Sunday, December 20, 2015

Omakase at Mashiko

Helmed by Chef Hajime Sato, Mashiko came highly recommended by the friends who know our palates. The restaurant has been around for 21 years and apparently has improved so much to its current standing as one of the best in town, if not the best for overall representation of Northwest Japanese dishes and flavors.

We literally tried our luck and called to see if they had any seats available for a 5.45pm dinner. They did! We only decided on omakase upon being seated. It was some crazy eating of 10 courses. Didn't leave till 8pm. Took sake instead of beer. So missed out on the special shiso beer that Elliot Bay Brewing did for Mashiko. Then again, I'm not a fan of how shiso or sakura taste as ingredients in whatever dishes. Hitachino sakura beer is quite disgusting.

Its dishes were impressive. We sat at Sato-san's table and left it to him to decide our food for the evening. I took a leap of faith and didn't insist on all nigiri sushi or sashimi. The one thing I was adamant- no rolls. I friggin hate rolls.

The restaurant insists on using sustainable sources. It does mean that the usual choices aren't available. The chef read us right- he didn't bother giving us salmon or bluefin tuna. Ahahaha. I'm not really interested in chutoro or otoro. The piece of Idaho trout sushi was extremely memorable. Should have asked for one more! Now, the sushi rice was...not...erm...that nice. I'm very particular about rice and while it held tight with all right spacing between grains, that vinegar wasn't ideal. In that sense, I was glad sushi wasn't the star of the evening. It gave me the chance to taste different foods and new flavors.

The cooked food was glorious. Squid with spinach and walnuts with yuzu-miso dressing threw me into giggles. It was full of umami, but reminded me of an elegant version of our sort of cuttlefish with kangkong.

The albacore tuna tataki mixed with herbs and topped with a raw quail egg was unbelievably balanced.  Stomach blanched a bit at the raw quail egg. Haven't touched that in a while. The last mild salmonella poisoning I kena from inhaling these eggs at a soba restaurant in Tokyo is still fresh in my mind.

Thoughts of E.coli and norovirus crossed my mind. Chipotle's having a really bad run (pun not intended), and just two weekends ago, downtown Seattle's food vendors at Russell Investments Center was shut down when over 200 people got sick after a Christmas party. Oh well. Firmly pushed all those thoughts out of mind and hoped for the best. If I become so paranoid, I might as well not watch a rock or metal concert at any venue, don't eat out, don't step into an airplane, stay at home and wait for the ceiling to cave in.

Instead of the usual crunchy WA abalone, Mashiko chose to use abalone from Kona Bay in Hawaii, which was fantastically tender. Yay. I love abalone quite a bit. I'll be very sad if all species are listed on the red list on IUCN. Currently, the white and black abalone are critically endangered. Ate this dish with little guilt. Abalone with matsutake and onions hit every gastronomic pleasure. Mmm. Onions were brilliant! Felt so extravagant.

The meal ended with a superbly apt miso-salmon soup. Sato-san said it's what his father used to cook for him as a child. Okayyy... He has also made it with black cod, and whatever else available that season. He shared his secret- use sake kasu to flavor the soup. Ahhh. What I didn't share with him was- it's the exact kind of soup my grandparents used to make for me, especially when they had to deal with a spoilt kid who didn't like a lot of stuff. Except the grandparents didn't always use salmon. They used whatever was available, which included local fish like kurau. This soup to finish the night was a total winner.

Japanese food in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is quite different, of course. I like it! Not every Japanese meal requires ingredients sourced from Japan. It really doesn't matter. Aren't we talking about the freshness of the ingredients and skills of the chefs? Perhaps we shouldn't focus so much on the authenticity, but more of the ideology and the presentation, and the meaning that the chefs are trying to portray outside of Japan. It's really the interpretation. It's not easy establishing an identity for one's food. If what I had tonight at Mashiko is representative of PNW's Japanese cuisine, then I think Chef Hajime Sato has done it perfectly.

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