Journal entries from November 2013

2013 Gift Guide: Day Six



Vintage Menu Cards 

My favorite find on last year’s gift guide was the vintage menu posters from Cool Culinaria.  If you haven’t already found this website, you have a pleasant treat ahead. Browsing the blog I see it’s grown since last year, adding impressive additions from two famous menu collectors, along with an expanded cocktail collection and a really wonderful new group of Chinese restaurant menus.


But their newest offering is a collection of vintage menu cards,  that would make absolutely ideal presents for almost everyone who still employs a pen. 

Boxed in sets of ten, the cards are grouped in sets from

Los Angeles





New York


New Orleans




If you’re looking to please people who aren’t urban dwellers, there’s an American collection, which has cards from all over (including Pullman dining cars), a collection from the West, and a fantastic drink and cocktail collection that should work for just about anyone else. 

OLD_WEST_NOTECARD_BOX_FRONT_compact Drink_cards_web_medium America_cards_web_medium

 At $19.95, it’s a thoughtful way to remind friends that you’d like to hear from them once in a while. 


2013 Gift Guide Day Five:

The Perfect Gift for Tomato-Lovers (and isn't that all of us?)


I met the Tomato Independence Project people in Boise Idaho last fall, and fell in love with both their project and their tee-shirts.


Their goal: Making sure that 20% of food consumption in the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Oregon is local by 2020.  

Their method: For starters, encouraging everyone to grow their own tomatoes. 

Since the average American eats more than 90 pounds of tomatoes every year, it seems like an obvious place to begin. As they say in Boise, “life’s too short for tasteless tomatoes.” 

Their tee-shirts: Pre-shrunk, made of organic cotton, not available anywhere else. 

$29.99 each. 



2013 Gift Guide: Thanksgiving Day

Recipe Plates


Somehow this seems like the perfect present to contemplate on America’s great family food holiday.  

If you send artist Ruthie K. Sutter a picture of a favorite recipe - or the recipe itself - she’ll bake it right onto a plate.  One recipe would be a great gift, but a set of 6 different recipes.... would be especially swell. 

Recipe plates ship in 2-3 weeks, so there's still time.

At $48 it’s a very thoughtful way to remind someone that you love them. And while I've got you - happy Thanksgiving!




2013 Gift Guide: Day Three

A Great Bowl


Museum stores are a great place to look for unusual gifts - but they tend to have a suspicious sameness. Seattle’s quirky Frye Museum is different. Filled with odd and interesting items, it’s a perfect place to troll for gifts.  


One I particularly like is this porcelain bowl by  Aleksandra Pollner, a Polish artist who lives and works in Seattle. Molded from a rock she found in a Washington state river, it has a delightfully eccentric elegance. It costs $185, and one thing’s for sure: this present is not likely to be duplicated. (Click here to see more of Pollner’s wonderful work.) 



2013 Gift Guide: Day Two


Wild Alaskan King Crab 

I’ve loved Copper River Salmon from the first moment I tasted it.  And not just because the flavor is so rich and delicious - and so different from the lazy farmed salmon we most often eat.  I also like the spirit of this fishery, which is locally owned and entirely sustainable.

Salmon’s not in season at the moment, but the Copper River Seafoods  website offers an entire range of products, from frozen salmon (Coho, Sockeye) to smoked and canned products.  This time of year, however,  their various Wild Alaskan King Crab offerings are most intriguing.


Ten pounds of Red King Crab legs would make a very regal present - or a fine holiday feast if you’re inclined to treat yourself. 

Prices (which include shipping), range  from $99 to $180 dollars for ten pounds.




2013 Gift Guide: Day One

Salad Cutaway

The geniueses at Modernist Cuisine have so many cool products it's hard to know where to begin: you could please just about any cook with a gift from their product line.  They've got products to help you cure, foam, fry, sweeten, stablilize, thicken and transform. Even the pickiest food nerd would be thrilled to get one of their spherification kits. (So, for that matter, would I.)

But their latest invention sounds coolest of all. While many of these products are fairly arcane, this one has only one desire: to help you make a better pizza. The Modernist Cuisine Baking Steel turns an ordinary home oven into a blast furnace.  The baking surface has a thermal conductivity eighteen times greater than that of a ceramic pizza stone; as a result pizzas cook faster and come out crisper. You put the steel into the oven an hour ahead of time and let it get glowing hot.  It will then cook a pizza  in four minutes flat. And since it retains heat, once it's ready you can keep cooking pizzas to your heart's content. 

It costss $99 - and makes a very hot gift.



Another Great New Product

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Just back from the Berkshire Farmers' Market where I found a new (to me, anyway) product:

Carr's Ciderhouse Apple Cider Syrup.  Couldn't wait to try it, so I roasted the butternut squash I'd also bought at the market, and then mashed it with some salt, butter and generous lashings of the syrup. It's going to be great with the ham we're having for dinner.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apple Cider Syrup

Cut the squsah in half, which is the hardest part of this entire recipe. Remove the seeds, put it in a roasting pan, cut side down, with a little bit of water and roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. Let it cool, then squish it out of the skin and mash.  

Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste and allow the butter to melt.  Splash in some of the syrup; I used a couple of tablespoons, but you might want to use more.

At the very end, I stirred in some pomegranate seeds. Great for color and crunch.


Serves 4-6. 





Things I Love


Photo (95)

I've had a long love affair with the pickled "plums" (they're actually apricots) of Japan.  I love to start the day with ume tea, and I try  to end every sushi meal with a handroll of rice and yama imo sparked with sweetly salty umeboshi paste.

But on this trip to Japan I discovered the many varieties of ume pickles, which run an entire gamut of flavors and textures. The plums can be hard or soft, sweet or salty; the kind I ended up bringing home are lightly grilled, which brings out another aspect of their character.  

Photo (96)

In Japan good umeboshi can be very expensive; this little jar was $15, which means that the plums themselves were more than $2 each.  Well worth it, I think.  I've been eating them with nothing more than a warm bowl of rice - a perfect breakfast.

I'm about to start looking for a source of great umeboshi on this side of the Pacific; all suggestions will be gratefully received.






Notes from Japan: Kikunoi, Kyoto


This golden sake cup, almost weightless and just large enough to cup comfortably in your hand, seems like the perfect symbol for the serenely elegant Kikunoi. The restaurant quietly strives for a luxurious and old-fashioned perfection.  Chef Yoshihiro Murata has described himself as trying to "accurately communicate Japanese food to the world."  

A few hours at Kikunoi is very much like going back to another time when women in kimono entered tatami rooms and knelt to serve you a parade of poetic courses. 


The first offering in this meal for "the season of frost"  arrives wrapped in a scroll of paper, with a gingko leaf adorning the top.  Open it up and this is what your find:


Poached ankimo with mibuna and shimeji mushrooms

Karasumi (bottarga)

Duck liver pate with white poppy seeds, maple leaf made out of cuttlefish coated with egg yolk and uni in an edible basket woven out of kombu (the pine needles are actually noodles). 

At the very front, sake-glazed gingko nuts.

 Yuzu tofu inside a hollowed out yuzu with diced yuzu on top.

 Red snapper, prawn, vinegared chrysanthemum petals.

 Slices of young tuna with a thick sauce made of egg yolk and excellent soy sauce.


Tilefish steamed with chestnuts and millet in a chrysanthemum sauce.


Hiding inside this tiny vessel is an astonishing sorbet made of yuzu and wasabi; it has the same effect as the trou normande in a French meal. The spicy, icy shock completely clears your palate.


Barracuda grilled in cedar.


A lovely light salad of persimmon, daikon, carrot, chrysanthemum and mitsuba with sesame dressing and crab. We ate this so gratefully that it left us completely unprepared for the shock of the next course....


That large curve in the turnip and grilled onion soup is an entire shark fin.  We all looked down at our bowls in dismay.  Shark fin is enormously expensive, and Murata-san was honoring us by offering it in such profusion. But we've all pledged not to eat shark fin, and our soup went back to the kitchen untouched. Our hope: Murata-san will get the message.


Steamed rice with roe, napa cabbage soup, pickled thistle root.


A perfectly ripe Daishiro persimmon splashed with Cognac.


Chef Yoshihiro Murata with Hiro Sone of California's Terra and Ame.


Notes from Osaka: Hoshiyama

Down a crooked alley and then up three narrow flights of stairs. At the top, the usual sliding wooden door into a tiny restaurant: Sushi Hoshiyami is a counter with just 8 seats. 

But this sushi chef walks his own path.  He is young, with a shock of mod-cut hair, and a serious look that approaches a scowl. 


Without a word he hands us each a bowl of muzuku, and it feels like he means it as a challenge. 

I have a passion for this seaweed, although the kind I know, from Okinawa, is thinner and much slimmier than this Hokkaido version.  This one is crisp, snapping in the mouth.  He watches intently as we eat.  “You like?” he asks, peering at us with a puzzled expression.   

We like. He nods and hands the first piece of sushi across the counter.  “No soy sauce,” he says sternly, painting the tai with some elixir of his own.


In fact, as he hands one impeccable piece of fish after another across the counter, the mantra never changes.  “No soy sauce.”  This is sushi chef as control freak, carefully calibrating each bite. 

The fish is excellent, but it does not taste like any sushi I’ve eaten before.  The rice is chewier and saltier, which lends the fish a different flavor.  Even the ginger, eaten between bites, is salty, not sweet. 

The meal is long, slow deliberate.  The flavors I remember best:


this kohada.



 Wonderful chu-toro. 

An amazing shrimp - large, briny, more like lobster than any shrimp I’ve ever experienced. 


A sardine. 




Blood clam.



The flavors rise to a crescendo; in the middle there is an onslaught of very flavorful and oily fish. Then the curve moves downward, each fish becoming softer, gentler than the one before.  The final piece of sushi is this crab, which whispers into the mouth.

and is followed by the most concentrated tamago I’ve ever eaten.


It’s the one sweet thing we have all night.

It has been a fascinating new look at sushi: the salty rice, with very little wasabi, no nori, and just the slightest umami hint of soy sauce, formed a  frame around the fish, which seemed more naked, the flavors more exposed. To anyone accustomed to drowing sushi in that power pair of soy sauce and wasabi, it would be a revelation.



Notes from Osaka: Lunch at Kigawa


Trying to find the little alley we get lost three times. 

It’s disorienting, this city of Osaka, the way streets turn into bustling covered arcades filled with discount stores, fast food and pachinko parlors, and then morph into tiny ancient little alleyways, too small to be called streets.  Confusing, when someone tells you to turn on the next street, only to stand wondering if this little pathway between buildings - barely 2 feet wide - could properly be called a street.  Finally a bustling little woman takes pity on us and walks us to the door of the restaurant. 

After that it’s easy. 

Chef Osamu Ueno serves the same meal to all of his 12 customers, standing in front of you with his 6 assistants, the entire kitchen visible. Kigawa is credited as the father of the kappo ryori places - a restaurant where you eat in the kitchen, watching the chef slice sashimi, roast fish, arrange plates, and then serve the food directly across the counter.  For those of us who don't speak Japanese, kappo is easy; there's no need to order, and this tiny, friendly restaurant is a great place to discover what it’s all about. 


 The welcome. Bright green, bright flavor: spinach soup with a dashi base. (Notice the helpful translation.) 


Salad: burdock, mibuna stems, spinach in a sesame dressing.


Autumn on a plate: peanut chawan mushi, tofu with persimmon jelly, yama imo, duck, sawara, trout roe. In the front, the tiniest little potatoes, the size of a thumbnail.


Sashimi, painstakingly translated: tuna, spanish mackerel, blackthroat seaperch, barracuda, squid, saba, red snapper.


Soup: daikon, yuba, kinome in turnip broth.


Fried eel, fried taro, crab, shisito pepper.


Simmered daikon, shrimp, onions.


Part of the show: fileting mackerel.


Rosy pork, extraordinarily sweet, with grated taro enhanced with pork jus and a dab of mustard. 


Rice, pickles, miso soup, tea.


Final flavor: green tea, persimmon jellies. 

Kigawa (1-7-7 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku; tel: 06-6211-3030).


Notes from Japan: RyuGin

The more I remember about this restaurant, the more it blows me away.  It was so brilliant, in so many ways.

Thinking about RyuGin, in contrast to Kikunoi in Kyoto (notes on that meal still to come), makes it even more interesting. Because what chef Seiji Yamamoto is doing is, in some ways, so radical.  He situates his restaurant squarely in the kaiseki tradition while reinterpreting each dish in an extremely modern way. The result is breathtaking. 

Of all the meals I've had in Japan, I think this is the one that will linger in my mind.  It's not that it was better - we've had so much fantastic food - but I am fascinated by the way the chef is reimagining what kaiseki food might be.  It's extremely respectful reinterpretation; in the classic restaurants you feel you're tasting history, but this food wants to appeal to modern palates.  

The intentions are clear from the moment you walk in the door.  No kimono-clad women kneel to serve you, there are no tatami rooms, no removal of your shoes. It feels like a statement: if the old ryokans are taking you back to the Japan of long ago, this one is firmly anchored in the present  - and looking forward.

Many patrons stroll in clad in jeans and sneakers, but the restaurant maintains its dignity. Every detail has been carefully considered: just take a look at those beautiful long charcoal-grey napkins. You unfold one and the rectangle floats across your entire lap making you wonder why most napkins are square. But just as you are thinking this the first dish arrives, and you stop thinking about anything but the food.


First dish. 17 different vegetable:  julienned greens, pickled beets, mushrooms... You stir it all into its pinenut dressing and feel the flavors dance into your mouth.

Steamed abalone, which arrives covered by a ludicrously large shell, in an apple jelly vinaigrette, with wakame seaweed. The abalone,  tender and mild, is set off by the sweet sourness of the vinaigrette.


Chawan mushi with milt (shiroko). Soft soft with soft. It's milt season in Japan - we've eaten it everywhere - and it's the food I'll most miss when I leave.  Ttranslated as "children of the clouds,"  it seems more like the cloud itself to me.  We've had it deep-fried, rolled in squid ink, even pureed, but this presentation, on custard, emphasizes texture in a particularly wonderful way.


Matsuba crab from Sanin Bay is in season at the moment, and it should not be missed. What you can't see, hiding beneath that extraordinarily tender crab claw, is a crab dumpling wrapped in cabbage.  The contrast between the matsutake and the crab claw - same shape, similar texture - very eloquently marries the sea and the forest.

The sashimi course, clockwise:

sea bream, tai

raw spiny lobster

squid, so tender

shining silver skin fish

ankimo, with chrysanthemum stem.  The liver itself was smoked until it resembled the world's best liverwurst

smoked spanish mackerel

in the middle, cured strips of squid.


Sea perch, its skin coated in roasted rice and then grilled to crackling crispness on binchotan charcoal. So amazing. The texture is emphasized by being paired with meltingly soft taro brushed with black vinaiger, a nod to the charcoal. 


Prawn dumpling and turnip soup with yuzu citrus flavor. I'm not sure there's any way to explain how truly delicious this was. Imagine the most ethereal quenelle, made of seafood instead of fish, floating in the lightest turnip broth. Stunning!

Grass-fed wagyu beef with a deep fried, soft-boiled egg. Texture, temperature, richness....


Chicken rice.  Pickles, but so lightly done, they're almost fresh.  And miso soup made with prawn broth that still, this late in this large meal, managed to make me stop and pay my respects. Miso soup tends to be shy and retiring, but this one shouts out loud. It was the best  I've ever had.  

Moelcular kaiseki: a candy apple that explodes!  Crack open the hard candy shell and there's powdered apple inside . Next to it, a warm compote of apples.  Playful but serious, it's another little waltz of  temperature and texture. And also a nod to the apple vinegar jelly that was the second dish in the meal (this is the second to last).

Cold sake: soft serve ice cream.

Hot sake: a dense little souffle. 

An exuberant end to an extremely delicious and thought-provoking meal. 









Notes from Japan: Hyotei

When I think about Kyoto, it's Hyotei I'll remember best. The 400 year old restaurant is famous for its kaiseki dinners, but we went early in the morning for asagayu, a stunningly perfect breakfast.  Served in complete serenity, it's the most fitting way to begin a day in this city of temples. A moment not to be missed. 

The meal begins with a cup of warm, rosy ume tea. Such a welcoming flavor.


Then this little still life appears, held out by women in kimono: two tiny, tasty fish, a perfect chestnut, one gorgeously boiled egg, its yolk halfway between solid and liquid, two pristine pieces of seaweed-wrapped sushi and ginger.

Next a stack of ceramics arrives. Take them apart and you discover that each holds a different range of flavors. 

 Mibuna and  shimeji mushrooms.


Muzuku, daikon, crab.


 Yuba, kinome, and a wonderful substance that tasted to me like tofu laced with tiny roe. 

Then there is miso soup, a warm up to the main event.  All this has just been a prelude to the most exquisitely cooked rice porridge.


This is subtle food. The rice is soft but entirely intact,  served with a thick, slightly sweet, slightly salty syrup that tasted to me like  excellent soy sauce mixed with dashi.  Sprinkled with pickled turnip and tiny fish, this food forces you to eat slowly, thoughtfully, with concentration.  You look out at the garden, take another bite.  Sip some green tea.

As we were leaving....


...chef Yoshihiro Takahashi, the 15th-generation of his family to run Hyotei (which started as a tea house of the Nanzenji temple ) came out to feed the koi...


...who came rushing toward him. 

And who can blame them?


Notes from Japan: Miyamasou


The drive to Miyamasou is gorgeous. And harrowing. We twist our way up a misty mountain road, through fields, forests and Buddhist shrines.  As we rise higher the road narrows to a single lane, and we drive more and more slowly, peering into the mirrors at the curves to try to see what's coming toward us.

The sounds: waterfalls, babbling brooks, wind in the trees. The leaves are changing, becoming deeper red as we climb higher into the hills.

And then we are at the ryokan. The quiet is intense. A man dabbles in a small stone pond, netting fish. The entire staff rushes out to greet us, ushering us into the small, spare inn. Shoes are removed, tea is brought, and suddenly the entire world as we have known it drops away.  We are in another world, another time. 

The bath is spare, soothing, with a view to the trees and the brook running across the rocks just outside.  We wrap ourselves in robes, put on wooden sandals and make our way up the path to dinner. 

There are seven of us, seated around the chef who stands in the middle, cooking. The food goes from his hands to ours.  Each dish feels like a gift.


First flavor. (Note the lovely mioga.)


Ginko nuts in gingered miso, roasted in a leaf. 


Matsutake mushrooms.


 Shrimp, peanuts, ginko: and hidden away, deep in the back, a single bright red egg yolk.



There are many, many more courses. And then desert:


Persimmon. Grape sorbet. And a single, huge, glazed grape.

Across the road, to another bath, and big fluffy futons.


We wake to rain, which makes the ryokan even more otherworldly than the sunshine. A bath. And then what might be the world's best breakfast.





The trip down the mountain is even more harrowing in the rain. Half an hour down the road big trucks start rumbling toward us, and by the time we reach Kyoto, we're prepared for civilization.  But it's nice to know that Miyamasou is up there on the mountain, waiting.


Notes from Tokyo: Hachibei Yakitori


You know the minute you walk into this elegant little yakitori shop that you're going to eat well. Owner Katsunori Yashima is SERIOUS about his yakitori, and no matter how many meals you've already eaten when you walk in the door, near midnight, you're instantly hungry. It smells like chicken, like meat, like charcoal and like sake, which is what creates the steam.




The chicken is fantastic - every part is here - along with vegetables, velvety beef tongue, and pork belly that slides easily down the throat. (There's also a wide variety of other dishes: sushi, even dessert. But it's the yakitori that you come for.)

Yakitori Hachibei is also a great place to go when you're craving a break from sake: the wine list is long.




Notes from Tokyo: Les Creations de Narisawa

White. Pristine. Pure.  That's the impression you get when you walk in the door of this beautiful modern restaurant. All clean lines, white linen, sparkling glass. This spare room is a stage for the food: you sit down and wait for the curtain to rise.

The menu announces "The Autumn Collection: Evolve with the Forest."  So we're in fashion territory, as much as food.  And here is how we are wearing our bread and butter today:


The bread (well, to be honest, one of many fantastic breads) is baked right at the table, in a little stone crock.  It's wonderful stuff, chewy, laced with one of the Japanese lemons, and you take one bite, and then another, chasing the flavors until it's gone. The butter - dusted with charcoal, rolled in "moss" is irresistible too.

There are many dream-like courses.  This langoustine appears, clearly vying for the title of world's best-dressed crustacean. Lovely as it is, it tastes even better. 


Then there is  the amazing squid, which is dressed at the table in a nitrogeon vinaigrette, all showy misty, steam that slowly evolves into a wonderful sauce.  (And as soon as I figure out how to embed video in this blog, I'll show you how it begins with solids spooned onto the hot seafood, and deliquesces into a little river of the most delicious sauce.)

Then there is a soup, the intense broth made with this wicked creature, who proudly struts his stuff along the runway of the table, terrifying everyone: IMG_1812

 The broth has soft chunks of bitter melon that melt in your mouth, and fatty, chewy and yet somehow crisp chunks of pork.

Next came beautiful plates, each holding a package, tied up like a gift. Servers prance around the table, opening each one so that vaporous mist rises through the dining room, perfuming it with the scent of tilefish, matsutake mushroom and the turtle essence in which its all been cooked. 


Then the meat appears, a fashion statement, a vision in black.


It is quickly whisked away, to return wearing a new outfit:


Can you see the stripes of fat?  It's an amazing piece of beef, adorned with what may  be the tastiest little piece of onion I have ever tasted. 

Cheese is next; when did the Japanese start making cheese this good?  There's a washed rind cheese that reminds me of Epoisses - dense, runny, funky - and a cheddar-like cheese as well. Best of all? It comes with this bread:


After all this, you're expecting the dessert to be the bridal gown of this fashion event, and it does not disappoint.  It comes to the table in a flash of shape and color, and everyone gasps. They're gorgeous, these little pastries - although to be honest, they're made more for the eye as the mouth. 


 Les Creations de Narisawa.  If you go to Tokyo, go. As they say in France, vaut le voyage.




Notes from Tokyo: Tempura Tenko

This is not the Tokyo of Lost in Translation, with its towering buidings, neon skyline and efficient transportation. This is the Tokyo of your dreams, a tiny restaurant on an alley lined with charming old-fashioned houses.
Inside, the chef sits, surrounded by his guests, an actor on a stage as he performs an ancient food ritual, pulling one pristine piece of crisply fried food out of the bubbling pot in front of him, and then another. Each is perfectly cooked, completely grease-free, and each morsel speaks with its own voice.
It is a long, langorous, gracious meal. The chef's mother pours sake, brings dipping sauces, an acolyte in service of the dining experience.  Before the performance itself begins, she sets a plate of sashimi before you, perfect buri (large yellowtail), sweet, cold, rich. And then the show begins as chef Hitoshi Arai takes his seat and begins to cook.
A few highlights, among many:
Sweet, tiny fried shrimp, which put every other version I've ever tasted to shame.
Tiny crabs, all crackle and crunch. 
Cured squid: funky, intense, a flavor that stops you in your tracks and resonates in your mouth.
Got milt?  Yes indeed.  A substance unlike any other: imagine a custard contained in a cloud, something soft, tender, gentle.  Think of tofu, of an almost melted marshmallow.  The flavor: rather sweetbread like.  Wonderful stuff, this fish sperm.
Ginko nuts. In season now.  Soft. Subtle. Irresistible.
Fried fresh ginger.  The perfect palate cleanser.
This melon has ruined melon for me forever.  I've never tasted any fruit so perfect.
Ice cold. Juicy. Fragrant. Pure. It reminded me of what Durrell said of olives: "A taste as old as cold water."  


Tokyo: Sushisho Masa

Walking down the cramped, narrow stairs to Sushisho Masa, a 7-seat counter in Tokyo, I have no idea that this experience is going to forever change my standards for sushi.  

But as I inhale one extraordinary slice of fish after another, I begin noticing nuances of flavor I've never before experienced.  Chef Masakatsu Oka is a pleasant, modest man who bends over the fish with a tender expression, intent on his work, but you can taste his passion in every bite.  He's proud to answer every question: where was this fish caught?, how long was it cured?, why?  I notice that he's not wearing the standard sushi chef's apron, but that of a sumo wrestler. A message? IMG_1682

I'm not going to go through every course of a dinner that lasted 3 hours and included at least 35 different varieties of fish. But I'll mention a few favorites.


Sea grapes - a seaweed from Okinawa - that is among the most refreshing palate cleansers I've ever encountered.  Each little bubble pops in your mouth with a burst of brine. 



Wild octopus - remarkably tender, with a creamy custard-like layer just beneath the crisp tentacles. I've never tasted anything quite like it.


Uni from Hokkaido.  I've always thought Santa Barbara sea urchins were the best in the world. I was wrong.  



Sanma.  I wish I were a better photographer; this was so beautifully cut. And pure pleasure in the mouth. It was followed by the same fish, lightly grilled.


Tiny shrimp, each one no bigger than a fingernail, each one so soft and tender that it seems impossible it contains such depth of flavor.  


Karasumi - Japanese bottarga - the mullet roe cured to an entirely different taste and texture than any Mediterranean variety. Soft without being sticky, the surprise is that it is not in the least bit salty. If you close your eyes, you might be eating candy. 


Fluke - and its liver.  I expect the liver to resemble ankimo, the rich monkfish liver that is the foie gras of the sea.  But it is entirely different: softer and much more subtle in flavor.


Anago - sea eel - is a pure astonishment. It looks like every other piece of eel I've ever eaten, so I'm utterly unprepared  for the almost fluffy texture of the fish. Or for the way it simply vanishes, melting in my mouth like so much snow.  


Trout roe, which explodes in my mouth in a way you always wish caviar will, a tiny flood of flavor. The surprise here is, once again, that it is not the least bit salty.  Just the pure essence of fish. Hiding underneath is a small ball of Mr. Oka's rather amazing rice, which he mixes with four different kinds of vinegar.  

I'm skipping so many wonderful fish: small herrings, kohada, fantastic tuna, a tiny grilled fish I eat in one bite. But at the end there is this roll:


Toro, along with a strip of its own fat (Japanese lardo), and some finely julienned member of the onion family. Wrapped up in rice and seaweed, it makes me think of the motto of Prexy's, a long-gone New York restaurant: "the hamburger with a college education."  It's a very elegant translation - and one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted.

At the end, of course, there is tamago, a tiny square of mirin-enriched egg that is the perfect final flavor. Then we're bowed out the door and up the stairs, and into the raucous Tokyo night. 


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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.