Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chestnuts with somen noodle crust 栗のコッロケのいがぐり揚げ

Besides matsutake 松茸, chestnuts 栗 are a classic symbol of autumn. Every year, we get whatever remained of North American Chestnuts from California. Same as matsutake dishes, I almost exhausted what I can make from chestnuts but I came up with a variation of the chestnuts croquet.


This is same as the chestnut croquet but instead of bread crumbs, I used broken thin Japanese noodles or so-men 素麺. As you can see above, it resembles the spiky outer layer or "Iga" いが or 毬 of chestnuts (sort of). This is mostly for appearance rather than taste.


When you cut into it whole chestnuts appears.

To make it, (I am repeating the previous post).

Chestnuts: The best way to removed the hard outer skin is to do it while it is hot after boiling. I took one out at a time and keep the rest in the hot water in which the chestnuts were cooked. I removed the outer skin by cutting the bottom of the chestnut (mostly skin part) and then peeling off the outer skin or "onikawa" 鬼皮. The outer skin is easy to remove (except that the chestnut is very hot). The inner textured skin or "shibukawa" 渋皮” is more difficult to remove. Especially for Northern American chestnuts, the inner skin goes deep into the crevasses of the nut. Sometimes pulling up will release it or more often, the nuts break apart. We did about 20 chestnuts and 9 came out whole and other 11 were fragmented.

I placed the fragmented chestnuts (11) into a small food processor and pulsed it to break down the chestnuts and then added milk. I gradually added milk as I ran the processor until a chestnut paste is formed  (upper left and right below). I added a pinch of salt as well. The paste was stiff enough that the traces of the tines of a fork remained on the surface.

I moistened my hands and covered each whole chestnut with the chestnut paste (right lower).

Chest nuts corockets composit
For regular croquets, I dredged with flour, egg water and panko bread crumbs. For this preparation, instead of panko bread crumbs, I broke up the dried somen noodle in small segments (about1 inch or less) and coated the croquets. I just deep fried them in 350F oil for several minutes or until the somen noodles were golden brown.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Matsutake Dinner 松茸

When we got 1 lb of matsutake 松茸, we had to concentrate on having an “all matsutake” dinner so that we could finish it before it went bad. Nothing new here but the proof that an all matsutake dinner is definitely not too much of a good thing.  They are similar or identical to I posted before (Sakamushi 酒蒸し, Chawanmushi 茶碗蒸し, Tenpura 天ぷら, Matsutake rice 松茸ご飯, Grilled 焼き松茸, Dobinmushi 土瓶蒸し).

Matsutake rice 松茸ご飯 and clear soup of matsutake 松茸のすまし汁.

Matsutake grilled on touban 松茸の陶板焼き.


Matsutake chawanmushi 松茸の茶碗蒸し with ginko nuts and chicken.

This was the second version of matsutake omelet 松茸のオムレツ. Instead of chopped scallion, I used chopped shallot.

I think we can wait for one year for the next matsutake feast.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Matsutake Omelet 松茸のオムレツ

When the season for chestnut 栗 and Matsutake 松茸 comes, I cannot help myself and rush to order some. I order Matsutake either from Oregon Mushrooms or Earthy delights. This year, I ordered from Earthy Delights. The matustake is from North America probably from Oregon or Colorado. One pound of matsutake is quite a lot. Most of the matsutake we received was just before the caps open and the quality appears much better than last year. Since I posted many matsutake dishes (Sakamushi 酒蒸し, Chawanmushi 茶碗蒸し, Tenpura 天ぷら, Matsutake rice 松茸ご飯, Grilled 焼き松茸, Dobinmushi 土瓶蒸し) before, I have to come up with something new. One weekend morning, my wife suggested that since truffles and eggs go well together and since matsutake is Japanese truffle, egg and matsutake should go well together. How about an omelet? This is what I came up with. I made the omelet from two eggs and we shared it.


Since the flavor (smell) of matsutake is rather delicate (faint), I decide to make it as simple as possible.

Matsutake: I used three small to small matsutake (below left). As usual, I cleaned them with a wet paper towel and gently scraped the skin with a sharp paring knife. Some times embedded dirt is very difficult to remove but these matsutake were rather clean. I cut off  the bottom halves of the stalks and finely chopped them. The caps and attached portion of the stalks were sliced (below right).

Scallion: I chopped up two scallions finely reserving the green part for garnish.

Eggs: I used two large brown eggs well beaten with addition of cream (2 tbs) and a pinch of salt.

matsutake composition
In a small frying pan, I added light olive oil (2 tsp) on medium flame. When the oil was hot, I sautéed the chopped scallion for few minutes, seasoned with salt and added the chopped up matsutake stalks. I sautéed for another 1 minutes. I pushed the chopped scallion and matsutake to one side of the pan and then cooked the slices of the matsutake turning once so that both sides had a nice color.

In another non-stick small frying pan on medium low flame, I added a pat of sweet butter (1/2 tbs) and let it melt but not brown. I poured in the egg mixture at once. Because of the cream, the omelet was rather fragile and soft. Instead of my usual way of forming the omelet as I place it on the plate, I decided to from an omelet in the pan. After I lifted the edge of the omelet as the bottom was set to let the uncooked egg to run under for several times, only just a thin coat of uncooked egg on the surface remained. I added the chopped and sautéed scallion and matsutake in the center of the omelet and using a wrist motion, aided with a spatula, I formed it to an omelet (see below).


I cut the omelet in half and garnished with the matsutake slices and green part of the scallion (The first picture).

As in the case of truffles, the delicate earthy flavor of matsutake and soft omelet are a good combination. I served it without any condiments or sauce. I even did not use pepper in the seasoning. Definitely this is a good way to bring up and enjoy the flavors (smells) of matsutake.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Matsutake grilled on ceramic plate 松茸の陶板焼き

The simplest and probably best way to enjoy matsutake 松茸 is to simply grill it and eat it with the juice of Japanese citrus splashed over it (Sudachi すだち or Kabosu かぼす) and salt. Sometimes I feel, though, that direct grilling over a charcoal fire makes matsutake too dry. I have tried using a "Touban" grill with the addition of sake (grill-steamed). This time, I made it even simpler and it turns out that this is a very good way to enjoy the delicate flavor of matsukae in its purest form. I simply grilled it on the touban 陶板 and finished it with the lid on. This final step steams matsukake in its own moisture.
I placed the mastutake on the heated touban on low heat without any oil or liquid. After the matustake grilled enough to develop some brown spots (appearing in about 2 minutes), I put the lid on and let it continue cooking for another minute.
The dome-shaped lid really does a good job of retaining the matustake flavor yet you do not feel like you are eating “raw” matsutake. Since we do not have “Kabosu”, we used wedges of lime and Kosher salt.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Squid sashimi dressed in tarako イカの刺身の鱈子和え

I decide to make this dish since it was served as one of the numerous dishes for a dinner at Wakamatsu Hontenn 若松本店 in Narita 成田 on our last  night in Japan. Unfortunately, the quality of the squid sashimi we could get here was not up to par with what we had in Japan and the previously frozen "tarako"たらこ was a bit too salty. As a result this dish was a pale comparison to the one we had at Narita. Dealing with lesser quality Japanese food items is especially difficult sice we just came back from Japan.

Squid sashimi: This is a packaged, prepared and frozen. I just thawed it.

Tarako cod roe: This also came frozen. I opened a sac of one small tarako and scraped off the roe from the membrane of the egg sac. I put it in a small container and added a small amount of cold sake so that the constancy is more suitable to dress the squid (also reduced the saltiness).,

Just dress the squid sashimi with tarako sake mixture.

We served sake in our newly acquired "Tusgaru" nuri 津軽塗 sake cups at "Nebuta" village ねぶた村 in Hirosaki 弘前.

This is my cup which matches the my chop sticks.

This is my wife's which also matches her chop sticks.

In Hirosaki, near Hirosaki castle 弘前城, we went to "Nebuta"village which is a large tourist trap. Beside the display of "Nebuta", many Tusgaru 津軽 or "Aomori" 青森 crafts are being displayed and sold. Some of the artisans were demonstrating how these crafts were made. One of them was making "Tsugaru-nuri" which requires many layers of lacquer and polishing on every layers. We bought two sake cups. When we came home, we were surprised to find that chopsticks which we have had for years matched the sake cups. I thought our chopsticks were "Waksa-nuri" 若狭塗りbut now I realized they are "Tsugaru-nuri" 津軽塗. Surprise, surprise!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kawadoko restaurant Kiraku, Kifune, Kyoto 貴船川床料理喜らく,京都

We visit Kyoto 京都 every time we are in  Japan. This time we had only 2 nights and one whole day. We stayed at out favorite hotel in Kyoto "Granvia" with a spectacular city view.

Kyoto view
We arrived in Kyoto late afternoon on Sunday and many of the Izakayas we would have liked to visit were closed. The weather was not particularly cooperative either as you can see in the view from our hotel window. So, we went to our backup, "Torihachi"鳥八 on Sunday evening. One of the advantages of Torihachi is that they are always open even Sunday. (They may close New Year’s day). In addition, we could walk to it through the station and underground "Kintetsu meitengai" 近鉄名店街 shopping mall. Although the choice of sake is very limited, their "Kara-age" is to die for. They keep the skin on the meat and the skin gets crispy yet the meat remains succulent. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening at Torihachi.

In any case, we had only one whole day (Monday) and over the years we have visited most of the major sightseeing spots in Kyoto and surrounding areas (Nara and Uji) including some difficult to get to such as "Koke dera" 苔寺, so we decided to go to "Kurama" 鞍馬 this time. This is in the mountains where Minamoto Yoshitune 源義経, the favorite tragic hero of Japan, trained with the mystical red-faced and Pinocchio-nosed creature/monk warrior “Tengu 天狗” as a young  “Ushiwaka-maru” 牛若丸.  I walked the mountain path between Kurama and Kifune 貴船 many many years ago and remembered that the path was dark, cool with many tree roots exposed on the surface. My recollection was that I walked the path during a break in a business trip in my suit, tie and dress shoes. I remember it was very difficult (possibly due to my attire) but the detail of my memory have been blurred by time.

So, we decided to dedicate a whole day to this excursion. Our plan was to skip lunch and come back to the hotel early and hungry enough so that we could be at Akagaki-ya 赤垣屋 around 4:30pm when it opens so that we could sit at the counter.

Kurama is a bit far away but the concierge at the hotel gave us good advice. He suggested that we take a short taxi cab ride to the Keihan shichi-jo 京阪7条駅 station and pick up the train to Demachi Yanagi 出町柳 and then transfer to “Eizan-dentetsu” 叡山電鉄 to “Kurama”. Eizan-dentesu is a quaint local train and many intervening stations were un-manned (meaning that passengers had to get off from the first door so that the driver could collect the fare). Our slow train gradually climbed into the mountains and beautiful scenery unfolded as we went. (The train actually had seats placed parallel to the side windows so passengers could view the scenery comfortably facing front without having to turn their heads). 

We got off at the terminus, Kurama station. We walked easily to Kurama-dera temple. Next question was how far we had to walk/climb to attain the mountain path I remembered. I somehow thought it was an easy reach from Kurama station but it was not. (We found that there is little level ground in the mountains you are either walking relentlessly up or relentlessly down.) The path on this side of the mountain was relentlessly up. In addition to a short cable car ride, we had to climb numerous stone stairs, paths, and steps which were cut into the ground. We came across several temples and shrines of sorts along the way. After some way up, we felt we were deep in the mountains with dense stands of Japanese cedar trees soaring straight to the sky on both sides of the trail. The air was much cooler (this was a rather hot day) leaving our skin feeling clammy cool. Something that can not be captured in pictures were the continuous sounds of cicadas, other insects, and birds. We saw a small snake, brought to our attention by a lady hiker running past shouting "hebi…hebi" (snake, snake). We turned in time to see the creature slither off the path in the opposite direction of the screaming hiker. Finally, we saw the exposed tree roots on packed dirt that I remembered.

At this point, we had come half way along the route. Initially we were not sure we could walk all the way to “Kifune”. My wife said “I am not going back down the steps we’ve already climbed. Lets keep going”. That settled it. Forward and onward! The rest of the way was relentlessly down hill. This was not as bad as climbing. Although many steps had been painstakingly cut into the earth of the mountain path, we felt in some cases they actually made the walking more difficult. If the packed dirt and tree roots were kept as they were, it may have been easier to walk as long as it was not wet or muddy. Finally after 2 hours of climbing and walking on the stairs and mountain path, we heard the water running and saw the top of the tiled roofs. We knew we were finally at “Kifune”.

Coming down the last stretch of steep steps, we saw “Kawadoko” 川床. I had read about these restaurants in Kifune but this was not what I had imagined. Kawadoko is somewhat similar to Suzumi-doko* 涼み床 but better. Although we were supposed to skip lunch so that we could go to the Izakaya early, this view of kawa-doko changed our minds. We did not do any “research” (i.e. look up on the web) but we decided to have a lunch at “Kiraku” 喜らく. It was expensive especially for a lunch but we could not pass this unique opportunity.

The customers were seated (shoeless) on low, platforms suspended over the shallow river bed. The river bed was paved with cement embedded with stones and the water ran swiftly over descending rapids with a loud rushing sound. We were so close to the water we could have put our feet in. (My wife said she almost did while attempting to remove her sandals). The rapidly moving water served as a natural “air conditioner” cooling things by several degrees. The nice sound of rushing water further enhancing the cool feeling as well as muffled conversation from nearby tables. Please see the picture below and I also added a short video (below).

*Suzumidoko: We had spent an evening on Suzumi-doko in an old Japanese restaurant 料亭 on Ponto-cho 先斗町 some years ago. Prime seating was au fresco on a deck or veranda built over the flood plain of the Kamo river 鴨川. The idea is that the cool air created by the river going under and over the suzumi-doko served as a natural air conditioner making the hot humid summer evenings of Kyoto more tolerable while dining.


The above picture was the up-river view from where we were seated. The entire platform was just for us. The bamboo blind provided privacy from the diners next door. Please see the video below for the full effect of view and sound.

This was the most reasonably-priced lunch on the menu. Goma-dofu 胡麻豆腐, mountain vegetable tempura 山菜の天ぷら, cold somen noodle with poached egg 素麺の温泉卵 and several more small dishes. We thought this was quite a feast for lunch. But then, the second course appeared which was grated  mountain yam and Carp* "arai" sashimi* 鯉のあらいの山芋かけ which was a rather elaborate and filling dish.

*Eating raw fresh water fish is risky because of the parasites they may carry. In this type of Japanese restaurant, I was told that they only use specially "cultivated" carp for eating raw not wild. So the risk of parasites is said to be nonexistent. Since these raw carp dishes were being served in many reputable restaurants, I have to trust their safety. I don’t think, however, carp is worth ordering if you have a choice.


We forgot that we ordered an additional grilled sweet fish 鮎の塩焼き.


We did not know but they also served mushroom rice, soup and assorted pickled vegetables 漬け物.


Although we barely touched the rice, at this point, both of us were quite full and it was very unlikely that we would be hungry again at 4:30pm when Akagaki-ya opens. Nevertheless, this was a quite a experience and we were glad we did it. It was like a grand Japanese style reward at the end of the arduous hike.

We took a bus to Kifune-guchi station 貴船口駅. It was a paved road but very narrow, in some segments, it was not possible for two cars to pass. In addition, many tourists were walking along the road making driving even more difficult. We were glad we took a bus rather than walking. From Kifune-guchi station, we took the slow local train again back to civilization.

To make the day count, we got off the subway at 4-jo Kawaramachi 4条河原町 to do some shopping on the way back. We went to several of our favorite stores including the doll store which my wife really likes. We even managed to go to Nishiki ichiba 錦市場 and bought a few items including small containers to serve Japanese delicacies. At this point, we gave up on going to Akagaki-ya since we were not yet hungry and it was almost 5pm. Again we decided to go to our back-up Izakaya later when we were hungry.

This one is called "Kurakura" 倉蔵. It is hidden in the small alleyway but is in walking distance from our hotel. Although food could have been better, we had many choices of excellent sake as a de fact-sake sommelier (wife of the owner??) took interest in us and let us taste and served sake herself.  (Akagaki-ya does not have a good variety of sake). So we were quite satisfied. We declared our visit to Kyoto another resounding success and walked back to our hotel.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Grilled walnut miso 焼きクルミ味噌

One of the things I like best about “eating out”, in addition to the food itself of course, is the inspiration I get from finding new dishes. This is an example of one such inspiration. It is my attempt to reproduce the grilled walnut miso we had at Honoka. I made two attempts and the second one was much better which is the one shown below. It tasted very similar to what we had at Honoka.

Miso: For this, I used "awase-miso" 合わせ味噌 made of soy bean but using both rice and wheat "kouji" 米麹、麦麹 thinking this kind of miso would be savory and a bit sweeter but not too sweet for this dish but, I am sure, any good quality miso will do.

Walnuts: I used American black walnuts (whole). My wife toasted them in the toaster oven for me and rubbed the skin off using a dish towel. I chopped up half.  I ground the remaining half in a Suribach すり鉢 mortar to make smooth walnut paste.

The amount is arbitrary but for two small bamboo spatulas (below), I used about 2tbs of the miso and 1 tbs of the walnuts paste. I mixed in mirin to adjust the consistency and sweetness (about 1-2 tbs). I tasted this mixture and was satisfied with the balance of saltiness and sweetness and did not  add any sugar. I then mixed in the chopped walnuts (2 tbs).

I smeared the miso mixture thinly on both bamboo spatulas (these are a bit larger than ones at Honoka). I grilled the miso using a direct gas fire. I used a low flame and grilled them from few inches above the flame. I did it slowly and it took about 5 minutes as I moved the spatulas to make sure the entire surface was evenly grilled and not too quickly charred (see below).

This was not bad for a quick re-production. It had plenty of walnut flavor and savory miso was not too sweet or salty which was enhanced by the grilling process. This was indescribably good between sips of sake. It also took us back to the great time we had at Honoka.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Shuhai, Akita city, 酒盃 秋田市

We arrived at Akita city 秋田市 in the late afternoon via Akita Shinkansen 秋田新幹線------the slowest shinkansen ever! We tooled along at 30 MPH because recent heavy rains caused major flooding, mudslides and undermined the rails. When the train slowed to a crawl through one damaged section we saw where a raging river had over run and destroyed the dykes on its banks, threatened farm houses and deposited debris all over the fields. At the slow speed we could take in all the details including the disturbing sight of an over turned car rusting where the flood water had dumped it in the river bed. In addition, even without the weather related destruction, many segments of the Aikta shinkansen are single-track and we had to stop and wait for the opposing Akita shinkansen train to pass. Luckily the seats were comfortable and the service was impeccable as it can be only in Japan. (As soon as we sat down we were offered paper slippers and our choice of cold beverages). It did seem strange, however, to observe the destruction wrought by nature while riding in such comfort.

Upon exiting the station we could tell from the signs that the area around the station was populated with chain Izakayas. This must be the trend everywhere in Japan. But we had a reservation at the premier Izakaya called “Shuhai” 酒盃, which was written up by Kazuhiko Ota 太田和彦 and also recommended by the master of “Suiko” 酔香.

Since Shuhai was a bit far from our hotel, we took a taxi cab. When I told the driver our destination he immediately approved of our choice and went into a long dissertation on how things used to be "in the old days…." when drinking places in the neighborhood of Shuhai were crowded with people every night’. Then the cab driver started “interviewing” me. Asking such questions as: "Is she your wife?  Where do you live? How long have you lived there" (This seemed to be a regular occurrence on this trip. For some reason the cabbies saw our short time together as their opportunity to extract as much personal information as possible—all done very politely of course. Numerous cab rides ended up feeling like an “exclusive for CNN” at best or a security investigation at worst). Finally we arrived at Shuhai (Thank Goodness!).

This is the picture I took before going in. It is uncanny that this was early fall, yet, it looked like this was winter and snow should be piled up in front.
Shuhai outside

Inside was a bit dark with all dark wood decor. It was amazing to see that my name was posted on the "Getabako" 下駄箱 or shoe box (I made a reservation while we were in Kyoto. I suppose people who reserve get designated shoe boxes with their names on them). We deposited our shoes in the designated box and were ushered in. There were several semi private rooms as well as a second floor. We had reserved seats at the counter which seats 10 people. We really liked the looks of this place and the fact smoking was not permitted at the counter. Behind the counter was a yaki-dai 焼台 where yakitori 焼鳥 was prepared. The back wall was lined with refrigerated cases with glass doors housing many large bottles of sake. To the right, out of view, was the main kitchen. The master greeted us (we were the first to be seated at the counter).  I asked about Suiko and Mr. Sugawara. The master told me that they worked together and every time he goes to Tokyo he stops by at Suiko.

Here was the otoshi. Does this look familiar; six items like at Suiko.
Shuhai otoshi
We asked for a recommendation of dry and non-dry sake. Again, all the sake we tasted were wonderful. Describing the subtle differences among these special  sake is beyond our ability.
Shuhai sake 5
(From left to right)
1. 天の戸 芳醇《超辛口》純米【生】原酒 天辛,浅舞酒造 秋田県横手市  Ten-no-to,  Ultra dry, Un-pasteurized Junmai Genshu, Asamai Shuzou, Yokote
2. 角右衛門 純米大吟醸 秋田こまち仕込,木村酒造 秋田県湯沢市 “Kakuemon”, Junmai Daiginjo, Akita-komachi rice, Kimura Shuzou. Yuzawa

We ordered Sashimi-assortment 刺身の盛り合わせ. It was good combination including a type of blow fish or “Fugu” ふぐ.
Shuhai sake 6

1. 雪の茅舎・秘伝山廃純米吟醸 齋彌酒造店 秋田県由利本荘市 Yukono-bosha, Special “Yamahai” Junmai Ginjo, Saiya Shuzou, Yuri-Honjou city
2. 鳥海山 純米吟醸酒 びん火入れ 天寿酒造 秋田県由利本荘市, “Choukaisan”, Junmai Ginjo, Bottle pasteurized, Tenjishuzou, Yuri-Honjou city

Next we ordered “Kakiage” かき揚げ of shrimp えび and lily root 百合根. I like edible lily root or “Yurine” (Please be aware most lily roots are poisonous and not to be eaten—“so don’t try this at home”). This was a bit unusual. Instead of an usual flat disk like shape, this one was a nice round sphere like a small baseball. The lily root had a nice starchy and sweet taste. The surface was nicely crunchy. Need more sake.

Shuhai sake 2

1. 雪の茅舎 純米吟醸生原酒 山田穂 齋彌酒造店 秋田県由利本荘市 Yukinobosha, Junmai Ginjo, Un-pasteurized “Genshu”, Yamada-ho rice, Yuro-Honjou city
2. まんさくの花 純米大吟醸 生詰原酒 雄町酒 日の丸酒造 秋田県横手 “Mansaku” flower, Junmai Daiginjou, “Namazume” (not sure if this is non-pasterized or pasteurized in the bottle) “Genshu”, Omachi rice, Hinomaru Shuzou, Yokote

We then tried Yakitori. I am not sure what we had but, for sure, skin, neck meat (seseri せせり) and tsukunes つくね and probably more. As usual, our collective memories were getting feeble.
Shuhai sake 3

1. 雪の茅舎 製造番号 百六十六酒 大吟醸生酒 齋彌酒造店 秋田県由利本荘市 Yukonobosha, Serial number 166, Daiginjou, Un-pasteurized, Saiya Shuzou, Yuri-Honjou city

I do not recall we ever tasted sake which bears a hand-written numbers. It looks like Yamada-Nishiki rice was ground to 35%. This may be an example of “giving gold coins to the cats” “or "Neko ni koban 猫に小判"  (Japanese proverb) although we enjoyed tasting it.

2. 天の戸 夏田冬蔵 純米大吟醸 浅舞酒造 秋田県横手市 “Amanoto”, Natsuda Fuyuzou, Junmai Daiginjo, Asamai Shuzou, Yokote

Suiko sake 1

1. 太平山 純米吟醸 無濾過 生 『津月』(つづき)小玉醸造 秋田 Taiheizan Junmai Ginjo, Unfiltered, Un-pasteurized “Tsuzuki”, Kodama Brewery,
2. やまとしずく 純米吟醸 生原酒 秋田清酒 秋田県大仙市 Yamatoshizuku, Junmai Ginjo Unpasteurized Genshu, Akita Seishu brewery, Daisen city

Although all the sake we tasted was great, we chose “Yamato-shizuku” as our drinking sake for this evening. We ordered a few more dishes. We had what was listed as “Squid Okizuke” イカの沖漬け but it turned out to be quite unusual. This was the whole body of squid with innards preserved (but cartilage removed) which was marinated and then frozen. The master himself sliced it for us and served with alternating layers of cucumber still semi-frozen. I have never seen this presentation for “Okizuke”. We must have had more food. I should have taken more pictures of the food we had.

In any case, this was a quite an evening. We were lucky to have so many rare and excellent “Akita” Jizake 秋田の地酒 and excellent food in the great “farm” house atmosphere.

One of the wait-staff hailed a taxi and saw us off. The streets of Akita on our return trip to the hotel were desolate and dark, not like Sapporo or Tokyo. As soon as the meter started so did the “interview”. It was cut short however, by our arrival at the hotel. The entrance was flooded with some very very happy people, laughing, waving and shouting to each other. Most were shouldering large cardboard cases labeled beer or sake. Apparently a banquet or wedding reception was just breaking up and everybody seemed extremely happy with the door prizes—the cases they were hefting. Or maybe they were just happy because they had been sampling the contents of the boxes all evening…we fit right in.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tokyo Izakaya Part 3 東京の居酒屋 パート3

Shuan Suiko、Oshiage 酒庵 酔香 押上

Despite some residual effects from the night before with Dave and Tobias, we recovered well enough to visit Suiko in Oshiage near the Skytree. This is also another recommendation from Jon of EOITWJ. Being full fledged tourists, we spent some time in Asakusa 浅草 including Kappabashi 合羽橋 (We have been in Asakusa so many times but we still visit every time we are in Tokyo). We even went up the Skytree before visiting Suiko.
2013-09-06 14.39.35
From Oshiage station, we consulted the map from their website (Beta version of Google map pedestrian edition gave extremely convoluted routes) and walked down the street of Oshiage. It had an atmosphere not unlike Musashi Koyama we had visited a few nights ago. The speeding bikes on the sidewalk lent an air of risk and excitement that was missing at Musahi Koyama. We arrived at Suiko but we were about 30 minutes early. So, we walked to the  small bridge (Jikkenbashi 十間橋) over the canal (kita-jikken-gawa, 北十間川) from Sumida river 隅田川. Surprisingly, quite a few people crowded the sidewalk of the bridge; some with heavy duty cameras and tripods. We asked what was going on and they explained that this was a perfect spot to take a night time picture of the Skytree because its lights would be reflected in the water of the canal. They were waiting for the sun to go down but advised that we shouldn't take pictures right at sunset but should wait until it got darker so the lights would be more visible. They were full of helpful advise and all but gave us aperture and f-stop. It must have been at least an hour before sunset but people had already staked out their prime positions. They were very dedicated amateur photographers. In any case, we left them to their task and went back to Suiko.
We stepped into the izakaya and it was like stepping back in time. The master, Sugawara-san 菅原さん told us that it was originally an old liquor store or “Sakaya” 酒屋. He bought it, restored it, and made it his Sake bar/Izakaya in 2010--about 4 years ago. The store front really looked like an old  “Sakaya” 酒屋. It reminded me of those I saw in my (very) early childhood. I even remembered that Sakaya sold,  miso and soy sauce in addition to sake (at least the one near my parents’ house did). You could even buy the sake or other items in the exact amount you wanted. To do this, you had to bring your own containers. So if you could afford only 1-go 一合, which is 180ml, of sake, you would bring your Tokkuri 徳利 container and they would sell you just 1-go of sake). In any case, I could easily imagine what this place was like when it was still a store. It must have been a very old fashioned “Sakaya”.

The inside was like the outside, nicely restored with dark wood and large sake bottles lining the shelves around the perimeter. I felt like I was in my mother's house except the sliding doors moved smoothly and didn't stick.The counter was L-shaped and sits about 10. We were the second group of the evening. Mr. Sugawara and his wife were somewhat reserved and polite yet very friendly and interactive when we asked questions. We started with his recommendation of both dry and non-dry sake. These were the first three he offered.
Suiko sake 1
All sake tasted great. It is amazing that you can have this high quality from Junmai, Junmai Ginjo classes.  I will mostly just list what we tasted.

(From left to right)
1. 鳳凰美田 剣 辛口純米 瓶燗火入, 栃木県, Houou Biden,  “Tsurugi”, Dry Junmai, Pasteurized in the bottle, Tochigi prefecture.
2. 川鶴 ひやおろし 讃岐 よいまい 純米無濾過, 香川県, Kawa-tsuru, Hiya-oroshi, Non-filtered, Junmai, Kagawa prefecture.
3. 雪の茅舎 純米吟醸 ひやおろし, 秋田県, Yuki-no Bosha, Hiya-oroshi, Junmai Ginjo, Akita prefecture.
Suiko otoshi
The otoshi お通し were one of the most extensive we have ever seen (that was until we visited Shuhai 酒杯 in Akita 秋田 few days later). These otoshi items reflect Mr. Sugawara’s approach to foods which compliment sake. Six items were served in this seemingly custom made plate of six compartments. Although we cannot recall all the details, this is what we remembered; the boiled peanuts in a shell (left upper) was surprising. We thought this type of peanut preparation happened only in the Southern states of the U.S. like Georgia. Boiling it brought out the “legume” rather than the "nut" flavor of peanuts and made them a more suitable snack for sake. The upper middle is “Shira-ae” 白和え with persimmon and walnuts. My wife liked it very much and whispered to me “Can you make this at home?” (Of course I can, dear.) Right upper is fried and seasoned vegetables somewhat like “age-bitashi” 揚げ浸し, lower left is asparagus with Japanese-style dressing, the lower center is potato salad with smoked pickled daikon (“Iburi-gakko" いぶりがっこ from Akita). The last is nice gentle tasting つくね “ground chicken ball”. All of these food really complemented but not compete with the subtle favors of sake.
Suiko katuso
The second dish we had was this bonito tataki or "katsuo no tataki" 鰹のたたき (this must be “modori-gatsuo” 戻り鰹 or “returning bonito”; the main bonito season is spring but it comes back in the fall). This was excellent but the sauce was miso-based which is, to me, a bit unusual for bonito and was fairly assertive for the delicate flavors of the fish.
Suiko Sake 2
The above was the second round.
(From left to right)

1. 聖 無濾過 生酒、群馬県, Hijiri, Muroka, Namazake, Gunma prefecture.  This is a bit of mystery sake. A portion of the main label appears to be painted over and I did not take a clear picture of the sub-label but I can see that  it was non-filtered and un-pasteurized. I have to guess this is the “junmai” class. If I remember correctly, it still had slight effervescence with gentle clean taste. The master may have gotten a special sake from this brewery.
2. 繁桝 特別純米 ひやおろし、福岡県, Shigemasu, Tokubetsu-junmai, Hiya-oroshi, Fukuoka prefecture. This is a rather dry sake but nice rounded flavor.
3. 貴 純米吟醸 備前雄町,  山口県, Taka, Junmai Ginjou, Bizen Omachi, Yamaguchi prefecture. This is clean tasting with some acidity at the end and we really liked this one. We ordered "Taka" as this evening’s sake for us.

We felt the same way at “Honoka” that the depth and width of sake you can taste in Japan is amazing. We learned that many sake are very seasonal and available only for a specific period. For example, "hiya-oroshi" and "aki-agari" are only available in autumn. Unpasteurized sake are not readily available in the U.S. and you have to come to Japan to taste it.

We did not know what “hiya-oroshi” ひやおろし meant until then and we asked Mr. Sugawara. He was very kind to explain that “Shinshu” 新酒 or new sake in the Spring (which could be a bit sharp or un-balanced) was pasteurized (either in the bottle or in the tank) and then aged until fall to make it a  more round and mature sake. Later we also learned the process called “Aki-oroshi” 秋おろし when we visited “Tako Grill” in Kuroishi, in which un-pasteurized shinshu 新酒 was low-temperature aged in minus 4 degree Celsius (that is below freezing) until fall; different kinds of aging process to the same aim of making great sake. In any case, these are the class of sake we can enjoy only in fall.

With our “Taka”, we ordered more food. Our memory is fuzzy from around this time but we had nice assortment of home-made smoked items, mizu-nasu 水茄子 or special eggplant which is being eaten raw, and more.

As we were enjoying the sake and food, we noticed a tabby cat looking out longingly from the inner tatami room through the glass portion of shouji 障子 sliding doors. Occasionally, Mrs. Sugawara opened the door and played with the cat. This cat was so adorable and entertained us for some time.

It so happened that Mr. Sugawara was from Akita 秋田. Since we are heading to Akita next, I asked his recommendation of Izakaya. Without hesitation “Shuhai” 酒杯 was mentioned. I have also noted this place since it was mentioned in one of the Izakaya books by Kazuhiko Ota 太田和彦. He said he worked with the master of Shuhai and every time he visit Akita he would stop by. We ended up going to Shuhai which is the subject of another post.

To avoid any ill effects  the next morning, we called it quits sort of early and said good night and "gochisou-sama" ごちそうさま to both Mr and Mrs Sugawara. We were curious what happened to the photographers on the Jikken bridge and walked back to the bridge. There were many more photographers camped out than before, some with professional large frame cameras and some with point-and-shoot cameras. My wife joined in (with her Nikon DSL) and snapped the picture below. We thought our timing was pretty good. While the other photographers waited on the bridge for the sun to go down and darkness to deepen, we retired to the izakaya for some good food and drink, arrived at just the right moment and snapped the pic over the heads of the other photographers--not bad.
skytree at nite
We leisurely walked back to Oshiage station at the base of the Skytree in the nice cool evening. We passed numerous small eating places. Some were empty, some had several old men in undershirts drinking and talking, others full of businessmen in suits. It was quite a diorama of life in the town. What a wonderful day we had. No confusing subway transfer this time to get to our hotel.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tokyo Izakaya Part 2 東京の居酒屋 パート2

Honoka, Musashi Koyama 穂のか、武蔵小山

Before we visited Japan, we consulted the preeminent Izakaya expert, Jon of EOITWJ, and this was one of his recommendations. In addition, Rebecca of “Ichi for the Michi” has more than one extensive and detailed discussion of this place. This post is just to preserve our own “sake pickled” memories of the evening we spent there.

I called Musashi Koyama from the U.S. to make a reservation. I had to call early in the morning my time aiming at just before opening at 6pm Japan time. I was not sure if the master indeed recognized this reservation was made from the U.S. Nevertheless, on the second night in Tokyo with some jet lag lingering, we ventured out to Musashi Koyama 武蔵小山. You have seen the front of Honoka before in the aforementioned blogs but this is a must-have shot. I think we tasted a few from the list in the front of the store which appears to be updated frequently.
“Try not to be late” (in our case we had three transfers of metro and train lines from Ginza) but it is difficult pinpointing “on time”, as must happen to many people who don’t actually live in the neighborhood, we arrived early. After confirming the location of our destination and taking a picture of the store front, we killed time by wandering around the downtown (or main street) of Musashi Koyma until the opening time. It is a very quaint suburb and it was kind of nostalgic (for me) and interesting (for both of us).
IMG_0457Of course, we noticed the port hole building as soon as we came out of the narrow alleyway where Honoka is located and snapped the obligatory picture of “the house of the twenty port holes”.

Although, we knew by the description we read that this place was small, it was smaller than we expected. The  L-shaped counter will sit two at the shorter end and 5 or 6 at the longer end. The toilet was clean and functional but the door is multi-segmented to accommodate the tight space. The master, his assistant  (wife?) and young “arubaito girl” アルバイトの女の子 or “arbeiten Mädchen” (meaning part time help) appeared to be the complete complement of staff.

Although the izakaya was not full, we were somewhat disappointed to find our assigned seats at the shorter end of the counter behind the “frying” or “grilling” station. The partition protecting patrons from accidental splashes from the fryer served as a very effective barrier isolating us from the rest of the counter and any communication with the master (albeit the upper half was transparent plastic). I had been looking forward to interacting with him but all communications went through the “arubaito” girl or “assistant”. This included some chiding “If you wanted to order more sashimi you should have kept your soy sauce plates”. There were only 3 other customers and one left fairly early so the long counter in front of the master remained completely vacant while we were delegated to huddle behind the fryolator. This is not to say, we did not enjoy the sake and food. There is no question, the master knows his sake. The food he prepared was excellent. Here is our account of what we enjoyed.

The followings are the sakes we enjoyed from the amazing collection of sake available. One thing that impressed us (and we also found at other sake-oriented Izakayas in Japan) is that there were so many good sakes in hon-jouzou 本醸造, tokubetsu junmai 特別純米酒, junmai 純米酒 and jumnai ginjou 純米吟醸酒 classes, particularly if you know how to identify these good ones. Dry or savory, all the sake we tasted were good and I am not capable of describing them in detail (please refer to two posts of Honoka which contains an extensive description of the sake she tasted at Honoka;  some overlapping with what we tasted).
sake 2
We started out with flights of dry and sweet sakes.

This is the line up of “dry” sake.(from left to right)
1. 三千盛 純米 超特 極め辛口, 岐阜県 Michi-sakari Junmai cho-toku extreme dry、Gifu prefecture
2. 白瀑 純米 ど辛+15, 秋田県 Shirataki Junmai do-kara (extreme dry), Akita prefecture
3. 山形正宗 辛口純米 Yamagata Masamune Kara-kuchi (dry) Junmai, Yamagata prefecture.

We liked all of dry sake here.
This is the line of “sweet” or non-dry sake (from left to right)

1. あぶくま純米吟醸雄町、福井県 “Abukuma” junmai ginjou Omachi, Fuku-i prefecture
2. 鍋島三十六万石 中汲み無濾過純米吟醸、佐賀県 Nabeshima naka-kumi, mu-roka (middle press, non-filtered) Junmai Ginjo
3. 鳳凰美田 Wine-Cell ワイン酵母仕込 純米吟醸 山田錦米 2012, 栃木県 Junmai Ginjo Fermented with Wine yeast, Yamada-nishiki, Tochigi prefecture.

Again, all were good. As to #3 sake, my understanding is that this is Houou Biden fermented using wine yeast. The portion we were served was turbid or “nigori” but other description of this sake appears to refer to clear sake. This one, to me, was too sweet. It needed more acidity to counteract.
Sake compoiste 2
(From left to right)

1. 純米天狗舞原酒, 石川県 Tengumai, Junmai Genshu, Ishikawa Prefecture
2. 磯自慢 特選 特別本醸造、静岡県 Isojiman toukusen tokubetsu honjouzou, Shizuoka prefecture
3. ソガペールエフィス Numero Six 純米吟醸 生原酒,  長野県 Sogga Pere et Fils “Numero Six” Junmai-ginjou Nama Genshu (Miyama Nishiki)、Nagano prefecture.

The last one here was brewed in Obuse Winery 小布施  using wine yeast. This one was called “Numero Six”, so possibly seventh batch of the year if the “Neuf” was not counted as “Numero One”. This was a just last dreg left in the bottle and may not be representative. Fairly subtle mild favor with some acidity reminiscent of Sauvignon blanc.


田酒 特別純米酒、青森県、Denshu Tokubetsu Junnmai, Aomori prefecture.

We must have asked for an another round of Izojiman since the bottle appeared again. We must have really liked this Tokubetsu honjouzou Isojiman. This really tells you the depth of sake in Japan. Surely Izojiman Daiginjo is nice any time any where but even this “lower” class Isojiman, it held its own and we really enjoyed it.

As to the food, it was also superb. Here is the assorted sashimi.. Tuna and shime saba しめ鯖 were especially good.
I am sure we are missing few items since I am not as a good picture taker as other bloggers. It was my impression that when at Honoka, this is the must-order item; assorted flavor grilled miso. These are perfect small nibbles between sips of sake. We particularly liked the walnut miso (Since my gig is to make Izakaya dishes, this will be reproduced soon). We expected the “Uni” one to be better.
miso grilled
I am sure we had one serving of this dish before the miso; Sea urchin from Hokkaido. But it was so good we ordered another. This definitely was not previously processed but removed from the shell by the master himself.
After we ordered “Squid Okizuke”, the master recommended (through intermediary) this dish; shark cartilage dressed in salted plum さめの軟骨の梅和え. This was with  nice crunch but quite salty.
shark cartilage
We could not pass genuine Hokkaido shishamo  北海道本シシャモ.
The check, at least by our standards, seemed reasonable after the extravagant feast and sake tasting. If we did the equivalent of this evening (although it is just not possible anyway) in the U.S., the bill would have been three or four times larger.

We staggered to Musashi Koyama station. I thought I had it all figured out how to back track the way we had come. We took the train to Meguro 目黒. From Meguro we were to take the Mita line  三田線 to Mita and change to Higashi-ginza line 東銀座線, sounds easy. After taking the subway from Meguro, however, I noticed that the first two stations were correct but the 3rd and 4th were not. So we got off hastily at Roppongi 1-chome (In retrospect, we took Nan-Poku line 南北線 instead of Mita line). We emerged to the surface in a very high end residential neighborhood with lush greenery and big mansions. It was fairly dark with a blustery tropical wind blowing. This did not look like in the middle of Tokyo. We were not entirely sure where we were. In addition to absence of neon lights was an absence of taxis. After some effort, we finally found one and the ride to our hotel was, fortunately, fairly short.