July 15, 2014

Kyoto, Taipei

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It's been a while since I last caught up with a couple of friends, and lunch was planned for today.  One of us looooves Japanese food, and had initially suggested that we go to Shoraku (匠楽).  Unfortunately, it's one of those places that I've blacklisted, so a table was booked at Sasa Sushi (笹鮨) instead.  I was all set to revisit after my pretty good lunch some time ago, when something in the media caught my eye.

I haven't been excited about eating at Shintori (新都里) in about a decade, and pretty much only go with the parental units when family friends invite us.  Right now, however, they are doing a seasonal promotion together with Kinmata (近又), the venerable Kyoto establishment I had the pleasure of visiting with the parental units in 2006.  Wanting to enjoy a little taste of Kyo-ryori (京料理) in Taipei, I requested for a venue change and my friends very kindly indulged me.

Starter: egg yolk vinegar, octopus eggs, geoduck, gluten, tomato, loofah, pear and wolfberries (前菜: 蛋黃醋 章魚卵 象拔蚌 楊麩 玉女蕃茄 絲瓜 梨 枸杞) - served on a lotus leaf.  Not sure if I've ever had octopus eggs before, but this was pretty interesting.  Lots of different ingredients lending multiple types of texture.  I was particularly surprised by the presence of gluten here.

Starter soup: edamame tofu, rosy seasbass, water shield, yuzu rind (前湯:枝豆豆腐 紅喉 鶴菜 蓴菜 柚子輪) - the tofu had a pretty sticky texture like mochi (もち), and my inner child came out as I stretched and played with it a little.  The edamame (枝豆) flavors were definitely there.  I always love water shield (蓴菜) for the slippery texture that also makes it fun to play with.  While I loved the fragrance that yuzu (柚子) imparts, I thought for some reason that the soup was slightly bitter...

Raw: seasonal sashimi (生品:季節生魚片) - sweet shrimp (甘エビ), abalone (鮑), olive flounder (平目), fatty tuna (トロ) that I gave away; served with myoga (茗荷), cucumber flower, taro stem (芋茎) and okra.  The plates, which resemble Chinese ink paintings, were very pretty.  Surprisingly, the wasabi tasted a little too sharp today...

Deep-fried: pike conger, Domyoji rice, dried shiitake, fava beans, plum sauce (炸品:海鰻 道明寺米 乾香菇 蠶豆 梅肉芡汁) - summer is pike conger season, so I'm not at all surprised to see this on the menu.  Interestingly this was made into a roll and stuffed with sticky rice, fava beans and dried shiitake mushrooms.  And yes, plum sauce and pike conger is a classic combination.  Topped with a ton of shredded ginger.

Cold dish: Kamo eggplant, sea urchin, prawns, shishito pepper, corn, perilla flowers (冷砵:賀茂茄 海膽 明蝦 獅子辣椒 玉米 紫蘇花) - I've always loved those big, round Kamo eggplants from Kyoto, and today I got half of a big one.  The topping included deliciously chilled sea urchin and prawns, and a refreshing "salsa" of corn and shishito peppers (獅子唐辛子), topped with perilla flowers.

To the left of the eggplant, there is a trail of jelly sprinkled with perilla flowers.  One would take note of a single kernel of corn on each side of the jelly.  According to our server, the line of jelly is meant to symbolize the magpie bridge (鵲橋) which takes shape on each Chinese Valentine's Day (七夕), and the corn kernels are meant to represent the Cowherd (牛郎) and the Weaver Girl (織女).  Ummm...

Simmered dish: Manganji pepper, taro, sansho leaf, anago narutomaki (煮品:萬願寺唐辛子 芋頭 木之芽 星鰻鳴門卷) - hmmm... our server told us when we had the pike conger earlier that it would show up again in the menu, but the menu shows something different.  Anyway, it's interesting that they would make a narutomaki (鳴戸巻き) out of a premium ingredient like anago (穴子).  The pepper and taro were pretty good, but the sansho leaf (木の芽) was much milder than expected.

Grilled dish: perch, perilla flowers, white sesame seeds, sansho powder, ginger (烤品:鱸魚香味燒 紫蘇花 白芝麻 粉山椒 薑筆) - pretty decent, and the "crust" on top was very fragrant and made the dish.

Soup: red miso soup (湯品:赤味噌湯)
Rice (主食:星) - the bowl of rice was pretty wet, falling just short of being soggy, with lots of dried shrimp mixed in to provide a crunchy texture.

Dessert: seasonal fruits (甜點:季節水果) - with a piece of red bean yokan (羊羹).

This was a much bigger lunch than I had initially expected when I first read about it... because there isn't a shorter lunch menu.  I was pretty stuffed when we got done.  In terms of quality, I guess that's as good as I'm gonna get in Taipei for kaiseki - at least until RyuGin (龍吟) opens their Taipei branch in late September.  I wasn't blown away when I went to Kinmata in Kyoto, so my expectations were tempered before coming to lunch.  For the price I paid, I'm not really gonna complain too much...

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