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Omakase sushi at Yashin

Omakase sushi at Yashin

Cuisine: Japanese

Visit: March 2013

Price: High (high quality ingredient come at high price, especially when imported to London – the Omakase of 15 pieces costs £80, while 8 pieces come for £30).

Can a Westerner imagine a sushi restaurant serving dishes without soy sauce? Hardly, but this is what they do at Yashin Sushi just off Kensington High Street, and they do it well. “But if you want to …” – as the neon banner on the wall behind the sushi counter says – you can order some. The reason for the chefs doing so is to show to their diners how all the Japanese ingredients you might know really taste without the overpowering sauce.

Sushi chef at Yashin

Sushi chef at Yashin

Chef: There is a number of sushi chefs along the counter working on some impressive creations of food art. The head chefs though and also the co-founders are the ex-Nobu group chef Yasuhiro Mineno and the youthful Shinya Ikedo. Their innovative approach to sushi and other Japanese meals sparks up the London’s dining scene.

Atmosphere: Modern design, rabbit-shaped lamps, attentive service, long sushi bar and tall chairs. Yashin Sushi is a great spot to enjoy the omakase (chefs own creations of the best ingredients of the day served one after another). You can dress up or wear something casual, just leave the sneakers at home.

Large omakase sushi platter

Large omakase sushi platter

Food: Edo-style natural flavours showing dishes. First you will be served a trio of original and tiny amuse-bouche, then you can start with the tofu foamy and warming miso soup and move to one of the cold dishes.

The omakase though is really tempting. You can order from eight to 15 pieces, list all your allergies and then just enjoy the purity of the flavours. We did it after trying a number of cold and warm starters and did not leave too over-filled.

Tiny amouse bouche at Yahsin

Tiny amouse bouche at Yahsin

From the new style sashimi dishes the White Fish of the Day Carpaccio with crunchy lettuce on the top was refreshing and delicious. I would have the fish tartare with salmon eggs enriched by the creamy sauce and freshened up by a cover of chopped green chives and shiso again as it was a truly genial raw fish dish.

White fish sashimi salad

White fish sashimi salad

The generous slices of Wagyu Beef Loin slightly seared around and served with savoury truffle jelly was outstanding. The fatty meat was succulent and was wonderfully elevated by the jelly-like truffle dressing. A sip or two or red wine cut through the fatness of this dish and refresh your palate ready for the next course.

Wagyu Beef

Wagyu Beef

There are not many Maki rolls but they are nice and usually there is at least one vegetarian choice. Look for seasonal dishes as I had amazing Seared mixed mushrooms when I dined at Yashin this month.

Drinks: The wine list and sake list is good. Many of the wines are served by the glass, carafe and bottle. One of them is also the interesting Japanese pinkish Koshu from Grace vineyards. I love this wine for its freshness and delicate nature. Most of the wines are also organic or biodynamic. If you are not in the mood for alcohol, you can have the lovely green tea poured warm from a pot into your glass every time your it is empty.

Soon a new Yashin in Knightsbridge is lined up to be open, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep up the same level of attentive service as in the original one in West Kensington.

Opening hours: Mon-Sun for lunch 12:00–2:30 pm, dinner: 6:00–11:00 pm

Address: 1 Argyll Rd, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London W8, UK.

Contact: Tel: +(44) 020 7938 1536

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Wá is woah – amazing. Whether you get the omakase chef’s menu or order á la carte, you will be mesmerised by the quality of ingredients and the skills of the chef.

Sushi omakase at Wa

Sushi omakase at Wa

Cuisine: Japanese, sushi and innovative Japanese cold and warm dishes.

Visit: February 2013

Price: Medium (for such a tremendous quality it is a good deal, compared to the hyped Matsuhisa south on the same road or the ultra-luxurious Urasawa on Rodeo it is a steal).

Wa sushi counter

Wa sushi counter

Chef: The trio of founding chefs from Japan come from the rare breed of chefs honing their culinary skills at the nearby Matsuhisa. As many from this herd of skilled chefs they left this legendary precursor  to the international chain of trendy Japanese restaurants Nobu (Matsuhisa) and established their own place. Wá has been at La Cienega for some years now and it has under its roof multiple dining awards mainly from the critical local press, but also from the coveted Zagat guide that gave Wá extraordinary 28 points (30 is maximum).

Creative sushi roll at Wá

Creative sushi roll at Wá

Food: Traditional with gourmet twist of the chef and superb quality of ingredients. The menu is fun as most of it are dishes you have probably never seen before. If you do not want to risk it order one of the most popular dishes highlighted on the first page. I have started with the Halibut Carpaccio and savoured the Tuna Carpaccio from the omakase of my partner and was not disappointed. The fish was fresh and the condiments (mustard sauce) perfectly matched the type of the fish.

Mozuku kelp

Mozuku kelp

My next course was more adventurous. I have ordered the Mozuku kelp that the server told me is popular in Japan (mainly in Okinawa) but not in the US for its rather “very traditional taste”. Usually majority of diners go for the dark green wakame sea weed, the flat wide noodle-shaped and slightly crunchy seaweed that is tasty only with vinegar and other condiments, yet I was pleasantly surprised by the Mozuku sea weed. Resembling super-thin soba noodles, it was slightly brownish and delicate. The chef made it savoury with sweet soy vinegar and served on a bad of jelly in a flattering glass. The omakase plate of Caviar and white fish uni was also quite adventurous yet delicious.

Uni with caviar and white fish

Uni with caviar and white fish

This time I skipped the Caviar and gold leaf crowned terrine of ankimo (monkfish liver) since I was not as keen on it last time I had it at Matsuhisa in Aspen, Colorado. It seems quite rich and fatty next to the pristine fish and seafood dishes.

Deep fried tofu trio

Deep fried tofu trio

Vegetarian options such as the sizling Mushroom tobanyaki or tofu will please the local veggie fans. It is all well-presented so not only your soul but also your aesthetical self will both be pleased. From the warm dishes I highly recommend the Agedashi tofu with pepper. The three cubes of lightly fried tofu in broth with shi-shito pepper, seaweed and condiments were soft with the sauce adding lots of freshness and depth to the neutral tofu.

Sizling Mushroom tobanyaki

Sizling Mushroom tobanyaki

One of the signature dishes the Lobster Tempura with Spicy Creamy Sauce was delicious as well. It was not as big as the dishes like this (Rock shrimp tempura) tend to be, which is highly practical because the fried lobster together with spicy creamy sauce are quite hard to digest. Therefore enjoy this yummy dish with moderation in a stylish martini glass.

Of course there are staples such as the The crispy rice and spicy tuna, but also the chef’s own take on them like in the Spicy Tuna Special of spicy tuna in shiso leaves, which is lightly fried with tempura sauce.. In the case of the crispy rice he fries it a bit more so the rice gets burning amber hues adding more richness and depth to the already distinctive tasting dish.

There are some desserts on the menu as well. In Japanese restaurants I love the Mochi ice cream so I went for it. Just ask your server for available flavours. I got mango, green tea and vanilla – all subtle and slightly sweet, mango being my favourite. Usually I like the green tea flavour, yet this time the mochi was less about the tea and more about the sweetness presumingly catering to the local American palates.

Mochi ice cream

Mochi ice cream

Atmosphere: Understated, friendly and humming with coming and leaving diners popping in and out constantly. Wá is not about looks, it is a low-key dining spot on the second floor of a small strip mall above a Jiu Jitsu school and just next to 7-Eleven market. There is a parking garage downstairs for the driving guests convenience. The sushi bistro additionally offers one semi-private room with a large Tv.  There you can watch your favourite team or a Tv show with your friends while savouring the tremendous food. In the main dining room you can sit on a bar, which is ideal for the omakase, where the chef serves you one course after another as he pleases. The rest are just simple tables. Wear anything casual, even sneakers and baseball hats. I love the little details (like the one below) you can find around the restaurant.

The Ladies bathroom doll

The Ladies bathroom doll

Opening hours: Open only for dinner Tue-Sun: 6pm-11pm. Closed on Mondays.

Address: 1106 N La Cienega Blvd #201; West Hollywood, CA 90069‎, USA.

Contact: Tel: +1 (310) 854-7285

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Japanese four-course dinner

Japanese four-course dinner

Cuisine: Japanese – traditional and modern, sushi.

Location: Winterthur, Switzerland.

Chef/teacher: Yoko is from Japan, but she has been living in Switzerland for a while. She is a graduate of Tokyo Sushi Academy’s professional course and member of Japan Sushi Instructors Association since 2008, both adding credibility to her classes. She opened her cooking school at her tranquil  apartment in Winterthur near Zurich in 2007. She speaks fluently German, English and of course her native language – Japanese. She offers various types of classes from basic nigiri sushi and rolls to everyday Japanese cooking. I have done a mix of all with inside-out rolls as my preference, since I have never done them before and wanted to learn some tricks.

Yoko showing the right type of sushi rice

Yoko showing the right type of sushi rice

Overview:

I loved the hussle-free pace of the course. It was rather a meditative and tasty afternoon enhanced by insights and complementary knowledge of Japanese food and culture. Since Yoko is Japanese, she was able to answer my curious questions about anything that crossed my mind during the cooking. I learned that sushi is rather a festive meal, than an every-day lunch or dinner item. In the West many of us think that sushi is something like a staple food eaten in this exotic Eastern country. Yet, as my trip to Tokyo some years ago as well as Yoko’s testimony confirmed, there is plenty of diversity  in terms of food in Japan. And, I do not mean just a Spicy tuna on crispy rice, California maki or the Softshell crab tempura rolls one can see on the Western menus (most of them were invented abroad), but mostly the nourishing soups, delicious meat and unique vegetable dishes that are part of the dining culture across the distinct provinces of Japan. With the custom-made one-to-one class with Yoko I got an insight into both camps – the traditional and the more modern adapted to locally available ingredients and aesthetical fashions of the time.

Chicken with sesame sauce

Chicken with sesame sauce

What we cooked:

The four-course menu started with a warming cup of miso soup, whetted ones appetite with tender Chicken with sesame sauce, added a bit of fancy intermezzo of inside-out salmon and spicy tuna rolls and finally was crowned by a juicy kobe beef steak with wasabi sauce.

The miso soup with wakame and spring onion was not as easy as you might think. My general approach to this japanese staple to date was to add lots of miso paste (whatever type was available on my local store shelf) into boiling hot water, sprinkling some dried seaweed and pouring it into a bowl. Well it can taste good (depending on how good the miso paste was), but it is not how it should be made if you want to reap all the benefits this nourishing soup offers. Not only did I kill lots of the beneficial enzymes in the miso by boiling it, but also ended up with a less complex flavours in the soup. Yoko taught me to use a broth of dashi, which is boiled and then add the rest of ingredients including the miso paste by the end without boiling it. Sprinkle of spring onions on the top before serving made it look great and added freshness.

The Chicken with sesame sauce was superb! I had no idea that a simple thing like the usually boring chicken can be so fresh and tasty. We steamed the chicken breast in a silicone pot in a microwave for a couple of minutes. This is definitely a quick dinner solution for these in the rush. The silicone pot is a handy tool as it keeps moisture and the chicken does not end up dry and lifeless. The rich mayonnaise-based sesame sauce had been my favourite when I was living in Asia – I would buy it in a supermarket and put it on everything from salads to meat and sometimes even on a slice of bread instead of butter (naughty me). yet now I know how to make it fresh and how not to spoil it. Despite not being too complex, there are ways to make the sauce flabby. Whipping it consistently and adding ingredients slowly was the key to success as I learned from Yoko.

Seaweed sizes for sushi rolls

Seaweed sizes for sushi rolls

Sushi roll

Inside-out Sushi roll

Making the Inside-out roll sushi (Spicy tuna roll and Salmon roll) turned out to be easier than I thought. The difference from the classical maki is that the seaweed is inside and the rice outside. One would think that it is much harder to make the rice sticky enough so it does not fell off the roll, but if you keep in mind a number of small tricks, you will make perfect rolls like I did with Yoko (I hope I will make them as pretty on my own, so far I have successfully repeated only the chicken, miso soup and the beef recipes). Keep the measurements in check. As the pictures above show, the nori seaweed has to have the right dimensions (just crack it), but also it is useful to buy a cutting board with measurements printed on the side so you can check the width of each piece as you cut the roll. Start with cutting it half, then each half to halves and you will get eight pieces from each roll. The imperfect ends can be flipped on the plate so they still look cool or you can just eat them before serving. The rolls were the most difficult to make.

Wasabi beef steak

Wasabi beef steak

The main course was superb yet easily prepared. The Beef steak with wasabi soy sauce required finding the best quality of beef for it to be a success. Yoko’s origin is not too far from the legendary beef area of Kobe, so I believe her palate is very sensitive to a great beef. Her choice of a beautifully red and meaty rather than just fatty chunks of steak that I have enjoyed tremendously proved that my palate sensitivity is similar to hers. Pounding the meat gently through a layer of plastic sheet so it keeps its shape is crucial and then just ask your guest – rare – medium rare – or well done? And a perfect steak is ready to be served. The wasabi soy sauce is simple. Just put a knob of butter on the heated pan, add some freshly grounded wasabi (or wasabi paste), stir in some soy sauce and voila, you have a companion to your juicy flank of meat.

Me eating my Japanese creation

Eating my Japanese creations

The resulting four-course dinner I cooked with the help of Yoko was better than in many restaurants, teaching me that if one knows “how to”, then cooking at home can turn to be the best gourmet experience in town!

Yoko is thoughtful and lists her favourite shops on her website, so you can buy the right ingredients while in the area of Zurich.

You can bring your own wine or any other drink than water since Yoko clinched my thirst for the later, but she acknowledges individual preferences for other drinks. I was in Switzerland shortly and did not have time to browse local wine shops, so I missed on this great opportunity to pair my meal with great wine. I would go for a crisp Riesling or slightly oaky Chardonnay with the sushi and the chicken, and a bolder Cabernet Sauvignon or plump and fruity Malbec with the wasabi steak.

Contact: Email: info@sushi-yoko.ch. Online class calendar or via online form suitable for private classes.

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Cuisine: Japanese

Visit: December 2012

Price: Very expensive (Top CEOs, fashion models and Tv stars come to dine here in a secure and an almost invisible location).

Asparagus salad

Asparagus salad

Atmosphere: The entrance to the restaurant is very discreet and guarded by security men. One would never think that there is a restaurant behind the simply looking wall along the Rua Lisboa. As the security opens the door and you walk through a tiny garden into the first room, you know that Jun Sakamoto is not just a traditionally simple Japanese restaurant (the interior was designed by the chef after whom the restaurant was named). It is full of classy people some conservatively dressed in ties and business suites others – especially the supermodel looking youthful women – in chic evening mini-dresses or anything that is currently fashionable. If you want even more privacy then dine in the back room. Both rooms together including a sushi bar accommodate not more than 30-40 people, so it is quite small. You still will be seen by the top players on the São Paulo rich and powerful league so better dress up for that as good as you can.

Food: For how much exclusive this restaurant tries to be, the food is not even slightly comparable to any of my favorite japanese places in LA, New York, Seattle or Paris. Rumors circulate in and out of the city that there is not much of excellent japanese food in Brazil yet. I take it as an explanation of my recent disappointment at Jun Sakamoto. For the restaurant being very expensive, I will not give it likely a second chance when there are so many other great restaurants to dine at in São Paulo.

Seared mushrooms

Seared mushrooms

We got a number of starters to share and none of them had particularly impressed our taste buds. The Salmon tartare (Tuna tartare with foie gras is more popular here, but we were in the mood for salmon) was tiny, the fish was good but excellent as you would expect for the price and the sporadic portion of fish eggs on the top of it was not enough to bring more complex flavors to the dish. Continuing with a plate of fatty tuna sashimi, which was contrary to the previous too large portion of just a raw and not very tasty fish we started to worry a bit about the restaurant’s flattering reputation. The savior came in the form of the next order – the Asparagus salad, which was better and perhaps the only plate we quite enjoyed. The vegetables were fresh and crisp and the sauce was tasty.

From the warm dishes the Seared mushrooms lacked everything that was savor-appealing. I dare to claim that they were boring. Right the opposite of the vibrant and sizzling Mushroom Tobanyaki they do at Nobu restaurants elsewhere.

Black cod with miso

Black cod with miso

The staple of many Japanese restaurants globally is the Black cod with miso. After the previous unsuccessful courses we ordered exactly this dish as we thought it might be more reliable. The fish was of a good quality, the sauce though was not intense enough and much more plain than we are used to.

My partner tried the omakase sushi (ingredients selected by the chef who serves you to the point of your fullness, it shows the chef’s skills the best). They do it differently here though. You have to select how many courses you want and that is what you get. Omakase is supposed to display the chef’s innovativeness, creativity and the quality of his ingredients. The sushi we got did not look and taste exceptionally – it was rather normal, but with a high price tag.

Sushi bar

Sushi bar

Drinks: Sake and wine lists are good, although not particularly wide. You can find some less usual treats on the wine list though. We went for the Chilean Amayna Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Seeing a barrel fermented version of Sauvignon Blanc is quite rare. This refreshing grape varietal made famous by the Loire Valley in France as well as New Zealand is often let to express its freshness and zest. It was one of these quirks that one tries just for the sake of its differentiating quality. Wine Spectator gave it 91 points (out of 100) to this Leyda Valley warrior. I would not go as high since the barrel overwhelmed the fruit and its acidity in a greater proportion then it should have. The new oak left some nutty and vanilla aromas in the wine while the fruit turned into something like a fig marmelade than a refreshing white peach or grass that you can typically taste in wines made from this grape varietal. The depth though complement the raw fish quite well. With japanese food I would rather go for an oaky Chardonnay or a Gewurtztraminer from Alsace.

Opening hours: Only for dinner: Mon-Thu: 7pm-12.30am; Fri & Sat: 7pm-1am; Closed on Sunday.

Address: Rua Lisboa 55, Jardim Paulista, São Paulo, Brazil.

Contact: Tel: +(55) 11 3088 6019

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Cuisine: Japanese traditional sushi and cooked meals.

Visit: October 2012

Price: High (the most famous Japanese chef in Seattle cannot sell his carefully sourced fish of highest quality for pennies).

Chef: Master Chef Shiro Kashiba is well-known in Seattle as the father of Japanese cuisine in the city. Sourcing the freshest ingredients, preparing unfussy and authentic Japanese fare in a friendly and simple environment are his signature trademarks.

The sushi counter at Shiro

Atmosphere: Unpretentious, lively and simple. In a way this restaurant reminds me Nobu’s “Matsuhisa” in Los Angeles. Simple wooden tables and chairs, japanese art on the walls, long sushi counter with busy chefs dressed all in white and of course the special doing-it-all-for-you japanese toilet. Wear jeans, shirt or anything casual except flip-flops and you will enjoy an unforgettable dinner in a full comfort.

Food: Fresh, superb quality fish and seafood, simple preparation. You are in Seattle so get ready for the best salmon you probably have ever had. The fish is so delicate, intense and complex here that I would call it a new species rather than the salmon you get elsewhere. To savour the fish the most just order it as a plain sashimi or sushi (on a bun of rice), so its flavour can reveal itself fully.

Albacore tataki salad

Starting with Albacore tataki salad, that my local friends frequenting Shiro for many years like the most from the appetizers, I knew that this dinner was going to be something out of this world in terms of dining experience. The Albacore tuna fish was so intense almost meaty in texture, but it was so perfectly balanced that only the most sophisticated palate would recognise it only by eye on a fish market. Served in yummy, melting chunks with a fermented sauce and spring onions, it was simple yet more rewarding than most of the special “new style” melon, kiwi or whatever else with tatakis I have eaten in many fashionable japanese restaurants.

The sushi and sashimi are heavenly fresh and of the highest quality. From the toro, yellowtail, salmon to lesser known fish the chef favours on the market on that certain morning. I rarely like just plain sushi and fancy the omakasa style prepared by a chef in his own original manner, but at Shiro the fish is so perfect and the rice just well-cooked and not too overly cooked and sticky that there is no need for special omakasa sushi here.

The sushi platter

The rolls are simple as well. The spicy tuna roll (top left) is out-of-ordinary and the seared salmon (centre)  and smoked eel (right) rolls are superb. The eal is served with a dense, honey-like sweet sauce atop the california-style roll. The seared salmon is accompanied with its eggs and chopped zesty green spring onions.

The sushi and sushi rolls at Shiro

Drinks: Beer, sake, japanese green tea and some wine, but not too much choice for wine so I went for tea this time. I have learned this time that with plain and superb quality ingredients in japanese cuisine I can appreciate the flavours better when drinking only green and grassy tea with the food. At more modern restaurants such as Nobu I need the wine to help me metabolize all the complex sauces and heavier dishes. Moreover, the acidity especially in white wine allows me to eat more of these rich dishes.

Opening hours: Dinner Mon-Sun: 5:30–10:30pm.

Contact: Tel: +1 (206) 443-9844

Address: 2401 2nd Avenue  Seattle, WA 98121, USA

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