December 9, 2014

The noisy winter dragon

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Babu pinged me out of the blue yesterday, asking me when we would be going back to the "Japanese restaurant".  She was due to fly out in a couple of days, so I wasted no time in rounding up the troops and quickly made a reservation at Tenkyu RyuGin (天空龍吟) tonight.

Takano-san was off tonight, but I was pretty sure we would be well taken care of.  I was very much looking forward to having their winter menu for the first time.

Monkfish liver from Hokkaido and "aka" clam with spring onion in mustard miso sauce ("スペシャリテ" 北海道 "極上あん肝" と "赤貝" のからし酢味噌和え) - an interesting start, with cubes of rich and smooth monkfish liver paired with beautifully scored slices of ark shell.  Served with slices of radish, spring onions, a sauce made with white miso and egg yolk, and julienne of yuzu (柚子) zest.

Simmered abalone with winter vegetables served with grated radish sauce ("煮鮑" と "冬野菜" おろしチリ酢とともに) - the dish arrived covered in a rather large and colorful abalone shell, which served to whet our appetites...

Underneath the shell, there were two relatively thin slices of abalone.  As usual they were finely scored, which helped to soften them up... and they were just one step from melt-in-your-mouth.  These were served with slices of lightly grilled eringi mushrooms (エリンギ), mizuna (水菜), and topped with grated radish in spicy vinegar along with finely diced spring onions.  Soooo yummy, and we all wanted an extra order (or two) of this...

Shiitake mushroom egg custard topped with matsubagani crab ("冬の味覚" 山陰 "タグ付き松葉蟹" と "炭火焼椎茸" の茶碗蒸し 酢橘の香り) - as Mrs. Tigger said, this was pure comfort food.  The warmth of steamed egg custard, the earthy flavors of autumn mushrooms, and the sweetness of the Matsuba crab meat from Sanin (山陰).  The mushrooms were grilled over charcoal, then puréed before being mixed into the egg.  The nice little dab of crab tomalley (蟹味噌) on top provided something a little more intense, while the citrus fragrance of sudachi (酢橘) lime relaxed my senses.

Poached oyster and mashed turnip soup in winter style (北海道 "牡蠣" と "蕪" みぞれ椀仕立て) - this was very interesting... Gone was the usual meat/shrimp/crab ball in ichibandashi (一番出汁), and in its place we've got a Hokkaido oyster, sitting in a bowl of purée of turnip from Kyoto.  The chrysanthemum petals and yuzu made things not only colorful but also fragrant.

Assortment of sashimi (本日のお造り盛合せ) - thankfully, no tuna to substitute for tonight.
Olive flounder (鮃) - very fresh and crunchy.
Horse clam (黒海松貝) - wow, really nice and flavorful, and of course nice crunch here.  This was the real horse clam (ミルガイ), not the geoduck (アメリカナミガイ) that people mislabel at cheaper sushi restaurants.
Bonito (鰹) and striped bonito (歯鰹) - I don't think I've ever had the paler striped bonito before, and it was interesting to pair it with the "regular" bonito.  The little strip of fish skin on the side was pact with incredibly intense smokiness... very nice!

Charcoal grilled alfonsino served with crispy scales (炭火で焼き上げた "金目鯛" のサクサク鱗焼) - I love it when they bring out the splendid alfonsino here, because it's so juicy and succulent... even after grilling.  This time, though, it wasn't served with a layer of rice crispies, but the scales were left on and grilled to a crisp.  I love fish scales... especially when they've been meticulously fried, twice, first at 160°C and then again at 200°C.  The alfonsino is then grilled over Binchotan (備長炭) charcoal.  Delicious.  Served with a little pile of grated radish mixed with ginger and spring onions.

Wagyu ribeye sukiyaki with onsen tamago (九州 "のざき牛" の 温泉たまごを絡めてすき焼き) - the beef course here is always spectacular, not least because the meat always melted in one's mouth.  Once again we find ourselves with very thin slices of buttery, fatty Japanese beef - from Nozaki Farm in Kagoshima (鹿児島).  Done as a sukiyaki (すき焼き) with a wonderfully wobbly soft-boiled egg, along with red onion that was lightly fried, yellow and red carrots from Kyoto, chrysanthemum greens (春菊), and a piece of tofu at the bottom.  Beautiful.  Inhaled.

Premium sea urchin on steamed rice with simmered fresh seaweed (浜中 "海水雲丹" と "海苔の佃煮" 昆布出汁御飯) - so simple, yet so beautiful.  Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) with delicate flavors, with soft equally-soft wakame (若布) seaweed, over rice cooked with konbu dashi (昆布出汁).  Served with pickles made with white and green Kyoto turnip, along with some bonito flakes.

RyuGin specialty -196°C pear candy and +99°C pear jam (-196°Cの洋梨飴 +99°Cの飴炊き洋梨) - I'm glad I got to have the signature dessert made with pear for the first time.  This was just beautiful!

After breaking the shell open, we were served with the hot jam for the complete hot-and-cold experience.  This time the filling was made without any yogurt, just sugar and some pear vodka.

Deep fried spring roll, sweet red beans, strawberry, "shiratama" mochi (苺ぜんざい春巻き 苺 白玉 小豆 バニラアイスクリーム) - I wasn't expecting this for sure... The vanilla ice cream was different but interesting.

Inside the very hot spring roll, a mix of red beans, small round mochi (餅) and strawberries were used as filling.

We were pretty full, but Chef Sato decided to send us an extra dessert.  The Venezuelan figs were poached in Kyoho (巨峰) grape vinegar, and they were pretty yummy.  The fig sorbet on the side, though, was way, way too thick and sticky.  Too rich for me.

Matcha (抹茶) to finish, as always.

One of the pleasures in life is to enjoy a meal of fine and delicious food, and being with people whose company one enjoys.  Japanese cuisine such as kaiseki, with its refined elements, demands to be enjoyed in a tranquil environment so that the diner can focus on the food.

One of the unfortunate realities about dining at this establishment is that they seem to get their fair share of clientele who are inconsiderate and noisy - something which I had experienced the first time I sat in the main dining room.  Tonight a group of four local women threatened to ruin our evening.  I couldn't care less what they were talking about, but apparently Tigger got fed up listening to them complaining about men.  As he excused himself the table, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that he wasn't going to confront them.

What he ended up doing, though, was to speak to the staff about making moving us elsewhere in the restaurant.  Thankfully the small private room wasn't occupied, and soon we found ourselves enveloped in the privacy and tranquility of it.  Our dinner was much, much more enjoyable from that point onwards.  Sato-san came to apologize, but it really wasn't his fault.  The staff had no way of screening out rude and noisy customers, and I'm just glad that there was a way for us to escape that situation.

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