If you go to Sakagura, it's probably because you want something out of one of these bottles. Or all of them. You appreciate the fine taste of rice left to ferment in a pool of moldy water. And why wouldn't you? Fermenty rice squeezings! All natural! Like God intended.
I'm afraid I don't like alcohol. Yes, this puts me in the minority of people who don't like bitter things and aren't curious to know the effects of alcohol poisoning/drunkenness and aren't stressed enough to need alcohol as an escape mechanism and are too cheap to find drinking worthwhile and don't see drinking as a social necessity when we're perfectly happy sitting at home in front of our computers at night, all alone without any risk of feeling the warm caress of another human being, only to be consoled by the burning heat emanated from our overworked computers...wait a minute, this sucks.
Well, back to whatever it was that I was talking about. Per Amy's suggestion, we went to Sakagura, a popular Japanese sake haven located in the basement of a nondescript office building. An earlier attempt to eat there resulted in failure since we didn't have reservations. But this time we DID! OH YEAH, TAKE THAT! Not that I know what "that" is.
Amy started with a little glass of plum flavored sake. I sniffed it; it unsurprisingly smelled like alcohol. After taking a wine class, that is indeed about the only thing my underdeveloped nose is able to get out of the variegated scents of alcoholic beverages. Anyhoo, if Amy is reading this she might have more to say about it.
I started with satoimo iridashi, a bowl of fried tempura-ed taro, eggplant and other stuffs served with bonito-fied broth. Have I ever met a piece of tempura that I didn't like? Probably not. The batter was light and crisp and the stuff underneath the batter was...um, burning hot. You know, because of the "being cooked in hot oil" thing. Of course, it was exceptionally yummy because things left to bathe in hot oil tend to turn out that way. It was nice to get vegetable tempura that went beyond the standard broccoli, potato and carrot combination—I think those vegetables are damn tasty, but taro and eggplant are also very welcome in my digestive tract.
Amy went with nasu dengaku, eggplant grilled to the point of having pudding-like texture topped with three different kinds of miso paste.
After seeing bobby stokes' photo of squiggly impaled ayus I knew I had to try it. Because there ain't nothing I like better than eating a whole fish whose inner cavity has been awkwardly displaced by a thin death-stick. I thought a $14 order of ayu would come with more than one fish, but...no, it's just one fish. A small fish at that. Crap. Never having eaten ayu before or seen it on a menu, I didn't know what its going rate was.
The waitress had warned me that the fish was full of small bones. No problem, I said. And the bones really aren't a big problem; just keep in mind that you'll be spitting out a bunch of small bones. They're almost so small that you could swallow them. Almost. I uncouthly spat out a couple of bone-wads over the duration of the ayu feast. I'm not sure if there's a dignified way to do so. Not that I do anything in a dignified manner.
Oh, what did this lil dude taste like? Uber tender. Fine grained. Kind of sweet. For a fish. The tastiness was unfortunately punctuated by the aformentioned wads of nanometer-thick bone matter (like nylon beading string) and the soul-stinging bitterness of the dark organ matter located in the lower park of the head. It took me a while to realize, "No, Robyn, stop eating this part of the fish—despite that you paid so much for it—because it tastes like poison and the human body has defense mechanisms against that kind of thing, like regurgitation, besides this inner message telling you to stop eating it." I just kept dipping back into that patch of hell, thinking that that must be what Satan feeds on to keep his evil-meter replenished.
Anyway, it's not the restaurant's fault that the ayu's viscera taste like oppression.
The fish de-muscling was a success. I loved the thin, crispy skin, which carried no risk of containing bones. Fish skin is definitely tastier than human skin. Not that I've...eaten human skin.
Amy's miso onigiri were quite adorable. So delicately miso-ed! So perfectly formed! Not a grain of rice out of place! Couldn't you just eat them up?!...yeah, so she did.
Since our meal was not all that belly-busting, we went for desserts. My black sesame creme brulee with black sesame ice cream and some sort of black sesame-sprinkled tuile was easily my favorite part of the meal for a few important factors: high sugar content, high black sesame content, and at $7 being the cheapest part of my meal. Woohoo! Light and creamy pudding-esque black sesame creme brulee paired with the melting floes of smooth black sesame ice cream equal creamy black sesame explosion full of happiness.
Amy had her eye on the chocolate souffle with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream since she saw a waitress whisk it by our table earlier in the night. She said it was like a brownie, but better (I assume).
The damage for the night was about $40 per person. If you've been reading my blog closely, you know I don't usually spend that much money on a dinner. I like to keep things around $20. Or $10. It's not like I can't afford a $40 meal, I'd just rather...you know, not spend that much on a meal unless I think it'll be worth it. I was left with the feeling that my meal at Sakagura, while very good, wasn't really worth $40. Or maybe it is, but I'm unfairly comparing it to the $35 dessert tasting menu at wd-50, which is so heavenly and awesome, dear lord I want it.
If you have wads of cash and sake o nomitai desu (that was my really lame attempt at level I Japanese, which you may ignore) then Sakagura is a cool place to hang out. Their menu is loaded with tasty sounding dishes—you'll probably want to order more than Amy and I did. And they gain some cool points for having restrooms that look like giant sake barrels. Right on.
Wasabi...the restaurant, not the food
If I had to pick one cuisine as my favorite, I think I'd go with...Japanese. Maybe. That's been my answer for the past few years, at least. And it's not like I love all Japanese food, just that I embrace a few items without question. I'm not talking sushi here.
Vegetable tempura is one of those "always love" things. Just had it at Sakagura (or some version of it), but had another craving for it when I went to Wasabi in Ridgewood with my mum on Sunday night. Deep fried broccoli, carrot, and sweet potato are the standards. It wasn't as delicately battered as Sakagura's, but it was still delicious. If you mess up vegetable tempura, you suck.
Katsu don is a deep fried pork cutlet coated in pillow-soft, lightly scrambled eggs served over rice and seasoned with a thin dashi-soy sauce-mirin-sugar sauce. Even though I didn't grow up eating this dish, it just exudes comfort. Pork. Egg. Rice. A simple combination of tasty stuff. I can pretend I grew up eating it and that eat mouthful of porkeggrice brings up some sweet, lost memory of my youth, but...it just makes my mouth happy. My thoughts are of utmost pointlessness anyhoo: "HEY ROBYN, THIS DISH IS GOOOOD, MM PORK MMM, HEY WHY DON'T YOU COOK THIS, ROBYNNN, ARE YOU TOO LAZY? AFRAID OF BREADING MEAT? THE MEAT DON'T JUDGE. WHAT-WHAT?" The voice in my head sounds like the non-Charlie unicorns from Charlie the Unicorn. (You must click that link, by the way cos if you don't, I'll know...I'll know because if you watch it I'll feel the collective weight lifted off your brains from the decrease in IQ, and yes, watching the animation is totally worth the stupidifying consequences.)
Actually, making katsu don doesn't seem so hard. Maybe I'll try it. Maybeeee.
My katsu don came with pickles (and miso soup, as done in many Japanese restaurants). I like the green nubbly pickles the most. They're nubbly. They must know pain. That is what nubbly-ness entails.
My mum ordered the Passion Roll, filled with mango and raw tuna and topped with lobster tail, tobiko and spicy mayo. That's intense. A little too intensely seafoody for me. I'm alright with how fish eggs, taste but crunching though their thin membranes gives me this odd feeling of killing off buckets of fish babies and all their nonexistent spawn and their subsequently nonexistent spawn and then being responsible for the killings of an infinite number of fish that never existed and...well, I guess I do that on a regular basis anyway with the other stuff I eat.
We weren't hungry enough for dessert. Despite that, I went on a little baking adventure that night.
Actually, chocolate chip cookies aren't adventurous, but that I baked at all equates to some kind of adventurousness and perhaps a high five. Only owning a hand mixer makes me really appreciate the stand mixers we had in my cooking class. Le sigh.
Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite kind of cookie for eating and for making because they're hard to eff up. I know because I've successfully baked many of them. And eaten many of them. This chocolate chip cookie recipe came from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (which you can possibly win courtesy of Serious Eats and as I always pick the winners and HAVE TO LUG ALL THE DAMN BOOKS TO THE POST OFFICE, I can tell ya that we do give away a lot of books). Despite forgetting to add the vanilla that I had just bought a few hours earlier at Whole Foods, the cookies tasted pretty damn good. I added chopped-up chocolate bar bits as opposed to chocolate chips and also put in chopped walnuts per the recipe's instructions. Result? SHITTONS OF COOKIES THAT I COULD NOT POSSIBLY EAT ALL ON MY OWN.
But I did eat a lot of em. Oh yeah. Funny thing is that on Sunday night, I didn't think the cookies were very good. The sentiment carried onto Monday, the crushing feeling of cookie-based disappointment. But on Tuesday and Wednesday, they tasted really good. I don't know what happened—the cookies improved with age? My taste buds stopped giving a shit? Oh, if you're not a seasoned baker (points to self), just know that when you take cookies out of the oven, they should be soft. Like, "Damn, this cookie is all smooshed on itself," when you spatula it off the baking sheet—it will harden as it cools. I figured this out after the last time I made cookies, during which I kept poking at the cookies, not thinking they were done until the batter wasn't all mooshed up anymore, and ended up with very crispy (but flavorful!) cookies. I prefer cookies that are slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, which is how this latest batch of cookies came out.
I'm too lazy to actually type up the recipe, but while it made great cookies, there are probably a gajillion great chocolate chip cookie recipes already floating around the interwubs. I've been told ones made with oatmeal taste the best, something I have yet to try. UPDATE (7/20): I found the recipe! Go to sweet sarah j.
I wanted to quickly mention that on Saturday I attended a screening of Kamome Diner at Japan Society, after which was an onigiri party catered by Oms/b. Damn, those were some tasty onigiri, especially the ones wrapped in some kind of soy paper instead of the traditional nori. Why do balls of rice (or triangles of rice) taste so good? I mean, why so much better than rice in its more natural un-balled state? Is there magic in the compression of the rice grains? Sure, the wrapping has something to do with it too. And the filling. I suppose it's like looking at the individual components of a great simply made sandwich; perhaps they just taste okay on their own, but together create A THING OF PURE MAGIC AND BEAUTY that requires no utensils.
I want to throw an onigiri party, but I doubt anyone would come to my home in NJ for the change to eat a bunch of rice balls. Anyone else want to throw one in a more traffic-heavy location? And invite me? Yes, do get on that.
Oh yeah, if you have no idea what onigiri is (meaning that you'd be kinda confused by now), read Yongfook's definition. It goes a lil' something like this:
A regular, vanilla onigiri is a simple triangle of compressed rice. It doesn’t have to contain anything, and it doesn’t have to be wrapped in dried seaweed - it can simply be just rice. And Japanese people. Go. Fucking. Nuts. Over these. If you put an onigiri in a child’s lunchbox, they shit themselves with glee. If you have a picnic and break out some onigiri, everyone shits themselves with glee. Onigiri are compact little glee-shit causing machines and yet they are merely the most fundamental and boring part of a Japanese person’s everyday diet fashioned into a triangle.
Indeed, they do fill me with glee.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I loved Kamome Diner. I read a bunch of less-than-stellar reviews that criticized the slowness and lack of backstory in the movie, but that's kind of why I...liked it. You didn't know the pasts of these three Japanese women who ended up in Finland, but it didn't matter. The movie focused on whatever they were doing in the present. Which involved making onigiri, among other tasty things.
I'm tired. Is this entry over yet? Almoooost.
Park your carts, plz
This is a random photo of cart parking gone horrible wrong at my local Whole Foods. The orphaned carts are confused because they don't feel like they belong. And they don't feel like they belong because THOSE SPOTS ARE FOR CARS, NOT CARTS, I AM TYPING IN CAPS TO MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THIS MINOR DETAIL BECAUSE YOU CANNOT REALLY PARK A CAR IN A SPOT WITH A CART IN IT OK?
And one of those carts is double parked.