April 21, 2012

Rustle of the bamboo leaves

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Got a couple of out-of-towners staying with me for a few days, and they're all focused on eating their way through Taipei.  A list was drawn up last week and they're checking them off one by one.  I decided to join them for lunch at Sasa Sushi (笹鮨), a place I'd read about but had never tried.

The L-shaped Japanese cypress (檜) counter looked immaculate, and seats less than 15.  I knew we were in for some very personal service.  Not wanting to do omakase (御任せ) for lunch today, we opted for the priciest of the 3 business lunch sets at half the price.

Pickles are always important to me at a sushi restaurant.  They should be home made, and what we were served made me happy.  The radish came with finely chopped perilla (紫蘇) leaves, with just the right balance between being savory and sweet.  The cucumbers were carefully chosen to ensure they didn't have too many seeds, and marinated with a combination of soy sauce, mirin (味醂), sake and bonito (鰹). The flavors coming from the bonito made it pretty interesting, and I wondered which soy sauce they used because I detected the distinct fragrance of fermented beans.  I liked the ginger, too… and it's not often that I find myself in that situation.

Started with a salad, as one does in Taiwan, which included 2 pieces of cuttlefish and 2 prawns which had been cooked.  There was also baby corn and spears of asparagus.  The cuttlefish was very good.

Olive flounder (平目)

Japanese amberjack - I was told that this was inada (イナダ), which is related to hamachi (ハマチ).  Well… turns out it's just another name for the amberjack, and depending on how old it is and where the fish comes from, it's called by different names despite being exactly the same fish.  In the Kanto (関東) region, inada is the name used when the fish is between 30-60 cm.  By the time they grow up to 70cm or above, they're called buri (ブリ) everywhere in Japan.  Confused?  So am I.  But the fish was nice, and came from Chiba Prefecture (千葉県) just east of Tokyo.

Cherry salmon (桜鱒) - this was introduced as trout but really looked like salmon.  Very nice and tender, like salmon but better.  From Hokkaido (北海道).

Scallop (帆立貝) - Hokkaido scallops can be pretty big, and this half was enough to make me happy.  Very fresh and sweet.

Oyster (牡蠣) - continuing with the Hokkaido theme, we've got the oyster.  Very yummy in the ponzu (ポン酢) and finely chopped young spring onions.

Squid (イカ) - a very nice piece of work, with lots of scoring on top.  A little pinch of ground rock salt, and some sudachi (酢橘) rind to give it that extra fragrance.  I think the salt added a little smoky flavor, which was pretty nice.  The rice was a little harder and stickier than I expected, but that's OK.

Alfonsino (金目鯛) - very nice.  Served with a brush of soy sauce and a touch of sudachi (酢橘).

Arabesque greenling (𩸽, ホッケ) - I don't think I've ever had this raw as sashimi or sushi… Well, a little crunchy and not bad.

Raw shrimp (甘エビ) - larger, firmer and more plump than the ones I'm normally used to.  From Hokkaido.

Sea urchin (雲丹) - not bad, but with the set lunch we only got the 赤雲丹.

Salmon roe (イクラ) - served like a mini ikura-don (いくら丼), with a pinch of finely chopped cucumber.  Very delicious.

Octopus (鮹) - the octopus tentacle is slow-cooked with sake, soy sauce, sugar and mirin in a method called sakura-ni (桜煮).  It was no longer firm and chewy, but rather tender.  The outermost layers like the suckers were now very soft.  Fairly heavily-seasoned.

Mackerel (鯖) - really fatty and really delicious… so smooth.  With a little chopped ginger on top.  Absolutely delish.

Futomaki (太巻き) - not just any roll, but a combination of ark shell (赤貝), squid (イカ), cherry salmon (桜鱒) and olive flounder (平目).  Normally I don't really care for this X-in-1 combos, but this was pretty good.  I think the perilla leaf really made the difference for me…

Grilled goldlined seabream (平鯛) - this was pretty nice.  The skin was very crispy and crunchy - actually a little harder than I had expected - while the flesh underneath was still very juicy.  Lovely fat that just oozed out with pressure.

The king oyster mushroom on the side was marinated, and the sweet potato below was deliciously sweet, with a touch of lemon.

Manila clam soup (浅蜊) - very nice.

Finally, there was a plate of fruits and dessert.  The wax apple (蓮霧) was OK, but the rock melon was just about the ripest and sweetest I can remember.  The green tea, red bean and cream pancake roll was OK.

The chef pulled out a whole bloc of tuna, which he's been aging for 10 days.  He discussed the interesting aspect of serving different cuts of tuna from the bloc, so that the customers can appreciate the variety and not just keep getting one or two cuts like toro (トロ).  He'll keep aging this baby, and all I could do was silently drool a little… since I've cut tuna from my diet.

This was a really good meal.  The restaurant insists on using Japanese ingredients, despite the costs sometimes skyrocketing.  From the way the chef talked to us about the ingredients like sudachi, his variety of sea urchin… it was clear that he's really got the passion to serve his customers the best way he can.  I will definitely be back… and see what the chef can do when I give him carte blanche!


Michelle Chin said...

why did you cut out tuna? due to ethical issues? mercury issues?

the items here loks really nice!

Peech said...

Nowadays I avoid tuna as much as possible due to environmental concerns. Occasionally, though, I will slip and enjoy a piece or two...

.cLement. said...

The Sushi and Sashimi look really delicious!

How much was the omakase?


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