December 3, 2018

Japan 2018 day 3: 3-star crab

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We're only in Sapporo for one night, so knowing me... it's not surprising that I chose to dine at one of three restaurants awarded with 3 Michelin stars in the 2017 Michelin Guide Hokkaido - a special edition which has only been published twice.  Hanakoji Sawada (花小路 さわ田) was promoted from 2 to 3 stars, and I wanted some kaiseki (会席) during our week-long trip, so this was the first restaurant I ended up booking.

We had pre-ordered the most expensive set menu, since this was our first visit and the price differential wasn't all that significant.  With the more expensive options, we were guaranteed to have crab.  As is typical, there was no printed menu since the dishes consisted of whatever ingredients were fresh and in season on the day.

Chinese yam with salmon roe and tonburi (長芋  イクラ  とんぶり  出汁ジュレ) - the main ingredient here is the cube of minced Chinese yam (長芋), which comes with a dual texture that is both crunchy (from tiny little bits inside) and soft (from parts that's almost purée-like).  On top we have some salmon roe as well as some perilla flowers.  The whole thing was surrounded by some dashi (出汁) gelée which was clearly made with ponzu (ポン酢) and citrus.  

The most interesting part of the dish was the tonburi (とんぶり), which are the seeds of summer cypress (箒木).  Apparently it's considered a delicacy in Akita Prefecture (秋田県) and is sometimes referred to as "land caviar".

I thought the dish showed great balance between the salty salmon roe, savory as well as acidic gelée, and the very mild sweetness from Chinese yam.   There was also a great contrast of textures, too.  And being the first dish of the evening, it started us off on a very cool and refreshing first step.

Corn tempura (玉蜀黍天ぷら) - we're in Hokkaido, and this area is famous for its corn.  I love corn, and this has been deep-fried, so what's not to like?  Although... I gotta say it was a little more greasy than I had expected.

Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) - simply cooking here.  Just the purity of the flavors from the crab itself on display.  I didn't even bother with the lemon.  Oh and the tomalley (蟹味噌) was delish.

Eggplant, miso, and sea urchin (茄子田楽 雲丹) - apparently a signature dish here.  The cold Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) contrasted against the warmth of the grilled eggplant, with a touch of sweet miso in between.

Blowfish sashimi (河豚お造り) - believe it or not, this was my first time eating blowfish... as I never had the urge to tempt fate.  After all, I didn't think any food was worth dying for.

Honestly... it was as I had expected.  I didn't get much flavor out of the translucent slices of fish, and while there was enough bite in terms of texture, the only flavors came from the spicy grated radish and young spring onion sprouts.  Oh and the fatty skin was pretty spring and bouncy, so that was more interesting than the "meat".

Grilled tilefish (甘鯛焼き) - impeccable execution.  Just look at those crispy scales on the skin.

Next came two pieces of nigiri sushi (握り寿司).  First was Japanese flying squid (真烏賊), which came in a thick slice that provided enough bite, but it was still soft enough.  A little shaving of yuzu (柚子) zest delivered a lovely fragrance.

Tuna belly (トロ) - yes... in Japan when I am not asked about dietary preferences, I will shut up and eat tuna - even though I know for sure that it will be bluefin tuna at high end restaurants.  Needless to say, this was very tender and delicious.

Sukiyaki (すき焼き) - with Hokkaido beef, over some tofu and black-eyed peas (大角豆).  Very tender, of course... and some sansho (山椒) powder.

Crab rice (蟹飯) - very delicate flavors.  Which is another way of saying "I don't think there was enough crab in the rice"...

Handmade soba (黒松内産の十割蕎麦) - Hello Kitty's choice of carbs, and better than the rice.  The cold soba had great texture.

The pickles were pretty decent, as was the soup with tofu puffs.

Gunma Meigetsu apple sorbet (ぐんま名月 シャーベット) - the core of the apple was removed and replaced with apple sorbet. Very delicious, and I almost ate the entire apple, too.

We continued our sake session tonight, and here all the sake is sold in multiples of go (合).  I ended up ordering two gos of each sake...  Instead of the standard wooden boxes which measure each go, they used alternate vessels befitting a high-end establishment.

Hakurakusei Junmai Daiginjo (伯楽星 純米大吟醸) - with seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%.  Sweet on the attack, soft in the middle but turns dry and spicy.

Chitosetsuru Daiginjo Kissho (千歳鶴  大吟醸  吉翔) - with seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%.  Surprisingly sweeter than the Hakurakusei on the palate, as it comes with Japan Sake Meter (日本酒度) of +6 instead of +4.  Slightly dry on the finish.  Much smoother and more viscous, with more fermented flavors and good depth on the palate.

This was a very nice dinner, with no real complaints about any of the dishes. And I knew that we wouldn't see this kind of reasonable pricing once we got to Tokyo.

As we were pretty full from dinner, we decided to walk back to our hotel along Sapporo Ekimae-dori (札幌駅前通り), thinking we would get to see the seasonal lights up along Odori Park (大通公園).  Wouldn't you know it, we got to the park at 9:59 p.m... and they turned all the lights off at 10:00 p.m.!  Just as I was raising my camera to start taking snaps.

We ducked into a few FamilyMarts along the way so that Hello Kitty could look for the elusive, mythical shrimp croquette sandwich she enjoyed on a drunken night 2 years ago.  No sign of it anywhere... but we have a few more days left in Japan.

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