Last night, I was at a very posh restaurant with my aunt and uncle, both visiting from Japan. This restaurant had won praises from many newspaper food critics, bloggers, food-lovers, etc, and being the last of the Trinity of Bay Area Tasting Menus, I was really looking forward to a good meal.
Our tasting menu was just OK. It was actually several steps below the Dining Room at the Ritz and the French Laundry. In fact, I'd put this place below Koo. There was nothing really exciting to the menu - no ingredient or preparation worth remembering, no fun surprises, no ...spirit. The grains of salt were overly prominent, the combination of ingredients reminded me of recycled Asian-fusion from the 90s by Testuya Wakuda, but the worst offence? The cod was FISHY!
To anyone who mistakes that fishy smell for being fish-like... Fish is not supposed to be fishy! It's supposed to be sweet, juicy, and/or flakey. It's not even supposed to smell briney! The three Japanese at the table had a bite of the very small bite, looked at each other, and put our forks down. The Papa Bear was the only who continued to eat his share (and mine!). The dish had a deliciously grilled strawberry on the side, but the fishy juices even contaminated the strawberry!
It might be that we Japanese are particularly sensitive to that fishy smell because we eat so much raw fish. It signals mortal danger to the very core of our soul. Our ancesters developed their cooking methods to merge flavor with food safety to ensure safe consumption of fresh seafood. The wasabi, the soy sauce, the vinegar - all of those are not just to enhance the dining experience but also to protect ourselves from any seafood-related mishaps.
The strange thing was that the cod from last night was prepared to almost maximize the fishiness. With limited seasoning, the pungent odor was almost unbearable to me. It made me wonder if the Chef had confused that decaying smell of rotting fish with the essence of how fish is supposed to taste. Or maybe the recipe was made for a fresher counterpart fish? Regardless of the reason, that one fish ruined my image of the dish and that restaurant is forever written off from my book, no matter how many critics, bloggers, and gourmets sing praises.
Again, another reason I should have just stayed at home for dinner! ><