Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bar Fly in Japan: Yaegaki - Part II

More tempura debauchery today!!!

I'll focus my post today more on the tempura and why I think Yaegaki's tempura is so uniquely wonderful. It's the batter. Of course the fact that everything served at Yaegaki is carefully selected by Kunio-san to reflect seasonality and freshness is a key factor, but what sets the tempura here apart from every other tempura I've ever had is the fried batter. I've been so disappointed by tempura in the US, even at the restaurants that serve very good food otherwise, and what disappoints me about US tempura is the amount and damp-ness of the batter.

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You see what I mean? The fish you see here is lightly dressed by the batter. It is not smothered by a thick layer of damp, tasteless lump of flour. And bites of tempura at Yaegaki are crunchy without being heavy, because of this wonderful batter-to-innard ratio. And these tempuras are best eaten with salt as accompaniment to prevent dampening the crunchy batter, although the standard tempura dipping sauce is also available.

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In case you are wondering, there is plenty of vegetarian options at Yaegaki too. On the left here is the myoga, discussed in an earlier post, and sweet potato slices on the right. The bitterness of the myoga and the sweetness of the potato slices were a pleasurable contrast to eat side-by-side. Vegetables at Yaegaki usually come in pairs, each paired with its opposite, a la the yin and yang of tempura art.

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One of my all time favorites is the unique texture of lotus roots. Fresh lotus root has a sort of okra-like stickiness to it while being crunchy. It is so deliciously strange that I love it. And as tempura, the stickiness is highlighted while maintaining its crunch. Oh, I'm salivating just thinking about it! Here, the crunch of the lotus loot was presented with shiitake, which has a totally opposite texture of soft, squishiness. Yet again, the contrast in the two items makes for such interesting dining!

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Sansai (literally translated as Mountain Greens, but known as 'edible wild plants' in the US) is presented as a trio here. From the furthest to the closest, they are kogomi, taranome, and fukinotou; sansai is a seasonal treat in Japan, available as Spring treat around April and May. We enjoyed the Spring, one bite at a time.

Kunio-san was very happy to share what these looked like before he fried them up too.

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This curly thing is kogomi, with its distinct green fragrance and aroma.

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This fluffy guy is taranome. There is a soft, sweet core hidden inside the bitter casing; this is the meatiest sansai of the trio.

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Here, we have fukinotou. This vibrant light green is the color of new growth. Perhaps the bitterest of the three without any of the green fragrance kogomi has, fukinotou provides an strong addictive flavor that is so very tasty. I've always liked fukinotou the best.

This next 'dish' I am going to share with you is a 'secret menu'. It's not on the menu, and I'm not sure how we managed to start getting this. It is my uncle's favorite finale, and he always finishes the visit at Yaegaki with this routine.

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As with any fancy Japanese restaurant, the rice and miso soup come at the end of the meal at Yaegaki. He orders a kakiage to go with the rice, with a new tempura dipping sauce and grated daikon.

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Then he plops the kakiage over the rice, pours the daikon over the kakiage, then adds the tempura dipping sauce over it to blend the rice together with the tempura.

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Voila! You have a wonderful tempura-donburi (ten-don)!!

If you happen to go to Yaegaki, you might want to mention that you want the kakiage table-side ten-don style (and mention "the Japanese girl's blog" so he knows what you are referring to!), because this is not a standard menu item! Kunio-san told me that he makes these ten-don style kakiage differently than the kakiage I described to you yesterday. The kakiage from yesterday was served to be eaten as is with less air than the one that goes over rice.

For those of you who won't be traveling to Nagoya anytime soon, I hope you got at least a sneak peak of what tempura is really like, especially if you don't like tempura - it's so very different from the batter balls you see here in the US, please don't give up on it unless you've tried it at a tempura bar in Japan!

3 comments:

sarah said...

here's the entire DINE N DISH session for everyone who played...thank you soooo much for posting about yaegaki!

http://thedeliciouslife.blogspot.com/2005/04/dine-dish-no-1-bar-fly-lets-dish.html

Emmanuel Brunell said...

Quite agreed.

Alice said...

Emmanuel,

Yaegaki rocks!