December 01, 2006

Dinner at Sawa

Last night Sarah and I went to Sawa Sushi (one last time before going to Bangalore?) We arrived around 7:15 and it was deserted. Steve was there, and seemed happy to see us. He started by asking if we wanted anything to drink. "Do you have my favorite sake?" "Kakunko?" "Yes, that's the one." He then showed us about half a dozen golden Kakunko tubes arrayed around his big maneki neko. "This is how many I've sold in the last week!"

He brought out the Kakunko and oshibori and we were off.

He started with ankimo. I love ankimo, and I love this time of year because it's ankimo season. He served it sliced fairly thick, with a garnish of negi in ponzu. While we were having ankimo we chatted about the sushi business, and he filleted a hirame from Hokkaido.

Next up, not surprisingly, was the hirame, sliced so thin it was transparent and served in a rosette over a shiso leaf on a strikingly striped black and white dish, with ponzu and negi on the side. I asked him about his ponzu and we were treated to a ten minute discussion of the merits of different kinds of kombu and the overuse of MSG in treating cheap kombu. (Kombu is naturally rich in glutamic acid, which enhances umami.) He showed us the two kinds of kombu he uses in his ponzu, both from Hokkaido (most kombu comes from Hokkaido) one of which he also uses in his dashi, the other which only goes into the ponzu. He also uses the traditional katsuobushi and yuzu, but adds lemon and grapefruit! Anyway I love his ponzu.

While we were eating the hirame, I noticed he was peeling and slicing a couple of cloves of garlic! This was slightly scary - I'm not sure what sushi or sashimi I thought would be enhanced by raw garlic... He then produced a beautifully dark red katsuo tataki that he garnished with negi, ponzu, and the raw garlic slices. (He noticed we hadn't eaten the shiso, and asked if we didn't like it? Of course we like shiso I replied. So he shredded it with his fingers and put it on top of the katsuo.) I asked how much of the garlic we should eat with the katsuo. He said it was mostly to scent the sauce, but we could eat one or two slices with the tataki if we wanted.

After the katsuo, he brought out alaskan snow crab in a sweet miso vinegar sauce. We had a discussion of the sauce, the vinegar is to kill any ammonia from the crab meat, and the sweetness and miso are to mellow and balance the vinegar. The goal is to have the flavor elements of the sauce balance each other to let the crab flavor show through. I think he did a great job.

Next was tai kama, red snapper "collar" and cheeks braised in a miso. Rich and complex, it looked scary with the fish head and fins arrayed in the plate, but it was delicious.

At this point we signalled we had enough, but he said "One more. Uni." We finally agreeed, as Steve has the best uni. This uni was extremely delicate, firm and mild, with only the slightest hint of ocean flavors and a subtle creaminess. There's good uni from lots of places around the world, but this particular uni was from Hokkaido. This seemed to be a Hokkaido themed evening, which goes along with our Hokkaido themed month - Ninshou being from Hokkaido.

Finally we ended with something like Alice Waters's "one perfect peach" two red yama momo berries. (I had run into these before at Nobu in the Hard Rock Las Vegas.)

All throughout the dinner we talked about food, and fish, sake and world travel. Steve might retire in a few years, bring in another chef for Sawa, and travel the world as an itinerant sushi chef. Sounds good to me!
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