Thursday, December 18, 2014

Last Minute Omakase

A sudden craving for some nice sushi landed us in front of the counter at Sushi Ta-ke in Causeway Bay on a Sunday evening. We have been here a few times during lunch hours but never for dinner before, so we thought we should give it a shot given we were quite happy with our meals here previously.

I loved the tranquil atmosphere as we walked into the restaurant, located in the quieter section of the usually busy Causeway Bay inside a tall commercial building. Apart from the private rooms at the back of the restaurant, the rest of the dining space was divided between the sushi counter which could seat around 15, and about 8 tables by the window, opening up to a nice urban view from up high. It was not crowded on the day of our visit but I think even with a full house you wouldn't feel uncomfortably packed and rowdy. Originally we opted for the table seating but later we changed our mind and asked to be seated at the counter instead, since I would prefer chef to serve sushi one by one instead of all in one plate. Luckily it was not a particularly busy night, so they were able to accommodate our request, letting us join a few customers that were already settling in there.

For dinner, the restaurant offers a number of a la carte choices and a few omakase sets. We went for the Ta-ke Set, which seems to have the most food items, with a combination of appetizers, sashimi, cooked and grilled items plus sushi and dessert.

We began with three otsumami dishes - first was a mild-flavored sohachi (pointhead flouder), cut in thin strips and garnished with scallions and sesame, followed by ankimo (monkfish liver) with spicy grated daikon, konbu and a simple ponzu and lastly, a steamed abalone (awabi) from Kyushu, sliced and served on top of its own shell. I particularly like the slices of ankimo steamed to soft and creamy texture with the ponzu sauce giving it the right acidity kick. The abalone was okay tender - not melt in the mouth type but not chewy either, but I think the sauce was a bit too sweet.

Next was 6 different types of sashimi, moving from the lighter shiro-mirugai (geoduck clams) to the rich otoro (fatty tuna). I loved the fancy presentations - a flower petal and a butterfly were carved from carrots right in front of us to go along with the dishes, pieces of kinmedai (golden-eye snapper) was rolled into the shape of a flower, etc. They were pleasant to look at with good taste to show forth too. My favorite was the uni (sea urchin) wrapped in a piece of shimaji (striped jack) - the contrast of textures and tastes between them were done perfectly well. One little complaint I have was some of the fish - buri (yellowtail) and otoro - were cut in too large a piece that made them quite cumbersome and awkward to eat - definitely not possible to finish in one bite. And my chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) served with a splash of salt and a piece of nori was a little bit sinewy and not evenly seasoned, leaving a bit of salty aftertaste.

As we finished the sashimi courses, chef brought us a couple cooked dishes before sushi was served. First was the Hamaguri no sakamushi - steamed giant clam with sake. It's fresh and tasty, though I found this a bit small as one menu course with one lone clam sitting on a small plate. Second was a grilled wagyu beef served with leek and light soy sauce.


maguro no tsuji
As the plates of the cooked food were taken away, chef began to prepare for our sushi course. Altogether seven types were served, plus a maki roll at the end, which in the order of serving were ugui (white mullet), hotate (scallops), budou ebi (grape shrimp), gintara (silver cod), akamutsu (blackthroat seaperch), uni (sea urchin), maguro no suji (tuna tendon) and at the end, it was the negitoro maki (chopped tuna with scallions roll). I quite like most of them, especially the scallops with the right hint of sudachi zest taste, slightly torched akamutsu and the abundance of rich and creamy bafun uni served in the traditional gunkan style.

If I compare this to other local Japanese places with similar caliber, I would say it's one of the top in terms of the whole dining experience. We were served by a local chef (King) and he showed good knife skills and the food he prepared was outstanding. The shari (rice) was served lukewarm, a bit on the cool side and with a mild taste (not using the stronger akazu vinegar which I usually preferred), but I like its texture. Of course they still came short to the level of say, Sushi Shikon or Rozan not far away from here, but then they are not charging that kind of exorbitant price either (the omakase set we ordered came to around $1500 per person) Uni was no doubt the most impressive one of the evening - both in terms of portion and quality. Chef King piled the uni so high that I thought it's going to fall. And the ankimo and shimaji-wrapped uni were both excellent. I loved the beautiful presentation in many of the dishes too - an indication of them paying attention to details, and the atmosphere was comfortable and friendly.

But if I must put my critical hat on, I would say their choice of fish - while it's based on seasonal selections and included some interesting items - was not exactly what I considered top-notch picks, apart from perhaps the akamutsu and uni. The ugui in particular lacked flavor and was quite sinewy, and I would prefer a more balanced lineup of sushi selection instead of laden with oily fish like gintara, akamutsu and maguro no tsuji served one after another, while seasonal items like kawahagi (filefish), kohada (gizzard shad), various types of shellfish and anago (sea eel) were notably missing. That would have given the sushi course more variety in taste. I also felt they were a bit sloppy by serving us the soup out of order before our last piece of sushi and didn't do anything even after we made a comment about this.

Their drink list featured a wide selection of sakes and wines and (most) were reasonably priced. Some of the sakes were not listed on the menu so it didn't hurt to ask what special selection was available. I spotted a few on the refrigerated display next to our seats, but at the end decided to go with a familiar choice with a floral aroma, mild and sweet taste with just a kick towards the end.
However, I was a bit bothered that given their elaborate sake list they would settle for rather generic, family izakaya-style drinkware one could easily get in bulk from kitchen supply stores, especially they even made a fuss of giving customers a choice of glass of different shape and style to choose from. Those may be minor details, but again, I do expect more from a place which consider themselves one of the better sushi-ya in town.

We ended the meal with a piece of egg castella cake - tasted excellent except I think the crust's a little bit too firm (but inside was soft and sweet) and a slice of sweet honey dew melon as dessert. Overall I think it was a satisfying ad hoc dinner, and we may find ourselves back again especially if we didn't end up traveling to Japan any time soon. Somehow somewhere we need to deal with our sushi cravings.

When? December 14 2014
Where? Sushi Ta-ke, 12/F Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Uni Sushi
Drinks? Tedorigawa Yoshidakura Junmai-daiginjo (手取川吉田藏純米大吟釀)

No comments :