Like many, apple is the first thing that came to mind when I thought of food from Aomori, for it being the prefecture's most famous export, but this time, I am more interested in checking out their seafood, given its unique location as a gateway between Sea of Japan and the Pacific, getting the best from both sides of the ocean as far as fish produce goes.
While researching for our travel itinerary, I found the website of this local sushi-ya called Sushi Suzume not far away from the hotel we were planning to stay in Aomori City, and the restaurant seems decent and reasonably-priced. So I asked the hotel reception to help us make a dinner reservation as we checked in earlier in the afternoon and glad they could accommodate us in a rather short notice.
The restaurant is located on a side street not far away from the major thoroughfare in town, a comfortable 15 minute walk from our hotel in this mild but slightly chilly evening. Given the large entrance and shop sign, the restaurant was smaller than I thought - with 6 seats across the counter (two of them occupied by us) and then 2 tatami rooms right behind for larger parties. Chef Yasuteru Nagao and his apprentice handled the cooking and a waitress took care of everything else in front.
Menu was simple with various combinations of tsumami and sushi based on local seasonal selection at different price points. Wanting to sample the best the chef could offer we asked for the Oma set which had the most number of dishes (and the priciest). We also picked up a small pitcher of Junmai Ginjo sake made from a local brewery using indigenous rice species called "Hana Fubuki" (華吹雪), which I thought was crisp dry and rich with a pleasant floral aroma.
Well, we weren't done with tsumami dishes yet - in fact we have three additional ones before moving onto the sushi part. Mizudako (Water Octopus) tentacles were diced, deep-fried and served with a gentle sprinkle of citrus zest. They were fresh and crunchy with a thin batter. A few pieces of broiled shirako (cod milt) was then handed to us in a ceramic dish. It's steamed and served with only a pinch of salt, and the intense umami flavor just burst into your both as you bit through the "skin" - except I thought it's slightly overcooked, leaving a trait of rubbery texture on the surface. The third dish was Namako (sea cucumber), another Aomori specialty. It's thinly sliced and served with a light vinegar dressing in a bowl, just as it's normally prepared. I love this interesting combination of being crunchy and slimy and filled with an unique seawater-fresh flavor.
Well I thought the meal turned out to be better than expected, and it's good to have a brief introduction of the local catch for a first taste of Aomori. While the place was not about flawless execution with pinpoint accuracy, this is still a very enjoyable dining experience.
When? March 21 2015
Where? Sushi Suzume, Hashmoto 1-9-22, Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Drinks? Kamekihi Junmai Ginjo (亀吉純米吟醸 - 青森県 中村酒造 )
(Part of the Japan Rail Trip 2015 Series - check out the rest of our journey by clicking on the link! More to come!)