Sunday, November 29, 2009

Being good for goodness' sake

Being somewhat beyond the age of at anticipating Santa and his reindeer on my rooftop in the next month or so, I've been looking forward to other things and experiences - and trying my darndest to be good for the sake of those other things too.

Certainly, there are a few food experiences in there among the festive boozing, so before complete festive madness takes over, it was a lovely quiet Tuesday in which I was able to squeeze in a highly-anticipated visit to Sake Restaurant and Bar - right next door to The Argyle. In addition to some business tie-in, the windows on the way to the bathroom look out onto The Argyle's cobblestone courtyard, with and exit in the restaurant stepping right into the courtyard, lending a slightly casual and open precinct feel.

There's also an imposing sake cellar and bar, an open kitchen with seats right up at the bar, long and dark private room, little segmented booth boxes and really, seating for any occasion. The interior is wood-abundant but just a little conservative - likely to appease the CBD clientele.

Beef (left) and chicken (right) kushiyaki from Sake Restaurant & Bar,
Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney

The menu looks excitingly traditional with its sections, with modern and local touches throughout. The new trend for izakaya style snacks and grilled skewers, or kushiyaki, isn't looked past, and neither a slight air of fusion. We munch on warmed, salted edamame beans while deciding on the split of starters, mains, sushi, sashimi and indeed, a must-order from the huge sake menu.

The kushiyaki are served in a range of meat, vegetarian or seafood options with the choice of teriyaki or a spicy anticucho sauce. We have big cubes of beef with the teriyaki - unlike any of the super sweet versions I've had before, served with lemon and a citrussy salt mix - and the chicken with the antichucho sauce, which isn't all too spicy at all.

For sake, we go with the Kozaemon House Junmai which is from the Nakashima prefecture and described as an "Earthy aroma of rice, fresh citrus fruits with a medium to full body and well rounded finish". I'm by no means a sake connoisseur, but this chilled carafe was delightful throughout the entire meal without that throat-burning sensation of some past experiences.

Miso cream scallops - Pan-seared scallops, baby corn, asparagus,
shiitake mushrooms and yuzu miso cream

A lot of the mains look appealing, but in the spirit from sampling from across the menu, we have the one that appeals the most. The pan-seared scallop dish is elegeant and harmonoius in flavour and, most importantly, cooked nicely to point of retaining its sea juiciness. The medley of vegetables sings of spring, and the yuzu miso cream sauce simultaneously matches enhancingly and contrasts enticingly. Suffice to say, there wasn't any sauce left in the dish as it departed the table.

Butterfish sashimi new-style - South Australian butterfish, ponzu,
ginger & chives seared with hot oil

The sashimi list is also exciting, and we order as per the waiter's recommendation. I wasn't familiar with butterfish before, but I'm particularly glad that I didn't go with the comfort zone of tuna, salmon, kingfish and the like. Cut thinly, this white fish was dressed in a distinctly Chinese fashion - ginger, chives, sesame and the undeniable aroma of cooked oil. Not always a fusion fan am I, but this particular combination was sensational and stays on the mind.

I often like to use sushi maki rolls as a benchmark for Japanese cuisine, which is difficult sometimes because I like sushi most of the time. Aside from my helpless attraction to soft shell crab, I like sushi combinations that are a few steps from traditional, but not to the point where it's barely like sushi anymore and more like mayonnaise with a bit of rice.

I have the spider maki hand roll, and am encouraged to "Eat this one first," by the chef who places it in front of us. Thus encouraged, so that the nori seaweed doesn't get soggy, I get a little overeager and forget the photo - but I suppose we all know what a delicious tempura fried soft shell crab conical hand roll, with cucumber, mayonnaise, flying fish roe, chives and ponzu looks like - I only got a few seconds look at it anyway.

Nixon maki sushi - grilled eel, cream cheese, cucumber and
tempura crunch with avocado

The Nixon-named hand cut maki sushi snaked its way around the plate on top of zags of tonkatsu sauce, layered with sheets of avocado. The eel was a standout with smoky grilled flavour, combining superbly with the cream cheese. I'm still yet to manage eating futo-maki rolls without dropping bits, making a mess, or looking like an idiotic frog after trying to ingest an entire piece.

Open kitchen view at Sake

Aside from the thoroughly entertaining food, sitting at the sushi bar also meant that we could see all kitchen stations hard at work; from salads, sushi and sashimi, to salads, the grill and plating. I'm especially amused by the trays of salmon skin going under the grill, on their own, retuning in a curled and presumably crunchy, grilled state. How fun, except I don't like fish skin - but each to their own.

With the last drops of the sake drunk and the last crevices in our stomachs filled, we resist the urge to walk straight into The Argyle courtyard. Afterall, it's a school night and we want to make sure we're on the good list for the jolly man in red.

Sake Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon


Linda@eatshowandtell said...

oh yum.. I went to Sake last month. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Their food was great, along with the matching sakes. Did u have the sake bomb?

Betty @ The Hungry Girl said...

I always struggle with those sushi rolls as well! Can never manage to eat one without spillage/embarresment! Everything here looks great, definitely want to try it soon :) Thanks!

Angela said...

Sake is for sure on my to go list . Those butterfish sashimi looks awesome.

Forager said...

Mmm, interesting review and food looks nicely presented - one on my to eat at list as well. I'll have to go and try their sakes..

Tina said...

Hi Linda - No sake bomb, just straight ;) Was the bomb deadly?

Hi Betty - Yes, the worst is when it drops into the soy sauce and splashes too... :(

Hi Angela - Yes, the butterfish was definitely one of my favourite dishes of the night.

Hi Forager - I think it's on my definitely-return list :)

Jen ( said...

hehe... your pun on 'sake' is cute! this place is definitely going on my to-eat list too... mmm!

Betty said...

i've always wanted to try this restaurant out the food looks so good (and i should start eating jap again its so much healthier!)

Tina said...

Hi Jen - Definitely one for the ever-long list :)

Hi Betty - It is one of the healthier cuisines, isn't it?


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