Monday, November 19, 2012

Japan times - part 10: Michiba Washoku Tateno, Ginza

Earlier this year I spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the tenth of several posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

I was determined to try Japanese kaiseki style multi-course dining. One Saturday night we trawled online for something in Ginza that would have availability at late notice, which is how we came across the vaguely familiar-sounding Michiba Washoku Tateno.

Michiba, as in Rokusaburo Michiba of the original Iron Chef fame. Apparently, his style of traditional Japanese cuisine has spawned a professional following and as an avid fan of the 1990s Japanese television cooking series, I was sold.

First course at Michiba Washoku Tateno, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
We had no trouble getting a reservation, except perhaps the language barrier, which then transpired into a 12-course dinner with complete Japanese menu and very little English spoken.

The restaurant is fairly compact, featuring counter seating at the semi open kitchen, and a few rooms with sliding doors - each room hosting a number of tables. It was all quite formal so we chose to sit at the counter where the chefs could watch us with as much interest as we them.

With sake ordered from an extensive drinks menu, we started with tiny, deep fried ayu sweetfish, artfully coiled this way and that. The three very crisp, whole fish were served with a young ginger shoot, possibly pickled, and a most unusual, skin-on potato-like vegetable that was mysteriously delightful.

Second and third courses
The next two courses arrived as tall shot glasses chilling in a huge bowl of crushed ice. The first was a fish paste or custard, topped with a dashi stock-based sauce and a sea grass, I think, eaten from the glass using miniscule teaspoons.

Third course
The other glass featured a colourful skewer of prawn, daikon pickled radish, onion, carrot, crab leg and cornichon, submerged in a lightly tart sauce. Eating the bite- sized pieces from a stick added an air of casualness to the solemn ambience.

Fourth course
I was quite excited at the sight of the next course: a sea urchin topped with layers of lightly salty seaweed. Despite not being a big fan of uni sea urchin roe, I was looking forward to tasting cooked uni for the first time.

Steamed uni sea urchin roe
Carefully working around the black spikes of the sea urchin shell, the very soft uni was sweeter than its raw version, and without the sometimes bitter, iodine flavour which I so detest.

In fact, after this steamed version served with a touch of a complex soy-based sauce to each mouthful, I could say that I actually like uni.

Uni - all gone

Fifth course
After the enlightening sea urchin course came another learning experience: a sashimi course served with a Himalayan salt block.

While there was also traditional soy sauce and wasabi, the concept of the salt block was an exciting, new approach to raw seafood.

Squeezing lime onto a Himalayan salt block
The idea was to squeeze some of the small, green-skinned citrus (more tart than a lime) juice onto the salt block, and use chopsticks to swipe the sashimi over the salt and juice a two or three times, depending on your salt eating preferences.

The sashimi selection included a whole, large raw prawn, hiramasa kingfish and a white fish that was sliced with skin intact and poached lightly so that it resembled a flower. It was quite remarkable, and served with a dot of umeboshi pickled plum sauce, if my memory serves me correctly.

Most familiar was the slice of raw kingfish, which was lightened with the citrus and capable of holding up to three salty swipes of the block.

The poached fish had a chewiness to it, which I would probably put down to the skin while the large kuruma ebi prawn was my favourite: creamy, sweet, firm and sea fresh.

Main course/s
A collection of five small dishes formed the main offering - each looking painstakingly and artfully pretty and petite.

From the top, there was a gorgeous, delicate chawanmushi steamed egg custard flavoured with soy - one of my favourite Japanese dishes where it's all about subtlety. To its left was an interesting, hand-formed corn tofu, studded with kernels of sweet corn.

Shishito pepper with mochi cheese
This lightly battered shishito green pepper as split and stuffed with the curious mochi cheese, which combines a sticky glutinous rice texture with mild cheese. In essence, the filling tasted like cheese but had a glutinous mouth feel that was a few steps past cheese stringiness.

In the cute, bright yellow vessel was a piece of anago salt water eel, which is less fatty than unagi fresh water eel. Indeed, I prefer the anago's soft, flaking texture and sweet flavour over the usual grilled fresh water varieties.

Dried fish
Most unusual as part of the main course was the long, narrow, needle-like fish, served dried on a pile of grated and seasoned daikon radish. Tasty as it was, it seemed less like a dinner option than a traditional breakfast one.

Eleventh course
The next course of okra soup was certainly a first for me. Just imagine the gooey, snotty texture of okra blended into a soup with a few prawn pieces. The bubbly, sticky, green soup didn't go down all that easily.

Twelfth course
The Himalayan salt block reappeared for our final savoury course. I'd gotten a taste for good soba buckwheat noodles in Japan, and these, made fresh in-house, were excellent.

Eaten cold, zaru soba style, you can really taste the buckwheat flour and even the water they're made with when eaten in this textural fashion, with finely sliced shiso leaves and wasabi on the side to taste.

The dainty sizes of the previous 12 savoury courses meant there was no issue squeezing in dessert: a milky pudding topped with a nutty bean caramel, and served alongside a segment of watermelon that was likely to be one of those insanely-priced ones from depa-chika department store basement food halls.

Green tea
We were also offered matcha green tea made in traditional style with powdered green tea and a chasen bamboo whisk. The end result presented to us was a bowl of foamy-topped hot tea, restorative and comforting from the first sip.

In true Michiba style, we were provided with paper menus with our courses listed in traditional Japanese calligraphy: vertically down the page from right to left.

With a few new food experiences and unfamiliar sights, it was a special meal that definitely ranked as our most expensive in Japan.

More Japan posts to come. See photos from my Japan trip on my Facebook page.


john@heneedsfood said...

Overall, it looks like a great set of dishes you had. Especially the sea urchin! I really like the concept of the salt block and lime juice!

JB said...

I'm currently watching my cholesterol (and subsequently my sodium intake) and that salt block is scary. I guess soy sauce is like liquid salt anyway so same diff!

Also, the green lime is called a kalamansi in the Philippines and used where lime is used in the West (whereas in the West, Filipinos use a lime in lieu of kalamansi!)

Jacq said...

Wow that looks like an amazing meal. Not sure about the okra soup but I'm sold on the pepper with mochi cheese and corn tofu!

Aicha Dalgic said...

oh my god !

Not Quite Nigella said...

We really enjoyed our meal at his restaurant too. A little bonus was meeting his daughter who works there-she looks just like him! :D

Tina said...

Hi John - Yep, it was the first time I could really say I enjoyed sea urchin roe!

Hi JB - I wonder if the swiping-the-block technique would actually extract less salt on a serving? Ah, I wasn't sure if it was exactly the same as kalamansi...

Hi Jacq - It was a lovely experience, okra soup and all!

Hi Lorraine - Aw, I wish we got to meet the real Michiba

PJ Chow said...

As another original Iron Chef fan, I am supremely jealous.


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