Friday, July 3, 2015

Izakaya in Tokyo: Sensaigyo Hayase 鮮菜魚早瀬, 京橋 東京

Our visit to Japan started with a 5 day stay in Tokyo. We arrived in the early evening at our hotel in Kyobashi 京橋 area.  For the evening, we went across  the street to the Kyobashi branch of a nation-wide chain Izakaya called "Kaisen Izakaya Hananomai" 海鮮居酒屋はなの舞 run by the Chimney group.  It was located on the basement floor of a business building. It was not big (some chain Izakaya stores can be very large), reportedly seating about 60 guests. The interior felt rather cramped and smoky. The name of the place is preambled by a word "Kaisen" meaning "fresh sea food". The group is known for providing good seafood at cheap prices because they purchase in large quantities for the chain.  For us, however, we chose this place because it was just across the street from our hotel and, in our seriously jet lagged state, it seemed a good choice.

To test the quality of the fresh fish, we ordered combination sashimi first. It was not bad but not excellent either.  We followed that with firefly squid okizuke, some yakitori (neck meat せせり, ”last part over the fence” ぽんじり and, harami diaphragm はらみ). We, then, had a non-descript green leaf tempura which was advertized as "today's special" and was "recommended". This was called Ashitaba 明日葉 from Hachijoujima island 八丈島 far off south of Tokyo bay. This green was touted as having all kinds of health benefits. The fact that it was not in evidence on any other of the tables despite being the special of the day should have been our first clue. Regardless, of its health properties the serving was huge and had no particular taste. It was just a fried tempura batter delivery system. Not being devotes of fried flour we partook of some of the greens and left the rest. The sake list was not extensive but adequate. On one side of our table was a chain smoking woman (it has been quite some time since we have been in such a smoke filled environment) and her friend. The smoking women spent the entire time when she wasn’t puffing on her cigarette, pontificating. On the other side were some salary men dragging out the several plates of food they were sharing at a ratio of 2:1 drinks. The final tab was just $80.00 which is very reasonable. The place was not the best but a lot of fun especially the first night while suffering from jet lag.

The next evening, we set out for our first real Izakaya called “Sensaigyo Hayase” 鮮菜魚早瀬 meaning "fresh vegetable and fish Hayase".  We found this place from Tabelog. This was reportedly owned by a Tuna fish wholesaler from Tsukiji market and, therefore, famous for the quality of tuna. It was in the basement of a non-descript building which was walking distance from our hotel.

Hayase - 1

The basement floor Izakaya was rather large and it appeared that many groups were in the back rooms already becoming quite boisterous. The place was a bit smoky. Three salary men sat at the table next to ours, one appeared to be the head honcho the other two were clearly underlings. The head honcho was pontificated about everything and then the topic fell on the necklace (chain) he was wearing. He told them that this necklace had a magical power and could make the wearer strong. To make his point, Head-honcho-the-demonstrator jumped up and made the other guy (underling-subject) stand. He then told his subject to put out his arms. The demonstrator then easily pushed the other fellows arms down with his hands. Then the demonstrator put the necklace on his subject. Again he asked him to raise his arms but this time…Magic.  The demonstrator was unable to push down his subject’s arms; QED. We were not sure if he had successfully made his point but sometimes the side shows at izakaya can be entertaining.

Meanwhile, we examined the menu and ordered sashim and sake. The sashimi plate was beautiful. The quality of the sashimi was wonderful especially the akami and chu-toro of tuna. The quality of tuna is the selling point of this place since it is run by a tuna wholesaler at Tsukiji. We had a large grilled fish (kuro mutsu 黒ムツ); lots of bones but nice firm oily white meat, fermented squid (shiokara 塩辛) with uni, hamo 鱧 (Conger eel), simmered pork belly 角煮, and some black sesame noodles.  The sake was good.

Hayase - 1 (1)

It was called Junmai Ginjou Hayaseura 純米吟醸早瀬浦, Yamada nishiki 山田錦 from Fukui prefecture 福井県.  During our feast, the three guys next door decided to leave. To my surprise, one of the underlings paid and the head hocho did not.

Sashimi plate.

Hayase - 3

Grilled Kuro-mutsu.

Hayase - 4

Hamo, we have eaten good portions before taking this picture.

Hayase - 5 

Pork Kakuni.

Hayase - 7

The total bill was the most expensive so far at $160 but still a good price especially considering the quality of food and sake and favorable yen-dollar exchange rate. This place does not have the atmosphere of an authentic Izakaya but the service was good as was the quality of the food. It had the feel of a higher end chain Izakaya.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New small containers with three appetizers

When we visit Kyoto, we always go to Nishiki market 錦市場. Among the stores we visit is a small china store called "Kawazen touki" 河善陶器.  This time we found the store basically unchanged from previous visits except the proprietor (and us as well) were somewhat older. This place has a collection of small bowls and containers. We have not yet seen such things anywhere else (even in Kappabashi 河童橋). They come in essentially two sizes--very small and small. On one visit we heard one Chinese woman ask her companion, in English, what the dishes were used for and the woman answered, "for dolls" i.e. toys. We chortled about that statement for some time. On this visit we picked out two sets of the small sized dishes and a few extras.

On this trip we also got more small sake cups from Kita-ichi glass in Otaru 北市グラス、小樽, Hokkaido. One of them is shown here; a rather tall one with a frosted inside. We bought a set of 4 but when we used it for the first time, I broke one of them. Oh, and I do not always get along. In any case, I was looking for an occasion when I could use these new containers. Since we did not have anything special to eat and I did not have time to go to the Japanese grocery store, I decided to make something from what we already had in the refrigerator or freezer.

So, here are three small appetizers presented in the new containers. From the left, grated daikon and jako garnished with tobiko and edamame, center is peanuts in sweet miso with walnuts, the right is chicken (barbecued) and green beans dressed in sesame mayonnaise.

The one below was inspired by an otoshi dish we had in a Yakitori place called "Kushiwakamaru" in Naka-meguro (Dave, Tobias and their wives went there with us and we had a grand time). It is grated daikon with jako (dried small bait fish) dressed in sweet vinegar. At Kushiwaka-maru, the amount they gave us was so large that we (my wife and I) could not finish it. But this time, I made only a small amount that we could handle. Since I happened to have tobiko (previously frozen) and edamame (left over from a salad my wife made that day). I used these as garnish for additional color in the dish.

The center dish was inspired by the breakfast we had in Wakamatsu Honten 若松本店, a Japanese Ryokan in Narita where we always stay on our last night in Japan. Being a ryokan, they give us a grand spread of food for dinner and breakfast. I should have taken pictures. One of the dishes among so many served for our breakfast was peanuts in sweet miso, a Chiba 千葉 prefecture speciality (where Narita is located). While my rendition was not bad I will have to work on improving it. Initially my intention was to use walnuts as the basic ingredient. (I thought I could take a shortcut by stealing some of the walnuts my wife had roasted for her grain salads. While I had no problem snarfing the edamame because it was left over, I was not so fortunate with the walnuts. She caught me before I could amass a sufficient amount and I had to revert back to using peanuts) which were the main ingredient for this dish served at the roykan.  This is how I made it. I put miso in a small sauce pan and added mirin and sugar. I mixed well and gently heated up the mixture until the consistency came back almost to the original miso. I then added ground walnuts (ground in a Japanese suribachi mortar) and further mixed. I then added peanuts (dry roasted lightly salted). It tasted very similar to what we had but was a bit too salty. I may use peanut butter in the next try.

The last one is shredded chicken (which we barbecued few days ago) and small pieces of cooked green beans and dressed then in sesame mayonnaise (mayo, sesame paste and soy sauce).

For three quick appetizers to inaugurate our new containers, these were quite ok. The peanuts in sweet miso was a bit too salty by itself but would have been perfect with rice. This dish definitely requires more improvement. Sake in a new glass also somehow tasted better. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Chicken and green beans in sesame dressing

These are nothing new but several rather good healthy appetizers. I could make these quickly because I already had cooked chicken breast and cooked green beans.

Traditionally the chicken breast or tenderloin would have been sake steamed but since I had barbecued whole chicken, I removed the tenderloins and hand shredded them into thin strands along the grain of the meat.

I also had haricot vert (small green beans) which I cooked in salted boiling water for a few minutes and let cool quickly. (I prefer using a fan to cool veggies rather than soaking them in ice water because the ice water would make the green beans taste water logged.) Using a fan, the green beans are cooked but still crunchy and keeps its color. I cut the green beans into 1 and 1/2 inch long pieces.


White roasted sesame seeds:  1tsp, although they are pre-roasted, I dry roasted them again in a frying pan and ground them in a Japanese mortar or suribachi until they became somewhat pasty but some of the sesame seeds were just coarsely ground.

White sesame paste (shiro nerigoma): 1 tsp, This comes in a plastic pouch or can.

Sugar, soy sauce and rice vinegar

I put the sesame paste and ground sesame in the Japanese mortar, added sugar (1/2 tsp), soy sauce (1/2 tsp) and rice vinegar (1/3 tsp). I checked the consistency of the dressing, tasted and adjusted the seasoning and liquids. I dressed both the chicken and green beans with the dressing and garnished with more whole roasted sesame seeds.

This is a tried and true good starter to have with for sake.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Daikon steak with cheese

I made this dish sometime ago. I must have seen this dish on the Internet. The most time consuming part of the preparation is boiling the daikon. Once that is done, the actual cooking is quick and easy.

I first pre-cooked the daikon as usual; I peeled the skin and cut the daikon into 1 inch thick rounds. I placed them in cold water with several kernels of raw rice, simmered for 20 minutes or until the daikon was cooked.

I first cut the daikon round in half. Using a small paring knife, I made a slit leaving the edge intact. I then inserted the slices of cheese (Any melting cheese will work. Here I used smoked cheddar). You may have to trim the corners of the cheese to make the slices fit. (left upper).

I put a pat of butter in a non-stick frying pan on low heat and started cooking the stuffed daikon (right upper). When the edges got slightly brown (in about 2-3 minutes), I turned them over (left lower). After a few more minutes of cooking I added just a small mount of soy sauce (right lower). I turned the stuffed daikon so that soy sauce covered all sides.

Daikon with cheese comp

Certainly this is an interesting dish. We are not crazy about it but it is a nice small dish that goes with any drink. If you already have pre-cooked daikon for other dishes such as oden, this is certainly worth a try.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

baked potato with bacon fat

Did I tell you that my wife is in pursuit of the ultimate oven fried potato? This is another attempt. The previous time, she parboiled the potatoes with the addition of baking soda and used duck fat. This time, she replaced duck fat with bacon dripping. As before she flavored the potatoes with fresh chopped rosemary.

The process was same as before, parboiling the white potatoes with the addition of baking soda. The main difference is that she added bacon dripping instead of duck fat. She also used all purpose (AP) potatoes instead of yukon gold.

The final result? It was very good oven fried potatoes but we did not taste much bacon flavor. We smelled the bacon while the potatoes were baking but somehow that did not translate into the flavor. We felt the same about the duck fat potatoes. Also the use of AP instead of Yukon gold potatoes doesn’t seemed to have mattered either. Maybe, for us, just olive oil would do the trick and that would be slightly healthier.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stir-fried cabbage with fennel seed, parsley and lemon

This is a type of stir-fried cabbage dish. If this were done Japanese style, It would be seasoned with mirin and soy sauce but this one is from Cook’s illustrated and is seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon and parsley. I made some modifications and added fennel seeds and lemon zest. Since my wife fried up bacon to make bacon fat (for her oven fried potatoes), I garnished this dish with crispy bacon.

According to the original recipe, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables have "sulfa" smells (it does not bother me at all) which can be reduced by soaking finely sliced cabbage in cold water for a few minutes.

Cabbage: 1/4 head cut into fine strips.
Onion: One medium, cut into think strips.
Lemon: Juice of one lemon and zest (using a micrograder).
Fennel seeds (optional, 1/4 tsp).
Parsley: 4-5 sprigs, leaves removed and finely chopped.
Salt and pepper to taste.

cabbage stir fry composit

First, I added oil to a frying pan on medium heat and added some Fennel seeds. When the Fennel got fragrant, I added the onion and sautéed until soft and the edges browned slightly. I seasoned with salt and pepper (#1). I then added the cabbage (soaked in cold water for 5 minutes, and drained) (#2). When the cabbage was cooked, I added the lemons zest, lemon juice and continued stirring, I added chopped parsley, mixed and the cut the heat (#4). I tasted and adjusted the salt and pepper. I garnished it with crispy bacon (the first picture).

This is a good way to serve cabbage. I still like the Japanese style with strips of deep fried tofu seasoned with soysauce and mirin but this is a good Western style variation.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cold salmon and simmered vegetables 冷製サーモンと野菜の煮付け

This was a starter dish for one evening made up of leftovers. Cold salmon was leftover from pan fried and oven finished salmon filets. Straight out of the oven,  the skin was nicely crispy and we preferentially ate all the skin leaving good sized chunks of meat behind as leftovers. I simply served these salmon chunks cold with baby arugula dressed with honey mustard dressing.

On the right are simmered vegetables which started life as "oden" おでん. I served the oden several times stretching it out by adding boiled eggs, tofu, and fish cakes. These carrots, daikon, and konnyaku コンニャク were the remaining survivors of this never ending oden, I added a top portion of boiled bamboo shoot (leftover from when I made mu shu pork). I seasoned the oden broth further by adding soy sauce and mirin and made the remaining veggies to "Nitsuke" 煮つけ (compared to oden, nitsuke usually has much stronger seasoning).

Finally all the leftovers have been accounted for and served. I do not remember what we drank with this but either red wine or sake would be just fine.