Saturday, April 02, 2005

WED #4: Yuzu Feast

In case you haven't noticed, I love to eat. I think the culinary arts is one of the greatest human achievements, and to enjoy a well-prepared meal is a true luxury only unique to mankind. Honestly, our smartest primate cousins have not come close to our ability to chop, dice, heat, mix, and prepare food. It is a uniquely human priveledge. Various parts of the world have developed different preparation methods and culinary specialities, and I bet if we all could learn to exchange and explore our favorite recipes, we'd be able to conquer a lot of ignorance-related hatred in the world. The fastest way to the heart is through the stomach for everyone, not just men!

I was lucky in that I grew up in post-war Japan at the height of the 'bubble economy', when there was an explosion in gastronomic focus in Japanese popular culture. Countless comic series devoted to various aspects of food and other food-related themes popped up when I was a child. Some of them continue to be extremely popular and have kept nearly 20 yrs of faithful readership. The very first dish I ever made was from a comic book called Cooking Papa! Some of these comics are very educational, and I learned a great deal of interesting trivia on Japanese food.

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to share my love for Japanese food with four new friends as my fourth WED day. I love talking about the food and explaining the nuances and the trivia, but it's not every day that I can convince my friends to spend $60+ per person on a meal that is an adventure for them (i.e., they might not like it). Luckily, two of the four are food bloggers, and food bloggers love food enough that they can be convinced to splurge a little on an epicurean adventure. This is part of a three part series on WED #4: Yuzu, posted in collaboration with two veteran food blogs, Gastronomie and Spicetart.

Thanks to Chef Arima-san of Yuzu, we enjoyed a variety of Japanese dishes, both raw and cooked. I'll be telling you about three dishes, and Fatemeh and Molly will be sharing with you their takes on the other dishes on their sites, so make sure to check back with them!

The uncontested winner for the evening was the Seared Se-toro Nigiri.
Se-toro is the fatty piece of tuna from the apex of the fish instead of the under-belly, where regular toro is taken. It is buttery and rich like the under-belly toro with a slight firmness to its texture. I don't know why, but it is rarely available. I generally stay away from toro, but this was sublime. Seared, all the flavors came to life where the oils melted to that perfect state of juiciness. This was one of the best sushi I've ever had at Yuzu.

The sashimi plate we had was luxurious with exciting variation. I personally love aji and its fishiness, and so the fresh aji won high marks. We had both hamachi and kampachi, with kampachi scoring higher than hamachi, since I prefer the texture of kampachi over hamachi. Since I already told you the difference before in a previous post, I won't go into the details. There were also flavorful slices of shima-aji, long considered a luxury fish in Japan. The shima-aji had a delicate sweetness to it with just enough oils to glide in my mouth. The center piece of the sashimi plate was the OO-toro (big toro). The Japanese rank toro according to fattiness, with Chuu-toro (medium toro) being the toro that is most commonly available in the US. The toro on our sashimi plate was serious. It was BIG toro, fitting for its name, which comes from "torori", the sound for buttery sliding in Japanese. Snapper, ama-ebi (sweet shrimp - raw), and mirugai balanced the plate out for a wonderful tour de force sashimi adventure.

The last course of the meal was a tasty miso-soup that reminded me of my grandparents. My grandfather was an avid fisherman and always brought home tons of catch. Since he brought back whole fish (instead of the sliced up pieces we'd get at the grocery stores), we often had a lot of fish bones around the house, and my grandmother would make fish stock with the snapper bones. Broth from snapper bones have a unique depth and a glittery shine; it is perfectly accompanied by miso for a rustic soup. At Yuzu, Ken-san from the kitchen added another layer of flavor to the soup by adding clams. The strong sea-scent from the clams blended nicely with the rustic broth for a powerful soup to finish the meal. A traditional Japanese meal always concludes with a miso soup, contrary to what most Japanese restaurants do here in the US...

The food was wonderful, and the company was even better. I had a very, very lovely evening. Having food as the common denominator between us all made me feel as though I had known my new friends for a long time. Our dinner united us and carried our conversations, all the while nourishing us. What a terrific way to spoil myself on a Wednesday evening, very much in the spirit of WED!


Alice said...

Why, yes, Arthur. Good eye. The wasabi was real and fresh grated!

Anonymous said...

I don't have a blogger...but I am a HUGE fan of sushi. I live in NYC and have been to every restaurant. Ive had se-toro only once and your page is the first page to ever describe it well. In fact a lot of sushi chef's tell me it doesn't even exist. heh.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the excellent review. i love japanese food so i'll be sure to try this yuzu soon. did you order the food or omakase? if omakase, do you call in advance? thanks!