth cheating for

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A few weeks ago I heard from my contact at Fruit Media again, and the reason for the call was a little surprising.  Apparently the PR person responsible for a restaurant had wanted to invite me for a tasting, but as not many PRs in town know me personally - and this lady realized that I had been profiled by Fruit Media last year - she decided it may be best to reach out to me in this roundabout way.

No, I had not been to the trio of new restaurants which had recently been opened.  However, I have invariably enjoyed myself at ALL of the restaurants under the same group, and that includes some very high-profile outlets with macarons.  Yes, I would be interested in trying out whichever new place they chose… but I was starting to develop a cough, and it's never good manners to cough on our dining companions - especially your hostess.  I asked for a rain check.

Having recovered only recently, I accepted to invitation to lunch at Rozan (魯山).  It's day 6 of my new nutritional plan and I'm doing my first cheat.  As there will be a few more cheat meals next week, I am ever so grateful that this meal could be scheduled for this week and not crammed into the next…  I had warned my lovely nutritionist about this meal, and she tried in vain to convince me to stay within the strict bounds of the meal plan she had prescribed for me.  No way, Jose!  Not with this meal.

I was running late thanks to an issue at work, and while en route I received a request not to mention Fruit Media's name at the door of the restaurant.  Apparently the famous Sifu was lunching at the restaurant and sitting right next to us (there are only 16 seats after all…), so my dining companions did not wish to create any tensions with this VIP.  I dutifully obliged.

It's strictly omakase here, and not surprisingly skewed towards the higher end of the pricing scale.  I introduced myself to my hostess and eagerly waited for the food to arrive…  I did tell the restaurant not to give me any (bluefin) tuna as I'm more determined than before not to consume any, ever since I found out that the annual haul of bluefin tuna in southern Taiwan has declined to about 2% of the volume 14 years ago.

A trio of amuses bouches arrived to kick us off:

Marinated horse mackerel (鯵たたき) - with chiffonade of perilla leaves (紫蘇), sesame and marinated in vinegar.  A welcome change to the usual versions I see around town.

Mozuku in vinegar with snow crab (もずく酢 ずわい蟹) - always refreshing to start with something cold and acidic in the summer, and the snow crab leg was nice and sweet.  Also with cucumber slices and little chunks of Japanese yam (山芋).

Whelk (磯海螺貝)

We then move on to the series of sashimi

Righteye flounder (鰈), plain and marinated in kelp (昆布締め) - ummm… FAIL… for the plain flounder.

For only the second time in my life - the first being at Xuan Sushi (玄鮨) in Hong Kong last year, and curiously it was also in my flounder - I found bones in my sashimi.  When I used my fingers to yank the tiny nuisance from the fish in my mouth and slowly placed it on the dish in front of me, Chef Masa was embarassed and apologized.  When I placed a second piece on the plate, he was mortified.

And he should be.  For the uninitiated like myself, it seems to be a rookie mistake that a seasoned chef couldn't possibly make.  As flounders are usually served at the start of the sequence in a meal, this means that when you make a mistake like this, you are starting the meal on the wrong foot.  In the case of Xuan Sushi, I have never had the desire to return after that experience...

Personally I have never been able to appreciate the beauty of kobujime (昆布締め), as the additional flavors coming from the kelp are just too mild after only 1 night.  My untrained palate needs something a bit less subtle.

Greater amberjack (間八) - very nice.

Geoduck (海松貝) - generally not a fan of this delicacy, so maybe that's why I forgot to snap a picture… but it was nice and very crunchy.

Miso black cod (銀鱈 西京焼き) - a dish that I only order from a couple of places these days.  This was a pretty thin slice, but done oh-so-well.  The edges are deliciously charred and crispy.  I was relishing the sensation of crunchy bits between my teeth.  Nicely paired with chopped radish and tiny bead-like tomatoes.

And now for the nigiri sushi (握り寿司)

Splendid alfonsino (金目鯛) - I think it's still the right season for this, and this has got to be the best piece of kinmedai sushi I can remember.  Perfectly fatty, soft and melt-in-your-mouth.  I'd happy take this over fatty tuna (トロ) any day.

Red seabream (真鯛) - very nice, with a sprinkle of seaweed salt (藻塩) on top.

Whelk (海螺貝) - nice and crunchy.

Tiger prawn (車海老) - nicely done.  Pretty sweet.

Baby gizzard shad (シンコ) - I usually like young gizzard shad (小鰭), but this is even younger at 5cm or smaller.  What a treat!  Chef Masa gave us 6 pieces wrapped around the rice (シャリ), which was absolutely awesome.  Filleting this is soooo manually intensive, as 150 pieces (meaning 150 tails of baby gizzard shad) will yield just 1kg.  Reminds me of all the energy the staff at Jamonísimo in Barcelona has to use up cutting the jamón into 5g slices…  The fillets are wrapped in kelp to impart flavor and preserve their moisture.  I wouldn't mind devouring a few more pieces of this…

Northern sea urchin (北紫雲丹) - this, boys and girls, was the pièce de résistance - the item I was invited to come taste.  This sea urchin from Hokkaido's Yagishiri Island (焼尻島) is pale in color, which earned its nickname of white sea urchin (白雲丹).  Absolutely delicious.  Fatty, plump and delicate.  Thank you, ma'am, may I have another?

An expensive delicacy, this is.  And the restaurant buys only the best, taking the "middle lot no.1"… A box containing 550g apparently costs the equivalent of HKD 2,800.

Rosy seabass (喉黒) - lightly torched to melt the fat.  Very silky. From Choshi (銚子) in Chiba Prefecture (千葉県).

Calabash roll (干瓢巻き)

The conger eel (穴子) was served two ways, as is done at my favorite establishments:
with salt - so light and fluffy it melted in my mouth.

with sauce - stronger flavor here.

Egg (卵) - made with shrimp.  Nice and bouncy like a カステラ.

Finally there was some tofu ice cream, a single grape and watermelon.  A simple way to finish.

Other than the misstep at the start, this was a very delicious meal.  My thanks to the restaurant for their generosity, and of course to the people of Fruit Media for helping to make the connection - as well as for their lovely company.  I broke my diet and had way, way too much protein as well as fatty items I shouldn't have had.  There'll be hell to pay for the next couple of days…

P.S.  I was getting a little frustrating during lunch as I knew I wasn't getting the colors right on some of the fish.  It wasn't until after I got home that I realized while I had taken the test shot to set custom white balance, I never actually switched from auto white balance on the dial… No wonder the colors are all wrong!  I guess I was still a little frantic from being late and neglected this crucial step...

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