Monday, July 27, 2009
Today I was treated to a very special and delicious meal. Rumi's aunt, the youngest girl of the mothers eight siblings, is a warm and welcoming person who has gone out of her way to make me feel welcomed and to celebrate Rumi and my life together. Today she invited us out for kaiseki, the pinnacle of refinement in Japanese cuisine. This was a an experience to remember.
I have tried to document things with photos, if you click them you can see larger images. The first series of dishes, four and an umeshu was strong and diverse. An indicator of the meal to come to be sure. Two of the dishes were covered and are show so in the first photo, in the second they are shown cover removed.
The umeshu, plum wine, was a welcomed refreshment from the hot and humid Tokyo day outside. Lighter than what I have had in the past. It was fun to listen to the others wonder whether they could drink it due to the early hour and the fact that they had to drive. Japan has 0 tolerance for BAC. The four dishes, clockwise from the top, the first was a corn pudding or tofu with onion flavor and a topping of caviar, I identified this as the stuffing from the Hotel Fuga raddish that I enjoyed last week. Second squid, raw and cold in a broth made of squid ink. I tried, it was nasty. The third an interesting take on wine and cheese. The cheese was sharp something similar to cheddar but lighter and the wine was jellied. These were served with a small cheese quiche or what was similar to Italian cheesecake. The last dish was sazae, a snail-like shell dweller that is caught off the coast of Japan and is something I have turned down on several occasions, even when I fetched a few from the reef myself. They're ugly. This tasted great. Slightly spicy in a miso sauce with Japanese cucumber.
Next was a light broth with fishcake and a three tiered dumpling which was topped with a Kyoto fish called hamo which seems to be similar to pike. This was interesting in its complexity. It is a difficult thing to put together three ingredients, serve them layered in a broth and have it not fall apart. I got the impression that it was special to be served this fish, and the dumpling was delicate and light.
Next was the sashimi course. Two things stood out here, the squid which was simultaneously thick and tender, and the fact that real wasabi was served. Real wasabi is all but unavailable in the US, and is not served in most resturaunts in Japan either (at least not where I eat). You can tell by sight and certainly by taste. I actually ate the remaining wasabi straight to try to compare the power, but that is not where the difference is felt.
A cold soup of tomato and lettuce maybe, I skipped this, was served opposite one of the best dishes of the afternoon. Japanese figs are large, this one almost the size of a baseball, certainly larger than a racquetball. This one had been stewed and served with a miso sauce. I couldn't believe how delicious this was.
The next volley is pictured both covered and uncovered. This little ship sailed in with a crab spring roll, piece of anago sushi, chicken roulade and a piece of broiled sansho, not sure about that name. Each one of these was a tasty bite sized morsel to be savored for it would not last. The toxic green looking soup contained a fish cake and tofu in what was a significantly salty clam stock. Now there are three kinds of clam chowder. The flower I orriginaly mistook for a garnish, but soon discovered a delightful little sweet had been lovingly placed inside. A ball of jelly, apple perhaps with other flavors as well. It reminded me of a candy apple with about half the sugar.
Next came somen noodles served in a sleeve of bamboo which you lifted to release the noodles, crab, mushroom and other toppings into the broth. These were of course served very cool and were delicious. Served with this was a wine soaked ume, Japanese plum which I was hesitant to taste. So far I have only had these when they have been turned into the deplorable umeboshi, pickled plum, that I can't stand but others love. This was sweet and refreshing. I want to try these plums ripe off the tree, I don't know why anyone would ruin them by pickling.
Next came a scallop served with potato in a thick soy flavored sauce topped with roasted red pepper and snow pea. The red pepper did seem like it was just added to be an eye-pleaser, but I love roasted red peppers so there are no complaints here. The scallop was perhaps past where I like them, but I'm nobody to argue with this cheff.
Another soup was served, this one containing a yaki-onigiri (fried rice ball) which contained tiny fish inside that were so small as to be translucent except for their eyes. These are not my favorite, I have had them as sushi before, and I only ate about half of this. The pickles as well were not the varieties I care for and I ate only the daikon, just tasting the other two. Here again was served real wasabi, for the soup along with small squares of nori.
Finally it was time for desert. This was a mango pudding with whipped coconut topping and fresh fruit. I made short work of this surprisingly light desert, wishing only for more fresh fruit. Fruit is for some reason expensive in Japan. It might have to do with the hesitance to buy foreign food products. This was served with what was probably the best cup of coffee that I've ever had in this country that was not served in someone's house.
The meal in total took three hours and we are pretty sure that the bill was well over a thousand dollars. Nice aunt, too bad she is not my mother-in-law. This was a great meal, worthy of bumping the ramen for a day, but with only a few days left before we go back to America and I hang up my noodles for another year, tomorrow I'm back at it.