Archive for October, 2015

October 22, 2015

Sushi Mizutani, Tokyo, Japan 鮨 水谷

by Josh

Nestled in the city of Tokyo on the 9th floor of an unassuming building in Ginza, rests one of the most highly rated sushi restaurants in all of Japan. A former 3 Michelin star (now 2, though I strongly disagree with this demotion, but I’ll save that for another piece) restaurant often mentioned in the same breath as the now legendary Sukiyabashi Jiro from “Dreams of Sushi”.

Tina booked the restaurant through our hotel concierge 2 months ahead of our honeymoon trip for dinner on our first night in Tokyo. From what I understand, as a foreigner this is the only way to make a booking. Even then, we would consider ourselves lucky to have landed it. A combination of the time of year and weak yen meant a high volume of tourists visiting Japan at that time.

I was extremely excited. I was so determined to enjoy the meal that I took a nap before the meal to make sure jet lag crash never had a chance to be a factor in this experience.

It would be the very first sushi omakase I’ve had in Japan. Actually, this was the first time I was ever in the country. A high end sushi restaurant for my first dinner in Tokyo? Yea, I did that. People say to end your trip on a high, needless to say that advice went thoroughly unheeded.

I’ve dined at a number of high end sushi restaurants in the US, in particular San Francisco where we enjoy our fair share of quality sushi restaurants. I thought that I had enough experience over the years to have developed a taste for sushi. But this was Japan, surely they do it even better here.

Upon stepping out of the elevator we were greeted by a very quiet and serene atmosphere. Mizutani’s hostess, also his wife, came out with smiles and welcomed us in to the small space the occupied the dining area. There were a total of 10 seats in the restaurant. Nothing atypical, as the restaurant can only source so many ingredients to serve their guests, limited seating is common place. There was Mizutani himself who prepares every single piece of a sushi and another helper in the front, and another in the back preparing grilled items.

We each got tea to go with our meal, and decided to go with sushi for the omakase. You are given the other option of sashimi as well, but I’d recommend sushi. I personally think making the rice well is very important part of a sushi itamae’s skill set. Having just the fish would be selling the experience short.

It’s a quiet dining experience apart from some chatter between the guests and the chef. It was so serene I didn’t want to make a sound to disturb anyone. Some may find it too serious for their liking, but I personally enjoy the mindset it puts me in to focus on the food. Each piece of sushi is prepared by Mizutani, then served on to your plate. Wasabi and soy sauce is already applied so there’s nothing you need to add to it. Just pick it up with your fingers, and eat it as a whole. Don’t bother with chopsticks, you only risk having it come apart. As I do in every country I visit, do as the locals do.

The first sushi prepared for us was a Hirame (flounder). Flounder isn’t a fish I usually care for too much. It’s a white fish that doesn’t have much taste, but that very first piece of sushi put me in euphoria. I knew I was in for something that was going to be a life defining experience. The subsequent 18 or so pieces of sushi confirmed that without a doubt this was the best sushi I’ve had, by a significant margin.

Their fish is sourced from Tsukiji fish market. Where Mizutani visits every morning to hand pick the fish he serves his customers. While the fish there is obviously fresh, I can imagine it takes considerable experience and talent to pick out the best of the bunch. The second to none freshness, taste, and texture of the fish certainly reflects this. Other than fish, there was a number of shell fish sushi served which I was new to. All served raw of course from kobashira (giant clam) to hotate (scallop). None of the fishy taste with that subtle hint of sweetness. Easily comparable among the best of the best.

Now continuing on to the part of Mizutani’s sushi that I have been dying to mention since the beginning and that is the rice. That rice was simply phenomenal. I consider myself very picky about rice in general and Mizutani’s sushi rice was every bit perfect in my book. The softness of the texture tells me it’s sufficiently moist yet firm, but not so much that it becomes mushy. In specific to sushi rice, the ratio and temperature needs to be carefully kept to maximize the flavor and taste of the accompanying fish. Mizutani executed this perfectly. I was very tempted to ask for a bowl of just his sushi rice.

Tina and I both noted how well ran the kitchen was. As mentioned before, every piece of sushi was put together by Mizutani himself, and the assistant helped with the preparation of the fish. I noticed fish that needed to be skinned were done minutes before. Perhaps it was in the interest of keeping flavor in the meat.

Mizutani himself spoke little to no English. While he doesn’t initiate much banter with customers, he’s very receptive when I asked a question here and there. I did have a basic level of Japanese which helped. He was happy to take a picture with us at the end of the meal, and even personally walked us to the elevators with his wife. As we waited for the elevator to arrive, I told him in Japanese that his sushi was very very delicious and thanked him for the meal. This would be only the second time I’ve ever personally said this to a chef.

Eating Mizutani’s sushi was a religious experience. I didn’t need to try very hard to keep myself quiet, as I was simply at a loss for words after each piece. The only intelligible thing I could utter to Tina after each piece of sushi was: “SO. GOOD.”. In the middle of it all, when I finally recovered from my daze, I seriously wondered if this could get any better. I can’t tell you that this is the best sushi in the world, but it’s by far and away the best I’ve ever had.

DSC01417

Side notes

Unfortunately photos were prohibited at the establishment. So we can’t share the food in all it’s glory. However trust me when I say that the food looked every bit as good as it tasted.

List of sushi served off the top of my head. I didn’t take notes as diligently as I should have, but I bolded the ones that I especially liked.

Hirame
Ika
Akami
Kobashira
Sayori
Hotate
Chutoro
Ootoro
Anago
Aji
Uni
Ebi
Tekkamaki
Tamago

Tags: , ,
October 15, 2015

Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens (梅菜扣肉)

by tina

porkbelly_meitsai01

I had first made this dish back in April this year and finally had the time to perfect it. The main thing I was working on was getting the right sauce quantity needed for steaming and also the right amount of soy sauce and sugar for the right taste.

This dish brings back a lot of childhood memories, as it was one of my favorites as a child. My grandma in Taiwan used to preserved the mustard greens herself and we would either get some from her every time we visit Taiwan or she would bring some to us in the states. My mother made it the best. Although I don’t think I’ve been able to replicate that exact same taste, but I think it is pretty darn close.

Ingredients:

  • About 2 lbs pork belly (with skin on)
  • 2 cups preserved mustard greens (梅菜)

Water bath

  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 by 3 inch ginger
  • 2 stalks green onions
  • 1 star anise

Vegetable portion

  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

Sauce for steaming

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 star anise (can be the same one from the water bath)

**Allow about 5 hrs to make

Directions:

First, soak the preserved mustard greens in water for at least 2 hours. Then naturally, wash and cut into pieces.

The 梅菜 I have here are from Taiwan, preserved by my relatives. If you buy the completely dried packages from an asian grocery store, they will need to be soaked for a much longer time–at least 5 hours, and they’re usually already cut into pieces.

porkbelly_meitsai02

Now onto the pork belly.

porkbelly_meitsai03

You will need to boil out the fat and give the meat some flavor in a water bath.

Fill the pot with water. Peel the garlic cloves. Peel and cut the ginger into small chunks. Cut the green onions. Place these ingredients and star anise in the water. Turn the temperature to high. When it comes to a boil, place the pork belly in the water bath. Make sure the pork belly is covered completely by water. Cover lid. Turn temperature to low medium and simmer. Flip the pork belly around after 30 mins and continue simmering for another 30 mins. So the total simmer time is 1 hour.

porkbelly_meitsai04

Take the pork belly out of the water bath and place it on the cutting board. Since it is still too hot to touch, you can check the skin for any pork hairs and remove with tweezers. Wait until it is cooler to touch, then make small slits on the skin with the tip of a knife. Coat all surface area with soy sauce. Let is sit for about 10 mins.

porkbelly_meitsai05

The next step is to sear the pork belly skin: Heat the pan on medium high and when the pan is hotter, add about 2 tablespoons of canola oil.  When the oil is hotter, place the skin side of the pork belly down in the pan. Be careful, the oil may splatter, so use the pan lid as a shield or an oil splatter screen.

Sear the skin until brown. Try to sear as evenly as you can by tilting the pan and moving the oil around in the pan so that the sides and edges can be seared.

porkbelly_meitsai06

Using the same oil that was used to fry the pork belly skin. Turn the temperature to high until the pan and oil is hotter and place the preserved mustard greens in the pan. Stir for about 30 secs. Add the sugar and soy sauce and continue stirring for about 1-2 minutes. Then set it aside.

porkbelly_meitsai07

Slice the pork belly into thin slices (~1/2 inch slices) and place them in a large enough bowl that will be able to fit into your rice cooker/steamer. To fit all the slices evenly in the bowl, you can first put a few slices at the bottom of the bowl and then fan out the rest of the slices on top.

For the sauce, simply mix the soy sauce, sugar, and water. Pour in the sauce along with the star anise. Add the preserved mustard greens on top.

porkbelly_meitsai08

Put 3 cups of water in the rice cooker. Place the bowl in the rice cooker (Tatung rice cookers are such good steamers). Cover bowl with a plate. Cover with rice cooker lid. Switch down that cook button.

Once the button clicks back up, you must wait for about 1 hour before it is ready.

porkbelly_meitsai09

It is now ready. (finally)

porkbelly_meitsai10

Tags: ,
%d bloggers like this: