July 7, 2016

Deep-fried birthday

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After a quiet period of a few months, it was time to gather the troops and celebrate some birthdays again.  For some reason, this time it was decided to lump three of us together... with birthdays from June to August.  Our usual organizer has decided to throw the ball back to us, insisting that we pick the venue.  When no one else wanted to speak up, I asked whether it would be too late to book us seats at Ippoh (一宝)... which of course it was.  So our other birthday boy suggested Tenkai (天海) instead.

Which was how the 7 of us found ourselves taking up all but one of the seats at the counter... much to the detriment of the lone Japanese man sitting next to us.  Our organizer had warned the restaurant's owner that we would be loud, but I'm not sure he was prepared for how loud we were...

We took the middle of three set menus, which was certainly enough food for us.

First came the set of appetizers (酒肴) designed to go with our liquor, served in a nice box.  I didn't have a ruler, but I wondered if the width of the box was 8 inches...

Boiled spaghetti squash and watershield (そうめん南瓜と蓴菜のおひたし) - pretty interesting to have pumpkin shredded into noodle-like strands of somen (素麺), served in vinegar with marinated eel (鰻) and slippery watershield (蓴菜).

Chef's omakase otsukuri (おまかせお造り) - with sweet shrimp (甘海老), chicken grunt (鶏魚), and lean tuna (鮪).

Cold pork shabu-shabu "buta rei-shabu" (豚冷しゃぶ) - this was alright, marinated in ponzu (ポン酢) and served with some shredded myoga (茗荷) on top.

Sweet and vinegared horse mackerel (鯵の南蛮漬け)

Boiled green papper and baby sardines (甘長とうがらしとじゃこのおひたし) - I didn't see the pepper, but we got some nice raw tofu skin (生湯葉), along with some edamame (枝豆) and baby sardines (ちりめんじゃこ).

For some reason, the salted sea squirt and sea cucumber "bakurai" (莫久来) that was on the menu was never served...

Then the tempura (天麩羅) started:

Prawn "kuruma-ebi" (活車海老) - first the head was served.

Then the tail.

Snow crab "zuwai-gani" (ずわい蟹) - nice and sweet.

Tile fish "amadai" (甘鯛) - I don't think I've ever had tile fish tempura before.  Not bad.  Of course the skin and the scales were left on the fish.

Cake of minced sardines "kuro-hampen" (黒はんぺん)

Sillago "kisu" (鱚) - I'm not used to having half a sillago when having tempura...

Japanese mackerel "sawara" (鰆と木の芽) - the Spanish mackerel has been marinated a little, and I love the flavor of sansho leaves (木の芽).

Leaf ginger "ha-shoga" (葉生姜)

The chef paused to serve us the palate cleanser (口代わり), which was egg custard "chawan-mushi" (茶碗蒸し).  This was very delicious, with dried scallops, shrimp, baby spinach, and some chicken that had been overcooked.  But the flavors were deeper than your standard chawanmushi, perhaps because of the dried scallops.

Baby sweet fish "ayu" and small river crab "sawa-gani" (稚鮎と沢蟹) - nice presentation.  I love baby sweetfish (稚鮎) in the summer, and these were served with matcha powder.  The tiny river crabs (沢蟹) have always looked cuter than they were delicious, as there is just too little crab meat inside...

Sea urchin on green perilla "ohba-uni" (大葉海胆) - technically the tempura portion is just the perilla leaf, with raw sea urchin on top.

Scabbard fish (太刀魚)

Mini tomato "mizuki-hime" (ミニトマトみずき姫) - so much umami here... and a little salty.

Sardine "iwashi" (鰯)

"Tendon" with sakuraebi from Suruga Bay (駿河湾桜海老のかき揚げ天丼) - my neighbors were bitching that their pieces of kakiage (かき揚げ) seemed a lot smaller than mine...

Lifting up the kakiage revealed a layer of scrambled eggs on top of the rice, and there were little pieces of pickled cucumbers mixed in with the rice.  Totally awesome!  The sakura shrimp (桜海老) were very, very, very tasty... and the scrambled eggs made all the difference.

Clear clam soup (あさりの吸い物) - ummm.... where were the clams?  OK, without clams this was still tasty, with some tofu puffs, shiitake mushrooms, carrot chiffonade, and mitsuba (三つ葉).

Seasonal omakase dessert (季節のおまかせデザート) - nice and refreshing fruit jelly.

Lady M chocolate mille crêpes - our organizer has been getting Lady M crêpes for our birthday gatherings for the last 2 years, and tonight was no exception.  Now we've got a new flavor that we haven't tried previously... and I gotta say I enjoyed it... even though this made me completely stuffed.

I've been dying to break out one of my big isshobins (一升瓶), so I volunteered to bring this...

Kikuhime Tokugin (菊姫 特吟), from isshobin No. 154/300, brewed in 2000 (平成十二年) and bottled in May 2013 - with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%.  This was sweet on the attack, and became dry mid-palate with a spicy finish.  Very viscous and rounded on the palate.  Very smooth thanks to the aging.

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