Monday, March 28, 2005

Will the Papa Bear win a Sushido promotion?

I told you I'm on a savory kick! Here's another savory Japanese food post.

Today's post is about the Papa Bear's Sushido (the way of the Sushi) promotion dinner... Sushido uses the same ranking system as many martial arts disciplines, and I, as the founding matriarch of Sushido, have 100% rank-granting powers. Currently, my sister is the highest ranking sushido practitioner so far with a sandan/3rd degree black belt, and I consider myself only a shodan/1st degree black belt compared to her. If you want to be ranked, you'll have to take me out to a sushi/Japanese restaurant, and I will find a challenge during the dinner and promote you to the appropriate belt...

For the Papa Bear's Sushido promotion test, I decided to go to Kiss Seafood in SF, which until I discovered Yuzu, was my favorite Japanese place. Yuzu and Kiss are totally different experiences, specializing in completely opposite spectrums of Japanese food, with the price range as one of the only similarities... Oh yeah, and for me, the length of the drive from Dublin... I shouldn't be comparing apples and oranges (or yuzus - ha! I'm so funny sometimes), but for some reason, when I started going to Yuzu, I stopped going to Kiss. I think I'm just in a more sushi phase right now...

Anyway, The Taisho-san (The Big Leader - used to address The Chef when you don't know his name) at Kiss is a master of the dashi (Japanese broth used as a base for many dishes). His dashi is so deep with delicate flavor, it literally makes me pause to enjoy a moment of serenity. His restaurant is very small with five counter and two, three tables. I seem to gravitate towards smaller restaurants, especially for the personal interactions and often educational conversations I enjoy with The Chef. Kiss' strength is sublimely cooked, delicately seasoned food that brings a breeze of Kyoto in me.

We started out the evening with a small bowl of Hijiki, a Japanese seaweed, simmered in a sweet/savory sauce for a long, long time. My grandpa always told us that he used to eat buckets of this stuff all the time to prevent balding, because my mama told him he wouldn't be allowed to attend her wedding if went bald. He had a full head of hair at his funeral, so it must work... My pictures of the hijiki was uninspired - I msut've been too hungry to focus my thoughts on food photography...

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We moved on to the very fragrant cucumber/myoga topped soumen with sumiso. Myoga is a bulb-like plant that is harvested while the plant is still growing underground. It has a refreshing bitterness and a nice crunch. It is also known for making people forgetful. There are countless Japanese manga's that evoke the myoga for its forgetful properties - almost as much as the tripping by the notorious banana peel... Soumen is the skinny cousin of the udon, which in theory is supposed to be hollow in the middle. I can't vouch for the authenticity of this claim, since I have never bothered to check. And finally, sumiso is literally vinegar-miso, which is a sauce made by cutting miso with dashi and vinegar. As you might guess, this dish conveyed Summer to me, and I could almost hear the cicadas and the warabi-mochi (this will be featured sometime soon... I'll save the explanation for that...) guy with his push-cart... except it was pouring rain outside and about -5 degrees Celsius outside...

OK, if I keep explaining each dish like this, this is going to be waaaaaaay too long for anyone to read on their lunch breaks! I'll speed it up now... Next up, a sashimi plate with the usual suspects. It was all very tasty, but I have to say, now that I know of alternatives, the sushi/sashimi genre is not why I go to Kiss...

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What followed was a succession of dashi-powered dishes that encompassed Zen-like serenity. The dishes were created from well-selected ingredients that were given careful attention. The Chef danced around his small kitchen with perfect precision and flowing ease.

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This sawara-daikon (I think it was sawara, but the myoga must've affected my memory!) was absolutely divine. The daikon was extremely tender with its flavors being brought out to the maximum by the sawara-infused dashi. The dashi was so clear, we could see our sawara-daikon reflection in it. Gorgeous.

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Next came the Chawan-mushi, which literally translates to Bowl-Steamed. It is a dairy-less savory custard that gets steamed in its bowl. The fish creme brulee I had in Paris must've been a French version of this dish. The similarities were uncanny. Chawan-mushi shines when the dashi is good, and this one was excellent. The texture was borderline too soft for me, but the flavors came together nicely with big chunks of snapper. Usually, these things have chicken in them, but I love the fish-only commitment by The Chef.

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We were now ready for the promotion test. The Papa Bear had been impressed thoroughly with the wonderful dishes he had been presented with - the question was how he would interpret the sushi dishes...

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Again, there was nothing striking to the selection. The Papa Bear looked at me with a slight disappointment - one point for the promotion! He ate one and mumbled something about the rice being too sticky - another point for the promotion!! He then complimented the ikura - the special fresh ikura!!!! Promotion to Nikyu Granted!!

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The ikura was luscious. Luscious. I could faintly see the red/orange of the ikura peeking through the nori. How seductive! Fresh ikura has all the sea-scented flavors with none of the edge of soy-marinated ikura, and it's got to be one of my favorite foods in the world. I must try Ino Sushi in SF, as it's been recommended to me as the Ikura Spot...

Although I had granted the Papa Bear his Nikyu promotion, I had the exact same impression as the Papa Bear, so much so that I was considering an Ikkyu promotion... For those of you not familiar with the Japanese belt system, most often used in martial arts schools, ikkyu is a step before the prestigious Black Belt. An ikkyu promotion would mean that the Papa Bear was only one step behind me in Sushido... We decided to tack on some more dishes, and included in there were two pieces selected to act as the Ikkyu Promotion test...

Will the Papa Bear win his Ikkyu promotion? Come back tomorrow for Kiss Visit Part II & the outcome of the Papa Bear's quest to obtain his Ikkyu status!!

4 comments:

umetaro said...

I was at tampopo tonight! just a block away.

you should come to ino sushi with me. the owner's wife is okinawan and she thinks it's hilarious when i try out the three words in okinawan i know.

The Papa Bear said...

I swear I didn't know that I was being tested. But I'm glad that I got the promotion. Just don't ask me about anything specific - like names; I only know how to eat!

Taisho-san was quite adept in his kitchen. Dishes kept coming at a good pace. Alice mentioned that even with the full house, the pace is kept about the same. Impressive!

He's also quite attentive to his customers. My curious questioning was answered verbally and by example (with another dish containing the item in question).

I'm now in suspense. Will I get the ikkyu promotion? Oooh, can't wait. Maybe, I'll take a peek in the Founder's computer when she's not looking..... :)

molly said...

I am so going to tell Arima-san on you!

molly said...

I am so going to tell Arima-san on you!