April 17, 2020

Supporting restaurants: precious little flowers of spring

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Hello Kitty and I have been cooped up at home for a while, and at times she's had to cook two meals while being busy working during the day, so I wasn't surprised when she requested that we dine out somewhere nice tonight.  The question as always is: which restaurant should we support?  Beyond supporting chefs who are friends, we also want to make sure we prioritize smaller, independent establishments without the resources of larger restaurant groups.

When I had dinner at Godenya (ごでんや) last month, I asked Goshima-san about sansho flowers (花山椒), that magical, ephemeral ingredient sought-after every spring in Japan.  It wasn't in season then, but Goshima-san promised to let us know when they were able to bring it in.  Well, their arrival was announced last week, and I've been looking for an opportunity to come back while they are still available.  Fortunately, there were still two seats available for tonight, so I booked them a few hours before dinner.

I was surprised that the restaurant was just about full - or at the highest capacity they can reach without breaching government regulations.

Kegani, glass shrimp, uni, kiyomi (毛蟹  白海老  雲丹  サマー清見  若芽) - nice to start with something fruity and refreshing.  There was an interesting mélange of textures, a nice range of flavors from the sweet and creamy sea urchin and glass shrimp, the creamy sea urchin sauce, the slightly more savory Japanese horsehair crab, the umami of the wakame (若芽) chips, the acidity of the gelée made from dashi (出汁) and yuzu vinegar (柚子ポン) as well as the citrus acidity.  Goshima-san always knows how to kick off a meal.

Iseno Shiroki Junmai Nama Sparkling (伊勢の白酒  純米生活性), 1BY - served at 10°C. Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 65%.  Fruity nose, sweet and tropical on the palate, with some acidity to balance things.  A little fizz on the tongue, easy to drink and a very happy sake to drink.  Not a very serious sake, very casual, but makes me happy.

Sake drinking crab, yam, hana-sansyo (酔っ払い蟹  長芋  花山椒) - BABY, THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR!  I wasn't surprised that they paired the sansho flowers with raw, drunken Japanese blue crab (渡蟹), because something similar was served on a visit 2 years ago.  Tonight, though, we also have grated Japanese yam (とろろ).

The grated yam delivered its typical gooey, slippery texture, while the remaining tiny bits of yam surprised with the occasional crunch.  The savory drunken crab worked really well with the mild sweetness of the yam.  And the sansho flowers!!!! O-M-G!!!  Soooooo fragrant and beautiful, with that mild, numbing kick.  I wanted much, much more... but I also understand that the flavors need to be balanced.

Of course, this seasonal ingredient doesn't come cheap, although I'm told that prices were down this year due to significantly decreased demand within Japan.

Kaiun Junmai Unfiltered Junmai Nama (開運 無濾過純米 生), 1BY - served at 13°C. Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%.  More fermented notes, more depth of flavor here, and definitely more savory.  Dry mid-palate and a little spicy on the back end.

Hotaru-ika, scallop, white asparagus, sansyo-leaf (蛍烏賊  帆立  ホワイトアスパラ  山椒の芽) - this was one of my favorite dishes from my visit last month, but then... how could it not have been?  It's got two of my favorite ingredients in Japanese cuisine: firefly squid (蛍烏賊) from Toyama Prefecture (富山県) and sansho leaves (木の芽).  We've still got the Hokkaido scallops, sauce made with chopped sansho leaves as well as the white miso, diced hosta (ウルイ), but the lily bulbs were replaced with white asparagus tonight.  So, so happy.

Hokkomasamune Kinmon Nishiki Junmai Daiginjo (北光正宗  金紋錦  純米大吟醸), 30BY - served at 12°C.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 39%.  Sweet upfront as it has a sake meter (日本酒度) of 0.  Smoother and rounder on the palate.  Slightly dry towards the back.

Wild-tai, hamaguri-clam, fukinoto, wakame (天然鯛  蛤  ふきのとう  若布) - the wild sea bream from Oita Prefecture (大分県) was steamed in sake with a paste made by chopping up butterbur buds (蕗の薹) soaked in oil, covered under a layer of wakame (若布).  This bitterness of the butterbur bud had been tempered by both the oil and the sake, and helped to add a different dimension to the sea bream.  And that layer of wakame on top was intense!  The giant clam from Chiba Prefecture (千葉県) came with some sansho leaves and rapeseed flowers (菜の花).  Very tasty, too.  Slurp!

Nechi Otokoyama Junmai Ginjo Nama (根知男山  純米吟醸  生), 1BY - served at 15°C.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 55%.  More depth and power on the palate.

Tai-shirako Botan-ebi shinjo, beetroot, salted duck egg, bottarga (鯛白子  牡丹海老真蒸  ビーツ  鹹蛋  唐墨  花山椒) - I'm grateful that Goshima-san remembers that I don't like fish cum, because I usually forget to put down this dietary preference when making the reservation.  And I also forgot to tell him that beetroot is a no-no for us...

So I got these fluffy little shinjo (真蒸) dumplings made with botan shrimp (牡丹海老) and glass shrimp, with salted egg yolk sauce drizzled on top and garnished with - what else - sansho leaves and sansho flowers.  On the side we had purple asparagus, yellow and red beetroot, and grated bottarga (唐墨).

Maibijin Yamahai Junmai Nama (舞美人  山廃純米  無濾過生  SanQ), 30BY - served at 12°C. Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 60%.  Surprised at the yellowish color.  Acidity was high but came with fermented flavors, almost like Cantonese salted lemon.  Interestingly, the savory, fermented flavors reminded me of katsuobushi (鰹節).

Awabi, rice, morel mushroom (鮑  米  モレルマッシュルーム) - always happy to have this, and I'll never get tired of it.  Love the morels and the diced zucchini, and of course the abalone liver sauce.  I did think, though, that the rice was slightly more mushy than usual.

Hanatomoe Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo Nama Nigori (花巴  山廃  純米大吟醸  生にごり), 1BY - served at 11°C. Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.  Very dry, spicy, and alcoholic.

Sakura-masu, ostrich fern, mugwort, sansyo-flower (桜鱒  コギミ  蓬  昆布  花山椒) - I did think the cherry salmon tasted kinda like... salmon teriyaki...  Interesting that it came with a paste made of mugwort (蓬) and oil.  Nice to get my last hit of sansho flowers.

Inemankai Junmai Red Rice Sake (伊根満開 純米赤米酒), 1BY - served at 48°C.  Oxidative nose.  Decent acidity but of course it's sweet overall.  Interesting that this was served warm, as it tasted so different from the time when I had it chilled.

Fish soup (潮汁) - this was so, soooo good!  Tons of shrimp flavor.

Pu'er tea, ice, sake (普洱茶  アイス  酒) - same dessert at last time, and I'm so happy to have it again.  Of course I had two portions...  As usual, the 2016 Afruge Ma Chérie was poured on top of the milk ice cream and Pu'er crème brûlée.  Slurp.

This was such a great evening for us.  Despite being a short week, the last few days have been pretty stressful for the both of us, and it felt really good to get out and stretch our legs... and relax for a few hours over some delicious food and sake.  We are certainly counting our blessings during this time, and hope that the world recovers from this as quickly as possible.

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