Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Toba" salmon from Hokkaido 北海道から鮭のとば

My mother, as usual, sent us a “care package” of food for the New Year. Among the items she sent was dried salmon called "Toba". Although I posted about "Toba" before, this batch is much better than what we had before and the shape is also correct. Quoting from my previous post
"Toba とば, written in kanji ideograms as 冬葉 which means "winter leaves". This is a famous item on my home island of Hokkaido. The name, I suppose, comes from the way the strips of salted salmon drying in the cold winter wind resembles brown leaves on the bare branches of trees. Traditional toba is usually very chewy, or sometimes hard like a strip of leather, and very salty. It is sort of the Hokkaido version of beef jerky. This version is considerably "tamed". The skin has been removed and it is cut into smaller pieces. In addition, somehow it has been made much softer, although it is still quite salty."

As you can see below it’s resemblance to narrow blades of a leaf is unmistakable.

This one is also a modern version and is not too salty or too hard like traditional ones. Eating this brought back nostalgic memories of my youth. I remembered that when I was young and bar-hopped in Susukino すすきの,  these were usually served with mayonnaise, soy sauce and tougarashi (Japanese red pepper flakes) mixture as shown below. They were often even delivered to your mouth by an obliging hostess—although I am not sure that improved the flavor in any way.

This and other items came in a box proclaiming "True authentic gifts that only Hokkaidians* can give".

*I am not sure this is a correct Demonym for people of Hokkaido but people in Arcadia is Ardadians, people in Hokkaido could be Hokkaidians or other choice may be Hokkaidoites.

Last time, I succumbed to having this with scotch and water but this time we stayed with red wine. Although I have to admit it probably goes better with the scotch.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Baby octopus braised in garlic butter and soy sauce 飯蛸のバター醤油いため

This was only the second time I saw raw wild caught baby octopus or "Iidako" 飯蛸 in the market and I bought them without hesitation. Although I call it "baby" octopus, it is not a baby or even the young of a large octopus species but just a variety of small octopus. We happened to stop by this market after work on the way home since we had some business to take care of at a near-by location. The last time I found small or baby octopus was at the same market. At that time, I posted grilled baby octopus which was good but a bit on the chewy side. To avoid letting squid or octopus get chewy, I need to cook it either very quickly or for a very long time. Since this was a weekday evening and I didn’t think they would last until the weekend, I did not have much time and I chose the quick approach.

Pictures of the baby octopus, raw, are shown below. (1 lb of which is more than enough for 2 servings as an appetizer). Luckily they were already cleaned and the "beaks" removed (It was a good thing. See this post - in Japanese- to learn how to clean it). After I salted and "kneaded" them in a bowl, I washed them several times with cold running water. Since the first picture (#1) does not show the individual octopus well, I fished one out and placed placed it on top for its portrait (#2). This was one of the larger specimens.

I first parboiled the octopus in rapidly boiling water with a dash of sake (to reduce the "fishy" odor) for 30 seconds (#3). I drained them and cut the larger ones in half or quarters and left the small ones whole. I set them aside.

I melted butter (2 tbs, unsalted) on medium heat and when the butter melted added finely chopped garlic (2 fat cloves). I sautéed for 1 minutes or so until the garlic was fragrant but not browned. I increased the heat and added the parboiled octopus and quickly sautéed for 30-40 seconds and added chopped scallions (3 stalks). I finished the dish with a soy sauce (1/2 tbs) and mirin (1/2 tbs) and cut the heat (#4).

I served them with a sprinkling of Japanese red pepper flakes or ichimi tougarashi 一味唐辛子 (the first picture). This time, the octopus were not tough or chewy at all. They were plump and pleasantly springy in texture which was very nice. They were remarkably fresh and the combinations of butter, garlic and soy sauce cannot go wrong. The mirin added just a slight sweetness to round up the dish. This was a perfect small dish for sake and we had new G-sake from SakeOne with this dish.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Proscuitto wrapped fig イチジクの生ハムまき

This dish was inspired by the menu at Suiko 酔香 in Tokyo. Although we did not order the dish, one of the items listed on the menu was "ichijiku no namahamu maki" イチジクの生ハム巻き or "Prosciutto wrapped fig"*. The group who sat next to us ordered this and I thought of making a similar dish.

* When we lived in California fig trees were all over the place and we could just help ourselves to the nice ripe sweet figs from the trees in our backyard. Probably because of better packaging, figs are now readily available, even on the East coast. But, once we ate figs in Japan, we realized we had not really tasted figs. On our last visit to Tokyo, we bought figs that were mostly from Aichi prefecture 愛知県. They were huge, almost the size of a small baseball. They were also juicy and delicious. One fig per person made a breakfast. We had never seen anything like it and bought them whenever we could. Although the mission figs in the US are quite good, we have never seen the equivalent of the Japanese figs here.

I made two versions of figs and prosciutto. The one shown below is the second one I made. It was better than the first one (the second picture).

Figs: I used Mission figs; one per serving. I peeled the skin and quartered it. Using a half length of Prosciutto, I wrapped the fig. I placed fresh goat cheese on top and put a toothpick through (to hold it together). I drizzled good fruity olive oil and aged (syrupy) Balsamic vinegar over it. I also added freshly cracked black pepper. These additions definitely improved the dish.

The picture shown below was the fist version in which I wrapped half of the peeled fig with a full length of Prosciutto.

The first version was a bit too large to eat in one bite. This particular  prosciutto was not the best--a bit tasteless, although the almost sweet tasting balsamic vinegar combined with the sweetness of the fig was nice. The goat cheese, black pepper, olive oil plus the smaller size of the second version made the dish easy to eat and gave it more flavor dimensions.

This dish went particularly well with the California red (Robert Storey Cab 2007 from Napa) we were drinking.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Potato salad with pickled myouga and rakkyo らっきょうとミョウガ入りのポテトサラダ

You may not think potato salad is  Izakaya cuisine but it is one of the most popular items especially as "Otoushi" おとうし. The Japanese version of potato salad is a bit different from the usual American versions, however. For example, the potato salad served in Suiko 酔香 had smoked picked daikon called "Iburi-gakko" いぶりがっこ which gave a unique smoky flavor and crunch. The last time we were back in Sapporo visiting my mother, she added rakkyo らっきょう to her potato salad saying she usually did not have cucumber pickles. We really liked the addition of rakkyo. Rakkyo is cross between scallion and small onion and is usually served as a condiment for a Japanese curry.

For the version below, I added chopped pickled myouga and rakkyo (in sweet vinegar from a jar) to my usual potato salad instead of cornichon. I also added fresh cucumber sliced, salted and dressed with sushi vinegar just before serving. Although thinly sliced fresh cucumber is often included in Japanese potato salad,  I usually do not add it because I am concerned that the cucumber could go bad before the other items in the salad.

I added skinned and sliced tomato arranged in rose shape with seasoned with salt and pepper and a dab of mayonnaise.

In an other version I garnished it with pickled myouga and rakkyo.

Or, served just as is.

We rather like these variations. Both rakkyo and myouga add unique flavor and texture to my potato salad, a perfect small dish to start the evening.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sweet potato croquet さつまいものコロッケ

When we barbecue chicken in the Weber grill, we often make baked sweet potato. My wife mashes it and seasons it with butter and soy sauce. We had some of this mashed sweet potato and barbecued chicken left over from our last barbecue. I came up with  this dish as leftover control.

I served these croquets with Montparnasse cauliflower,blanched broccoli, shredded cabbage and skinned thinly sliced  tomato arranged  to look like a rose flower. I served Tonkatsu sauce and Japanese hot mustard on the side.

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The amount below makes about 4 croquets.

Mashed sweet potato: about 1 cup
Onion: small or half of a medium, finely chopped
Chicken: cooked thigh meat, finely chopped about 1/2 cup
Panko bread crumbs:
Curry powder (optional)

I sautéed the onion until soft in light olive oil, added the chicken, curry powder. I let it cool down a bit and mixed it with the mashed sweet potato. I made 4 flat oval shaped discs. I dredged them in flour, egg water and Panko bread crumbs.  I placed them in the refrigerator for several hours before frying.

This time I deep fried the croquets in 350F vegetable oil, for 2-3 minutes turning once (all the ingredients are cooked so you just want to make a crunchy crust). I could also have "shallow" fried them.

For leftover control, this is not bad at all.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Venison tenderloin with juniper berry, rosemary red wine sauce 鹿肉のワインソース添え

One of my friends went deer hunting and bagged a "Bambi" (or more likely a yearling. He said it did not have white spots) and gave me a small piece of tender loin. Since the meat was small  and irregular in shape rather a medallion, I made this quick small dish with a crushed Juniper berry and fresh rosemary wine sauce as an appetizer. I did not follow any particular recipe for this. (By-the-way the red liquid in the picture, is the sauce).

Venison: I just seasoned it with salt and pepper and cooked it in a frying pan with olive oil for few minutes and let it rest on a plate covered loosely in aluminum foil. Just before serving, I cut it into bite sized pieces. The center was slightly pink.

Sauce: Since we had a half open bottle of an unusual (for Spanish wine) red blend called Pago de Larrainzar Navarra Red blend 2005 (blend of Merlot, Cab, and Tempranillo), I decided to use this for my wine sauce. This wine (appears to have some problems with corks) did not taste great to our palate but we deemed it good enough for a wine sauce. I did not have any shallots, so I used a small onion instead, finely diced. I sautéed it in melted butter using the same pan in which the venison was cooked. After the onion got soft, I added crushed juniper berries (2) and finely chopped fresh rosemary (one small sprig). I added about 1/2 cup of the afore-mentioned red wine and reduced it to just coating the bottom of the pan. I finished the sauce with pats of butter. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and poured it over the meat thorough a fine meshed strainer.

The venison was very tender and not too gamy. The wine sauce went very well. Of course, for this dish, we needed to open a decent red. B cellars Blend 25 2006 from Napa was a bit usual from Napa since it is a blend of Cab (68%) and syrah (32%) like some Aussie wines. This one got 91 from WA. We liked this wine and it was a perfect match for the venison.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Blackened Brussels sprouts and chestnut salad 黒焼き芽キャベツと栗のサラダ

Although I posted blackened Brussels sprouts salad before, we made some variations after Thanksgiving when we made blackened Brussels sprouts. This was also inspired by the dish we had recently at Nojo restaurant.

The first picture below is a combination of baked chestnuts and blackened Brussels sprout seasoned with a bit of syrupy balsamic vinegar and Japanese red pepper flakes (Ichimi tougarashi 一味唐辛子). The addition of chestnuts is my wife's idea. We took a short cut and used whole roasted chestnuts in a jar.

This one is placed on the bed of baby arugula and dressed with a mixture of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, Japanese red pepper flakes.

Making blackened Brussels sprout cannot be easier except for the preparation of the Brussels sprouts which is a bit tedious.

Wash and cut the bottom to remove outer (blemished) layers. If large, I cut them into half or quarters (to increased the surface which can get blackened).
Place the prepared Brussels sprouts in the bowl, add enough olive oil to coat the Brussels sprouts.  Then sprinkle on salt and pepper and toss to coat. Spread the Brussels sprouts on the cookie sheet with cut side down and bake it for 45 minutes in a preheated 375F oven (#1).
Add the prepared chestnuts (cut in half or quarters) for the last 15 minutes or bake the chestnuts for 15 minutes separately (#2) then mix into the blackened Brussels sprouts  (#4).

I made the dressing (#3) which is a mixture of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, honey and olive oil. Later we tried just a small drizzle of a good syrupy Balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes. The latter was as good or even better. So I would not bother to make a dressing.

This dish is very good cold or room temperature, although hot out of the oven is the best. It does heat up nicely in a microwave oven as well.

I did not imagine I would say "I love Brussels sprouts" but I do now.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Nuta" salad from frozen yellow fin tuna 冷凍キハダマグロのぬた

Although I have posted a similar dish before, I made a slight variation from my usual recipe when I recently thawed a block of frozen yellow fin tuna. (As I mentioned this frozen tuna is my emergency tuna supply which I keep in the freezer). The quality of the tuna is not good and requires some effort to make palatable. Here I made “nuta” salad with “yubiki” tuna, blanched greens of scallion, wakame seaweed, cucumber and nagaimo with vinegar miso dressing.

One of the reasons I made this dish was that we had a similar dish (made with better quality tuna) at Kappa in San Francisco.

Block of yellow fin tuna: I used about 1/3 of the block. After thawing, I put the block in boiling water with a dash of sake for 10-15 seconds until the surface turned white all over. I then put it in ice water. After 30 seconds, I fished the tuna block out of the water and patted it dry with a paper towel. I cut the tuna into bite size cubes.
Scallion: I only used the green part of the scallion (4-5 stalks), I cut them into 1 inch segments and blanched them for 1 minute, then soaked them in ice water and drained.
Wakame seaweed: I used salted and frozen wakame (not dry one). I washed it to remove the salt and soaked it in cold water for 10-15 minutes to hydrate. I cut it into short segments.
Cucumber and Nagaimo: Both were cut into small dices (skin peeled from nagaimo).
Dressing: This is my usual karashi sumiso dressing.
This low- quality frozen yellow fin tuna tasted quite decent in this dish.

I also made “Namerou” of tuna with garlic, ginger, scallion and miso (above) which was quite palatable with sips of cold sake.

I also made “Yamakake” using the remaining block of tuna. I marinated the small cubes of tuna in a mixture of sake and soy sauce in the refrigerator for a few hours prior to serving.

With these three dishes, we finished the entire block of yellow fin tuna.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Yuba" tofu 湯葉豆腐

I saw this recipe on the Internet. Since my attempt at making tofu from store bought soy milk was somewhat less than successful and a bit more work than warranted by the end product.  The idea of making a tofu-like dish using gelatin and soy milk appealed to me. This was very simple to make and the texture was great. The original recipe called for thinly sliced fresh okra as a garnish. Since I did not have fresh okra, I used "pickled" okra instead (below).

Here is another version of the garnish; finely chopped scallion, nori strips and a dab of yuzukosho and Ponzu sauce.

I am just translating from the original recipe. This will make very generous servings for two.

Water 2 Tbs
Gelatin powder 4grams
Soy milk (unsweetened and un-flavored) 360ml
Salt a small pinch

I mixed water and gelatin in a small cup and let it sit for a few minutes. I put the store bought non-sweetened and non-flavored soy milk and salt in a small sauce pan on a low flame until it started just gently boiling. I cut the flame and mixed in the gelatin bloomed in water. I mixed well and dissolved the gelatin. I poured the mixture into a small Pyrex baking dish. When the mixture cooled to room temperature, I covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, I scooped it out into a serving bowl and garnished with sliced pickled okra and poured Ponzu sauce (from a bottle) on top.

This has a nice smooth mouth feel and is quite good. The first few bites had a subtle almost vanilla flavor (even though the soy milk was supposedly unflavored). Probably I should use fresh instead of pickled okra. The pickle was a bit too strong relative to the very delicate soybean flavor of the dish. The dish I garnished with scallion and nori strips and yuzukosho was better. I think this is almost like silken tofu (the texture is subtly  different, though) and much easier to make than real tofu from store bought soy milk.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Chicken breast, pickled myouga salad 鶏肉、冥加甘酢サラダ

This is a small starter dish I made from leftovers and it was not bad.

I made a sautéed chicken breast a few days ago using a technique I saw on-line which results in a very moist chicken breast when cooked. Essentially, the chicken breast was cut into bite sized pieces. It is then pounded to break some of the muscle fiber and then kneaded with a small amount of "shiro-dashi" 白出し, sake and potato starch. It is left to sit for 10-15 minutes. I then pan fried both sides. It appears the chicken breast was more flavorful and more moist than when cooked by other methods but any cooked chicken will do for the salad I am describing here..


For this small salad, I added the cooked chicken. I also cut American mimi-cucumber in snake belly or Jabara 蛇腹 and then cut into 1 inch chunks. I finely chopped pickled myouga 茗荷. I mixed the chicken, cucumber and pickled myouga and dressed them with  some pickling sweet vinegar. I placed baby arugula on the bottom of a shallow glass bowl, I placed the mixture of  the chicken, cucumber and myouga on top. I also placed a dab of "moromi-miso" 諸味味噌 and garnished it with a pickled myouga.

Each items has its own flavor and the gentle taste of sweet vinegar was complimented by the nutty, sweet and slightly salty flavor of moromi miso.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nojo restaurant in San Francisco 農場レストラン

 Yakitori 焼き鳥 or grilled chicken (plus pork and vegetables) on a skewer is one of our favorite Izakaya-style food. When we visited New York, we went to "Torishin" 鳥心 which tried to reproduce an authentic (albeit cleaned-up or up-scale) Japanese Yakitori place or Yakitori-ya 焼き鳥屋 in New York. In contrast, "Nojo" 農場 (meaning "farm") in the Mission district of San Francisco is not trying to be an authentic Yakitori-ya but more of an American eatery which serves Yakitori (very authentic and good) as well as Japanese-inspired dishes not served on a stick. The story of how chef/owner Greg Dunmore decided to open a Yakitori restaurant is posted on their web site.
When we arrived, the restaurant was quite busy and noisy. There were a number of tables as well as a counter along the front of an open kitchen (main kitchen behind the wall). In the center of the open kitchen, was the grilling station or "Yakidai" 焼き台 which appears to be using gas rather than charcoal or electricity as a heat source. As you can see in the picture below the decor had some Japanese touches but over all the atmosphere was that of an American neighborhood eatery. The clientele did not appear to be Japanese (while we were there I was the only representative of that group). They were mostly young, local residents.

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The tables for two were very close together. We had to be careful when being seated to not knock something over on the table next to us.  Conversation was almost impossible because of the high noise level. We sat for quite some time before someone acknowledged our existence. (It is torture to sit, hungry, in a restaurant and watch delicious looking food being delivered to other tables). Once we got on the wait staff’s radar screen, however, service improved. We started by choosing sake. They had a short but decent sake list (and beer, wine and chochu) and we settled for Wakatake Onigoroshi Junmai ginjo 若竹鬼殺し純米吟醸 from Shizuoka 静岡 (a safe choice). Because the service appeared slow, we decided to order most of what we wanted to try all at once and up front to avoid long waits between deliveries. Although we ordered everything in a jumble, we were impressed by how they sorted out the meal by grouping our orders. They did not serve everything at once. Dishes came out in an orderly progression that showed careful consideration to combining tastes and textures that went well together.
First came blackened Brussels sprouts. We have tried many recipes for Brussels sprouts and until we stumbled on blackened sprouts my wife was the only Brussels sprouts fan in the family.  So, among the salads and vegetable dishes they offered, we chose this dish. It was a nice size for us to share. It had a nice sauce (soy sauce and balsamic vinegar?) and some heat (Japanese Ichimi tougarashi 一味唐辛子?) with thin strips of what appeared to be cabbage but later we realized it was "Yuba" 湯葉.  We both liked this dish and it was a perfect starter.

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We love Yakitori chicken wings but the yakitori menu did not contain wings. Instead, we found "crispy deep fried wings" on the not-on-a-stick menu and decided to try them. They served a generous amount (probably 6 wings and drummets)  but we started eating before we remembered to take a picture. So the below  picture shows just one each of wing and drummet. This was also a big hit. Very nice crispy skin and seasoning was just great. It was marinated first and deep dried with flour (rice flour?) and additional seasoning (some kind of flavored salt?).

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Then the Yakitori started appearing. We had, neck meat ("seseri" せせり), skin ("kawa", かわ), and pork jowl ("kashira" かしら). Neck and Skin were rather small skewers but were excellent.  Pork jowl is fatty meat from the head/neck areas of the pig(I learned that bacon made from jowl was very popular in the South). It is also delectably “deadly” as our favorite pork belly (picture below).

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Then came what was probably the best dish of the evening--candied duck liver (picture below). It was a good sized portion; perfect for us to share (again we had eaten most of it before the picture was taken), deep fried coated in some type of batter and then seasoned in sweet sticky sauce served on the bed of lettuce and radons of bacon.
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The duck liver was not gamy and had a nice texture (especially if you like the texture of cooked liver). The lettuce was a good cool contract to this rich liver dish.
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We ordered few more items which were "tsukune" つくね with egg yolk sauce, bacon wrapped mochi 餅のベーコン巻き and "automnal tsukemono" 漬物. Tsukune was good, served with a soy sauce based sauce and a raw egg yolk (hope the egg came from a near-by "farm" and was safe). We loved the bacon wrapped mochi (it instantly converted my wife to an ardent mochi fan. How can you go wrong with bacon wrapped anything?) We’d like to try something similar at home later. The only disappointment of the evening was  the "Tsukemono". They tasted almost like regular pickles out of a jar and did not have the subtle taste and crunch we would expect from such a dish.

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Although we were quite full,  my wife wanted to try "Black sesame ice cream"as a desert.  It was quite good and interesting. For some reason, they gave us the dessert gratis (Thank you). We liked this place and will come again if we have a chance. After eating there we can see why it is so popular and forgive them the initial lapse in service. Next time, we will try the counter which will be easier for us to talk, although I am not sue if we can make a reservation at the counter.

Information on "Nojo"
Nojo restaurant 農場レストラン

231 Franklin Street, San Francisco


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Restaurant Kappa in San Francisco 小料理屋河童

I learned about this restaurant sometime ago on a previous trip to San Francisco. On that visit we stayed at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco Japan town and tried to go to this restaurant but we could not get a reservation. Instead, we went to Ino sushi 井乃鮨. Later we learned our substitute choice was a “Sushi bullies” place (aka sushi Nazi) which we did not know at that time but had a good dinner nonetheless. This time I planned ahead and made a reservation via email way ahead of time. This place must rely on a regular clientel or "Jouren" 常連客 or word-of-mouth for most of their business. It is an “if you don’t know exactly where you are going you will never get there” type of place. Even with the specific instruction that it is located on the second floor of the building at the corner of Post and Buchanan* (picture below left) you will not find it. This is because prior to opening at 6pm, the front of the restaurant (picture below right) is totally hidden behind locked, nondescript, unmarked double doors with absolutely no signage. On our previous visit, even though we did not have a reservation and would be eating elsewhere, I just wanted to see where it was located. We wandered around for quite some time but never found it. This time, luckily we arrived a 6:00 PM and there was a small hand written cardboard sign with “Kappa” on it. Behind the double door we found a small vestibule and a nice black Japanese style sliding door with a lantern with “koryouri Kappa” 小料理 かっぱ on it (picture below right).

*The first floor of this building has a family style Japanese restaurant called "Sanppo" 三宝. When we lived in the Bay area many years ago, we used to stop by for a late supper after driving back from all-day skiing at Lake Tahoe.
outside comp
We opened the sliding door, and were welcomed by a smiling kimono-clad proprietor (wife) into a small but nice space. The restaurant's decor was dominated by a white wood counter which probably seats 10 people (picture below left) and a small separate room which seats 3 more at a table. The husband was the chef behind the counter and no other helpers were in sight. In the small triangular space behind our seats was a flower arrangement displayed (picture below right) which was a very nice touch. It was very quiet (there was only one other couple in the separate room).
Kappa interior
They had quite an extensive sake list. For the first round, I had Kikusui 菊水 and my wife kamotusru arabashiri 加茂鶴あらばしり. After some conversation with the couple, we found out that both were from Hokkaido like myself; the “Mrs.” was from Asahikawa 旭川and the “Mr.” from Akabira 赤平. Since we established the Hokkaido connection, I next chose Otokoyama 男山 which is brewed in Asahikawa (unfortunately this was not a particularly great sake).  We also had Dassai 獺祭 and Born 梵 to accompany other dishes.
We had asked to have an omakase tasting course お任せ. So, we did not have to order. Everything just came, one after the other in a well timed fashion.

The first dish was clear soup with seared scallop and kaiware カイワレ大根 and yuzu ゆず. To me, this is a bit unusual for an opening since we usually start with sashimi at an izakaya but this is not an izakaya it was more like a small ryoutei.料亭 or traditional Japanese course only restaurant. The soup had a lot of umami (or “dashi ga kiiteiru” 出汁がきている).
The next was crab in vinegar dressing or Kani no sunomono カニの酢の物. Good sized Dungeness crab and snow crab meat was dressed in sweet vinegar with sesame and cucumber.
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The third dish was “tuna no nuta” マグロのぬた, yubiki tuna 湯引き鮪 with blanched scallion and wakame seaweed were dressed in miso vinegar dressing..
And then came the assortment of 15 (no mistake, fifteen) small dishes called “Hassun” 八寸. Traditionally, many small items are placed in an 8-sun square plate (“sun” 寸 is an old Japanese measurement unit which is about 3cm, so 8-sun is 24cm or about 10inch square). As far as I can remember, the left row from the bottom are hamachi teriyaki はまちの照り焼き, roasted duck breast 鴨胸肉のロースト, karashi-mentaiko wrapped in squid 辛子明太子のイカ巻き, dashi-maki omelet 出汁巻き. The right row from the top are corn kakiage トウモロコシのかき揚げ, fried scallop ホタテのフライ, tuna kakuni マグロの角煮, simmered gan-modoki がんもどきの煮つけ, and simmered kabocha かぼちゃの煮つけ. In the center 6 items from the left bottom are smoked salmon with mountain yam 燻製サーモンの山芋載せ (in the small dish), asparagus in sesame dressing アスパラの胡麻和え, senmai zuke of radish 千枚漬け, simmered small scallop ひも付きホタテの煮もの, boiled “Kuruma” prawn 茹でクルマエビ and eggplant with dengaku sauce 茄子の田楽. All these were presented on top of a fresh wasabi plant leaf. This was indeed our nirvana; small morsels of different tastes between sips of sake.
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At the wife's advice, we nibbled on the stalk of fresh wasabi plant which had a nice fresh taste but was not as hot as wasabi itself. We had consumed quite a bit of sake to finish these dishes.

Now came the otsukuri お造り or sashimi 刺身. From the left to right; a nice piece of hamachi はまち, maguro 鮪, kanpachi カンパチ, and California Uni (we were told was from off the coast of Santa Barbara, and is said to be the very best and indeed it was). Everything was great but the uni was particularly great and we asked for an additional serving to go with more sake.
The shime  〆 course was three good pieces of nigiri にぎり; eel, smoked salmon and tuna. The rice was not as well seasoned as it could have been and the rice balls appeared to be made in a mold rather than done by hand.

At this point, we had drunk enough and were quite satiated.  But here came the dessert. From left to right in the picture below; mizu-yokan水羊羹, ripe pineapple, strawberry, mango and kinako-coated warabi mochi わらび餅.
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This was not the end of the desert and we also had strawberry/raspberry sorbet.
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This was quite an extraordinary experience. We felt like we were back in Japan. The place was quiet and we enjoyed interesting conversations with the chef and his wife. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Information on Kappa.

Restaurant Kappa 小料理かっぱ
1700 Post St., Suite K
San Francisco, CA 94115
(On the 2nd floor of the building located at the corner of Buchanan St. and Post St.)
(415) 673-6004 - Call for reservations after 4:30pm

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Izakaya Yuzuki in San Francisco 居酒屋癒月

We visited the San Francisco Bay area recently to attend a wine tasting and dinner held in honor of my former mentor. My friend, who organized the event, did a great job of putting together a wonderful great quality wine tasting of old vintages of California and Bordeaux wines emulating the judgment of the Paris in 1976. Afterwards, we decided to stay in San Francisco and visit a few Izakaya style restaurants. One evening, I chose Yuzuki 癒月 from the information I gather on the Internet and it happened to be a great choice.

The restaurant is in the Mission district. The building is old and could have previously been a neighborhood eatery. “Yuzuki” is a created word meaning “healing moon”. The picture below shows a framed calligraphy of the restaurant's name. In the old style, the letters are read right to left.
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All the wait staff appeared to be Japanese and the two chefs busily preparing food could be seen through the pass-through opening in the back. The Sake sommelier  was also at hand to explain the sakes they were serving. The atmosphere was informal and very pleasant. For a more realistic Izakaya atmosphere, however, I would have preferred more counter seating. They have a bar counter (leftover from the previous restaurant?) but it is not quite the same as an Izakaya counter.
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The table at which we sat was dark; darker than other tables which made picture taking a bit difficult. We started with a flight of four different sakes. The sake sommelier (a young man) served the flight and explained the types of sake, breweries, brew masters, flavor profiles etc. It was accompanied with a piece of paper with the name and short description of the sake. This is a much better way to experience a sake flight than the one we had at Sakamai 酒舞 in New Yolk because all the relevant information was available right in front of us.The Dewazuru junmai 出羽鶴 純米酒 was served at room temperature and the rest were chilled. From right to left, Takatenjin, Diaginjo 高天神大吟醸, Shizuoka; Fukucho “Suigetsu”, Junmai Ginjo 富久長 水月 純米吟醸酒, Hiroshima, Dewazuru Kimoto junmai 出羽鶴きもと純米, Akita; Yukino bosha, Nigori, Junmai ginjo, 雪の茅舎にごり純米吟醸酒 Akita.
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We really enjoyed this flight. After the tasting, we chose a bottle of Fukuchou Suigetsu from Hiroshima as our drinking sake for the evening. The brew master for this sake is a female which is very unusual. We liked this one because of its nice clean taste yet it had some depth with a distinctive fennel after taste which was pleasantly surprising.

I forgot to take a picture of the first dish which was three Kyoto and home style vegetable dishes called “obansai” おばんさい presented very nicely in three small bowls set in a wooden compartmentalized box. There were three  specials on the menu that evening; 1) Hokkaido white squid sashimi, 2) raw oysters on a half-shell, and 3) anago 穴子 or sea eel tempura. We asked for the squid sashimi and anago tempura. In addition we ordered squid shiokara イカの塩辛 or “squid and guts”.
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The picture above shows the squid sashimi. A portion of it was prepared in “naruto-maki” 鳴門巻き style with the nori seaweed. The legs were lightly boiled which was a bit chewy. This was very nice.
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For the shiokara, we were well into it when I realized I had not taken a picture. We stopped eating long enough for me to quickly snap the pic. This was the best dish of the evening especially for my wife who is a shiokara connoisseur. This was home made by the chef rather than store bought and tasted of every bit of his skill.
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The anago tempura was huge. The entire anago was served with other items such as egg plant, mizuna, and sweet potato. The entire length of the bone was also deep fried and served (a portion of it is visible in the picture above as “U” shaped item in the back). We also had shrimp kakiage かき揚げ and a very good chwanmushi 茶碗蒸し with uni (it was very good but the uni looked and tasted like it was from Maine).
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As a shime 〆 or ending dish, we had grilled uni rice balls うにの焼きおにぎり. Four small wedges of rice topped with soy sauce-butter seasoning, uni, green (water cress), thin strips of nori. These were perfect for the two of us. This combination of uni and water cress sautéed in butter and soy sauce appears to have started out by the teppan-yaki 鉄板焼き place called "Nakachan" 中ちゃん in Hiroshima 広島 and was popularized by the new-trend sake bar "Buchi" in Shibuya. This was very good with a crunchy crust and nice uni taste. 

Although Yuzuki has the atmosphere of a small restaurant rather than an Izakaya, the food and sake were all excellent. If we were living in San Francisco, we would frequent this place often.

Information of Yuzuki:
Izakaya Yuzuki 居酒屋癒月
500 Guerrero Avenue, San Francisco
(415) 556-9898

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tarako Canapé 鱈子のカナッペ

Since I thawed frozen tarako たらこ (salted Japanese cod roe) and there was an extra eggs sack left, I made this dish just on a whim as an appetizer. It was simple and quick but quite good

First, I mixed mayonnaise and tarako (1 tbs each) with a small amount of lemon juice (#1). Meanwhile I lightly toasted four “cocktail” pumpernickel bread squares and placed them on a small aluminum foil lined cookie tray (#2). I thinly spread the tarako-mayo mixture on the bread (#3). For good measure, I also added slices of Gruyere cheese  (#4). I grilled them in the toaster oven until the cheese melted.
I garnished them with small dab of tarako on  top. A perfect small dish to start the evening with wine or sake.