When I started to do some research on Seville, I came to the conclusion that we'd eat really well here. And we weren't let down. God bless Basque Country, but man, Seville held it's own in the food department.
After a fairly hectic day, we relaxed until the sun was on it's way down and headed back out to Barrio Santa Cruz, the city's former Jewish Quarter. We decided to pick up on where we left off earlier in the day. Of course we got lost within the winding, meandering streets and alleyways. Many buildings in this neighborhood have been built closely together, creating narrow alleyways called "Kissing Lanes". In some of these, two people can barely pass each other!
We came out upon a pretty little square named Plaza de Dona Elvira.
The lighting on the square was so bright and clean that it seemed like daylight! Orange trees added a nice touch to the pretty tile benches.
Down a twisting street we ended up at a large plaza and eventually at the largest Gothic Cathedral in the World, Seville Cathedral which looked stunning at night.
From the cathedral, we somehow made it to Plaza Nueva and then Calle Zaragoza. There we found one of the three locations of La Azotea. They weren't open yet (it was "only" 815) and the Missus felt strange waiting outside so we explored a bit. When we returned there were already two parties waiting in front of the place! Luckily, these folks wanted tables. After reading about La Azotea on wonderful food blogs like Seville Tapas and Spanish Sabores, I figured out that if you want tapas here, you need to sit at the bar. Otherwise it's raciones.
You get a nice menu, there's seafood listed by the end of the bar; wines, vermouth, cavas, and "Jerez" (Spanish sherry). The bartender was a very nice, efficient, quiet young man named Pablo. He was awesome.
I saw Navajas on the seafood menu and I just had to order it; a media racione (half portion - 8€). Good lord, this was so delici-yoso!!!
This was the most tender, sweetest, clean tasting razor clams I've ever had. The Missus loves Her beans baby beans even more. Loved the olive oil, which, typical of Spanish olive oil was wonderfully peppery and grassy.
Foie Gras? Of course. This is the Foie Gras Casero (5,75€).
Nice, almost buttery in texture, but the marmalade was a bit too sweet for my taste.
The huevo a baja temperature (6,5€) was also a symphony of textures.
Lovely oozy egg, nice flavors and textures from the bread crumb base with earthy flavors from mushrooms. I guess 60 degree egg is a standard thing these days; something we first had as a tapa in San Sebastian.
The Foie Gras ala Plancha (5,75€) was outstanding.
Seared perfectly, still molten and quivering inside.....my goodness, there are few things I love more. This makes me want to get back on a plane! The baked apples added a nice, slightly tart sweetness that just balanced things out perfectly.
The Carrillada Iberica (Braised Pork Cheek - 5€) was fork tender, the red wine sauce was by the book.
Rich, but not over the top, this was a perfect portion size. The goat cheese gratin added a nice acid-milkiness to the dish. Porky goodness.
The only dish we didn't enjoy was the Alcachofas - Artichokes (3,5€).
The confit artichokes were really bland and I didn't care for the texture. The iberico cream sauce seemed a bit disjointed clashing with the sweet caramelized onions.
I guess She was expecting a fortified sherry and wasn't ready for the super dry taste. I didn't mind this at all, but I don't think the Missus will be ordering this again.
Three glasses of wine each, plus the Tio Pepe and all the tapas. The damage? Less than 60 Euros! To us, a bargain. In fact, the Missus loved La Azotea so much, we returned during our last evening in Seville. I'd get another shot at that Foie Gras and Pablo greeted us with a smile. By far our favorite place to grab a bite in Seville.
La Azotea - Zaragoza Calle Zaragoza 5c Sevilla, Spain Open Daily: 130pm - 430pm, 830pm - Midnight
It had been a fantastic meal, and we savored our walk back to our accommodations.
You can't really see it, but the Plaza del Salvador was packed with what looked like hundreds of college students having drinks...on a week night! It looked like things were just starting up. We, on the other hand were bushed and quickly headed back.
I took a quick look out the window of the stairway up to our apartment.
And even here there was something dramatic to be seen!
I have a few acquaintances who love the Michelin Star/Best Restaurants in the World kind of thing. And earlier today, one of them sent me this link, telling to look at #13....it was Maido, where we had just eaten last month. What I thought was a bit strange was that Maido was several notches above Azurmendi. Just goes to show you the fickle "sport" of ranking restaurants and also why, while I take all those things into consideration, in the end, I try to figure out the food, how the place suits us, both in cuisine and service (those restaurants where staff is constantly hovering is not for us), before making a decision. A few hours later, "SomTommy" who sometimes comments, sent me an email mentioning the same thing. I replied that I thought this was both interesting and surprising. He then asked me what my favorite restaurant in the world was. What really surprised me was how easy it was typing out my reply; it was Suzunari which we visited during our first trip to Tokyo. The place just suited us; Kaiseki, perfectly prepared, elegant, but not fussy, without pretense, in a casual atmosphere, the customers were all Japanese. Oh, and while it was basically a husband and wife team, with one assistant, this tiny shop had acquired one of those "star" thingies.
Funny thing was, we enjoyed our previous experience so much we returned the last time we were in Tokyo. So I thought I'd do a quick photo post, out of chronological order, but it seemed somewhat timely. We had our good friend Reiko make reservations for us before our last visit; we also insisted that she come along. Even though we knew the pacing of the meal, pretty much in line with traditional Kaiseki, it was still fabulous.
From the steady silent interactions of the chef, his wife, and the assistant. To the sincere service, we loved sitting at the bar, and watching the flawless execution.
The Hassun, just fantastic.
Reiko, a Tokyo native told us that this was the best meal she's ever had and we were so glad to have been able to share it with her.
I'll always remember overhearing some advice from a Japanese National who advised the young couple that if they really wanted a "true" experience, to bypass the multiple Michelin Star Kaiseki places and work a bit harder to find the places that Japanese would go to when they had a nice meal. This lead me to researching a bit and finding Suzunari. My favorite restaurant.
Suzunari 7-9 Arakicho, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
Later during the morning I sent an email to Ed from Yuma and Cathy regarding the list. Ed's response was priceless: "Rereading the post you did, it is amazing that the place had so many little shortcomings. But you are picky." I really don't think I'm picky, but I do know what I like, and after all these years, I think I'm pretty good at mentioning those things I don't care for. Funny thing about places like Maido. These places take chances, are innovative, they have a vision, and move toward that vision. There might be items that aren't your cup of tea, but, at least for us, the highs are amazingly high.
Maido, or even Etxanobe perhaps. Suzunari? I'm pretty sure we'll be back.
But it's a big world and we've only been to 23 countries. The Missus has told me that the US can mostly wait until I'm old and decrepit. Which might be anytime now. And while all these places are great....even the occasional banquet or two.....
We always try to plan at least one "special" meal during our trips. Lima, being one of my favorite food cities has some difficult choices, but Maido, without a doubt was the one place I just wanted to experience. The chef Maido Mitsuharu puts forward a "Nikkei" menu....inspired by Peruvian and Japanese cuisine. Mitsuharu has a pretty good resume, having attended Johnson & Wales and even trained for almost three years in a sushi restaurant in Osaka. You can read his bio here. Being a Sansei from Hawaii, where we have our own spin on Japanese cuisine, much of it based on the lack of many traditional Japanese ingredients, I've always been fascinated by Nikkei Cuisine. And was really excited about our dinner reservations at Maido.
Located on the corner of Calle Colon and Calle San Martin, Maido was quite easy to find. The building itself is quite distinctive. It was 10 minutes before opening and there were folks lining up. Considering all these folks had reservations, it seems that I wasn't the only one excited about eating here.
The interior of the restaurant is somewhat austere, with a sushi bar area and tables. The one really interesting feature are the ropes hanging from the ceiling.....kind of cool and yet kind of strange. I believe it also helps to absorb noise since most of the areas are quite hard.
We had ordered the "Nikkei Experience" when making reservations. This is a 15 course menu of dishes, none of which are revealed until you receive them. You don't even get a listing of the dishes until your meal is complete.
But first, some cocktails. The Missus, in a genius move, ordered the Pisco and Tonic, a wonderful balanced, grown up drink. It was my favorite cocktail of the trip. In fact, I ended up ordering another later on in the meal! At a loss for what to order, I went for the Sakura; a Pisco, Sake, Strawberry, and Camu Camu juice. It was light, clean, refreshing....but was more of a "chick drink".
Lucky for me, the Missus really liked this and we traded. She was especially taken with the flowers in the ice cubes.
Soon enough, dishes started arriving. Things were really paced well, our Server described the basic dish, and seemed pleased when I recognized tastes, flavors, and even knew some of the ingredients in the dish. Service was very professional with nice, friendly touches....."un-stuffy" and perfectly suited to our taste.
Things started off with an interesting "snack". The stuff in the cone was delicious pressed and fried chicken skin dusted with shichimi togarashi. It was so very nice and crisp, with that wonderful "unfowl" flavor of chicken skin.
The other part of the dish were sausages, which seemed like a cross between a bratwurst and chorizo, layered on plantain, senbei (no kidding - senbei) with a sachatomate (tamarillo) emulsion. Nice, but nothing to really get excited about.
What really got our attention was that sauce at the bottom of the photo above. We put some on the chicken skin and cracked up! Pachikay Sauce......it's scallion, ginger, soy.....this tasted like the dipping sauce for for Kwai Fei Chicken! Basically, the sauce for what we call "Cold Ginger Chicken" back home. This had a more complex flavor, the ginger seemed to have been blanched or cooked taking the edge off the flavor, some smokiness, it was also a bit on the salty side as well. Still, we really enjoyed the chicken skin.
The next dish was simply called "Churos"....no not churros, but churos, an Amazonian land snail. The snail had been simmered in a soy based broth, with perhaps some sake and mirin. It was enrobed with a very tasty foam made of dale dale root, which I believe is a type of arrowroot and garnished with "chalaca", a basic topping made of corn, tomato, and onion.
The snail was so tender and full of flavor and the foam really tempered any strong flavors and refreshed the palate.
Next up, one of my favorite items of the evening; simply called Lapas Cebiche. Lapas are "limpets". So, the folks from Hawaii will understand; this is opihi! Really good opihi, served on what was described to me as aji-cilantro-lime juice frozen by liquid nitrogen.
Good lord, this was leche de tigre sorbet! I love leche de tigre.....when our Server heard me exclaim that, he came over, smiled, and said, "yes, it is frozen leche de tigre". Amazing flavors and textures.
Next up was the Paiche Sandwich. Paiche is the legendary Arapaima from the Amazon. It has a nice texture, delicate, yet slightly firm.
The bun, like a mantou was hard, crumbly, and not up to the task. The lulo criolla, strangely didn't register much flavor.
My friends know how much I love cuy (guinea pig)...but cuy gyoza? Well, that's a new one. The wrapper was decent, crisp, not gummy. The filling was interesting, like the filling for a croquette, very soft and mushy....give me this and tell me it's pork and I'd believe you. The sauce was delish.....soy sauce, probably rice vinegar...combined with the onions and chilies, this really tasted Chinese.....as did the Pachikay Sauce. It seems the strong Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine was in play as well.
Next up, well Sushi de Mar......An ika and hotate nigiri. Now, of course I'd never expect anything say...the level of Sushi Iwa or Urasawa....
But for me, the rice did this dish in. The gohan was hard, dry, and very cold. It really detracted from any enjoyment of the very nicely prepared seafood.
While the color of the dish screamed "bland" the "Amazonic Cebiche" was much better.
I loved the "Nikkei leche de tigre", which had some soy sauce in it. It tasted like revved up ponzu. I'm also a big fan of the shaved hearts of palm, which looked like noodles in this dish. That topping, which I was told was made of yucca flour was delish. I believe there was some garlic in here somewhere. There was also some very mild heat from aji charapita.
The next dish was also very good; Cancho con Yuca. This looked like compressed cubes of pork belly and yucca, wrapped up in some kind of dough based wrapper and topped with fried pork skin.
It was served with a "ramen reduction" which was quite salty.
Next up was another dish which just blew me away; Sacha Soba.
The noodles were made from sachapapa an Amazonian tuber. Flavor and color was added via the use of various chilies, and no, this wasn't spicy. But the texture of the soba was perfect; nice pull, that slight smokiness and mild spice from the chilies, balanced by the sweetness of the crab. My goodness, this was so delici-yoso!!!
We just had to have some drinks to celebrate! I got another Pisco and Tonic and the Missus gave in and had a Pisco Sour, which I thought was the most balanced, in terms of booze to sweetness to sour of what I had during the entire trip.
Next up were the Sushi Tierra (Earth). These fared much better than the seafood; possibly because the fat tempered the textures for me.
The A lo Pobre, a wonderfully beefy piece of meat torched, then topped with a quail egg. As a bonus, the quail egg had been injected with ponzu sauce, which added the nice salty-acid component which meant all the difference to this piece of nigiri. The mollejas (beef sweetbread) was nice and fatty which aided the texture, but this was a bit too tame in flavor compared to other piece.
The Missus really enjoyed the "Regional Beans", which had some nice flavor components, the quinoa crisps were very nutty and the Missus, who loves beans, also enjoyed them when mixed with the avocado cream.
So, the Missus has always preferred my misoyaki to everything She's ever had....even to pointing out the failings of what was served at Nobu's and Matsuhisa (!). Until tonight. On this evening, She proclaimed the Gindara to be the best She's ever had. Now I take a back seat.
I have to say, the flavor of the miso sauce/glaze was perfectly balanced; not too strong. the nuts; which I believe were cashews and bahuaja (Brazil nuts if I recall) just placed another layer of texture and flavor. I thought the potato cream was much too salty to enjoy.
The flavor and texture of the Wagyu Shortrib, which they said was cooked for 50 hours.....I'm pretty sure via sousvide, was amazingly tender and the flavor was a nice balance of salty to sweet.....and the egg yolk just added more richness (as if it were needed) to the dish. We both found the Cecina (cured pork) fried rice wrapped up like a spring roll to be kind of odd as it was on the mild side in regards to flavor.
The Missus really enjoyed both desserts. The Cacao; 70% pure, with yuzu and all the nuts.....
And I even enjoyed the "Maduro", which had the odd combination of an ice cream made with plantain and shoyu!
All that really nice tapioca balls, water jelly, and rice milk.....along with some Amazonian fruits like camu camu really made for a nice way to end the meal.
We really enjoyed our meal at Maido. In fact, the Missus told me that this is easily one of the most enjoyable meals of Her life. Me? Well, I can easily say that my favorite dining experience is Suzunari, which we actually returned to on our last visit to Tokyo (I know...I'm really behind). But this was an amazing experience in terms of food and flavors. And while certainly not on the level of Azurmendi, there was one thing they had in common. While not every dish worked to our enjoyment, the "highs" were extremely high. We could relate to the flavors....the combinations of which weren't frivolous.....the cuisine and thus the customer was respected....you could detect the "soul" of the cuisine here, it wasn't some meaningless mash-up. And while I wasn't able to wrangle a reservation at Central; we were both very happy to have the chance to dine at Maido.
Maido 399 Calle San Martin Lima, Peru
This was a wonderful meal. We'd have to get up at 430 the next morning and get our ride to the airport. Next up....Santiago, Chile...even if it was just for a single night we were looking forward to it!
I had just finished what could perhaps be the best single bite I'd ever had. So how would the rest of our dinner at Azurmendi line up?
We were given several different bread courses during our meal. Our favorite was by far were the "steamed rolls"; yeasty, puffy, light as air. The olive oil was delicious, very grassy-peppery. Though the thing that the Missus loved the most was the stylish cruet. She would hunt for these in various shops, finally finding them in San Sebastian, only to shy away at the 60 Euro price tag. I think she'll be getting it next time.
The dish we unanimously enjoyed the least was the Oyster, Tartar, and Gelee. The seaweed tempura was very nice, but for some reason the raw oyster tasted a bit off and it was a bunch of mushy-gummy textures, with too much brine flavors going on.
The Spider Crab and Sea Urchin was a beautifully composed dish.
I'd been wanting a taste of Txangurro, the region's Spider Crab. Here it was sweet, with nice texture, but the Missus wasn't impressed as She declared the crab She grew up eating in Qingdao was much sweeter. The sea urchin is actually infused in a tomato "jus" and it works rather well, adding a nice briney flavor (think of it as the celery in a Bloody Mary). The two items did not go well combined as the crab flavor was totally cancelled out.
So this next item was simply called "Tomato and Eel"....three words....
Take a look at this dish! The pieces of smoked eel were just fantastic; they melted in your mouth with a very clean smoke flavor coming through. The "tomato" was quite a bite! I'm glad I ate it after the eel as it basically exploded, a huge burst of sour and tart flavor.
This one is called "Roasted Lobster Out of the Shell on Oil Herbs and Sweet Chives".
Let me just say; every single piece of seafood here was cooked to perfection. The lobster was just perfect....perfect. It was so perfect that it really didn't need all the pureed herb spheres...or anything else for that matter.
"Stewed Wheat with Farmhouse Milk Emulsion and Oxtail".......figure out what this would look like?
Basically wheat berries in a beef reduction, the milk emulsion tasted like a farmer's cheese, not sold on how it went with the dish. The most interesting thing was the little "bites" of oxtail wrapped in a layer of crisp bread.....sort of Azurmendi's Beef Wellington. The wheat berries seemed to play havoc with the Missus's stomach a bit. A bit too salty overall.
"Pigeon, artichokes, and fried egg".
Really nice, great textures, the flavors went really well together. Now think about this......this was basically the second egg we'd had during this meal so far......along with all the other dishes.
"Hake, Red Pepper Infusion, Idiazabal Bon Bons".
Oh my; that fish, the red pepper sauce, the sauce....even the milky Idiazabal cheese......all working together.
We were given a nice intermezzo to help us recover......
Along with some almond scented "fragrance".......which sounds cheesy, but aromatherapy, what fun!
Such drama on the table!
It was all to refresh and set-up the Foie Gras dish......
This was such a beautiful piece of seared foie gras....not a mousse, but actual foie. It was also quite large considering what we had already put away........this would have been enough for the both of us as part of a 3-4 course meal! I could tell that fatigue was setting in for the Missus.
I hoped that She would recover for the (4) dessert courses. The first being the Apple, Caramel, and Yogurt.
At this point, I knew the Missus wouldn't make it, so I called it. After two bottles of wine and all those courses....we'd had a fantastic experience and it was time.
This was also when Chef Eneko Atxa started coming around to each table.
He seemed such a rather soft spoken, humble, and amazingly youthful looking guy. When the Missus thanked him for all the hard work that went into our meal, he replied; "oh no......it is not work....it is a passion...from here" while touching his heart. I mentioned how much I enjoyed this:
And he went into detail, with times and temps of how it is made..........
Waiting for our cab back to Bilbao, I had a few moments to contemplate our meal at Azurmendi. Disfrutar gave me insight into molecular gastronomy with soul and how fantastically well service can be, skillfully paced, without being stuffy. Etxanobe displayed how a chef driven restaurant can use various traditional flavors and modern techniques together. It also displayed how a Chef's personality and presence can drive an experience. At Azurmendi, I got to understand, how a mission, combined with technique that does not disregard the heart and soul of the product would mean the "sky's the limit". While our meal here was by no means totally suited to our tastes, there were some items that we didn't enjoy, the "highs" were much higher than everywhere else. I believe that Azurmendi takes risks......not everything works for us....but those items that do...oh my, the reward.
I would easily say; this has been the best eating experience I've ever had. And that's what came into play when deciding between the 1-2 Michelin star places and a 3 star place....the experience. Azurmendi will give you that.....
Azurmendi Gastronomico Corredor del Txorierri Salida 25 Larrabetzu, Spain
Our cab driver was a rather serious looking chap. But as we entered the city he asked me, "how do you like?" I told him; "Euskadi is great and Bilbao is wonderful......" Which brought a big smile to his face. And I wasn't lying......
As we left Azurmendi, I was handed something........
It's the tasting menu for our meal. I took this photo right before starting this post. I still haven't opened it yet. Maybe someday I will........
For the crown jewel of our "trifecta" of planned dinners in Spain, I chose Azurmendi. Not because of the three Michelin Stars, but because of the set-up of the restaurant. The location is actually in Larrabetzu, about a 20 minute cab ride from Bilbao. The all glass building, designed by architect Naia Eguino sits on top of a hill via a single lane winding road, with wonderful views.
On the grounds sits a winery, greenhouse (more on that in a few), and the pret-a-porter, which is more of a bistro.
And it's not just the looks. The restaurant itself is totally sustainable; waste is recycled, rainfall is collected; I think the term is "harvested" and recycled, heating, cooling, and other energy needs is done using geo-thermal energy. It's own little eco-system.
For our blow-out meal; I wanted something special....heck, the Missus bought Valentino Flats and backpacked them for the whole trip just for this dinner! The Missus birthday had just passed a few days previous and I'd promised the Missus years ago that She'd never spend it sitting at home and it's a promise I aim to keep for as long as I am able.......we didn't want to be just sitting in a stuffy restaurant behind a white tablecloth; we wanted an experience. And that's just what we got at Azurmendi.
Arriving at the reception area, we were greeted and asked to wait for just a moment. A few minutes later, a young lady in Chef's whites greeted us with a smile. She explained that before dinner she would like to take us on a tour of the greenhouse area and also "forage" for some snacks....forage is used in the loosest of all terms.
The garden is so orderly that it puts our scraggly back yard pot and dirt collection to shame.
We entered the greenhouse and were given the first aperitif.
This is where the fun starts as not everything is as it seems. Beyond that, it is an impressive set-up. Like the rest of the place; very sleek, very clean, looking deceptively simple.
It is obviously not.....
The very nice young lady, a pastry chef, is from Italy. I asked her why she was here. Her answer, "I want to be and work with the best!" She had a great sense of humor as well. When I mentioned how good her English was, she was quick to tell me, "oh, but my Spanish is sooooo bad!"
She guided us around the greenhouse pointing out the various plants...often pointing out the little basket hanging; say, on a branch, loaded with what looked like tree bark. It would turn out to Jerusalem Artichoke made to look like tree bark with a citrus gel........a bit too strong and somewhat bitter for us.
So was the "peanut" made from peanut butter and cocoa with a pulverized dried mushroom coating. It struck me as somewhat odd in flavor and was quite salty.
And so we explored.........with stops for cotton candy and such.....
The best of the lot was the Pumpkin and Sheep Cheese biscuit, which was also kind of salty, but had a really nice flavor.
And this....the avocado pit, which was a delicious chocolate and liquid avocado (think guacamole) bonbon.
It can be quite overwhelming. Like when we returned to the reception area and were asked for a moments pause while our table was readied for us. And out came a picnic basket....it was time for a picnic!
It was Anchovy Mille-feuille....think of it as a anchovy flavored 'nilla wafer. Too much for the Missus, good for me! The roe and dill positioned on a cracker was again a bit high on the sodium scale for me. The most amazing thing was the "CalpiriTxa". We'd heard about Txacoli, the acidic sparkling wine of the region (we'd have our share in San Sebastian) and this was our first encounter. Azurmendi produces its own Txacoli and that is encased in cordial. It had that wonderful sweet citrus punch of a caparinha and was an amazing bite! Simply fantastic, perking up your tastebuds, leaving you wanting more......
Soon a small glass of an hibiscus infusion, tart and palate cleansing arrived.
Followed by a box of leaves? Leaves?
That's right, this is Azurmendi.....
The two "leaves" on the edges were made from walnut and mushroom, two disparate "earthy" flavors that worked really well in crisp form.
After finishing up, we were taken to the kitchen en route to our table.
The Chefs were hard at work....and they scared the crap out of me when they all suddenly turned and greeted us!
The décor of the room is simple, pleasant, and unpretentious, perfect for our needs. The service was excellent, timing perhaps not quite as good as, though more formal than Disfrutar...but all the basics were well taken care of. The Maitre'd; I believe his name is Jon was a joy. As was the view from our table.
Would you believe our table service hadn't even started yet? We chose a bottle of wine from Azurmendi's winery and things got off to a nice start with the Frozen Olive and Vermouth.
Spherification. We'd had the Disfruta de la Aceituna at Disfrutar, but this was even a larger explosion of flavor. The grassy, peppery olive flavors offset by the sweet vermouth....I'm thinking it would have even more intense if this wasn't still partially frozen.
That was followed by possibly the best bite I've ever had in my life....truly. They call this Egg from our Hens, Cooked Inside Out and Truffled.
I love the flavor of eggs, I love onsen tamago, truffle? C'mon, the earthy and savory flavors are among my favorites. Basically an egg yolk that has been infused with warm truffle broth, causing it to cook from the inside out. Oh my.........such wonderful flavors and textures, richness, savory-earthiness, all the best of both eggs and truffles. At the end of our meal, the Chef came around and visited each table. When I mentioned how amazing this one bite was, he told me how it was made in detail.....I don't remember it all, but I will never forget this. Never.
I'm thinking this is getting mighty long. I'll stop here and pick it up in another post.
Waking refreshed after a short nap, we relaxed for a bit, then got dressed and headed off to dinner. While we were told that the best way to get to our destination; located on the top floor of the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall was to catch the tram. The Missus decided (of course) that we should walk. And in all honesty, it was a nice walk.
And of course we just had to stop and take yet another photo of the topiary canine, I nicknamed "Fred".
And while finding our way around downtown Bilbao was kind of confusing to us, this walk was a breeze. We walked through Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar, a very nice green space.
I read that Bilbao was once a rather gritty industrial port city and this park was once the only green space in the city.
And while we were just passing through, we had a great time watching Bilbao's four-legged citizens cutting loose.
I wish I took a photo of an amazing border collie. The owner was sitting on a bench and would whistle and the dog would come running and eagerly vault over the bench! We saw the dog do this, with great joy I might add, several times!
The Conference Center is located across the street from the west end of the park. Built on the former site of the Euskalduna Shipyards, it looks quite nice. Off to the right side are some rather discreet elevators.
Getting off the elevators, we realized, having left with a nice time "buffer"(the really nice folks at the hotel told us it would take 30 minutes - but it took us about 15), we had arrived for our already ungodly early dinner reservations (830), a bit too soon. So we just took in the view.......
We walked in right at 830 pm....the place was totally empty! Yikes.... A very nice gentleman in chef's whites greeted us, "hello...welcome.....my name is Fernando." And he led us to our table while the Maître D' was elsewhere.
The restaurant looks quite formal, but the atmosphere is far from that. We were given a nice table with a view and the really nice gentleman started up a short conversation...whereupon I put two and two together. "Fernando" is Fernando Canales Etxanobe, the Chef/Owner of Michelin starred Etxanobe. He was quite amiable and talked about the culinary "gifts" of the Basque region.
We had ordered the Chef's tasting menu and soon enough the first amuse arrived...delivered by who else, the chef of course.
I really didn't do much research on Etxanobe. In fact, I made reservations at pretty much the last minute; a week before leaving on our trip. I had gotten the feeling that it would be a nice addition to the two other Michelin worthy meals on the trip having a more traditional Basque influence. So imagine my amazement when these tubes of "lipstick" arrived....Sardine Lipstick actually. Very tasty sardine mousse, just enough oil and fish flavor, and quite delicious....so delicious that I don't even remember the other amuse!
And then things really got going......
Ajo Blanco is a traditional cold almond and garlic soup....this version had the amazing flavor of truffles as well.
The flavor of the almonds came through clearly, the truffle flavor was balanced and not over-powering. The garlic flavor was restrained and that olive oil-pesto like drizzle was delicious.
We let the Sommolier pick our wine, a very pleasant and drinkable three grape blend.
Next up was what they called a "Txangurro of prawns and gel".
More of a very shrimp-y croquette than what I understand traditional Txangurro is supposed to be, if you like the true taste of shrimp/prawns/langoustine you'll like this. Even the condensed flavor of the aspic.
One of the strangest sounding items on the menu turned out to be perhaps the best - "Anchovy Lasagna with Tomato Soup".
The tomato soup was basically a very elegant salmorejo, and in spite of the Missus dislike of anchovies; these were very nice, great oil, not too fishy...nice texture. Topped with a nice slightly smokey and sweet red pepper sauce which added to the dish. And then there was that really al dente, just pillowy enough noodle in the bottom which the Missus really took to. Without a doubt, Her favorite dish.
The "Grilled Scallops with Ragout" was nice....the scallops quite sweet and perfectly prepared.
The sauces were curious as I didn't think they added to the dish. Perhaps the cauliflower was the most interesting. Still, just the scallops with nice sea salt alone tasted the best.
The Scampi with Sautéed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta was a nice dish.
The scampi was very moist; the pasta nice and tender, good overall.
By this time, we were done with our bottle; I still wanted something to pair with the last couple of dishes. The sommelier told me the dishes would be a bit more flavor forward and suggested a half bottle of the Vina Ardanza 2004, a nice wine, with a nice acidity and dried cherry notes.
Though it did not pair well with the Hake in Mussel Juice.
While the gravy-like reduced shellfish juice was full of flavor; I thought the mild sweetness of the hake still came through. As expected; the fish was cooked to tender perfection.
When the Tuna with Sumac arrived, I wasn't particularly thrilled as it looked grey and "dead"......
I think they did a sous-vide job on this as it was so moist, literally melting in your mouth....the sumac really added a bit of punch to the dish. The spinach-mustard puree was fine; but this was all about the tuna.
The last non-dessert item was the Suckling Lamb with Sweetbreads.
For me; the most interesting thing was that thin and transparent potato galette, light, with the texture of fried pork skin. The lamb was very moist and tender and the demi glace quite tasty, but it really didn't have the "flavor of the pasture" we both enjoy.
I'm not much of a dessert guy; but I really enjoyed what we had here. The Caprice of Fennel, Strawberry, and Tomato added the right amounts of sweet, savory, and acid to balance things out for me.
If the thought of anise ice cream scares you; in this case it should not as the ice cream had those licorice tones (not my favorite flavor) but nicely balanced with the milkiness and sweet. The strawberry galette and the tomato crumbles really balanced things out.
By this time, the place was packed....every table and seat filled (there's actually a funny story about the folks on the table next to us which I'll reveal in a later post).
But then, Chef reappeared from the kitchen.
Apparently, if you ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu, the finale was prepared by the Chef tableside.
Orange Cream with Liquid Nitrogen...........I was in food geek heaven.
A dollop of orange flavored heavy cream placed in liquid nitrogen.......yielding flavors that took me back to "small kid time"......
Think of it as the best creamsicle bite you ever had...........
In the end, making comparisons with the other fine dining options we had meals at was like choosing your favorite child. While we thought the pacing and service at Disfrutar was better; the food here spoke to us in a different way. And while the highs weren't quite as high as what we had at a three Michelin Star Restaurant the next night; the lows weren't as low. This place really fits that gap.....not too crazy in terms of technology and familiar flavors. Plus, we really enjoyed the intangible....the chef. We asked for a copy of our menu to remember our meal. Our Server smiled and said he would get it for us. What we ended up with was a copy of the menu with a nice note from the Chef. A nice touch. When I got home I did a search on Fernando Canales and was quite surprised. He's a quite the television/celebrity chef in Spain with his own television show and such. So think about it this way; when was the last time you had Emeril or Mario Batali walk you to your table and talk about what they're serving......did they make your dessert table-side? What's up with these really cool Michelin Star Chefs? I got one flashing the peace sign and another seating us at our table....... In terms of price, it was about 220€
Etxanobe Avenida de Abandoibarra 4 Bilbao, Spain
We had a nice relaxing stroll back to the hotel taking the path along the Nervión River.
The "Nana's" were still dancing outside the Guggenheim.
The Arcos Rojos (Red Arches) really catches your eye at night. Bilbao seems to be filled with public art. If you'd like to read the story about this, here's a link
The Maman Spider looks really creepy at night. In a really cool way.
Bilbao was quite a fascinating city. If you'd like to read about how it evolved from industrial city to now (named the Bilbao Effect); here's a nice article.
For us, it was off to bed. We had a day trip planned for the next day.
So what do you get after the defacto "Best Restaurant in the World" (could there really be such a thing?) closes and three of the Chefs de Cuisine (Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas), with over 45 years in the hallowed kitchens of the restaurant decide to collectively open up their own place in Barcelona?
You get Disfrutar, which opened at the end of 2014. When planning for this trip, I decided on three upscale dinners and Disfrutar was one of them. We took the metro to the Hospital Clínic stop which is just a few blocks from the restaurant.
The restaurant looks fairly small from the outside but the dining area is actually quite large. We had arrived at about 8pm, pretty early in Spain, but were relieved to see at least two parties had arrived before us. Being led to our seats, the Missus had a stroke of genius....She asked if we could sit at the bar instead, which is actually the dessert prep area. We were cheerfully accommodated. Like Suzunari and Wakuriya, sitting at the bar watching the food being prepped with precision and skill is a treat.
Also a treat was the service, which we found unpretentious, relaxed, gracious, well paced, knowledgeable, and very pleasant. We enjoyed the service at Disfrutar the most of all the high end places we visited on this trip, which says quite a lot. All questions are answered with enthusiasm and recommendations are made as to the best way to enjoy each dish.
There are two tasting menus each evening; the Menu Disfrutar (68 Euros) about 19 dishes and the Menu Festival, which is 25 (98 Euros). You know which one we chose, right? The serving style is perfect for us; almost family style. The Sommelier, understanding our taste in wine, made some great recommendations, which paired well with our meal.
Enough you say....where's the food? Anyway, here's the deal. I don't want this to be bedtime reading, so I'll try to keep it pretty straight, short, and sweet from here on. I'll highlite our favorites and those we didn't care for as much.
Things started with a foamy Melon Caipirinha, Liquid was poured into a cup of ice, yielding something that frothed up and was nice, with the jellied melon-mint-salt cubes rejuvenating your tastebuds.
Our first bottle of wine.
Our Server brought us what looked like a bowl of black rice. He shook the bowl and up rose "The Beet That Goes Out of the Land".
The balls were light and crisp, the flavor of intense beets coming through. The Missus, who has several times told me; "I hate molecular gastronomy" was sold! This is what I call soulful transformation. We were actually shown how this was made. A beet meringue was created, then dehydrated.
Crispy Bow with Iberican Bacon.
Crisp strand of what was like chicharron with a sticky, thin, slice of jamon on it.
Another flavor explosion; Caramel coated hazelnuts with elderberry.
Another great dish for us; Tomato Polvoron and Arbequina Caviaroli.
A polvoron is basically a shortbread cookie; the texture was similar to that, but with a wonderful deep tomato flavor; a "cookie that spreads edible sunshine", the olive oil caviar, a product of spherification added the fantastic grassy-peppery flavor of good Arbequina Olive Oil.
What I was told is a classic El Bulli dish - Transparent Pesto Ravioli.
Made from oblate film, the stuff folks use to help them swallow meds, is used as a wrapper for pine nuts and basil. It is dipped into a parmesan jus, the wrapper starts melting and basically melts away in your mouth. Nice flavors of pine nuts and parmesan.
Another favorite of ours; from what I was told later another classic El Bulli item; Disfruta de la Aceituna.
Spherification at work again. Two cocoa coated "olives", one contains a concentrated olive flavored liquid, the other a blood orange concoction. Amazing and intense flavors that just explodes upon breaking the cocoa butter crust.
Smoked Idiazabal Cheese Bisquit with Apple.
Looking all the world like a simple cookie with frosting; the creamy unpasteurized goat cheese, with a nice smoke flavor was a surprise. The tart cider aperitif helped balance things out.
Next up, an amazing dish; Crispy Egg Yolk with Mushroom Gelatin.
Think egg yolk tempura; crisp and light on the outside, soft and oozy when you bite into it. It's a fabulous bite. The eggshell holds a mushroom gelee that was full of savory mushroom flavor.
Seafood and Avocado Merengue sandwich.
This was a bit fishy and rich, the Missus could only finish half of this tiny flautas.
For some reason we didn't take to the overly salty and fishy anchovy part of Anchovy and Almond Mato with Truffle, Fir Tree Honey, and Pine Nuts.
Too many strong flavors and textures. This just didn't seem to go together real well.
The Missus was really worried about the Marinated Oily Fish with Cauliflower Tabbouleh and Mushrooms. First, She's not a big fan of mackerel and also not fond of strong parsley flavor.
So this was a wonderful surprise for Her, the fish rich, not too fishy, tender, the oil negated by the acid and the savory mushroom jus. The tabbouleh was delicious, the cauliflower seemed the perfect foil for the parsley. This was delicious.
In turn we weren't wow'd by the Macaroni Carbonara.
Gelatin based noodles, parmesan and pancetta were combined with a parmesan-truffle foam, which became the sauce. The "noodles" didn't break down quick enough and the texture was like eating plastic.
The Vegetable Sashimi served as sort of an intermezzo, we loved the pure flavors of the vegetables combined with the sauces/seasonings each one was graced with. Those tomatoes were amazing and the combination of cucumber with mint just worked right.
The Scallop Marrow with Osetra Caviar was fine....this really reminded me of swordfish bone marrow, which I actually prefer to this. I thought it needed less salt and a bit more citrus or acid.
Mussels with Peas in Salsa Verde.
Asparagus in Fennel Meunière with Trout Eggs.
The trout eggs added the zing to a rather mild dish. For some reason we didn't enjoy the flavor of white asparagus with fennel.
Deep Fried Monkfish "Ssam", I'm guessing from the Korean Bossam as this came in the lettuce cup.
Loved the fry job on the monkfish, the flavor came through, it was moist, a perfect piece of fried fish.
We both thought the Unilateral Langostine was a bit overcooked for our taste.
But man, the Perigueux Beef was amazing.
You wrapped the slices of beef around a little crouton and foie gras and had the perfect bite(s).
Nice meal, eh?
But it wasn't over yet.
You know I'm not a dessert kind of guy; but man, some of this stuff was plain amazing. The photo above is of the "Tangerine", a frozen tangerine rind which bears a granite, rose jelly, and a parfait.
Chocolate Cheesecake Cornet
That's Catalan Cream Bread, which came with Blood Orange Couscous.
We saw one of the Chefs placing what looked like chili peppers on a plate. We had no idea what it was. It turned out to be my favorite dessert item; Chocolate Peppers, olive oil, and salt. Man, what a combination! The sea salt really brought everything together. Like I said, I'm not a dessert guy, but this was really, really good. This was the perfect whimsical, fun, but delicious dessert.
As for our after dinner coffee? Well it came in the form of Coffee Profiteroles. A nice way to finish dinner. And though it seems to be a lot of food, we weren't stuffed to the gills, which I think is a tribute to the pacing of dishes.
As we finished up our dinner, our wonderful Server told us to follow him and took us on a short impromptu tour of the kitchen. The place was packed with customers greeting their dishes with wide eyed anticipation.
When I quickly mentioned the skill it takes to make these dishes, his answer came quickly; he pointed to his heart and said, "we are always reminded, it must come from here." Ah, a perfect end to an epic and wonderful meal. One of a trio of unforgettable experiences. We will not forget you Disfrutar, as you are unforgettable. Might be the best 250 Euros I've ever spent.
Disfrutar Calle Villarroel 163 Barcelona, Spain
Heading back to our apartment, we decided to take a walk around Sagrada Familia, which looked quite beautiful without the swarms of tourists around.
The Missus turned to me and said, "ok, we've had a great dinner. Now we're burning it off tomorrow!"
On the way back to the machiya, we ran into Masae, the owner of the property and also the craft beer bar in the shopping arcade. We asked her about finding some tea. She recommended a visit to Ippodo Tea. So after a nice shower and a short nap, we headed off to find Ippodo. Up Higashioji-dori, then west on Marutamachi, crossing the Kamo River.....left on Teramachi-dori right when you hit Kyoto Imperial Palace Park......about four block down, you'll find Ippodo.
The shop and the connected Kaboku Tearoom, where you learn to make and also taste various teas was doing some brisk business. One of the young ladies spoke excellent English. We didn't have time to dally, but she went over all the main types of tea with the Missus and we got to sample a few. We ended up purchasing a few packages.....which the Missus loves. I'm thinking we'll be back.
Ippodo Tea Teramachi-dori Nijo, Nakagyo-ku Kyoto
We really weren't sure of exactly where our dinner destination was. I'd heard of a place serving rustic wild game; I recall the term "mountain food" a couple times when reading about the place. It really didn't take us long to find the place. Masae pointed out it was near the Hotel Heiannomori, right past Okazaki Shrine.
The rabbit is the spirit of the shrine and is also said to house the god and goddess of easy childbirth.
It's a nice peaceful place to visit.
Right past the shrine, you can't help but locate Okariba. You can't miss the signs. The place is dark, warm, and very rustic looking. The trappings are simple; a large grill in the middle of the room; beer kegs lie about, the lines drawn to the taps. The owner is a very gentle and soft-spoken bespeckled gentleman named Aoki-san....whose mild manner belies the name of the place; "Hunting Ground" as well as the firearms hanging on the wall.
The Missus took a quick look at the sake bottles on one of the tables and said; "he has his own sake, with the name of the place on it."
And so we sailed off on our maiden voyage at Okariba, with simple, but nicely braised slices of daikon and aburage.
The sake was mild and sweet, but really, this type of food called for beer. After starting with this; it was beer all the way.
Things started off with what is probably the signature dish here (though folks who came in later all ordered trout); the grilled wild boar. Wonderful, surprisingly tender chunks of wild boar with a classic Japanese marinade and tare; smokey from the charcoal, slightly sweet, nicely porky, but mild. The portion size was quite a surprise for us; this is enough for two or three to start.
We weren't going to Kyushu, but I knew I could get a specialty of that area here; basashi - horse sashimi. I really love the flavor of horse; I know, it's not PC.....but it's not endangered either, right?
This was very nice; served just slightly frozen, just the way I was told it shoud be, the flavor is quite clean, with a mild sweet finish. The texture is like beef, with a tad more toothfullness. I love this dish.....
Arriving with the basashi was a combination of preserved vegetables and something else....more on that in a bit. I grew up eating items like takana-zuke, so I loved the pickled greens. I'd never had fuki-miso, basically akunuki butterbur, stirfried with miso, then preserved.
The most interesting thing was the "Inago" - locusts, which had been glazed with a wonderful sweet mirin-soy. These were nice and crisp and so sweet and salty....going well with beer.
The Missus's favorite dish by far was the hobamiso.......
A wonderful, savory, but not salty miso with mushrooms and scallions grilled on a leaf. It was funny; we thought we were doing pretty well; but Aoki-san came by......and decided he needed to show us how it was done....it became this wonderful, miso-mess of flavors.
This just screamed for another beer; so we ordered one. And were soon surprised with this....Aoki-san brought it over and said "gift-tu"..... Some nice home made tofu.
Then another "gift"....this was fantastic. I'd never had Wasabi-zuke before. This was wonderful; made from the leaves and stems of the wasabi plant; on occasion you'd get a super pungent bite, but the flavors were amazing, sweet-pungent-bitter-sour-salty...totally my kind of dish.
When this arrived, I just thought I needed to have another beer.....he's giving us free food. So I had another beer....at which time fried tofu arrived.
By this time I figured out...the more we drank, the more stuff would be coming out. I'd better quit here or we'd be literally rolling back! If there was a time I wished we could tip in Japan, it was here. The warmth and hospitality made me want to do something. I should have brought some omiyagi, or something......
We decided to follow the Shirakawa canal through Gion. I took this photo on one of the cement bridges, the type with no handrails that passes over the canal near Shinbashi.
Crossing over the Kamo river, we then headed up, the now busy Ponto-chō, restaurants now going full tilt.
As we passed by a hair salon, something caught my eye. I pointed out the one guy doing "hair" in the salon, which was closed to the Missus. She said, "yeah, he's doing hair, so what?" I told Her to take a look....that head had no body! He was actually working on a wig placed on a mannequin head. I'm not sure if this is SOP....but it just seemed a bit, well, strange......
And finally, there as Shijo-dori....while not crazy as Tokyo; which seems to actually be pulsating with it's own heartbeat, the crowds and objective sure were a contrast to the Gion.
The Missus really seemed to take to Kyoto. The size, the crowds, the shops, were just Her speed.
At this point, we decided to head back.......the Missus was tired for a change.
As we crossed Furumozen-dori, we noticed some activity up ahead. Lanterns, laughter, drums......and strange specters seemed to float ahead.
Suddenly we both remembered. Masae had told us that Awata Matsuri was happening this weekend. This was the Awata Jinja Lantern Festival! We were told that one of the key points of the Matsuri was that this was the day when both the Buddhist and Shinto Priests actually get together and celebrate together.
Then of course, there's the inevitable intermingling that occurs when everyone takes a break at Family Mart!
Once things got started, we quickly made it back to the machiya. Why? Well, because the lantern parade went right through the shopping arcade, right past where we were staying.....
It's quite amazing. The paradox, the new, modern, somewhat glitzy, but there's always the respect for tradition that pulls things in....bringing order to things.
And also very thankful. For the fire control, who instantly put out all the burning embers from the fire which was placed on the ground for some symbolic reason. Once it was lifted back up, they sprung into action and made sure everything on the ground was put out in the blink of an eye.......that's Japan in a microcosm.
Having started our day before 5 in the morning, we'd walked at least 7-8 miles easily. The Missus, for the first time I can recall was totally bushed. It had been quite a day. I'd planned our "red-lettered day" in Tokyo; starting with Tsukiji Market and meals at Michelin starred Sushi Iwa and Suzunari. And while that was an epic and unforgettable day. This rather unscripted, hastily planned day was its equal.....Sushi Iwa and Suzunari showed me the skill, execution, and polish of a great restaurant. Karako and Okariba displayed the heart and soul......each has its place in my eating universe.
I'd planned of having a heck of a first full day in Tokyo....it was to be our "red lettered day". We started out at Tsukiji Market, then had lunch at Sushi Iwa. I wanted to finish off the evening with something special. initially, I thought about one of those 2-3 Michelin Star places....but, as I've mentioned before, I think folks put a bit too much in the "star" system, though there's a good bit a rating like that does say. I started thinking a bit differently about things when I overheard a conversation regarding some of the "top rated" places in Tokyo.....and I read about this common theme as well. You won't find any Japanese Nationals at many of these places....nowadays it's mostly Chinese/European/American tourists. Nothing wrong with that, but it's just not our style. Also, we wanted something that wasn't too stuffy or pretentious, not overdone and precious. I wanted a place where we'd find Japanese eating. After doing a whole lot of research, hemming and hawing, a little Kaiseki place named Suzunari came up. No, you won't find it on Chowhound, I just did a search on the Japan board before starting this post. A big plus was this little place was located in rather close proximity to our apartment in Yotsuya. The only obstacle was trying to get reservations...nothing online, we had no concierge, no English spoken. We're lucky to have friends who were able to make reservations for us. So we headed down the narrow streets of Arakicho a neighborhood of small, somewhat private looking bars and restaurants....we just followed the Salarymen.
I had read that Suzunari had no real sign and it was very difficult to find so we started early....strangely, perhaps it was luck, we found the place with no problems at all. Sticking my head in the door, quietly saying in my fumbling Japanese "Yoyaku shitemasu......" to the young woman working the tables, suddenly I heard a greeting from behind me......this happened to be Chef Murata and the kind and warm young lady is his wife. They were of course expecting us, first grabbing our coats then leading us to our seats at the bar.
The bar seating was already filled in this tiny restaurant.
There are three versions of the menu available, basically, 60, 100, or 150 dollars. Heck, we were in Tokyo, we had arranged for the 15,000 yen menu. There's so much preparation done ahead of time, that you need to indicate which offering you want. I had the folks choose our Nihonshu, just indicating we wanted something "local"... the young woman knew a little English, which helped, and I did my best....which wasn't much.
It was great watching Chef Murata and his assistant prep all the dishes. The entire staff was a total of four, the Chef, his second, his wife who worked the front of house, and an older woman, who seemed to be one of their mothers, who took care of the dishes and cleaning....it really seemed to be a family affair. And yes, this is Tokyo, most everything was done in almost a hushed silence.
The meal itself was amazing.....Chef Murata would often stop everything he was doing to try and explain what he was serving, or his wife would try to find the English words for items......they seemed to be pleasantly surprised that I knew the Japanese or at least the English names of what was being served. Of course there were still many, many, gaps...items I've not had experience with, which made this meal even more pleasant.
The Sakizuke, first course was a refreshing, understated course of shrimp and tender tako with what seemed like, but I don't think was grated yamaimo, it was too smooth. The aspic was subtle, but refreshing.
The range of flavors all seemed to compliment each other.......so smooth...
The Hassun, basically a arrangement of appetizers was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen.
No matter what angle I tried; I couldn't capture the breath of this in one photo. It's also impossible to explain all the tastes, textures, and fragrances in just a few words.
I will say, some the simpler items were just amazingly perfect; the smoked duck was moist and tender that you would think it was pork, except it had that nice duck flavor....the ginnan, earthy, with a hint of sweet and bitter but also made crunchy. The two almost ohitashi like dishes; the greens and mushrooms with yuzu, topped with beautiful, briney ikura, served in a hollowed out yuzu....the fragrance of the fruit adding a nice touch. The tai with shiokara sauce, sweet, pungent, chewy and silky smooth at the same time. The bo-zushi was a fantastic combination of milky and savory flavors, cut by the vinegar in the rice. You really could go on and on.....
And yet, the one item we're still talking about is the simply perfect shirako........perhaps my best bit of the year. Firm until it enters your mouth, turning into a wonderful melting creaminess upon your first bite. Just simply amazing.
The Mukōzuke, the sashimi course, was fine.......
The Mushimono - steamed dish was a fabulous. A chawan-mushi, steamed egg dish, was so smooth and custard like. This version had suppon (soft shell turtle) in it.
Comfort food taken to the next level.....the suppon is quite mild in flavor.
Botan Ebi - October is pandalus nipponesis season from what I understand.
You know which part we treasured the most, right?
We watched as fish were skewered and roasted/broiled in the salamander. Chef told me what kind of hikarimono these were but I really couldn't understand and I didn't want to take him away from the now full house he was dealing with. I figure these were the yakimono items.
The fish were rich, with good oil, savory, and quite tender. Our favorite was the version served with a smooth, savory, beany, but not salty aka miso. It just blended in so well with the fish and especially the shiitake mushroom....umami overload.
This was so good, we don't even remember the next item.......
I'm thinking this was a palate refresher....because next up was the Kamameshi, the grand finale as it were. Noticing that I was taking photos......the young lady kindly brought me the pot of rice to photograph before serving......it was just so touching in a way....so thoughtful....
Mixed and served with the typical Kōnomono, seasonal pickles.....this was by far the best kamameshi we'd ever had...it was just masterfully prepared, so perfect in proportion. Also, the entire pot was for us! We saw the couple next to us totally clean out the entire pot....but there was no way we could do this. In the typical way, they made onigiri for us.
The aka miso shiru had a large amount of lobster in it. It was rich, yet not salty......it wasn't a favorite of the Missus, who I guess prefers the really salty versions we have here in the states....She really didn't care for any of the miso soup we had in Japan.
And yes, there's dessert....but there was no way we'd be able to do that. I just nodded "no" and patted my stomach and said, "oh no. soon sumotori....." Which got a nice laugh.
As the evening wore down, the folks here took time to formally introduce themselves to us and kind of of wondering where we were from. I do wish I spoke and understood more Japanese. They were genuinely surprised to find we were from San Diego.
We both loved Suzunari. In fact, if we're ever back in Tokyo, I'll try and find a way to return. The food is great, the folks running the place are wonderfully gracious, very relaxed, and so sincere. It's more than wonderful food; it was a memorable experience It was the perfect place for us; no pretense, not stuffy, a family operation, gracious hosts, and fantastic food. There were no tourists in the place other than us......the place was fully booked. We didn't want any concessions and that's a great thing we found in Japan, I'm sure there are places that will do this....but as a whole, you'll eat like the people. We loved it!
Yes, you need to book months in advance as it has perhaps 8 bar seats and three small tables. And yes, they do have a Michelin star.
All customers are escorted out as they leave and thanked; though the Chef came out from behind the counter to join us as well....to give me his business card. But I gotta ask.....when was the last time you saw a Michelin-starred Chef flashing the peace sign in a photo? You gotta love this place! We do!
I'd planned on making our first full day in Tokyo our "red lettered day" for our trip and things were starting out great with a visit to Tsukiji and breakfast at Tenfusa. We left Tsukiji and decided to walk up to Ginza. We stopped for coffee in a nice quiet shop and struck up a conversation with a nice couple, he was retired military, his wife, a native of Tokyo, returns yearly to lecture. It was quite an entertaining discussion.
Ginza is the upscale shopping and entertainment neighborhood of Tokyo....huge multilevel department stores, like Mitsukoshi, which once had a shopping complex in Waikiki which had an entire floor of video games. So large it even has its own subway stop on the Ginza line! More on that later.
We walked around the Ginza area killing time. I'd gotten lunch reservations at Sushi Iwa through the wrangling of some friends. That's the deal with being in an apartment, there's no concierge service, but I think we did fine. For what it's worth, the place has a Michelin Star, which, I guess for some people is all that really matters...... sigh.
Now finding a single doorway on a side street in Ginza while trying to use the Japanese address system, can be frustrating. Armed with a photo of the storefront, finding the address 8-5-25 Ginza, Chuo-ku ranks right up there with spending your day chewing on aluminum foil. For some reason, the Missus did exceptionally well once we could locate the "chome" - district, in this case 8-chome. The next number is the block, which was easy enough....you find 4 or 6 and you know "5" is in there somewhere. That last number is the building....the trick here being that the numbering for buildings is not consecutive. Rather, buildings are numbered in the order in which they were built or in reference to some "center"! All this made finding almost everything an adventure. We really didn't feel bad after seeing so many Japanese visitors and even residents of Tokyo...even our friend Reiko has no idea how to find a place without using a business card, an app, or asking directions. Given the immense tolerance and patience of folks we ran into, this is fairly common.
The shop itself is quite tiny; only six seats. The lines very clean, very neat, the space wide open for viewing the chef Hisayoshi Iwa preparing our meal.
So why lunch? Well, the Missus was having a hard time justifying spending over $200 per person for a sushi dinner, kaiseki maybe, but just not sushi. Plus, with rice involved, we tend to fill up rather quickly. Sushi Iwa has a basic sushi lunch (10 pieces) for 4750 yen - (under $50, you can get the 13 pieces for $85). This is a bargain in my eyes.
We started with a nice clean, cold sake, which the Chef recommended.
It was a joy to watch the precision practiced by the rather young (mid-late 30's) Chef. I love the single bite Edo style sushi. The rice here is very mild and balanced in flavor, which is my preference. The nikiri is also quite neutral, no heavy sweet or salty tones, just adding a mild umami. I loved what I call the "rice explosion", when the nigiri enters the mouth and just breaks down without chewing....the Missus still isn't used to this having had too much neighborhood sushi back in the states.
1 - Hirame.
It's standard operating procedure to start with a firm and mild shiromi and hirame (fluke/flounder) fits the bill. I personally love shiromi, the subtle flavors, rasied by a nice nikiri. This had a bit too much wasabi on it for my taste, but was still a nice firm piece.
2 - Madai
Firm then yielding, my kind of fish.
3 - Kinmedai
I really loved this fish, golden eye sea bream, when I had it earlier in the year at Shunji. This just confirmed my love for the firm, yet deceivingly fatty flesh which was elevated by the nikiri. We basically used no soy sauce for any of our nigiri.
4 - Akami-zuke
Lean maguro, "cured" in a soy sauce mixture. This was fine, but really nothing special in terms of flavor or texture. In fact, this one just reinforced how good Tadokoro is in my mind.
5 - The prep for the ika was amazing to watch. The squid was sliced horizontinally into paper thin sheets....you could actually see through them! It was then cut into very thin strips.
It almost looked like shio ebi! After having mine, I told the Missus this one was going to change Her view of ika. And it did! It was amazingly tender with great flavor....it nearly melted in our mouth.
6 - Katsuo
Good oil, but still quite mild, nice meaty texture.....the usual ginger helped refresh.
7 - Ishigaki Clam
At first I thought it looked like mirugai, but I was told it was Ishigaki-gai - Giant Clam from Ishigaki Island, something new for me. It was firm and crisp and more briney than sweet. In fact, the rather heady flavor reminded me of Chocolate Clams.
8 - The hotate (scallop) was cured, then massaged.
Man, this was awesome, so tender, sweet, and almost ethereal as it melted away in your mouth.
9 - Ikura
The Missus had also never had ikura that tasted like this. It was clean, like a orb of the cleanest, sweetest, ocean water. I often go back to this line, "I've been told that the freshest, cleanest salt water in the world exists several hundred miles off the South coast of the Big Island, deep in the ocean, the Ikura made me think of how clean and refreshing that water would taste" from a post from the past.
10 - Anago.
True Edo-mae sushi places in Tokyo will never serve you unagi, rather, only items from the ocean, and out of Tokyo bay will be served. This was an excellent example of the sweet, mild, melt in your mouth, anago nigiri. Nothing I've ever had (Kaito, Kokoro, Tadokoro, places in LA) has ever been this good.
11 & 12 - Things ended with some miso shiru and a combination of rolls.
All in all, a wonderful meal, and a bargain at $110 for the two of us.
Sushi Iwa 8-5-25 Ginza, Chuo-ku Tokyo, Japan
Wow, we'd had quite a day....and it was only half over!