September 1, 2011

Two big guns

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The gang was gathering once again for the old man's birthday, and I was happy to be able to join them since I was back in town on business.  I'd never been to Sushi Sase (鮨佐瀬) even though it's been open for quite a while now and it was all the rage.  Somehow I never motivated myself to try to get a reservation, as I'd been repeatedly warned that I should get myself directly in front of Sase-san.  Tonight I had the opportunity to accompany a regular customer, and enjoy some of the best sushi I've had in a while.

The eight of us were seated in the private area, away from the rest of the customers, which was just as well.  In reality the door should have been closed the whole time, as we were just too loud and obnoxious...  I was the second to arrive after the regular, and I could see he had already brought an issho-bin (一升瓶) of sake on the side table.  I had picked up an issho-bin from my offsite cellar earlier in the day, and I now placed it next to its friend so they could get acquainted...

The amuse bouche was a cooked prawn with tofu.  The tofu was made with soy milk and yuba (湯葉).  The texture was a little gelatinous and I initially thought it might have been made with Chinese yam (山芋).  Very refreshing start.

The sea urchin (雲丹) was simply awesome.  Drained from the Tupperware box it had been sitting in, the color was simply gorgeous.  Very fresh and sweet.  Had I eaten something like this on that fateful day in New York 18 years ago when I had my first bite of uni, I would have been loving it all along instead of staying away from it for the next 10 years...

Octopus (たこ) - simmered until it's really tender, this was very delicious.  The little dab of yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) made the dish.

Olive flounder (平目) - the bite was very nice.

Striped jack (縞鰺) - lovely flavors, with a bit of marinated scallions and bonito (鰹) flakes on top.  I'd take some more of this!

Sase-san and his assistant got real busy with two Japanese horsehair crabs (毛蟹).  The legs and removed, then the bodies are opened up and the meat and tomalley removed.  As we sat around sipping our sake, slowly the pile of crab meat built up in front of the chef.

Crab leg - very, very pure taste of the crab... sweet crab meat infused with the savory flavors of the ocean.  Hard to get better than this.

Crab meat and tomalley - OK so it does get better... when you add some tomalley!

Pork tobanyanki (豚肉陶板焼き) - this was OK, with a thin piece of tofu underneath.

Olive flounder fins (縁側) - nice and fatty.  Scored to absorb more soy sauce.  Yum.

Tiger prawn (車海老) - very nice with lots of bite.  These were alive moments before they were served.

Tiger prawn head - nicely deep-fried.

Pacific saury (秋刀魚) - perfectly fatty as it's in season.  A little bit of saury liver on top makes it even better.

Tuna (鮪) - I had passed all the toro (トロ), including the collar (カマ), to the old man for his birthday.  I don't eat bluefin or yellowfin, but I just couldn't resist this gorgeous piece of tuna.  And it was awesome.  Finely chopped scallion on top picked up the flavors a little.

Salmon roe (いくら) - very fresh and very delish.

The soup was not bad, with lots of tofu puffs.

Seared broadbanded thornyhead (喜知次炙り) - never had it this way.  Melt-in-your-mouth as always.  Very lovely.

3-year old chum salmon (白鮭 鮭児) - Sase-san explained that normally salmon will spend the first few years in the ocean while it grows up, and will return to spawn when it reaches 4 years old.  Some of the salmon is caught while it is only 3 years old, when it is between 3-4 kg in weight.  This is roughly 1 in 10,000 in terms of the whole catch.  The young salmon is much more tender and considered a delicacy.  This was surely one of the most tender pieces of salmon I can remember.

Egg (玉子) - not the best I've had, but pretty good nonetheless.

Conger eel (穴子) - pretty big piece, and very nice.  I could always do with more of this.

Caramel custard (キャラメルプリン) - I love caramel, and this was very sweet and yummy.

Kyoho grapes (巨峰葡萄) - very, very good.  Intense flavors and sweetness.

Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 23% (獺祭「純米大吟醸」磨き二割三分) - this big boy was brought by the regular.  I've always liked Dassai, but tonight the flavors seemed a little simple beyond the sweetness on the palate.  Fruity and easy-drinking it was...

Rihaku Daijinjo Tobingakoi (李白大吟釀斗瓶囲い) - this is a limit-production sake, and they only make 300 issho-bins a year.  I carried this baby back from Tokyo last year.  Definitely drier and spicier on the finish in addition to being sweet mid-palate.  Smooth but more complex than the Dassai.

This was a great evening.  I enjoyed hanging out with this group of old friends - many of whom I have known since my early days in Hong Kong.  It was also the first time I tried out a place that had been on my list for quite a while, and I must say that the high expectations I had were definitely met.  This is the best sushi I've had since my Tokyo visit last year, and certainly the best in Hong Kong for me at the moment.

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