May 21, 2021

Deep-fried Friyay

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Big Mac pinged me 2 days ago.  He managed to snag a booking at a (relatively) new restaurant where booking were (supposedly) difficult to come by, was feeling generous, and wanted to see if I would join him for dinner.

Well, I already had two cheat meals this week, and really shouldn't push it with a third. But my friend IS taking me to Tempura Uchitsu (広尾 うち津), which has generated mixed feedback from my friends but operated by a local group whose outlets are among my favorite restaurants in town. And I do want to spend more time with my compatriot. So I agreed to the cheat meal, and roped in My Favorite Birdbrain Cousin for the evening.

We were presented with a tray bearing three starters:

But this is where things go wrong, and actually before I even took my first bite. We haven't even begun to touch these starter bites when one of the chefs laid down the first piece of tempura in front of us. WHAT.THE.FUCK?! This would have never happened at the honten in Hiroo (広尾).  Clearly a communication and service FAIL.

Corn soup (とうもろこしのすり流し) - basically a purée of raw corn, with a few kernels inside.  Very sweet thanks to the high sugar content of the corn.

Foie gras monaka (フォアグラ   最中) - the monaka shells were pretty toasty, and the flavors from the foie gras were pretty good, balanced out by the fruit acidity from the strawberry.

There were also slices of lean tuna (赤身), but of course I chose to let the others have my portion.

Japanese tiger prawn legs (車海老の足) - nice, but this should have been served before we had eaten the starters.

Japanese tiger prawn (車海老) - this was kinda amazing, as the batter almost didn't exist on some parts of the prawn.  It was so thin and delicate that it was practically translucent. 

Water bamboo with scallop (真菰筍 帆立貝) - interesting combo.  Never seen it before.

Sea urchin in perilla leaves (雲丹大葉巻き) - classic.  Can't complain.  I love perilla leaves.

Corn (とうもろこし) 

Wagyu (和牛) - OK.  Once again, I have a problem with the service.  We were simply told this was "wagyu".  OK, well, yes, it's Japanese beef.  Wrapped in perilla leaves, battered, and fried.  But from where?  The manager didn't know.  At a place where people shell out more than USD 300 a head for dinner, that's simply not acceptable.

Big Mac asked if it's from Kobe, and the manager hurriedly said yes.  Well, you know what?  I don't know that many restaurants which bring in Kobe beef in Hong Kong... so I'm actually not convinced that the beef really did come from Kobe.

Consommé (コンソメ) - kinda got that delicious beef fat flavor here.

Once again, I passed up tuna and gave it to the others. This time it was lean tuna (赤身) with torched fatty tuna (炙りトロ).

When I first sat down, I noticed that the fish in the tank behind the chefs were, in fact, baby sweetfish.  Nobody keeps sweetfish to look at them.  They'll end up in our stomachs.  And sure enough...

Baby sweetfish (稚鮎) - always yum.

Abalone with sea urchin (鮑  雲丹) - the abalone from Chiba Prefecture (千葉県) came with some sea urchin on top, and liver sauce on the side.

Fried prawns (海老フライ) - this was pretty interesting... Instead of the usual tempura batter, we get a panko (パン粉) coating.  We were meant to dip it into a sauce made with tomato, Saikyo miso (西京味噌), and prawn oil.  There was also a sprinkle of homemade prawn salt on the side.

Turnip (蕪) - a little bitter, but that's not surprising.

Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) - apparently this is the signature dish, I can't seem to find any trace of it having been served in the honten. I gotta say... this kinda made the meal worth it. I don't think I've ever had crab tempura like this before, where the meat from the body, the legs, and the claws were stuffed into the shell. There's definitely a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from munching on a pile of crab meat - especially when it's Japanese horsehair crab from Hokkaido.

Okra (オクラ)

Conger eel (穴子) - not quite a whole conger eel like some top places in Japan, but given that we've just had a nice chunk of crab, I'll give them a pass.

Kakiage with noodles (かき揚げ にゅうめん) - I love it when there's another option besides the usual tendon (天丼) and tencha (天茶), so naturally I chose the noodles.

The dessert was a mix of grapes, grape jelly, grape ice, grape foam, and sea salt ice cream. Really nice and refreshing.

We were surprisingly weak when it came to alcohol tonight...

2002 Lanson Noble Cuvée Blanc de Blancs, dégorgée en juillet 2017 - pretty toasty nose, easy to drink.

2006 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge - I thought it was premoxed after popping the cork, but after 2 hours and serving very chilled, the wine got much better. Still ripe on the palate, but not too bad. A little lean and there was some acidity there. Flinty notes and some ripeness on the nose, with caramelized vanilla 3 hours after opening.

Honestly, the quality of the food was pretty decent.  In spite of the impression I received from others, the meal was mostly tempura, with a few pieces of raw (and torched) tuna thrown in.  The price of the meal was high, to be sure, but for that you get some bluefin tuna (and hon-maguro at that), a reasonable amount of sea urchin, a good amount of Japanese horsehair crab, and Japanese beef... so perhaps this isn't as "expensive" or "overpriced" as I've been led to believe.  But given the rather high price point, it certainly isn't a place I would be coming back to every other week...

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