Lunch @ Komatsu Yasuke 小松弥助 (Kanazawa, Japan)

June 2, 2019 in Japanese

My friend was trying to book Komatsu Yasuke for his December 2018 trip to Japan in September 2018 but was told they only had table seats to offer. Since counter seats are the best for sushi-yas, he was advised to call back in November 2018 for February 2019 reservation. So when my friend shared his update with me, I was like “I also want (to go Komatsu Yasuke)!” Yes, we were coinciding our trips to Japan in February 2019. So thanks to my friend, a weekday lunch reservation for 2 was secured successfully at Komatsu Yasuke. There are 3 seatings; 11.30am, 1pm and 2.30pm. My friend booked us for 1pm.

Komatsu Yasuke was previously a by-introduction-only sushi restaurant. But in 2015, head chef Kazuo Morita (suddenly) announced that he will be taking a break. And at that point, many took it that he was retiring because he was already 84 years old. So imagined everyone’s surprise relief when head chef Morita san returned in 2017. And of course, I was delighted to know upon his return, Komatsu Yasuke started accepting reservations directly from non-locals too. Yes! In English.

It’s a 10 to 12 minutes walk to Komatsu Yasuke from Kanazawa (Railway) Station. And for our 1pm seating, we reached the restaurant by 12.40pm. However, we didn’t get seated till 1.25pm because the first seating overran by a little. Likewise, we only managed to vacate the restaurant around 2.40pm for the third seating.

Upon seated, we noted the everyone was very busy preparing the ingredients for our seating. It was like watching an orchestra performance. There was so many things going on at the same time, but everyone knew what their roles were. They were very much in tuned with one another. But of course, my eyes were fixed mostly on head chef Morita san. Keke. We were lucky to be seated early; As the other customers slowly settled down, I watched head chef Morita san intently as he personally sliced the various ingredients.

A female staff went round to take our orders. Between sushi course and sashimi and sushi course, we went with the latter. We also stated our preference to have appetiser followed by sushi. And with that, we commenced our lunch with:-

1) Sashimi & sushi menu comprised of:

(A) Dish #1 (above) – Steamed awabi (abalone) served with dashi.

(B) Dish #2 (above) – Sashimi assortment of hirame (flat fish), chutoro, amaebi, aka uni and akami topped with konowata (sea cucumber innards).

(C) Dish #3 (above) – Akami zuke topped with konowata.

(D) Dish #4 (above) – Aka ika topped with salt and sesame. And to prepare this, head chef Morita san unrolled the ika which was wrapped with serviette and commenced slicing. The ika sheet was sliced into thinner sheets before they were passed on to his sous chef to slice the sheets into thin strips. Amazing teamwork and amazing knife skill. And of course, this was amazing. It just melted in my mouth.

(E) Dish #5 (above) – Head chef Morita san’s signature otoro. And we were told specifically “no sauce”.

(F) Dish #6 (above) – Amaebi. And we were told to put some soya sauce before consuming.

  

(G) Dish #7 (above) – Appetiser of (yamaimo) grated yam, akami zuke, uni and shari (sushi rice).

(H) Dish #8 (above) – Hirame with its fin, and topped with ume (plum) sauce. Again, we were told to have it with no sauce.

(I) Dish #9 (above) – Hamaguri.

  

(J) Dish #10 (above) – Unagi roll with sliced cucumber within. The unagi was charcoal-grilled by one of his sous chefs, before it was passed to head chef Morita san to make the roll. And it was simply amazing. I loved the bits of charred bits inside. So good. I was really touched and gratful that head chef Morita san taught his disciple well.

(K) Dish #11 (above) – Soup with egg, tofu and gani (crab).

And as we were almost reaching the end of our course, the (same) female staff went round to take additional orders. My friend did his homework prior and said we had to order the anago and negitoro handroll. So yes, it’s a must to order additional! Keke.

  

2) Additional dish #1 (above) – Bafun uni with a touch of salt. And this was ordered upon the staff’s recommendation. And seated at the counter, we watched the sous chef passed head chef Morita san an almost empty uni box. And instead of using the remaining uni (like how a business man would), head chef Morita san told his sous chef to get him a new box of uni! Deeply touched. It’s the little actions that showed head chef Morita san’s passion in only serving the best to his customers.

3) Additional dish #2 (above) – Anago. I would call this “double decker” because head chef Morita san folded the long strip of anago into two before using it as a neta. A real treat.

  

4) Additional dish #3 (above) – Negitoro hand roll. And this was fully done by (another) sous chef. But one should belittle it just because it was prepared by the sous chef. This was really good. I read that this could be prepared by his sous chef because head chef Morita san acknowledged his skill.

It was an amazing experience. One of the best meals I ever had in all my trips to Japan. I loved everything about it that even I, one who is pretty awkward posing for pictures, requested to take photograph with head chef Morita san. The food, the atmosphere… And yes, the Komatsu Yasuke team!!!

In fact, dining at Komatsu Yasuke was like dining in head chef Morita san’s house. I felt like a grandchild waiting to be fed really well by grandfather. Now… I wouldn’t say the food was refined. It was slightly rough, but made with lots of love. Head chef Morita san always had a wide endearing smile, and was very inclusive. He made sure he gave his attention to every customer (at the counter). Even the customer seated at the furthest end. Very lovely. And although head chef Morita san couldn’t speak any English, that didn’t stop him from interacting with us. It was really those moments I wished I know Japanese so that I could reply his questions. In fact, it kinda reminded me of how I am with my grandmother. She would speak to me in Hokkien but I don’t understand dialect and couldn’t reply her. Yeps. But both (head chef Morita san and my grandma) spoke with the same ‘loving and caring’ tone. I was really in awe.

And one really should get counter seats because I noticed only counter customers had all their dishes prepared by head chef Morita san personally. For exmaple, the unagi roll was prepared by his sous chef for customers seated at the tables.

With the 3 additional dishes and hot green tea, my meal came up to ¥20,000 (including tax, etc). Komatsu Yasuke? A must try!

KOMATSU YASUKE 小松 弥助
Kanazawa Chaya Annex, 2-17-21 Honmachi, Kanazawa, Japan (石川県 金沢市 本町 2-17-21 金沢茶屋別館 1F)
+81 76 231 1001, Tablelog
Overall: 8.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Fri – Tues : 11:30 – 16:00
Ambience: 8
Value: 9
Service: 9
* Closed on Wed, Thur

Dinner @ Ogata (Kyoto, Japan)

April 18, 2019 in Japanese

For my annual trip to Japan in 2019, I (finally) ventured out of Tokyo. Grin. And when I decided to head to Kyoto, I knew I had 4 restaurants that I wanted to try; Ogata, Tominokoji Yamagishi, Acá and Hirasansou. Having read that it’s really difficult to secure a booking at 2 Michelin stars Ogata, I decided to use Tabeall.

I sent my reservation request to Tableall in end September 2018 but was informed that Ogata only take reservation for February from 1 December. However a few days later, I received another email from Tableall confirming that they had secured my booking with Ogata for dinner in late February 2019. Yeah.

For my 7pm dinner, I was the second to reach the restaurant. And instead of directing me to the empty seat beside the first group of customer, the staff led me to the other end of the counter which was beside a full-height glass window with a view of the indoors garden. And I liked my seat because it’s directly in front of the charcoal grill. VIP seat to witness chef-owner Toshiro Ogata’s grilling actions. Keke.

After seated, I was asked for my choice of drink which I went with iced green tea. And once everyone had settled down, I commenced my ¥33,000 dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Sea urchin with sticky rice, topped with grated yuzu and pine nuts which was so light I nearly mistaken as puffed rice. In fact, I initially thought the topping was meat as the urchin’s colour was very dark. But its dark colour was from the seasoning.


2) Dish #2 (above) – “A type of Japanese pasta,” the staff said. And this was somen served with grated radish.

  

3) Dish #3 (above) – Baby tuna (meiji-maguro) sashimi. And when this was presented with a fox mask over it, the staff explained it’s a Japanese culture celebrated on 2 February. “A major day for Japanese,” he elaborated. I was told that the fox mask and leaves were used to ward off evil. The staff further shared the leaves were personally collected from the place of prayer and hand-carried back for Ogata’s customers. Wow. And after the explanation, the staff asked me to lift up the mask to expose the sashimi beneath. But just as I was about to do that, head chef Ogata san came over and assisted me. He continued to take the leaves and demonstrated what the Japanese would do by hitting himself on the chest. Once on each side with the leaves. He even got me to follow suit! And just as I was about to tuck in, I noticed head chef Ogata san whispering to his staff and nudging his staff in my direction. Apparently he asked his staff to take my handphone and take a photograph of me posing with the mask. So cute! I was honestly touched as his actions made me feel included. Fox mask and leaves aside, the baby tuna which was slightly grilled (aburi) was really tasty too.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Belt fish served with toasted sesame seeds. The toasted sesame seeds was very aromatic. It tasted almost similar to the peanuts used in our muah chee (glutinous rice snack coated with sesame seeds or peanuts).

5) Dish #5 (above) – Tempura butterbur (fukinoto) flower bud on tempura butter fish.

  

6) Dish #6 (above) – Tempura carrot. And for this, the other customers were exclaiming in excitement when head chef Ogata san placed the tempura carrot onto their plates. I concluded it must be a really special carrot especially with its deep-red colour. Even with my first bite, I mistook it for sweet potato because it was as sweet as roasted sweet potato.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Tempura abalone served with its liver sauce. And I was expecting it to be soft (like simmered kind of soft) but its centre was hard and crunchy. And the sauce definitely had something else besides liver. It contained small chunks which tasted like baby white shrimp (shiro-ebi). I ain’t too sure but it sure was yummy!

  
  

8) Dish #8 (above) – Blowfish (fugu) and milt. Shortly after my plate of milt was placed on the counter, head chef Ogata san appeared with the ice snow ball. Head chef Ogata san opened the snow ball with chopsticks to expose the packets of individually packed blowfish sashimi within. And we were told to personally take out our pack from the snow ball. I got to learn it was a tradition which the Japanese do for good luck. Food wise, one could eat the blowfish on its own or dip it in the milt sauce.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Hot sake with grilled blowfish fin.

  

10) Dish #10 (above) – And I very clearly heard the staff introduced the ingredient as round radish and not Japanese radish. Served with kelp (kombu).


  

11) Dish #11 (above) – Moroko fish. I was told this fish could only be found in the biggest lake in Japan. And we were given 3 each. Yum.

And it was a sign that the rice dish was to be served next when the assorted pickles was placed in front of me. And for the rice dish, the staff mentioned there’re 3 flavours. Unsure, I asked for recommendation and the staff proposed the oyster dish. But he went on to say I could have all three too. So I requested small portions for all. Keke. Stomach was bursting but I was greedy.

12) Dish #12 with options of:

(A) Baby white anchovy with egg omelette on rice (above)

(B) Deep-fried oyster on rice (above)

(C) Buckwheat noodle (above)

13) Roasted tea (above)


  

14) Dish #13 (above) – Filled with azuki beans, I was told cherry blossom was also used.

15) Green tea (above)

Head chef Ogata san certainly impressed. Dinner was fabulous! How do I put it… He wasn’t extravagant in terms of plating. One would realised from the food which were presented simply. But the taste of the dishes weren’t simple. He was able to bring out the best in each ingredient. And I was very impressed by how he also mixed tradition/culture into the dishes. Like the fox mask (kitsune).

I initially thought I would be neglected cause head chef Ogata san didn’t seem to be able to converse in English. The first few dishes were presented by his staff. But his passion and sincerity in wanting every customers to enjoy their dining experience must had made him cast aside his shyness and came up to me. Yes, the third dish! And for that, I was honestly touched and grateful. I ended up enjoying myself a lot. Head chef Ogata san looked stern on the outside but was actually mild and gentle. Even charismatic I must admit. Keke.

As I made my way to the exit, head chef Ogata san and his wife were there to say goodbye. And as a souvenir, I received a pair of chopsticks. Wow!

Would I recommend Michelin-starred Ogata? I definitely would! The raves about Ogata were real. And since I booked my meal through Tableall, it’s to note I pre-paid ¥44,000 (including tax, etc). And for the iced green tea which I ordered during the meal, I topped up another ¥1000. The ¥33,000 which I mentioned was the meal course, but tax not included yet. So if one did the mathematics, handling fee by Tableall is almost ¥4800. Very affordable, considering Tableall has been the most reliable third party reservation website. To me, at least. I always rely on Tableall for the super-hard-to-book restaurants.

OGATA 緒方
726 Shinkamanzacho Shimogyo, Kyoto, Japan (京都府 京都市下京区 綾小路西洞院東入新釜座町726番地)
+81 75 344 8000, Tablelog
Overall: 9
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Tues – Sun : 16:00 – 21:30
Ambience: 8
Value: 9
Service: 9
* Closed on Mon

Sweets @ Minatoya みなと屋 (Tokyo, Japan)

March 27, 2019 in Japanese

I honestly enjoy kakigori (shaved ice) hunting when I am in Japan. Just the ice alone makes a huge difference. So besides Mamatoko, the other kakigori shop that I went during my February 2018 trip was Minatoya.

Tucked inside Sasazuka’s shopping arcade, Minatoya was a 5 to 8 minutes walk from Sasazuka station. Besides kakigori, the shop also sold takoyaki. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the latter as I only prepared sufficient stomach space for kakigori. Oops. And from the menu (pages 1, 2), I ordered:-


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1) Kakigori #1, ¥900 (above) – Cacao, カカオ.


2) Kakigori #2, ¥1000 (above) – Mont blanc, おいもんぶらん.


3) Kakigori #3, ¥850 (above) – Kumquat (kinkan) milk, 金柑ミルク.

4) Kakigori #4, ¥900 (above) – Pistachio milk, ピスタチオミルク.

The ice at Minatoya was really light and fluffy. I mean… Although the cookies were placed in the middle of my cacao kakigori, the cookies came out clean and dry. Now, that’s really impressive cause it’s despite a ‘mountain’ of shaved ice layered over it. The brown stain (as pictured) was only there because I scraped my spoon against the cookie.

And having tried 4 flavours, I recommend ordering the ones which have milk. I especially liked the mont blanc-kakigori. Though one should also try ordering their signature pumpkin (かぼちゃ) kakigori which has drizzled caramel sauce too. I meant to, but I got distracted by the seasonal flavour (kumquat milk).

MINATOYA みなと屋
2 Chome−41−20 Sasazuka, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 渋谷区 笹塚 2-41-20 岡田ビル 1F)
+81 3 6383 3120, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Mon – Tues, Thur – Sun : 11:00 – 19:00
Ambience: 6
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Wed