Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Friendly Omakase Dinner

One random evening in late January we went on a weeknight date to the Japanese restaurant Kishoku in Causeway Bay inside a commercial building right behind Times Square (courtesy of the restaurant's PR team). Well we have come here on several occasions before but strangely, never both of us together, and I haven't been back since a new team of chefs were brought in a few months ago.

It was relatively quiet on a cold, rainy night and we took up the seats at the sushi bar. I felt the restaurant is a perfect venue for a cozy meal with a small group of people, whether one opts for the discreet booth tables near the entrance or at the elegant sushi bar that can sit up to 10, with all the fresh seafood ingredients on display in the refrigerated glass cabinet.

We don't have any specific food preference so we just left it all up to our chef to decide. We began with a small bowl of picked Hokkaido kegani (hairy crab) with junsai (water shield) in a light vinaigrette dressing. I felt the rich umami flavor from that of the crab meat came out nicely with a mildly acidic dressing.

I am most impressed by the variety of ingredients available at the restaurant and the good balance of keeping with the tradition and bringing in an element of creativity of mixing and matching, making use of all the seasonal ingredients available. Altogether over a dozen or so otsumame dishes were served. Some were simple sashimi pieces - like the sumptuous Zuwagani leg served with a dash of sudachi juice, or the thin slice of the mildly-seasoned Kanburi (winter wild yellowtail) caught off Kyushu, or Kawahagi (filefish) served with the liver sauce - while some were more elaborate, like the Shirako (cod milt) served squid-ink vinegar, or the Akkeshi Ma-kaki oyster served in its shell with ponzu jelly, grated daikon and seaweed garnished on top. The kawahagi served on a small wooden cup was spot-on, with the fish with a bouncy texture cut into thin strips and mixed well with the rich liver sauce.

I also liked the duo of clams, served side by side on a small plate with a slab of rock salt. The Tsubugai (whelk) has a good bite with a milder flavor, but I preferred the Mirugai (geoduck clam) for the clean, fresh ocean flavors. In between courses several small nibbles of palate cleanser were served as well, like the candied bayberry fruit, pickled edible cactus or aloe vera jelly - they were pretty interesting too.

Only one hot dish was served, which is a small piece of tempura. While the nori-wrapped vegetables, shrimps and uni/sea urchin tempura was well-prepared with thin batter and good crispness, I thought there wasn't enough uni inside to bring in the smooth texture I was expecting, but overall it's still quite tasty.

I know there shouldn't be such a thing as too much Otoro (fatty tuna), but I belonged to the camp who think toro works best as sushi instead of just on its own, which would have been a bit too oily. Of course that didn't mean I would turn it down when I was passed a few thinly sliced toro each from a slightly different cut wrapped in dried nori along with shiso leaf.

We then moved on to a handful of sushi courses.  Well, I personally felt the rice was a bit too mild and too cold but the sushi pieces were legit. Again, there's a good mix of traditional and creative pieces. My favorite was the two tuna pieces - first the Akami-zuke served with a light sprinkle of toasted crushed sesame, and then the slice of Toro was served with fresh wasabi leaves on top, cutting down some of the fish fat. I was probably equally happy to have the Kinmedai (goldeneye snapper) served on its own but I wouldn't complain the addition of chopped toro, uni, and Ikura (salmon roes) on top to bring an extra dimension of texture and taste. The big pile of Bafun and Murasaki Uni on top of the gunkan-style sushi certainly made an impressive Instagram post but I thought it has good flavors too. The Nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) was another excellent piece, being torched on the skin slightly to bring out the smokey, fatty flavor.

I asked our chef to pick the sake for us - and he ended up choosing one I was thinking of having too if I would have picked myself. Aramasa Brewery from Akita Prefecture has been considered a rising star and I enjoyed their sake from the few bottles I had the pleasure of trying. This Junmai from the 2013 harvest has a smooth, neutral flavor with good rice taste, which I thought was perfect for sushi when served slightly chilled. It was not a particularly busy night at the restaurant, so services were very laid-back and relaxing. There's no rush in between courses or anything so we got more time to talk and drink in between our many courses. And I felt it's a notch less uptight than some of the sushi restaurant in town, and we enjoyed that friendly vibe for an easy, after-work dinner.

We finished our meal with the traditional egg castella (taste more like a cake than an egg), a hearty bowl of snapper soup, seasonal fruits and a simple scope of sesame icecream, and we were so stuffed. Recently have been spoiled with a few excellent Japanese meals and I am glad to have added Kishoku to that list.

(The dinner was by invitation)

When? January 28 2016
Where? Kishoku, 5/F, Zing!, 38 Yiu Wah Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Drink?  Aramasa Junmai "Viridian Label" 25BY (2013) 新政 純米 ヴィリジアンラベル 25BY
Web: https://www.facebook.com/KishokuHK

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