Friday, March 25, 2005

Yet another sushi post...

It seems that I am over my sweet tooth, and I am now on a savory kick... The taiyaki and the anko cupcake sort of did me in and I'm done with sweets for a while...

Today, I have a secret to confess. I'm not always faithful...when it comes to sushi restuarants. I love Yuzu and really enjoy myself there, but because of the 45+ min drive and the budget considerations, a Yuzu dinner is not always an option... Enter Mitama in Oakland with its proximity and reasonable prices and you have a very unfaithful Alice... Well, itt's not exactly infidelity... It's like having different friends for different activities - the work friend, the drinking friend, the dancing friend, the karaoke friend, you know how it goes...

I've been to Mitama in the Rockridge district of Oakland twice now, and I had a very pleasant dining experience both times. The first time we were there, I wasn't quite prepared and didn't have my camera, but the experience was tasty enough for me to lug my camera there for a second visit. On both occasions, the fish was very fresh and flavorful, although we noted a distinct difference in the quality of the rice in the two visits. A sushi chef once told me that having consistently good sushi rice is extremely difficult, since rice changes so much with temperature/age. I do notice that with my rice at home as well - as my rice stock ages, I have to adjust the amount of water I add to cook the rice.

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The first time around, we got there close to closing time, and we were able to interact with the sushi chef a lot more. He made us a sashimi plate and then we enjoyed a number of sushi options afterwards to fill up. He also shared some of his 'hashi yasume' (literally means chopstick rester, but it's just a small plate/dish served in between main dishes), which was very enjoyable. On our second visit, the restuarant was PACKED and I didn't want to trouble the kitchen too much by ordering off the menu, so I just asked the waitress to give us ten of the best sushi pieces that The Chef had to offer. I find that this is the best way to order sushi at a restaurant to get a feel for the place...

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In addition to The Chef's choices, we ordered these rolls, since we were really hungry and just wanted to get something fast. I really liked the combination of the tender scallops with the crunch of the deep-fried asparagus. The asparagus itself retained its crunchiness, and along with the crispiness from the deep-frying, it offered quite a texture. The scallops were the yin to the yang of the asparagus, and was moist, soft, and voluptuous. The scallops were so good that we ordered it as a nigiri...

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One of the things you will notice in these pictures is that the nori (seaweed) is very crisp and full of vitality at Mitama. The nori almost crunches as you bite into it, offering a very pleasant contrast of textures to the soft rice inside. Since this contrast is one of my favorite things about the gunkan-maki, all goodies that come in the gunkan-style gets my stamp of approval.

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And of course, the King of Gunkan-maki is the Ikura in my mind...

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My mother always told me that I have to try the egg slice at every sushi restuarant I go to, because the treatment of the egg speaks a lot about the restaurant itself. Making a good egg slice is not as easy as it looks, requiring a supreme dashi (broth), a fine-tuned control of salt and sugar, both of which need to be in perfect balance with the dashi for the egg to be good, and the ability to form multiple layers of egg - it is not supposed to be a giant block of egg as I have seen in some places, but rather a mille-feuille of egg layers. The egg slice is a good indication of the skills in the kitchen, and a kitchen that can produce a tasty egg slice will likely be very good. My mother also swears that no matter how good the expensive items may be, a place that neglects its egg will not flourish, since they are willing to serve something to the customers that is not their best effort. So, of course, I had to get the egg at Mitama too...

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One of these days, I will do a Bay Area Egg Slice Comparison, so I will save my impression of Mitama's egg for that report...

Mitama fills a different niche than Yuzu for sure, and it has a very different ambiance. The Chef didn't quite give us ten pieces but cut us short and started asking us what we wanted to eat as the restaurant became less busy and he had enough time to speak to us. Because I like all kinds of fish, I never know what to order and prefer The Chef to choose his best for me. But since Mitama is a fairly large restaurant, it is a little more intimidating to make off-the-menu requests and we just ordered some more stuff from the menu that sounded good. Everything here was quite reasonable and definitely tasty. I prefer this place over Kirala in Berkeley any day.

The proprietor came over when he saw that I was checking out his sushi with too much attention for a regular diner, and we had a short chat. He clarified to me that his restaurant was named after Three Balls/Spheres rather than The Spirit, both of which are pronounced Mitama in Japanese. His choice is based on the fact that he has three daughters, each sphere representing one of his daughters. A very sweet story to end the meal with, indeed.

2 comments:

umetaro said...

hey, come join us...

http://nocheapsushi.tribe.net/

Anonymous said...

best all around-sushi in oakland, and i've eaten a lot of sushi. you've gotta try the asparagus crab roll, and anything that appears on the "fresh from japan" board. hiro, the chef, is very friendly and always up for making something special if you're a regular. it helps to buy him a beer. he's partial to asahi.