February 27, 2010

Another long and boozy lunch

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A group of us got together for a nice and relaxing long lunch today.  Zuma was having its "Sake Saturday" and we decided to check it out.  Chef Matt is a friend of our friend SONFA (She of no Facebook account), and she arranged for the lunch and for the chef to prepare "something special" for us.

We started with the Washington oysters and daikon snow.  We squeezed a few drops of hanaho vinaigrette - made with akashiso (赤紫蘇) flowers - on top of the radish-flavored shaved ice.  Pretty nice balance between the briny flavors of the ocean and the light acidic vinaigrette.

Akagai and asparagus salad with grapefruit - interesting mix of flavors.  I usually am not a fan of ark shell (赤貝), but found myself having seconds and thirds today as the acidity of the grapefruit neutralizes the taste of the shellfish.

Wakasagi nanbanzuke (公魚南蛮漬け) - a pleasant surprise to see the Japanese smelt here.  My memories of eating wakasagi is on my trips to Hakone, visiting 深生そば by Ashinoko (芦ノ湖), where I'd order a plate of them deep-fried to go along with my soba.  What we had today was marinated with vinegar after frying.

Hijiki and lotus root salad - nice and refreshing, with crunchy texture.  I've always liked hijiki (ひじき) and this is one more way to make it interesting.

Pig ear and kombu with garlic tosazu - another nice salad.  I love pig ears, and I'm pretty surprised to find it here.  Long strips of ears along with sea kelp (昆布), mizuna (みずな) and slices of garlic marinated in tosazu (土佐酢).  Lots of minced ginger.

Mizuna leaves, crispy jacko and onsen egg - by far the most popular salad.  The mizuna leaves were fragrant, and we had crysanthemum petals, nori (のり), deep-fried jacko (片口鰯, Japanese anchony) mixed with a soft-boiled egg.

By this time we've had so many salads and cold dishes that some of the men were clamoring for some hot food.  But what had to follow, of course, was the sashimi platter, with young yellowtail (魬) and salmon among the offerings.

The first hot dish that came was the pork shaboo, cabbage and sesame ponzu.  This met with overwhelming approval from the crowd, not the least because of the crispy pork rinds which we all loved.  I noticed one of the elves kept picking the leftover pork rinds up, one at a time, and slowly they disappeared from the table.  The pork was sliced pretty thin and blanched in typical shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) style, then mixed in with the cabbage with the ponzu (ポン酢).

The grilled akagai and kinome butter was arguably the most popular dish of the day.  The ark shell came cooked in its own shells, with a really yummy butter seasoned with kinome (木の芽), the young leaves of Japanese sansho (山椒).  The butter was so delicious that a couple of us drank it.

Matt was kind enough to prepare a second batch and sent some nori toast along.  Drizzing the toast with this butter and finishing it with one bite (more or less...) was just divine.

Next up was the "special dish" Matt prepared, with some grilled chicken fat which someone had brought back from Taiwan.  The chicken fat mushroom risotto with raw egg yolk was definitely different.  Someone remarked that this tasted like yakitori, and in fact almost exactly like a grilled minced chicken (つくね) because of the combination of grilled chicken and raw egg yolk.  Needless to say the bowls were emptied in no time...

Sake kazu roasted kurobuta was another fun dish.  The kurobuta pork (黒豚) was soft and succulent, tasting like really nice honey-roasted ham in texture.  The sauce was a sweet miso based on sake kasu (酒粕), the white solids of the sake lees after pressing.  These were served with baby apples.

Roasted turnip, greens, crispy scallops - the scent of yuzu (柚子) hits you right away.  Apparently Matt used yuzu to marinate the scallops, then used the scallop and yuzu marinade to soak the turnip.  I thought the combination of crispy dried scallops and spinach was interesting.

Chicken karaage (チキン唐揚げ) was not just any fried chicken.  It was damn good fried chicken.  The chefs at the table were discussing how long it had been brined...a discussion that was totally over my head but I didn't care.  I concentrated on eating the yummy chicken, and finished the last drumstick on the plate.

Panko fried aji and takana tartar sauce - the horse mackerel (鯵) was filleted, breaded with Japanese-style breadcrumbs (パン粉), and deep-fried.  The remaining skeleton was also deep-fried as usual.  Tartar sauce was made with a variant of leaf mustard known as takana (高菜).

I had a mishap with the asari clams with roasted garlic miso broth... I took a bite into my first clam (浅蜊) and got a mouthful of sand.  Not a couple of grains...the damn thing was full of it.  I was kinda in shock, and immediately apologized while spitting it out onto the plate.  Not very good manners, I'm afraid... I then proceeded to run to the restroom and rinsed my mouth, as there was just too much sand hiding everywhere.  Later I took a look at my plate, and the clam was slate gray!  Yuck...  Needless to say I didn't touch the rest of it.  But the others didn't seem to have a problem with sand.  Lucky me...

We were really full, but how could we say no to dessert, especially when I always felt it was the best part of a meal at Zuma?

Japanese strawberry with pop rocks - a very ripe and sweet strawberry covered with big chunks of pop rocks.  They kept popping and splitting in my mouth...kinda violently sometimes.

Musk melon sorbet - well, more like granita... in any case it was very refreshing, with a ripe melon ball inside the shot glass.  I love Japanese melons... So refreshing on a warm afternoon.

Sake kazu brûlée with Kyoho grape sorbet - more sake kasu, with a brûlée top. One of the elves SONFA said that it tasted like vomit...well, no one else thought so but I could see the logic.  Sake kasu is the leftovers from the fermentation process, so in that sense...  Anyway, the grape sorbet was good.

Amadei chocolate and sudachi sorbet - the sudachi (酢橘) lime sorbet lollipop was housed in a thin coating made from Amadei chocolate, with what looked like rice crispies.  Somehow the thing tasted of chili or pepper... was it in the Amadei chocolate?

Lest we forget, this was a "Sake Saturday" so of course sake was involved...plenty of it!  They're doing a promotion with Nanbu Bijin (南部美人) so we had a couple of them:

Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai (南部美人特別純米酒) - a hint of dryness on the palate, turning sweeter with time in glass.  Reasonably smooth.  Nihon shudo (日本酒度) of +4 and seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%.

Nanbu Bijin Junmai Daiginjo (南部美人純米大吟醸) - much smoother and less spicy than the tokubetsu junmai, which is not surprising since the Nihon shudo (日本酒度) is +3 instead of +4. seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%.

Eikun Junmai Daiginjo Izutsuya Ihei Iwaimai Sanwarigobiki (英勲純米大吟醸井筒屋伊兵衛祝米三割五分磨き) - I picked up this bottle in Kyoto a couple of years ago as I wanted to buy something local.  This was really smooth with a sweet and long finish.  However after leaving the sake in glass for a while, the alcohol became pretty sharp with a dry finish.  Notes of banana and tropical fruits in the nose.  Nihon shudo (日本酒度) of +2 and seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%.

We finished lunch after about 4 hours... I'd say it was a pretty good day...


johannes said...

i can't believe i missed this !

i'ma go next Saturday !

Peech said...

I can't believe you missed it, either! Pretty nice way to spend a Saturday...


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