Review #4: Ichi

17 November 2017

I headed back to Tokyo after a nice few days in Kansai, still full from last night’s wonderful dinner at Wayamamura. I skipped lunch as I was actually not hungry… I made my way back to my usual hotel in Tokyo, my home-away-from-home, the wonderful Park Hotel, and unpacked and relaxed before I was to head out for an early-ish dinner this Friday evening.

Tonight’s dinner destination is one of my favourite restaurants in the world, the excellent Ichi in Roppongi. It’s my 4th visit to this comfortable eatery, and I’m glad they retained their 1 Michelin star. The hospitality at this place is exceptional, and they make everyone feel so comfortable. They take special care for their foreign customers, which is an attitude you don’t always see in Japan (though generally out of shyness and linguistic barriers).

I arrived and the familiar staff members, as well as Chef Yuichi Tanaka, smiled and greeted me. They remember me well, and I immediately felt at home sitting in my familiar counter spot. The cushion is so comfortable… I didn’t have to say anything and my wonderful server Ms Noguchi greeted me with the usual hand-written menu for this evening, as well as my first sake. They put together a sake pairing for me once again, and I already am anticipating a wonderful evening!

menu - 06

I don’t peek at the menu (this page came far later, but I had to share it to show how nicely they do this!) until the item is brought, as to not ruin the surprise. The first sake arrives, just in time for the first dish — a salad I’ve come to really love.

01-winter parsley

Today’s winter parsley from the garden of Chef’s parents, was especially tasty. I love the flavour of this type of parsley, a soft and sweet flavour accentuated by the shaved dry bonito and the light shoyu-based dressing. Really nice start! Then the hassun, which I always love…

02b-hassun

Another really excellent set here, with treats like kamasu (barracuda) sushi and stewed tako (octopus), from salmon skin to an eggplant tamago, from sweet potato to smoked salmon. All fantastic! Really happy so far, and the second sake worked really nice too. Then a third sake is poured, and we have our sashimi dish…

03b-sashimi

A wonderful selection, from saba (mackerel) to suzuki (sea bass), from o-toro to the rarer kuromutsu (gnomefish). A delicious set that would rival many of Tokyo’s finest sushi-ya’s output. Excellent! Then they brought a duelling set of sake for the next course, for me to taste the difference with the special seasonal variety…

04a-sawara

The next dish was sawara (spanish mackerel) grilled in paper with fig…

4

Lovely flavour here, love the white miso-based sauce here. Perfect with this oily fish. Loving it! And more sake! This is getting fun! Next up is taro fried in a mochi powder…

05-taro

Sounds odd, but quite tasty with a very complex sauce that involved crab, crysanthemum, bonito, kombu and other things. Quite fascinating, and quite nice. Then they bring out the grill and I sense beef coming up…

06e-grill

And indeed I am right, this time the ichibo is grilled with pear…

06k-ichibo

Lovely stuff…just melts in my mouth, with the pear adding a nice touch. Really delicious again! I love that photo of Chef at the grill as it reminds me of my first meal here, nearly the same pix

Then as they took the grill away and brought me another huge sake, they set up a shabu set…I wonder what the treat is for today…

07a-kue shabu set

Kue (longtooth grouper)! One of the true delicacies you find in Japan during the season, a lovely fish that you so rarely get.

07d-kue shabu

Worked well in a shabu form, as this didn’t need more than a quick dip. Just lovely…really savoured the taste of this. After I was done they poured the broth into a bowl for me, and brought me more sake! I wish I took down more detailed description of them, but they were all excellent and worked with each dish!

We moved then to the part of the meal I most look forward to each time I return. Earlier Chef had asked which rice I was interested in tonight, and I chose crab. And this was the result…oh my…

08a-rice bowl

This was excellent, topped with ikura as well.

08c-rice

I love how Chef does the controlled burn so you get a healthy portion of burnt rice too…it’s by far my favourite rice in any kaiseki place in Japan…

08e-last rice

I slowly finished all 3 helpings from the big bowl, much to everyone’s approval! Wow, this was good! Then a nice dessert…

09-dessert

Followed by just a visually dazzling tray with a last flavoured sake…

s

What a wonderful dinner once again! And for the heck of it, they brought me one last strong closing sake. I was full and happy and wee tipsy at this stage, feeling very happy. I love being back here, I feel so comfortable…they treat me like family, and feed me so well. Again, Ichi is one of my 5 favourite restaurants in the world, one that I would go back to time after time. No other place in Tokyo is automatic for dinner like Ichi for me.

I headed out after thanking Chef, Ms Noguchi and the rest of the staff. My happy place in Japan…

Ichi [いち]
7-10-30 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan

* BTW I have posted all the paired sakes here on my Instagram, in order of pairing. Scroll and enjoy…

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Review: Wayamamura

16 November 2017

I was fuelled by the nice lunch at Unagi no Kawahara, but I was still challenged by a second day of 15km+ trekking. Yesterday in Osaka I pushed way over 15km, for which my feet have not forgiven me…and now I do this again, going around various parts of Nara by foot instead of train and bus…

About 4 hours of hard and fast walking I finally headed into the famous park to chill out — and to enjoy hanging with the deer. The ones near the front don’t even try anymore, having figured out there are so many lazy tourists not willing to walk deeper into the park…

Nevertheless I did, and it was quite nice to see a wee bambi chasing mum for milk. I daren’t get too close as an angry pappy — with full, untrimmed antlers, was standing by keeping an eye out for the few tourists in that section. But you had plenty of happy deer, though some were not impressed that all I could offer them was tea and not biscuits

I spent the rest of the afternoon there enjoying the park and the deer before I made my way towards my dinner destination. I chose to eat early tonight as I needed to get back to Osaka. But I really wanted to try this place, one of the most storied eateries in this town, Wayamamura.

I was surprised to learn that Wayamamura is actually a 3-Michelin restaurant, which I found out after I asked my Osaka hotel concierge to try for a booking. I had forgotten the guide covered Nara. But that’s inconsequential, as my 3-star meal at Taian the other day didn’t blow me away. I got to Wayamamura and was immediately greeted by a smiling staff, who had prepared a hand-written menu for me in English.

menu - 01

This reminds me so much of Ichi in Tokyo (which incidentally is where I’m headed for dinner the next night), how they take the time and care to explain the ingredients to their foreign guests. I can see I’m going to like this place. I left my sake selection to Chef, and soon one appeared. Then soon after the opening item arrived…

1

A very simple start, fresh crab with various vegetables including udo (mountain asparagus). Delicious, very clean and crisp. Nice start. Then a soup dish…

02-dumpling soup

The broth is quite nice, and you had a tasty dumpling of prawn and abalone that unfortunately fell apart a bit when I tried to eat it. But it was quite tasty, alongside the wood ear mushrooms. Really a nice little treat here. Enjoying this dinner so far. Then we move to the third and rather modest looking rice dish…

3

Oh my, this deceives the eye. Chef made some glutinous rice and sprinkled onto it some konoko (dried sea cucumber ovary). Really simple yet tasty! Then we have a plate of sashimi that I thought was fugu, but it’s actually okoze (stonefish)…

4

Never had okoze before, which is a very poisonous fish but totally safe to eat. Nice, similar to many fish of this type in taste, a tad more interesting than fugu. That was actually not on the written menu and I think Chef got this in and decided to serve it. That’s actually one of the nicer themes of this dinner…

With another sake on the way we continue with the sashimi theme with this…

05a-sashimi

Wow, right? This tray was so big it couldn’t fit on my part of the counter… First up on the left is a nice assortment of fish…

05b-sashimi

The hirame (flounder) was quite good, with some of its engawa (fin) too. The ika (squid) was nice, but the toro was just lovely. Then on the right…

05c-lobster

A Japanese lobster. Wow… Lovely meat, with the sweetness you’d expect from this delicacy. I was cheating a little by trying to poke at the head to get some of the brain… Not much luck tho… Then next up was another tray that was too big for the counter, and I had to blink a few times here…

06a-hassun

Wow…I can’t even describe the hassun… In front you have a sesame tofu topped with uni, then going clockwise you have ebi (shrimp) and tai (sea bream), then the persimmon with shredded veggies and raw fish selection, then karasumi (bottarga) with daikon next to a eel and burdock roll, then shirako, then fried gingko nuts and taro — all with edible skewers. Wow…

I was blown away by this hassun, which took awhile to eat as you can imagine. Chef smiled as he watched us enjoy this amazing spread… This 3-Michelin is blowing away the 3-Michelin in Osaka… Wow… I caught my breath afterwards and the dinner continues in full force…

07-amadai

Next up was grilled amadai (tilefish) in a starchy yet tasty sauce, garnished by some mochi made of gingko. Really delicious. Yesterday’s sauce for the amadai at Yuuno didn’t work at all, but this was excellent. Next up was shrimp — the head fried, and the body ready to be cooked…

08a-prawn set

Then they bring out a mini grill — goodness this was actually kind of cute!

08e-prawn grilling

We grilled the prawn and enjoyed the fried head. All quite excellent. Again, not on the menu, I think Chef is improvising a little and adding things on here and there, which is rather cool. Talking cool, next up is the cold dish.

09b-crab & scallop

You have some really nice crab with mustard greens and yam on the right, and on the left scallop with purple daisy and a citrus-based jelly. Worked well to bring the sweetness out of the scallop. Another hit! Then a surprise from an earlier course…

Remember how I mentioned I was trying to pick at the head of the lobster to get to the brain? Well…

10-lobster head

I guess Chef read my mind…oh my… It took awhile for me to get through this but wow it was nice… Again, off the menu, a wee surprise… Wow, right? It’s still going full force! Next up is the steamed course…

11

After all the hearty dishes it’s good to have one that focuses on vegetables. Here we have daikon, taro and spinach gracing a special mochi made with pumpkin. Really wonderful seasonal dish here, lovely. I was getting very full at this point and just perfectly we have the rice dish to close things out…

12a-rice set

A rather simple one with shirasu (dried baby sardines), which I chose over several other possibilities. This worked so well…

Oh my I was full! And the 3rd pot of sake was drained, and I was more than happy… What a fantastic dinner! Then the dessert…

13-dessert

A lovely fruit bowl with jelly…the quality of fruits are so amazing here. Melon and persimmon were shaped into spheres to join grapes in this lovely closing number. Wow I’m full, and wow I’m happy!

This was a spectacular dinner, and it’s shocking that it’s cheaper than either of the courses at Taian or Yuuno — despite the far larger volume and the far better quality and the far wider breadth of ingredients. Spectacular, one of the best kaiseki dinners I have ever had.

I thanked Chef and the staff for not just the fabulous food, but the wonderful hospitality. They did a wonderful job with all the customers not just at the kappo, but also in several adjacent rooms — including one with a crying baby all night. And considering many of the guests are Chinese tourists, they managed quite smoothly with service and language. I’m impressed.

Good enough to make me want to come back here just for dinner next time I’m in Osaka, even with the long commuter train journey back there like I had to take…but it’s so worth it…

Wayamamura [和やまむら]
2-11-15 Shibatsujicho
Nara, Japan

* Just to show I’m not that crazy, as much as I wanted to go back to Tayutayu again for a nitecap my stomach was beyond full even into next morning…Wayamamura has certainly done its job right!

Review: Unagi no Kawahara

16 November 2017

I woke up with a bit of a headache from the drinking last night, but I’m still dreaming about that amazing nitecap at Tayutayu last night…another temple of pork. I had a long day today as I planned to go to the neighbouring city of Nara, and there’s a lot on my plate for this day trip…

I headed out south for the train east to Nara, and I rolled into town mid-morning. Had a nice stroll around the central part of the city, also running some errands before I dropped into lunch. You may think why I’m doing eel of all things in Nara, but that’s what today’s lunch at Unagi no Kawahara is…

I had a very long afternoon planned, so I wanted to fuel up a bit. As I sipped on some tea they brought me the snack I ordered…

spine

I love these things, deep-fried eel spine. It’s such a good drinking snack (although I’m not drinking at this hour) and I still shudder thinking how much places in the US charge for a few small pieces (I’ve seen as much as $15 for 10 pieces of this in New York). Reminds me of a trip to Tokyo back in the early 2000s when I mentioned this at an eel place near Shinjuku and they gave me a SACK of it for free…

But as I was slowly enjoying these things my lunch set arrived…

set

Oh my, this will certainly fuel me! I was instructed to eat the eel bowl in 3 parts by scooping a third into the rice bowl… But before that, look at this thing…

unadon

Anyway, the first part was to eat the unadon as is. The second part is to eat with with the green onions added, as well as wasabi. Then the last was to pour the tea into the bowl for a porridge. I followed all that, and all had its niceties — although at this point the “chopstick fatigue” made part 3 difficult to eat — as I refuse to slurp my food.

I finished the lunch set and slowly finished off the spine as I sipped on more tea. The place was getting busy for the lunch rush as tourists flood the town, so it was my time to head out. I thanked the staff and headed out for another very long day of walking… At least I am properly fuelled today…

Unagi no Kawahara [うなぎの川はら]
35 Shimosanjocho
Nara, Japan

Review: Tayutayu

15 November 2017

Well, it seems like it. After a few glasses of wine I headed to my room to plot out tomorrow’s long day in neighbouring Nara, but I felt like doing something more tonight as it wasn’t late yet. I had a good dinner at Yuuno, but for some reason I was getting a little hungry as the evening went on…

I walked around the vicinity of the hotel, and there were many izakaya and other eateries and drinkeries, but one place caught my attention — Tayutayu. I quickly looked it up online and…it’s a pork specialty place! Oh my, what a great way to cap this evening!

sign - 02

I went into the busy izakaya and was seated at the end of the counter. Thank goodness for pictues in the menu and English content! Oh my this is one of those places that you want to eat everything… I ordered a shochu and a bunch of dishes and chilled out with my drink as I soak in the atmosphere…what a cool place! A wee bowl of veggies to start on the house, then we started the porkfest…

1a

Oh my, this was a hell of a start. The tongue was good, but that shoulder fat was stupid good…should be illegal… Just look at it…

1b

Crazy good, beyond addictive! Next up the larynx cartilage of all things…

2

Really nice, love the texture here. No holding back on the strength of the pork taste here! Then you have the fried ear…

03-ear

Oh my this was heavenly. So good… Then the rib meat…

04-rib

Just kill me now, this is dreamy… Oh my goodness I can’t believe how good this is! What a wonderful discovery! As I sat and watched the kitchen go, I ordered another shochu and knew I had to keep going, even if I was full…

motsu cooking - 01

I saw them stewing the motsu but that’s too much for me tonight…next time!

I kept drinking and watching the open kitchen at work and soon the second round started. We move into more offaly items now…

z2

First up was the diaphragm, so basically the skirt. Lovely flavour…a rarely seen cut for pork, which is too bad. Now the offal starts, first the lung…

z1

This is illegal for consumption in the US but it is so, so, SO GOOD. Holy crap it’s good… This is nearly worth coming to Osaka for!

07-stomach

Then we have some stomach, followed by chitlins…

08-intestines

Mmm, a pair of really good offal that you see too rarely…so good and full of flavour. And the last item, the meatball with yolk…

09-meatball yolk

Look how glorious this turned out…oh my… What a wonderful, wonderful end. If I wasn’t so stupid full I’d order more, but it’s time to move on… I need more booze, something stronger than the shochu I’m having here.

I thanked them and headed out, knowing I’ve basically found my “regular” here in Osaka (like how Hinaiya in Tokyo is my “regular” there) since I am happy with this hotel and location. Oh, the joy of discovering this…

I am one happy piggy tonight…

Tayutayu [たゆたゆ]
1-4-8 Dojima, Kita-ku
Osaka, Japan

* I ended up at a cocktail bar across the street from my hotel called Bar Tarlogie Sona, and I’m so happy I found this. A really skilled barman/owner who knows his whisky extremely well, makes a mean cocktail and is happily chatty. And best of all, this is a smoke-free bar. This could be dangerous as I enjoyed a few cocktails before stumbling back to my hotel, knowing I’ll be back drinking here next time I’m in Osaka…

Review: Kombi

15 November 2017

I had a long, long morning in Osaka. Even without the big breakfasts I’ve been getting used to in Hakodate, I was full of energy for the first time this trip. About a week in, so my body has adjusted. I spent the morning trekking around the southern part of Osaka, visiting many of the “tombs” of legendary emperors. I saw a few other people doing a similar trek, though mostly elderly Japanese. At the end, I calculated I ended up walking over 15km just during the morning…

I was tired and headed for a nice lunch at a little izakaya near Tennoji Station called Kombi. I had found it by accident online when I was planning my trek, as I also wanted to visit the legendary Isshin-ji Temple nearby. I dropped in and looked at the confusing lunch menu, and just pointed at something that looked good. Little did I realise it was a full course, since the price was so low…

I was just sipping on tea when the first item arrived, which surprised me (since it wasn’t pictured).

1-sashimi

It was a really nice sashimi plate, from hirame to amadai to meguro. Fresh and excellent! What a nice and unexpected start! They were in a lunch rush and as I was still working on the sashimi the next item appeared…

2-combi

Wow, what a set of delicious items here… Just look at the variety of vegetables here, from excellent roots to fabulous fungi, throw in okra and seaweed. You have fresh and preserved, raw and cooked. A few morsels of fish, meat and tofu, but the veggies were the star here. Wow, this is a set lunch?

Again, as I was working on this, the next items appeared…first the chawanmushi

c

Then the modest rice and soup…

4a-rice set

Then another surprise, the fried dish…

5-tempura

Even this tempura dish was excellent, done so well. Prawn was good, but again the veggies were the star here. Then a final dessert…

6-dessert

Wow,  I actually enjoyed this more than last night’s 3-Michelin dinner… That was very filling, far more than what I expected when I ordered. Why?

MAYBE BECAUSE THIS WHOLE LUNCH COST 15 EUROS ONLY?

Less than $20… One piece of chu-toro at a rated sushi-ya — especially in New York or London — would cost more than this entire lunch.

Now you want to tell me how bloody good New York or London is?

Kombi [こんび]
13-15 Horikoshicho, Tennoji-ku,
Osaka, Japan

* I did visit Isshin-ji afterwards and hmmmmmmmm

Feasting in Excess in Hokkaido Part 1: The Evening Edition…

12-13 November 2017

After that brilliant sushi dinner at Minami I wandered around for a bit. My hotel room was boiling hot, even with the window open and the fan blasting, so in the meantime I just strolled around town. And as you can imagine I wanted to try even more of the amazing seafood this island offers, so I decided to challenge my stomach…

I circled back, going more than half way back to Minami, and found a place called Kaijyu, one that had plenty of seafood for show. I sat at the counter and ordered several items, and also a glass of shochu. It’s late, I wanted something with more of a kick. Of course the freebie just happened to be squid rings in ink…

1-00-squid in ink

So nice (albeit messy)…only in Japan! Then the food order started to arrive…

1-01-hotate

Hotate…finally a Hokkaido scallop in Hokkaido…so sweet it’s just lovely… Then a bit of a curveball with hoya

1-02a-hoya

Yeah, the very weird sea squirt/sea pineapple. Some call this iodine in a shell… I’ve not had it since Seoul many years ago at the amazing Goraebul, and it’s as weird as it was then… Then some shishamo

1-03-shishamo

Again, I can eat this fish non-stop…it’s so addictive. Next up some excellent fresh namako (sea cucumber)…

1-04-namako

I love this as a sashimi…so nice and crunchy it’s a great drinking snack. All the time I’m drinking a wonderful shochu madefrom kombu (sea kelp)… Then the last item…

1-05a-clam

A glorious clam, full of flavour cooking in that butter….so delicious, goes so well with the ocean-based booze! What a great late-night feast!

I headed out really happy, and really, really full…way too much food today. But that made me sleep quite well. I got up early the next day and hit Hakodate’s famous Morning Market. I will chronicle my “morning eating” in the next post, but breakfast was awesome and lunch good and extremely filling. Sightseeing, shopping and a good nap, I was ready for another evening of food.

Tonight I had booked Ikasei, although the second (less famous) location near my hotel (the main branch was closed for the day). It’s famous for the “dancing squid” you can find on Youtube, but I just wanted good food. I got there and ordered a drink and some food, chilling at the counter. After a nice mushroom starter the order started to arrive.

2-01-pickled squid intestines

First up a great drinking snack — pickled squid intestine and miso. Salty and good, condusive to heavy drinking. Then we got awabi (abalone).

2-02-abalone

Very plain, a bit disappointing to be honest. At the same time they brought out my glorous fried garlic…

2-03-garlic

Oh my, isn’t this nice? All with some miso paste. I enjoyed the food but sat around for awhile wondering where was the rest of my order? I gave them a few looks before I finally asked. They shrugged at first, I suspect hoping I order more drink. Then I asked again, without ordering more booze…

After awhile they admitted they had run out of the squid I had ordered…why didn’t they say something? I gave up and just settled up and left. What a cluster of a place… That was disappointing!

I wandered around a little and ended up in an izakaya across the street called Tairyobata. Took a counter seat in the cozy drinking den and chilled out with a drink, and placed my order. Let’s hope this ends up better! With drink in hand soon the food started arriving…

3-01-crab brain

First up some pickled crab brain…again, salty and nice, a heavenly drinking snack. Then we got more namoko (sea cucumber)…

3-02-namako

Perhaps not quite as good as last night, but still gloriously crunch and tasty. Then we got some crab tempura…

3-03-crab tempura

Nice, but hard to eat — as you can imagine. Tried to pry as much meat out of those thin legs as I could using chopsticks, which is actually pretty useful if you use it the wrong way here… Then finally, some salmon belly…

z1

Bit meh to be honest, the 2nd not-so-great salmon belly of the day (after the one at lunch, which you’ll see in the next post), but filling enough. However, I was still game for a wee bit more, so ordered a few more things and another drink. Sake arrived quickly and I continued to enjoy myself when the second set started to arrive.

z2

First up was some awabi (abalone), again kind of meh like earlier this evening. Not sure why… Then we got an interesting one, squid cartilage tempura…

3-06-squid cartilage tempura

These were nice and crunchy, love how they use all the parts here. Then another tempura dish, this time of fish cake…

3-07-fishcake tempura

A nice snack to have when you’re drinking. I was about to ask for one more when I decided to ask where my last dish was…and they shrugged. So I didn’t order the drink. Then a few minutes later I asked about it again…

At the end they admitted they forgot to put in the order for the quail egg…FFS, what is with this town? I just settled up and headed out. This was far better, but still… This is frustrating! But oddly, this saved me from eating the only meat on this Hokkaido trip…

I went back to my hotel, where the heat in my room was still unbearable…crazy indoor heating that seeps through… I went to the rooftop bar and had a martini, which wasn’t bad though I had to stop them from dunking an olive into it… I chilled out and decided to go across the street to yet another izakaya, this time Gaya.

They told me that it was last orders, so with my drink I ordered a set of food. Let’s hope third time a charm, and they won’t cock up my order!

I had switched to shochu again, needing the extra kick. I drank a bit quicker and then the food began arriving. First up, hokigai

4-01-hokigai

Lovely clam, love the personal grill. Nice stuff. Then next, stuffed ika (squid).

4-02-stuffed ika

This was a mistake, as it was just drowned in a horrible wasabi-kewpie thing… Ugh, had to scrape most of the sauce off… Then finally a good salmon belly on my 3rd try of the day…

4-03-salmon belly

That was enjoyable, then one of my weaknesses — shishamo

4-04-shishamo

Again I can eat this stuff non-stop, especially while drinking… At this point they came and said last call…I thought it was already? But they gave me a second chance, so…why not? I had to close with hotate (scallop)…

4-05-hotate

Back with my personal grill, this was wee small, but the lip was nice. Then finally, some squid innards…

4-06-squid innards

There was a squid in the water tank trying to escape, nearly made it flying pretty high out of the water, so that got me to order this. The saltiness of this awesome drinking snack got me to finish my last drink pretty quickly.

Okay, that was good! And frankly I was way full at this point. I walked back to my hotel, and my room temperature was now somewhat bearable. I was a little sad that this was already my last night in Hakodate on this very short stop, but at least I now know where to go next time.

Oh, did I mention the breakfasts? See my next post…

Kaijyu [海寿]
24-6 Toyokawacho

Ikasei Daimon [いか清 大門]
6-10 Wakamatsucho

Tairyobata [大漁旗]
7-17 Wakamatsucho

Gaya [雅家]
8-14 Wakamatsucho
Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan

Review: Minami

12 November 2017

As I always do when I visit Tokyo, I try to get away to visit some other part(s) of Japan. This trip I decided to make 2 such short trips, and the first one brought me north to Hokkaido for the first time. Target — Hakodate.

I took the short flight north to Hakodate via Haneda, where I had a surprisingly good sushi lunch at the airport (try finding airport food this good elsewhere). I got to Hakodate mid-afternoon, and enjoyed a stroll around with the weather nice and cool. I was looking forward to my dinner at the top sushi-ya in town, Minami.

Minami is the sole sushi-ya with a Michelin star in this Hokkaido town. With so much of Japan’s seafood coming from up here, I was really looking forward to an interesting sushi course. I made the 20-minute walk to the cozy sushi-ya, joining a counter-full of local diners. I relaxed with a sake as the course slowly began, first up katsuo (bonito).

01-katsuo

A tasty little morsel here, a nice start. Next up was ebi (shrimp) flash-boiled.

02-ebi

Again, nice, it brought out the sweetness of the shrimp very well. Next up, aji (horse mackerel).

03-aji

Nice and rich, a tasty piece. Then Chef takes a piece of amadai (red tilefish) and sears it using hot wooden skewers…

04-amadai

Mmm, tasty. Brought out lovely colours too. So far it’s starting very nicely. Then we get sawara (spanish mackerel)…

05-sawara

Interesting with the onions, again I really like the focus on richer fish up here with the colder waters. This was exactly what I was looking for! Then next up was quite an interesting piece…

06-kodai

This was kodai (snapper) wrapped around its own liver. Really nice. Then some beautiful awabi (abalone).

07-awabi

Really nice, boiled in sake, lovely flavours here. Then a really beautiful presentation of shirako.

08-shirako

With shaved karasumi (bottarga) and topped with roe, this was just a creamy delight. Mmm! And we close off the segment with a bowl of soup…

09-turtle soup

Made from softshell turtle, a really nice flavour that also helped to clear the palate as we began the sushi segment. I see Chef working hard on the most famous item of this town, ika (squid).

10-ika

Some mad knife skills here, too bad you can’t see the intricate pattern from this photo. Then we get tai (bream)…

11-tai

Usually not one of my favourites but this was really nice. As was the hirame (flounder)…

12-hirame

Then we warp into chu-toro

13-chutoro

Lovely piece, this one just melted in my mouth… Then he takes another piece of toro that’s been aged and brings the metal grill on top of the stove to just sear the fatty belly…

14-seared toro

Oh my goodness this was just pure heaven…the aging brought out something really nice here, as did the searing. I needed a refill of my sake with this beauty…wow…

Caught my breath, and we continue. This is putting last night’s Ozaki mess to shame… Kohada (gizzard shad) as usual…

15 kohada

Nice and oily, somehow tastes better when in cold Hokkaido. Then we shift to a few clams, of which Hokkaido is also very famous. First up tairagai (pen-shell).

16-tairagai

Mmm, excellent. Then akagai (ark shell)…

17-akagai

Really nice. Then a pretty big surprise the next one. I had to look this one up after Chef told me the name in Japanese. It’s semi-ebi — the wee Japanese “blunt slipper” lobster.

18-semi-ebi

Oh my this was good… These things are actually kinda cute, so I don’t recommend you googling for more pix…

This place is awesome! Then some really fabulous buri (yellowtail)…

19-buri

Just lovely to get fresh, wild yellowtail…such a different taste from the farmed stuff you get in most places…

20-hamaguri

Then a really tasty hamaguri clam with eel sauce, a really fat one. Clam lovers would love this. Then with the unagi we came to a close…

21-unagi

Oh my goodness this was so soft it just melted in my mouth… Ridiculously good.

22-tamago

The tamago marked the end of the sushi, closed off by a piece of fruit to end the night. Darn that was good. You may be surprised that I was in Hokkaido and there was no ikura, uni or hotate for the course, but those are breakfast foods — as you’ll see in an upcoming post…

The seafood is fantastic, the atmosphere was fun but solid. As he was making a maki later on chatting with the customers he accidentally rolled it onto the floor — to much hilarity. He laughed quite hard as he had to start over to make a new one. No poor presentation here (unlike last night).

Minami can easily compete with the best sushi-ya in Tokyo. Quality is top-notch, price is modest, and it’s a really good place to enjoy an evening of excellent food and banter. I may not understand much but you can tell Chef was trying to include me in all the banter with the other customers. So a good time for all.

Highly recommended if you are in Hakodate. Heck, if you’re not, think about coming up here and dropping in here for dinner. You’ll be glad.

Minami [美な味]
9-5 Suehirocho
Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan