September 7, 2014

Smoky kaiseki redux

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I'm in Taipei hanging out with family, and that means spending time with Last Minute Uncle and... you guessed it, making last-minute plans for dinner.  Sporty Cousin's birthday is coming up, and he had talked to the parental units about going to Toutouan (燈々庵), after asking me about it during my last trip back to Taipei.  A couple of hours before dinner time, Last Minute Uncle picked up the phone and make a reservation, and I would have a chance to see how the cuisine has evolved since my last visit.

Once again I took the Toutouan set (燈庵 会席) for comparison purposes, even though I didn't really wanna be eating this much tonight...

First a shot of apple vinegar, which really was sweetened apple juice with a few drops of vinegar.

Assorted starters (八寸 旬菜七品) - seven different items to nibble on:

Magatama tofu (勾玉豆腐) - served on the side in a cup.  This was made with cashew nuts, which would explain its sweetness, tempered by some wasabi and dashi (出汁) jelly.  Basically a very thick mousse in terms of texture.
Matsuba crab pressed sushi (松葉蟹箱寿司) - wrapped in a leaf with burdock and ginger.  Very bland.
Purple yam (紫芋) - with winter melon sugar (冬瓜糖) on the outside.
Leafy amaranth (莧菜) - with fried crushed peanuts, but I found it a little bland.
Myoga (茗荷) with scallop mousse - the myoga seemed lightly pickled and stuffed with a delicious mousse made with scallops.
Deep-fried yam dumpling (芋団子揚げ) - supposedly made with duck from Yilan (宜蘭) but there were only a few shreds and didn't really provide much flavor.
Deep-fried bamboo shoot (筍揚げ) - this really was the tender tip of the shoot.

Pumpkin and red sea bream dumpling and grilled sea bass (椀物 南瓜しんじょと鱸塩焼き) - the pumpkin and red sea bream dumpling was very soft, fluffy and yummy.  Covered with a very thin sheet of radish, a sprinkle of very young pea shoots and a small piece of yuzu (柚子) rind for fragrance.  The grilled sea bass had thin strands of carrots on top.  All in a light broth made with dashi (出汁).

Six types of seasonal sashimi (造り 旬の魚6種盛り) - salmon (鮭), great amberjack (間八), chicken grunt (鶏魚), needlefish (針魚), sea urchin (雲丹).  I gave away my piece of fatty tuna (トロ) as per usual practice.

Salmon and pomelo salad (旬肴 秋鮭と文旦のサラダ仕立て) - with pea shoots, perilla flowers, red capsicum, king oyster mushrooms, toasted almond slices and a little bit of caviar on top.

Third anniversary special: celebratory grilled red sea bream with sea urchin (三周年特別焼物 祝い鯛雲丹焼き) - from Wakasa Bay (若狭湾) in Fukui Prefecture (福井県).  Just like my last visit, the grilled fish came with a heavy smoke that filled the room.  In fact, it was so smoky that we knew when any table close to us (and we were all in private rooms in the basement) were being served this course...

The red sea bream was coated with sea urchin and chrysanthemum.  Served with pickled ginger strands and roasted chestnuts on the side, and sprinkled with deep-fried scales from the sea bream.  Very yum.  Using sea urchin as a "spread" was certainly interesting, but the real killer was the fish scales...

Grape vinegar

Deep-fried cherry salmon (揚物 山女魚唐揚げ トリュフ餡) - this was really, really good.  The fish was very tender inside, with a nice glaze was made with dashi (出汁).  I ate all of it, including the crunchy bones and head.  This actually reminded me a little of the sweetfish from RyuGin.

Grilled abalone with cheese (進肴 鮑黄身チーズ焼き) - this was lit and finished within our view.

Cheese and seaweed powder was sprinkled on top, and shimeji (しめじ) mushrooms were mixed in among the slices of abalone, with pickled myoga on top.  Interesting that they also had the liver here.   The abalone was pretty good, but unfortunately I didn't care for the cheese powder they used... tasted cheap and crappy.

Hooba miso style beef (強肴 特選牛朴葉味噌焼き) - a regional style from the Hida area famous for their beef, hooba miso is cooked over the leaf of Japanese bigleaf magnolia (朴の木) to release the fragrance from the leaves.  The US Black Angus beef was very, very tender, and not surprisingly the sweetish white miso worked well.  There was also peach, maitake (舞茸) mushrooms, eggplant and shishito pepper (獅子唐辛子) on the side.

Steamed rice with lotus seed and salmon roe (食事 イクラと蓮の実の御飯) - this was probably the first time I've had just lotus seeds together with the rice...

Desserts (水物)
Apple compote with roselle jelly (林檎コンポートローゼルゼリー) - served with what seemed to be almond panna cotta and yogurt, along with blueberries and candied roselle on top.

Kintoki sweet potato with fig cream (金時芋無花果クリーム和え) - not a fan, as the acidic cream tasted a little sour and weird.
Pineapple and orange sorbet (パイナップルとオレンジのシャーベット) - texture was a little meh...

Wagashi (甘味 上生菓子)

Macha (茶品 抹茶)

Masumi Sanka Junmai Daiginjo (真澄 山花 純米大吟醸) - we wanted to sip something so I ordered this in a 300ml bottle.  Nice and fragrant flavors of fermented rice, with a little banana.  Palate was a little drier than expected.
This was a lot of food, and once again I felt a little uncomfortable at how full I was, but thankfully this was some really good food.  I thought the food was pretty decent on my first visit, but now I think the food is even better.  It may not be on par with the best of Japan, but the quality is certainly high, and certainly among the best that Taipei has to offer.  Many thanks to Last Minute Uncle for the treat!

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