Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Magic of Sushi: from Blowfish to Sea Urchin


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Blowfish Fins to go
You’d think we would be worn out by now. We were. But high on the list of things to do today - and it was 3 p.m. - was to go to have the shaved ice experience. Wow. Another Wow. We went into a tiny tiny cafe with metal chairs. There were options - strawberry and milk; green tea mixed with milk and syrup and bean paste; caramel and milk; well, things like that. Caroline and I chose strawberries and milk. James, the green tea. In 15 minutes, I, the soft ice lover, had the extraordinary experience of Japanese shaved ice. It made me think of what you get when you try to make ice cream out of snow. It was delicious. It was huge. It was just sweet enough. Dig in with a spoon and it begins to melt down rapidly until it kind of becomes soup. But, we did it. It was a highlight.

Bit of the Blowfish - I live
Blowfish Ready for Me
Finally back to the hotel, we had a shot period before our sushi dinner - and before that I was to take the plunge into the blowfish. Here’s the story. Blowfish can ONLY be prepared by someone certified to do blowfish (in other words they know its parts well.) Although we were going to have omasaki at one of the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo this night, the chef there was not qualified. So I had purchased a small plate of it at Mitsukoshi Department store. It was fully iced and wrapped so I could get it back to the hotel for the experiment - would I live or die. This was a bucket list thing. And it was delicious. And I survived. I had no doubt. 

Sushi in Japan is a serious consideration. The high end restaurants have temperamental chefs who guard the quality of their work and fish. They have little patience with “tourist” and prefer the aficionado which we hoped we were. However Caroline needed to be considered and so our guide found a restaurant where James and I could enjoy a true sushi omakase (it means “I’ll leave it to the chef to pick out what he wants us to eat.”).  The chef bases his menu on what was found to be the best quality fish and seafood available that day. We were booked at Sushi Kanesaka, considered one of the best, and also there was a la carte choice for Caroline.

Tuna Toro Terrific
Transparent Ice Fish with eye
I was impressed about how small sushi restaurants are. Just a beautiful blond wood bar that holds about a dozen people. That’s it. Two  to three chefs work the diners and there  is an assistant who brings the fish in bamboo boxes to the chief chef. It is all very silent and dignified (none of the shouting) and sort of puts us in the role of responding properly. (I am embarrassed when my arthritic fingers cannot manouver the chopsticks to pick up a tiny piece of crabmeat. Oh well.)  We were told most sushi restaurants are not suited for younger children and rarely have a la carte.  These chefs are serious and they want guests to appreciate  and focus on their art of the fish and their presentation (this is the heaven of sushi). If a person finds something “gross” and struggles to eat them, some sushi chefs like Sushi Jiro would be upset and would question why the guide would bring someone not comfortable with the sushi selection. So we were happy to have a place where Caroline could enjoy what she wanted as well, and she did, and we did. Each politely small piece of fish was an epicurean miracle - from the fatty toro (tuna) to the Bafun sea urchin (where I tried to smile as it slipped down my throat). James and I started with ice fish (transparent tiny fish still with the eye dot - similar to the morning one but much more elegant); then the fatty tuna, medium fatty tuna, and just plain tuna; (you elsewhere have never tasted anything like the real Japanese tuna sashimi); snapper, horse mackerel, mackeral, ark shell, baby scallop, razor shell scallop (big), sea eel, raw baby shrimp, monk fish liver, crab with a hairy shell - way too much to eat but an extraordinary experience. I have LIVED sushi. Domo Arigato.

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