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Japanese, meaning “A favorite dish”. Food we love to eat.

 

Why Did the Gaijin Cross the Pond?: A Tokyo Travelogue Week 6

Eastern Roppongi skyline.

Eastern Roppongi skyline.

Saturday morning started off quietly. Out of bed, into the shower, call Sara. We talked for a good long while. I detailed the previous week for her, she caught me up on some of the happenings back home, it was time well spent. I could hear the weariness in her voice by 2pm my time, or midnight in Chicago, though she wouldn’t admit to it. I wrapped it up to let her get some sleep before she passed out with the phone in her hand and sent a message to my restaurant companion for the evening, Damian. We were going to check out the Tokyo outlet of the Nobu Empire in Eastern Roppongi. Meeting time and place set, we made our way out there. Situated in a hotel in an area with a lot of government buildings we didn’t get many pictures in that neighborhood, but we made it
Branded sake barrels out front.

Branded sake barrels out front.

there with time to spare so we found an Irish bar close by and took up residence to kill the hour and a half before show time at Nobu. We watched the news they had on the TV, CNN in English (!). There was a group of about ten guys that trickled in starting the same time we got there that was a fantasy sports “league” that took up the entire back room of the second floor Mad Mulligan’s space. The lone bar tender struggled to keep up with that group and our service was a little lax because of it, but if we’d had any more to drink before Nobu we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it as much. The time drew near and we paid our bill and headed to the restaurant. Once inside, they led us to our table and the cooks all yelled the traditional
Sleek, modern interior that pays homage to tradition. Supreme elegance.

Sleek, modern interior that pays homage to tradition. Supreme elegance.

“irrashaimase!” in the same loud and energetic tone one would hear at just about any other restaurant in Tokyo. But this wasn’t just any other restaurant. The spacious dining area was breezy and well spaced out. Not tightly packed in, they gave you elbow room. The lighting was dim and cozy, the aesthetic was sleek and modern but firmly rooted in the traditional. Natural colored wood from floor to ceiling and soft, earthy tones in everything made the interior extremely comfortable and relaxing. Our server spoke English, but somewhat broken and in such a soft tone and low volume that I struggled to make out what she was saying, at times asking Damian if he’d caught what she said once she was out of earshot. I have a difficult time hearing with background noise sometimes, and I hate to keep asking people to repeat themselves, so sometimes even when I did not catch what was said to me I will let the moment pass. I probably come off like a dick at times because of this, but it annoys the shit out of me to repeat myself 3-4 times in a row so I just spare others the frustration. At least that’s how it works in my head. Anyway, my tangent ends here. We were presented with drink and food menus and there were 3 different omakase options. We both went for the longest course
Place setting letting us know we are in the right place in time and space at his particular moment.

Place setting letting us know we are in the right place in time and space at his particular moment.

spread, with Damian asking if they could make sure to include otoro in there somewhere. No problem at all, was the approximate response. We can eat, and Japan has yet to overfill us. They started us off with a bowl of edamame that was tossed in togarashi chili pepper and yuzu zest. We nursed that bowl and it lasted us through the entire meal, giving us something to munch on between courses. The first course that arrived after that was a 4 part plate of various seafood preparations. Monkfish liver in passionfruit sauce with caviar, a raw oyster topped with one of Nobu’s signature salsas, Hamachi tartare with wasabi flavored soy sauce and more caviar, and a ceviche of shrimp, octopus, onion, tomato, cilantro, lime and garlic. The exact types of flavors Nobu is so well known for, and a great start.
Spicy edamame.

Spicy edamame.

From there they gave us the sushi course. 4 individual nigiri on the same plate. The otoro Damian requested, seared tai (seared to make that fish easier to chew), bonito, amaebi. With chunks, not slices, of house pickled ginger on the plate and a divot on the right side for soy sauce that the server poured for us. Next was an impressive salad course of buri sashimi, awabi (abalone), thin slices of multi colored beets, dual colored carrot coins, watercress, and a sudachi dressing. The awabi was tender and the Buri was rich and sliced large, the sudachi dressing cut through the richness of the fish very well. Next plate in front of us was half each of a grilled lobster, basted in butter, garnished with a grilled green chili pepper. The tail had been cut in its shell to make it easier to eat and the claws had the sides of the shells removed for effortless extraction of the meat. Following that was a seared wagyu steak topped with seared foie gras and in a pool of a reduction sauce that included balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. There were a few bits of steamed veg on the plate that were completely extraneous and added no real value or contrast. They weren’t distracting, either, so it was commented on by both of us but we also didn’t really care at this point. Next was a bowl of cold soba noodles in a pool of the traditional dipping sauce and garnished with wasabi and shredded negi onion. The noodles had a great texture and were cut a little thinner than is normal, with a perfectly square cross section. The sharp angles were noticeable on the tongue and the sauce was well balanced.
Quintessential Nobu course platter. Clockwise from top left; monkfish liver with passion fruit sauce, caviar and ohba flowers, local oyster with Nobu salsa, Hamachi tartare with wasabi soy and more caviar, ceviche of onion, tomato, cucumber, octo and shrimp with lime and cilantro. Red seasonal maple leaf center garnish.

Quintessential Nobu course platter. Clockwise from top left; monkfish liver with passion fruit sauce, caviar and ohba flowers, local oyster with Nobu salsa, Hamachi tartare with wasabi soy and more caviar, ceviche of onion, tomato, cucumber, octo and shrimp with lime and cilantro. Red seasonal maple leaf center garnish.

Nobu nigiri course, left to right: otoro, seared tai, bonito, amaebi, chunks of house pickled ginger.

Nobu nigiri course, left to right: otoro, seared tai, bonito, amaebi, chunks of house pickled ginger.

                Our beverages for the evening were understated but well suited to the food on the table. Starting with nigori sake, moving to Champagne, and ending with green tea (being on the verge of too much alcohol at this point). The tea was on the table at the same time as the soba noodles, so that was a fortuitous call on my part, as I asked for tea before the noodles arrived and I had no idea what the next plate would be holding.
Nobu soba.

Nobu soba.

Half of a grilled lobster.

Half of a grilled lobster.

Grilled wagyu steak with foie gras, reduction sauce, and extraneous garnishes.

Grilled wagyu steak with foie gras, reduction sauce, and extraneous garnishes.

From here we were given the option of another course or straight to dessert. There was a communication error, though, as we asked for more but she understood it as bring us dessert. We both received different plates at this point. Mine was a merengue coin tower with a passionfruit custard and macerated fruit in mango sauce to the side of that. Damian received a molten lava cake, to his dismay. I let him sample my dessert out of pity. Overall everything was well executed, with the flavor profiles I would have expected, but the unnecessary steamed veg, short course list, the inclusion of a somewhat antiquated dessert and the highest price tag attached to a meal so far, we were satisfied with the experience but agreed that XEX was superior. Maybe if we’d sat at the counter and not at a table it would have made a difference. I swore I made counter reservations, but oh well. We made our ways home.
Dobin mushi at presentation.

Dobin mushi at presentation.

Sunday was the last day for washoku class, and it was a good one. We are in just the right time of year now for a few famed and highly sought after ingredients in Japanese cooking, and Kobayashi sensei had some of them. Matsutake mushrooms, raw, shell-on ginko nuts, and what became the star of the show for me, a whole, big-eyed, bright red skinned kinmedai. Sensei broke the fish down and the whole class shared the one fish, as they are expensive and more than that would have been a waste anyway, as each dish that day only required a few slices each. Largely covering steamed dishes, we started with dobinmushi. A small earthenware teapot filled with mushrooms, bits of fish, and whatever else is in season. Seasonal is very important here, as this is traditionally an autumn dish. Covered with dashi broth, lidded, and placed in a steamer for 10 minutes, what came out was eye opening. A matching teacup made to fit snugly over the lid of the pot is placed on it after a mitsuba leaf with the long stem tied in a
The inside of the dobin mushi tea pot. Loved this dish.

The inside of the dobin mushi tea pot. Loved this dish.

knot was dropped in right before serving for aromatics and the base of the cup is used to hold the sudachi citrus that is the traditional garnish. Once served, the guest removes the teacup and citrus, opens the lid of the pot slightly to appreciate the aroma, then samples the broth by pouring out like tea into the cup. The citrus is added to the cup for a second tasting of the broth if desired, but the first sip is without anything to appreciate the unaltered broth. The steamed contents of the pot are then enjoyed. It’s a marvelously refined and delicate way to utilize light ingredients by letting them shine on their own merit and it also has the added benefit of being easy to setup and reserve for restaurant service. Spectacular. We had yaki-shimo sashimi of kinmedai at XEX as our starter and we used that fish here in this class extensively, so in the last week or
Ebishijo with namafu, mushroom sauce, and sudachi bow.

Ebishijo with namafu, mushroom sauce, and sudachi bow.

so I’ve been exposed to several different preparations of this fish and unholy shit is it good. Every way, every method, I was very impressed. Screw tai right in its chewy little asshole, kinmedai will be my fish of choice moving forward when looking for something with that bright red hue. The only drawback is it’s highly seasonal, but the reverse side of that coin is that it’s an extremely special ingredient when it is in season. I was holding onto a 4oz. bit of the last loin when we were at the last dish calling for it. I asked Kobayashi sensei where he wanted me to put it (not sure at this point in the lesson if we would need it again) and he motioned to me to go ahead and eat it. I obliged without hesitation or restraint. This is a tasty fish.
Steamed savory custard made from soy milk with maitake, shimeji, and kinmedai, yuzu peel shaved over top.

Steamed savory custard made from soy milk with maitake, shimeji, and kinmedai, yuzu peel shaved over top.

We also made use of a wheat gluten cake I had never seen before that was cut into a log shape that had the cross-section of a leaf and was colored in the autumn palette. Namafu is in the same family as seitan but has a vastly different texture. Where seiten is dense and bread-like, namafu is as soft as silken tofu and sensei actually recommended we freeze it to cut it if we ever used it, otherwise the leaf cross-section would be crushed. It had a slightly slippery and chewy mouthfeel, like a steamed bread. I don’t imagine it would be offensive at all to Western palates. The next dish we made was ebishinjo. Balls of minced shrimp with an equal part of peeled mountain yam and a little usukuchi soy sauce to add salt and umami without adding too much extra liquid. This mixture was then quenelle style spoon-molded into balls and dropped into a deep fryer to brown. The yam gave a great texture and wasn’t gooey or slimey. They were served 3, slightly smaller than a piing-pong ball size, to a bowl and covered in a sauce called “an”. Maitake mushrooms simmered in seasoned dashi and bound with just a tiny touch of potato starch. Fresh yuzu zest and a slice of namafu on top, and it made a very attractive and tasty dish. The real highlight, for me anyway, was that sensei took the remainder of the mixture that hadn’t gotten fried, mounded it up in a bowl, and pooped it in the steamer. What emerged, with the same sauce and garnishes spooned over, was a light and fluffy version that would be quite at home on a kaiseki menu. Extremely delicate and pillow-like, another impressive course down. Next up was lunch of takikomi gohan, rice steamed with seasonal veg (in this case 3 of the 4 varieties of mushrooms present and some carrot for that orange color) and a soup made from the kinmedai scraps and bones with daikon, carrot, maitake, and chopped mitsuba on top. Light and warming. Last we did 2 different custard variations. A savory custard with shimeji, maitake, kinmedai, egg, and soy milk that was steamed again and quite tasty. Another very versatile dish. Followed by kabocha squash crème brûlée. Nothing mind blowing or new to me on that front. They translate kabocha as “pumpkin” most of the time here, and that would be a suitable substitute if kabocha was for some reason unattainable. It was a great lesson that I will be taking much away from. Back in sushi class this week we tackled a few new aquatic animals, some new to me. On Monday we were each given a hirame, or
Hirame nigiri and usuzukuri with a couple different engawa presentations and a fish "flower".

Hirame nigiri and usuzukuri with a couple different engawa presentations and a fish "flower".

flounder. The structure of these fish is completely different than any other fish we’ve tangled with thus far but they are also identical to Dover Sole, a fish I have extensive experience with. These lessons were a breeze but it was fun to see some new techniques used to deal with them. Like the sukibiki scaling technique where you shave the scales off in strips with a knife starting at the tail and working your way to the head. This sounds MUCH more intimidating than it is. It’s easy and it’s fun to experience just how much easier it is than you thought it logically should be. A sharp knife will easily slide under the scales and not take off any skin. Going too deep and removing skin and flesh accidentally happens and it’s always a hazard, but it’s way less common that intuition would suggest, even in the hands of a novice of fish butchery. We’ve used this technique with inada (young yellowtail) and hirame, but it is also commonly employed when dealing with
Demo plate from Kurimoto sensei. I've seen thicker tissue paper than this.

Demo plate from Kurimoto sensei. I've seen thicker tissue paper than this.

salmon and some other scaled finfish. It’s more time consuming than the well-known techniques of scraping off scales with a special tool or with the blade of a knife, but for fish like hirame that have tiny scales it’s recommended. There’s a tiny strip of muscle at the edges of the fish that the Japanese call the “engawa”. It’s a bit chewy, but that is easily dealt with by shallow scoring diagonally on both sides and it’s the fattiest part of this particular fish so if you deal with it right it’s also the tastiest bit. We covered the usuzukuri slicing technique again as well as making those little flowers you see on sashimi plates made of fish slices. Kobujime, or lightly curing a fish by gently salting and sandwiching the meat between 2 slices of konbu was also addressed, for both curing individual slices and for whole fillets. We played with that fish for 2 consecutive days, filling the rest of the time with nigiri practice (I’m making good progress there), tamagoyaki (finally made an omelet that wasn’t a disaster), and morikomi practice (a variety of different types of sushi arranged on a take-out platter, another test that we will be timed on). Wednesday we did tamagoyaki for the last time and made futomaki with them, the large rolls with multiple cooked ingredients that are often seen in bento boxes and picnic style packed meals. Filling the gaps if you finish an assignment early is always katsuramuki and we did a mock test for that this week.
Tamago that isn't brown! Victory is mine!

Tamago that isn't brown! Victory is mine!

Katsuramuki I have made little progress with. I fear for my ability with that one. My biggest problem has been getting a sheet long enough. It has to be at least 40cm long to even qualify to get graded. Anything less is not even looked at. If the weight is over, they just cut the length down and deduct points on a scale based on how much needs to be trimmed to hit the target weight, and points are also deducted for any tears in the edges of the sheets. A tear more than 5cm in the 10cm wide strip is considered a break and not counted as continuous. As long as you have one uninterrupted sheet that’s 40cm long you get some points, at least. As I’ve mentioned previously, the calculations have already been made concerning what scores I need to get on all the other tests if I totally choke and bomb that one. In the 2 timed, 10 minute test runs we did combined I got 1 sheet over 40cm. The sensei counted the tears, trimmed it down to the 40g target weight (I’m actually not far off on that front, so I only lost a couple centimeters) and he told me that it would count as a 55 point score. At this point I’m not sure if I can duplicate or top that. Damian, standing right across the table from me now in the second half of the course, got and astonishing (even to him) 80 on one run. He now takes every opportunity to rub that in. Even manufacturing opportunities to rub it in.
Various ika nigiri preparations with hokkigai nigiri and sashimi. Hokkigai is not an attractive nigiri ingredient when fresh but it is REALLY good!

Various ika nigiri preparations with hokkigai nigiri and sashimi. Hokkigai is not an attractive nigiri ingredient when fresh but it is REALLY good!

Along with futomaki and tamagoyaki we were guided through a recipe for ponzu shoyu that’s a bit different than what I’ve seen in the past. Then on Thursday we learned how to clean another bi-valve, the hokkigai, or arctic surf clam. As with all cold water shellfish, it seems, this is one of my favorites. It’s exceptionally difficult to find fresh in the States, at least in the areas I’ve lived in, and it’s not very popular but probably only because it’s rare. The best you will find at any place that carries it will be the cleaned and frozen variety. I’m not a fan, but it’s not that bad. Way chewier than fresh and freezing alters texture. Knowing this, and knowing how it alters texture I had a strong feeling that the fresh clams would have vastly superior flavor and texture, and I was on the mark with that prediction. They take some work to clean out, but at least they don’t bleed all over the place like the akagai did. They have a tube that’s generally full of dirt and sand, but that’s easily washed out with a little diligence. Their flavor is as sweet as scallops but distinctively clammy and the texture is soft and slightly chewy. Not as chewy as squid or octo, or even the akagai, much more supple than that. Really tasty and worth the trouble to clean them. The lip of tissue around the edges we used to wrap around a skewer, stopping it at either end with the adductor muscles which are large enough to shell out and actually use, and then scorched them with the brûlée torch. That could easily be accomplished with charcoal, too. In fact, I bet it’s preferable.
Another stunning demo from Kurimoto sensei. Various squid sashimi presentations.

Another stunning demo from Kurimoto sensei. Various squid sashimi presentations.

That same day was more sashimi practice and one of the fish for that always rotates according to season. We covered cleaning whole squid and cutting frozen tuna early in the day. For the test next week (!) we will be using salmon, tuna, and sumi ika. The first few times we covered this we used cuttlefish instead of the smaller sumi ika and tai (fuck that fish) in place of the salmon. These two changes are welcome ones. We were also shown a technique to use for the squid that creates a pattern of curls that lift up from the surface and looks especially good on nigiri. By scoring the top on an extreme enough bias vertically, almost as if butterflying the already thin piece of squid, at intervals about 1cm apart along with opposing scoring straight down the center and then making the nigiri with that side facing up. Once you’ve gotten that far, take the torch and lightly burn the tops. The bias scoring will cause those little bits to curl straight up into little waves across the top of the nigiri. A fun and visually interesting presentation. We covered squid 2 days in a row as well, something I’ve worked with extensively just not whole and guts in. I’ve cleaned out smaller varieties, but the ones we were using were larger and required more cleaning and skinning than the squid that’s more commonly used in America. We were also shown a technique for making a base for irregularly shaped shellfish to be presented on. Clams, oysters, and scallop shells can be scrubbed out and used for a serving vessel, but they aren’t stable on a plate or table. If you mix egg white and salt in the right concentrations they form a play-dough-like paste that is easily molded into whatever shape you need it to be in. Extracurricular activities were fruitful this week, as well. Damian and I met up on Tuesday to explore the area around Higashi-Nakano
The menu at Tokidoki Ten Ten Ten.

The menu at Tokidoki Ten Ten Ten.

station, as my wanderings of the area turned up a few interesting prospects. We explored out passed where I had been, into what appeared to be turning into a culinary dead zone. But Tokyo will surprise you at almost every turn. We found a little place called Hare Tokidoki Ten Ten Ten that specializes in skewered bits of pork and pork offal. It looked very inviting so we ducked inside. It was an extremely clean, warm, and hip looking space with natural wood, lightly painted plywood, and metal frames, brightly lit and ignorable, inoffensive, gentle jazzy music piped in at a low volume. For such a small place their food and beverage selections were truly outstanding. Astonishing, even. Most places this size in Tokyo carry a couple sakes, a couple shitty draught beers, and some shochu. Maybe some whiskey if you’re lucky. This place had Japanese craft beers on tap, hard to
They might have understood the English significance of placing skewers of tongue and cheek on the same plate, but I doubt it. Happy coincidence.

They might have understood the English significance of placing skewers of tongue and cheek on the same plate, but I doubt it. Happy coincidence.

find wines from France, bottled beer from all over, well presented plates, well executed food, a staff that didn’t speak English well but REALLY fucking tried to do the best they could to serve us, all with a deep sense of give-a-fuck that permeated every aspect of the experience. We were both extremely excited about this place and extremely saddened that we and one other patron were all that populated the 15 seat space. In any other city, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, Sydney, Melbourne, name it, this place would have a line out the door and around the corner. Literally not having a single fuck to give between us regarding what they wanted to feed us, we asked for omakase. They started us with a plate of warm tofu in a soy based sauce and simmered with negi, and topped with shredded negi, spring onion, and myoga. Light and flavorful. The first grilled course hit the table after that. Approximately 0 fucking around in this place. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty certain, this first course was not meant to be the word play that it was, but part of me
Diaphragm and hanger steak.

Diaphragm and hanger steak.

wouldn’t doubt it. They served us grilled skewers of pork tongue and cheek. We giggled. The following skewers that made their way to us were all from adjacent parts of the animal. Diaphragm and hanger steak, belly and stomach, heart and intestine. The chef asked us where we wanted to go from here, and we decided it would be a good time to break up the parade of pork with some veggies. Shishitou peppers, eringi mushrooms with shaved bonito, grilled eggplant with shaved bonito, all making their way to our table, every last bite was exceptional. We chatted, I ordered another beer, we contemplated the bottle of sparkling rosé Damian ordered. He recognized it from the time he spent in France. Le Canon Primeur, with its pink, sakura flower emblazoned label, is a sparkling wine made by a Japanese dude that moved to France to produce wines that are completely organic, unfiltered, unfined, and completely sulfur-free. A bit of a maverick in the wine making world, but it pays off. His bubbly rosé has more character and backbone than any other pink liquid I have ever quaffed. Great stuff.
Intestinal muscle and heart.

Intestinal muscle and heart.

After a little while we decided one more course was in order and the chef recommended the meatball. With a hint of middle-eastern spices, the pork meatball, slightly smaller than the size of baseball, was a great way to end this experience. Damage done, bill paid, off to home and bed to prepare for the next day of class. But not before vowing to return to this spectacular little place with reinforcements.      
Le Canon. Ask for it by name. No, seriously. You need to pour this stuff into your face-hole at some point in your existence.

Le Canon. Ask for it by name. No, seriously. You need to pour this stuff into your face-hole at some point in your existence.

Eringi with shaved bonito.

Eringi with shaved bonito.

Pork meatball.

Pork meatball.

    Friday night started with Damian and I wandering the streets of Shinjuku once again. Purposefully searching in an area that was previously unexplored. Scouring the streets for a bar that was open, though this is a rough proposition at 4:30 in the afternoon when most places don’t open until 6. There are a few outliers, though, and just about every street has at least one. We found our way to what appeared to be a quaint little bar/restaurant/produce market (?) in a sublevel with a girl that couldn’t have been more than 12 hawking to any of the pedestrians who would listen to her spiel, dressed in a Halloween costume consisting of a witch’s hat and a black robe. They were running some sort of Jack Daniels Halloween themed promotion. We initially passed her by, but we decided we did not want to search any further. This place was open and we just wanted to sit down. So we turned back and as we passed the little girl and she noticed we were heading down to the place she was promoting she almost literally exploded with enthusiasm and joy, immediately running in front of us to open the door for us, find a table for us, and get a server over, all while vibrating with excitement and thanking us repeatedly. She must have fired ”arigato gozaimasu!” emphatically at us around 15 times between the street level and us taking our seats. We both had big lunches but we eyeballed the menu, since this place was more than just a bar and we were seated right by the small but well stocked “produce market” area that consisted of one counter full of pristine-looking iced produce, we ordered something to snack on while we killed our first beers of the evening. Grilled Caesar salad and fried garlic shrimp served with thinly cut fried potatoes and fried shrimp shells. The shells were a little too thick for my liking. The grilled Caesar was not what I was expecting, but it got eaten. We both ordered one of the JD cocktails on special and received scratch cards with them. The server apparently wasn’t sure how this promotion worked, and had to go ask what we were supposed to do with these cards as the scratch off area was not clearly defined and was just white block against the black background where it looked like something should have been printed, but wasn’t. Scratching this white field with the edge of a coin revealed a number that corresponded to a prize. Every JD cocktail ordered came with one. The prizes were little things like sticker sets and refrigerator magnets. We had a few rounds, finished the plates in front of us, and made our way out to find our next location. We quickly found our next destination. A little bar that opened up to the street with no front wall or doors, just barrels out front at the thresh hold and about 10 seats inside. The all wooden interior and bar top stretched back in one narrow passage and there was a sot right up front behind the barrels for a standing area when all the interior seats were full. They were. We stood with our backs to the street and ordered another round. Damian ordered a small pizza for about $5. It was the saddest little pizza I think I’ve ever seen. It was about this time I decided to see if anyone else was interested in joining us and suggested we move the party to a place I came upon a few days before. Tyo responded that he was free, Damian said my choice of next destination was a good idea, and so I told Tyo to just make his way to Shinjuku and we’d shoot him our location once we arrived. He agreed, and off we went. The momentum of the whole evening spun on a dime and changed direction, quite fluidly.
Uokushi from up close. It's not very visible from the street.

Uokushi from up close. It's not very visible from the street.

Early in the week I was strolling Shinjuku by myself because everyone had other things to take care of, and I stumbled on another hidden gem. There was a menu in an alley I’ve walked by a dozen times at least, but it sits in front of an offshoot alley that doesn’t look like it contains much. I took a closer look at the menu and it was bilingual. Kind of. Enough, anyway. So I made my way down that alley a short distance and there, almost completely tucked out of sight from the main alley, was Uokushi. Specializing in grilled and fried bits of fish on skewers, this place had character and the food was fucking amazing. We did some major damage to that place. Soon after we sat down (Tyo showed up later) and I was narrating the menu as far as my previous experience to Damian, he half-jokingly made the suggestion of trying to eat the whole menu. Well, that’s very nearly what we ended up doing that night… We started with the variety plate, 1 skewer eack of tuna cheek with negi onion, dried atka mackerel, skewered whelks, salmon with
Variety platter. Tuna cheek and negi, dried atka mackerel, mirin mackerel, salmon with aioli, whole sccallops, tuna loin, served with yuzu kosho and wasabi.

Variety platter. Tuna cheek and negi, dried atka mackerel, mirin mackerel, salmon with aioli, whole sccallops, tuna loin, served with yuzu kosho and wasabi.

“tartar” sauce (seasoned mayonnaise is all it really was), whole skewered scallops and tuna loin all grilled over charcoal and served with yuzu kosho and wasabi. Next we moved on to the rest of the menu. Skewers of baby octopus, sardines rolled around umeboshi paste and ohba leaf, mirin marinated saba mackerel, pork wrapped scallops, fried cream cheese on a stick, 5 tiny little silver skinned fish threaded onto one skewer, 2 sandfish to a skewer, served whole, assorted veg skewers of shishitou, shiitake, eringi, asparagus, fried kabocha squash, and fried renkon (lotus root). We didn’t hit the rice bowls on the back side of the menu, but about 85% of his skewered items were sampled by our group of 3. Everything was ordered in 3’s. We weren’t getting one skewer of each thing and sharing. With the required amount of beer to wash it all down. Full and satisfied with the carnage left in our wake, we paid the bill and waddled out. Parting ways for the evening, though it was still an early night.
Left to right; grilled baby octo, pork wrapped scallop, whelk, sardine rolled around umeboshi paste and ohba leaf.

Left to right; grilled baby octo, pork wrapped scallop, whelk, sardine rolled around umeboshi paste and ohba leaf.

Our plans for the next day included getting out of Tokyo and going south to Yokohama to see the various sights there. Originally scheduled for Sunday, but it was supposed to rain that day and there were quite a few of us slated to go so we moved our plans up a day. Two of our group received the message late and were unable to tag along. The week ahead is mostly our finals. Except the 2 most dreaded, nigiri and katsuramuki. Those are going to be on the final week, giving us all more time to practice. I know I could use it. My speed is there but my form still needs work for nigiri. Katsuramuki is another matter. As long as I get some points in that I’ll be happy. Crunch time is drawing nigh.  
Shishitou peppers with salted dry seaweed, shiitake, eringi, asparagus, fried kobocha, fried renkon (lotus root).

Shishitou peppers with salted dry seaweed, shiitake, eringi, asparagus, fried kobocha, fried renkon (lotus root).

Uokushi finishing course that every guest gets. Clear soup with sesame and those super tiny clams.

Uokushi finishing course that every guest gets. Clear soup with sesame and those super tiny clams.

             
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!!!

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!!!

Bacon’s More Sophisticated Cousin

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The cast of characters. See also: The Usual Suspects.

Braised meats aren’t usually thought of when pondering Asian cuisine. Braising is generally associated with the French in dishes such as Boeuf Bourguignon, or American Pot Roasts. This is a fool-hardy assumption, however. Enter the Japanese preparation and staple of any ramen-ya worth its weight in rice, braised pork belly, or Chashu. Yet another adaptation of a Chinese dish, char siu, chashu has become something else entirely. While char siu usually refers to a roasted meat glazed with honey and soy (and added red food coloring in some cases) the Japanese took most of the same ingredients, turned it into a braise, and added their own flair with the addition of mirin and sake. Also, the Chinese use the term “char siu” to refer to any number of meats roasted in the same manner, for the Japanese however, chashu is made with pork belly. Nothing else. We can get behind that. The recipe that follows is a cross-reference between two other recipes I found and my own added spin here and there. The process is fairly long, as with most braises, but the ingredients are pretty cheap and simple. The differences in my recipe and the ones I referenced are these: One recipe called for rolling the belly, which is traditional, and the other did not. I went with the flat preparation. While rolling the belly takes longer to cook it comes out juicier, or so I hear, but that can be solved by simply cutting down on the oven time and keeping vigilant watch. There was, however, the issue of the skin. It likes to be cooked for a LONG time, which would make the rolled method more logical. I soldiered on with my plan though. The rolled recipe also called for skin on (or rind on) pork belly, while the other called for skin off. This suggestion I did follow. The flat prep recipe said to sear all sides and blanch the meat before braising while the other said to roll it and go. I seared, only the meat side, and did not blanch. I left the skin un-seared, and blanching after searing would inevitably wash away some of the brown color the sear provided. Color = flavor, a fundamental philosophy in all of cooking, so blanching after searing just seemed like a bad idea to me. That recipe was from a very highly respected chef, though, so what the hell do I know. One recipe also called for the addition of typically Chinese or South-East Asian spices like cinnamon, star anise and black peppercorns. This, too, I followed, predictably. Perhaps just as predictably the fish sauce was my addition. Had to be done. There was no way around it. It was for the benefit of science and all mankind, you see. I expected the skin to be tough and un-chewable but I was wrong. Very wrong! It was gooey and sticky and gelatinous, and provided a very interesting contrast in texture to the supple fat and the chewy yet melting to the tooth meat. Next time I try this I’m going to try one of the suggestions I shied away from this run just to see the difference. But for now, I’m satisfied with these results. It was good. It was really good. It was really fucking good! This is going to be a picture heavy post, so those of you who are easily offended by unadulterated and unapologetic food porn may wish to close this window now or just fuck off from the room. It’s about to get real up in this bitch. Chashu, Japanese braised pork belly. The ingredients:    
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Fuck you, Malbon! Any blood spilled because of this addiction is on YOUR hands!

2-2.5 pounds raw Pork Belly – uncured, not smoked, rind on 1 cup Mirin 1 bottle (300 ml) Hakutsuru Draft sake ½ cup of Honey 1 ½ cups Soy Sauce (Yamasa brand is my preference) 3” knob of fresh Ginger – peeled and crushed 1 Star Anise 1 stick of Cinnamon 1 tsp. Black Peppercorns 5 cloves of Garlic 6 cleaned and chopped Scallions 3 Tbsp. Red Boat Fish Sauce Kadoya Sesame oil Light Vegetable or Olive oil (No extra virgin!)        
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Yeah, yeah, I already know what your gonna say about overcrowding the pan... The meat is thick enough and is going to be cooked long enough to render that point moot.

Procedure: Preheat oven to 275 degrees, 250 if it wil go that low. Oil a pan with the light veggie oil and heat until just starting to smoke. Sear the meat side of the pork belly until golden brown. Set aside. Add a little bit of sesame oil and toast the dry spices (anise, cinnamon and black pepper) until aromatic, about 90 seconds. Add the crushed ginger and sauté for a few seconds, then add the garlic whole and stir fry for a few more seconds. When the garlic is just starting to take on a bit of color deglaze with the sake and mirin. Reduce by about half, we're really just looking to burn off the alcohol.  Once reduced add the soy sauce, honey, scallions and fish sauce and bring back to a simmer.        
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Most of the flavor in dry spices is locked in their oils. Toasting in a little oil brings them out more than if just pitched right in and gives them a little more complexity

    Place your pork belly skin side down in a deep and tight fitting oven-proof container and cover with the hot liquid. Cover loosely and place in the oven for 2 hours. Check on it at this point, the point of a paring knife should sink through to the bottom of the pan with little resistance.             Once it’s finished, pull it out of the oven and place it in the refrigerator, still covered in its braising liquid, until fully chilled. What will emerge is a slightly gelatinous liquid and pork belly that is much easier to slice into serving sized portions. If one were to slice it hot one would end up with a mess of basically pulled pork belly. Decidedly NOT what we are looking for here.        
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Ready to cover and lounge in the oven for a couple hours

Slice into 3 or 4 blocks through the narrower width (if it was whole this would be the length of the belly) and then into ½ to ¼ inch slices against the grain of the meat at the time of service. To reheat there are a few methods you could take. You could thicken the liquid with cornstarch and use it to glaze the slices in the oven or in a steamer until heated through. Or you could simply drop the slices in some simmering soup and pour that over some ramen. If you own a brulee torch you could char it slightly, which is certainly the most dramatic approach. Or you could do what I did. I placed the slices on a broiler plate, covered it with its braising liquid and put it in the broiler until it started to audibly pop. The popping is from the skin that was left on. At this point I pulled it from the boiler, basted the slices with the liquid in the pan, and put them back under the broiler, repeating this a few times until the slices were nicely browned.    
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Ready for it's semi-final destination. The Broiler!

Serving suggestions for this are myriad. As already stated, this is a classic topping for ramen, but Chef Takashi out here in Chicago serves it with steamed buns. Hell, you could just shove it in your slavering maw straight outa the broiler! By this point it’s been long enough in the making that any delivery method would be simply that. Just a means to get that unctuous pig belly into your impatiently awaiting face! The braising liquid in and of itself is a thing of beauty! Use it to season soup broth, as a pig infused marinade, as a fucking beverage! Seriously, its used to marinade the soft boiled, runny yolk but firm white eggs that are also a staple ramen topping!    
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Finally ready for a vicious tongue lashing! You dirty little pork belly...

I REALLY hope you guys try this, time investment be damned! Just like most braises, this one just gets better if left in the fridge for a couple days before serving. Which means you can make it well in advance and be the fucking hero of any dinner party! All the work having been done the day before, and being better for the aging, leaves you to focus on other things that might need to be done at the last minute. The pork belly will wait. It’s patient like that. This is a seriously good accompaniment to just about any vaguely Asian inspired menu. You will be in love. You will want to pour the liquid in your eyes.You will want to rub the meat all over your body to attract a mate. And if they are repulsed by it, fuck them! They aren’t good enough for you anyway if they don’t like perfume of pork fat, ginger and soy sauce!    
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Kadoya. Ask for it by name!

Live well and COOK PORK! -Jack        
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Serving suggestion! This or dive at it like a savage that hasn't seen pork belly in years. Either would be completely appropriate.

Location, Location, Location!

Raw ingredients for the soup. In the case of the cheeses, raw milk cheeses to be exact...

At the same Chef's Night that yielded the previous two recipes posted below, my offering was this Cheddar/Ale soup made almost entirely from ingredients that are made within an hours drive from where we cooked. The focus of the evening was warming winter foods with an extra emphasis on locally made ingredients. We tend to look for local whenever possible to begin with, but this night the focus on Michigan bounty was even more intense than usual. There was a professional photographer and fellow food blogger/obsessive present, Joe Hakim of The Hungry Dudes, so we had to bring the A game and swing for the bleachers. I think we accomplished our goal. Links to the photo galleries and printed article spawned from this evenings culinary melee at the end. Recipe for Michigan Cheddar/Ale soup: Ingredients for 4 servings: 1/2 medium size yellow onion diced 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced 2 large jalapenos seeded and diced 1 Tablespoons fresh garlic, peeled and crushed 2 bottles Mad Hatter IPA (New Holland Brewing Company) 1 pint chicken stock 1 pint Guernsey Farms heavy whipping cream 1/2 pound bacon diced (home made by a friend of the Estate, so local as well) 1/2 pound Rosewood Products raw milk cheddar shredded 1/4 pound or 2 oz. Rosewood Products raw milk goat cheddar shredded 1/4 pound or 2 oz. Oliver Farms sharp cheddar curds 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup flour 1 Tablespoon Chicken Soup base ("Better Than Bouillon" brand paste) Fresh ground black pepper to taste Zingermans pretzel bread made into croutons, or crushed pretzels Procedure:

Don't stop stirring! Burnt cheese does not taste good! Well... at least not in this case.

Mince the diced onion and peppers in a food processor until almost a paste. Brown the diced bacon in a pot over medium heat and add the minced veggies. Cook slowly for 25 minutes, or until most of the moisture is gone. At the same time melt the butter in a small pan and add the flour, cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat, stirring continuously, and refrigerate. Turn the heat on the soup pot up to high and add the garlic. Stir continuously until the garlic smell is very strong, 30 seconds or so. Add 1.5 bottles of Mad Hatter, and boil until only 1/3 of the volume is left. Add the chicken stock and cream and bring back to a simmer. Once back to a simmer add the cheeses and stir constantly until dissolved over medium heat. Or add bit by bit until it's all been incorporated, but the central theme here is do NOT stop stirring until all the cheese is melted! If you stop stirring during this part of the process, the cheese will just sink to the bottom and burn. Once dissolved, and back to a simmer, add the last half bottle of Mad Hatter and the chilled butter and flour mixture a little at a time until the soup is thickened to your liking. Stir in the chicken soup base a little at a time, tasting between each addition to make sure you don't over salt, and add as much fresh ground black pepper as you wish to your own tastes. Taste for seasoning, and bowl, using the pretzel croutons for garnish and a few turns on the pepper mill for added contrast and aroma.

Warming, cheesy, peppery, pretzelly goodness! Perfect for a midwest winter night!

I tried to go as simply as possible with this recipe, as there was a chance it would be published in a local magazine, so I wanted it to be accessible to the home cook. It's come to my attention that I'm not always very good at that though. I guess 20 years cooking professionally has somewhat disconnected me from what the term “home cook” implies. That aside, this recipe is very adaptable, you can substitute any local or even non-local variant of any ingredient included and still have one hell of a soup at the end of it.   Live well, and eat better!   -Jack Gallery from Joe Hakim of The Hungry Dudes blog Rogue Estate Facebook Gallery Real Detroit Weekly's article on the meal in question

Chef’s Night Recipe: Shrimp Au Gratin

Shrimp and cheese? You bet. The cheese in this is an amazing mild Dutch ("Dorothea Potato Chip Goat cheese") that incorporates potato, onion and herbs into the finished product. We found it at Westborn Market in Berkley, and it's worth searching for. We prepared this as one of the Winter Comfort Foods for a recent Chef's Night menu and it's been featured in a photo gallery by The Hungry Dude's Joe Hakim, a Photo Gallery on the Rogue Estate Facebook and an article in Real Detroit Weekly. Enjoy! Shrimp Gratin Appetizer (Yields 4 small 4 oz. ramekins) 2 tbsp flour 2 tbsp butter 1.5 - 2 cups half & half, heated 6 oz. grated Dorothea Potato Chip Goat cheese 24 (31-45 count) raw shrimp peeled and deveined, thawed, tails removed 3 scallions finely sliced 2 cloves garlic minced dash white pepper dash nutmeg dash salt 2-3 oz. grated Raclette cheese 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs 1.5 tbsp Virgin Olive Oil pinch paprika pinch dried thyme pinch of salt Flat-leaf parsley (for garnish) 1) Make Mornay (cheese sauce) Combine flour and butter over medium heat, simmer while stirring until raw flour smell goes away (10 minutes). Add 1.5 cups half & half and stir until thickened, lower heat (if too thick, add more half & half). Add grated Goat cheese, stir to combine. 2) Assemble Add shrimp to cheese sauce, and simmer on lowest heat for only 1-2 minutes. Spoon into mixing bowl; add scallions, garlic, pepper, nutmeg and salt to taste, stir. Spoon gratin into into 4 small ramekins, making sure each contains 6 shrimp. Make crumb topping: stir together Panko, oil, paprika, thyme, and salt. Top each ramekin with 1/4 of the Raclette and crumb topping. 3) Bake Bake ramekins at 350°F for 10 minutes until golden on top. Remove, let cool slightly, garnish with parsley. Pairs very well with a chilled Alsatian or Oregon Pinot Gris.

Getting into quite a jam

  Slow Jams arrived onto the Eastern Market scene in Detroit last month with an awesome name and a tremendous product line to match. Jams in both traditional and refreshingly new flavors, sure to compliment any application from Sunday morning breakfast to Friday evening's cocktail. Disclaimer: my usual condiment cravings lean towards things based firmly in the tomato paste, fish sauce and chili pepper world, so it is with great delight that I have such high praise to deliver in regards to what I had previously regarded as a category of foods best left to my grandmother. This is a very personal product every step of the way. Made by hand in small batches and sold at markets around the Metro Area by the ladies producing it in their weekly "Jam Sessions", this is as close as one can get to a product without picking the fruit and doing the process themselves. Betsy, Shannon and Christina are creating something that is definitely worth eating. I picked up three  jars during my visit to the Slow Jams Jam Stand on their inaugural Saturday in November  which I felt would represent a good cross section of the product line based on old standards and newer flavors I'd experienced elsewhere as well as something totally new to me in the world of Jam. The goods: Raspberry Basil - I use Raspberry as a barometer for jams and jellies the same way I use Sweet & Sour chicken to judge the caliber of a Chinese take-out joint. If you can't do anything good with Raspberries, you'll be dismissed rather quickly. (Why not grape? While certainly the most common in western culture, I simply don't care for it.) This is indeed a very good Raspberry. The Basil is a supporting player here, subtly rounding out the fruit without every truly making an appearance from the background. It's a good Jam. Lots of chunks of fruit provide texture to go with the beautiful dark red color and no-mistake about it Raspberry flavor. My toast was happy and so was I - they passed the litmus test and I boldly moved on to the next jar, for science!   Sweet Pepper - I've had pepper based jams in the past and while unique, none of them ever had been more than a novelty. Novelty is not a god repeat business strategy. I was very pleased to find a sweet jam base which carried with it a warm savory flavor and ever so slight amount of heat on the edge. There is a great texture here as well as the occasional hint of green from the peppers which tastes like a warm summer day. I'll out myself right now: the Sweet Pepper jam is my favorite. I ate the whole damn jar in two days. On the second day I didn't even have crackers or any other kind of carrier, I ate it with a spoon. It's that good. I ended up buying more the next week. I even went so far as to buy a pepper jam from another local vendor and was disappointed when it paled in comparison to Slow Jam's version. If you only ever muster up the courage to step outside of the traditional Jam box once,  Sweet Pepper is the Jam to do it with.   Tomato & Basil -Never once has anyone uttered the words Tomato, Basil and JAM together in a sentence to me before. It was the double-take moment. Like.. Spaghetti sauce? What the heck is this? A totally new food concept for me, which is immediately followed by acquisition. That's how I roll, gang and I'm rarely disappointed.  Slow Jam's Tomato & Basil jam is no exception. A very good balance of savory and sweet with this jam. Like it's Raspberry inspired cousin above, the basil here is not a prominent player, but stays back to provide a familiar but subtle supporting character. I'll reassure you that there is no essence of spaghetti sauce here. This is tomato in an unfamiliar way - the acidic nature is completely removed. This is Tomato if tomato were every day sweet as watermelon. Like the other two (and I suspect ALL Slow Jams jam) the texture here is every bit as fantastic as the flavor.  

I mentioned using Jam in a cocktail earlier and like any article here on the Rogue Estate, I write from experience. I used a dollop of Raspberry Slow Jams Jam in a concoction involving The Rogue Estate's neighbor Valentine Vodka and club soda. The Jam added flavor and sugar in same way one would with a classic shrub, without the fuss.

Slow Jams maintains tastings at their sales table, with featured jams of the week available for your "try before you buy" enjoyment. Each week you will find special flavors available based on fruits available and other seasonal factors. I've yet to try anything that wasn't top notch delicious. With such a good track record, I may even be persuaded to give that old standard Grape another try. Slow Jams can be found on both Facebook and Blogspot for more information including recipes and purchase locations. -///
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.