Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sushi with Heavy Taste

I found it dangerous to have a good (and expensive) sushi joint near to my new office, with Sushi Mori Tomoaki now sits just right across the street. Obviously it's not very healthy for my wallet if I fall into the habit of making too frequent a visit there. But I did let myself in one afternoon last week and walked over for a quick lunch. I know it's a bit over the top for just another weekday meal, but this time I told myself this is a little birthday treat to myself - only a couple days in advance.

The place was fairly full when I arrived at the beginning of normal lunch hour, with both of their sushi counters about half-occupied. Luckily they still had space available for me walking in, and I was seated at the far end of the counter manned by Chef Mori himself.

For a traditional sushi restaurant, they do have a surprisingly big menu - one could go for the basic sushi set, a bowl of chirashi-don, or something more elaborate, similar to their omakase set, their only choice available during dinner time. I picked somewhere in the middle, a "mini omakase" with a dozen of sushi items or so, with appetizer, soup and dessert. I figured I needed something substantial while letting me finish the meal within an hour.

A couple customers at the counter sat down and ordered earlier than I did, so understandably Chef Mori made a few pieces for them first before starting to prepare mine so everyone was kept at around the same pace.

Most proper sushi chefs served the lighter sushi pieces first than moved onto the richer/fattier ones - but here, while the logic of progression was the same, my flight of sushi went from rich to super rich. Even for the fish that was naturally lighter and leaner, Chef Mori opted to supplement with heavy seasonings - whether it's a dab of "stuff" on top, a bit of flame-grilling or a generous brush of shoyu.

Don't just take this comment thinking I didn't like the place nor the food. I sort of understand the reasons behind the "heavy taste" - most local customers judged the quality of fish by its fattiness and rich flavors, so I took Chef Mori adjusted his selection only to suit local palates, and the liberal use of seasonings - while somewhat unconventional - did bring up a new dimension of flavors to the sushi pieces.

And I must say some were well-justified and brilliantly done. One such example was the first sushi piece, the samegarei (toughscale snapper), which was topped with seaweed and ponzu jelly. The extra seasonings did bring out the sweetness and umami taste of this delicately-flavored fish. I am also a big fan of how the shari, or rice, was prepared here - with a mellow taste from the red vinegar - and served at slightly warm temperature. On the other hand, I personally found the dab of truffles on top of the hotate (scallop) sushi a bit too over the top, so as the more-than-generous sprinkle of grated rock salt on top of the bafun uni (sea urchin). In both cases, the seasonings have become a distraction rather than flavor enhancer.

The other pieces I had ranged from average to above average. The kinmedai (golden eye snapper) and buri (yellowtail) were good, except just a little too heavy on the sauce. The o-toro (fatty tuna) was a little sinewy on one end and the taste overshadowed by the sauce once again but the overall texture was fine.

This time of the year we may have already seen the end of Sanma, or pacific saury's prime fishing season, but the piece served to me still got excellent flavor and fat balance. The seasonings of grated ginger and menegi (small chives) were done just right this time. I also loved my appetizer of chawanmushi - egg was steamed in perfect, soft consistancy, the crab bits were full of umami flavor, accented by the refreshing piece yuzu zest on top. And the taichiuo (beltfish) and kinki (orange roughy) - both fatty white fish and flame-seared before serving - were more than legit, with rich fish flavors and oil. Both were probably my favorite pieces of the afternoon.

Shiroebi (white shrimps) - with a dab of mentaiko added underneath - suffered the same issue of overdoing that I mentioned earlier. I thought a light brush of shoyu or the slightest sprinkle of salt would have been sufficient as the shrimp was deliciously sweet. The engawa (flounder fin) was a bit off-balanced today too, leaving me with an unpleasant oily aftertaste long after my meal was over. After such heavy flavor, I could hardly taste anything in the negitoro roll (fatty tuna with green onions and pickled radishes), which was the last course before soup and dessert was served.

Service and logistics-wise, I think the serving speed was a bit slow with long wait in between pieces - partly because Chef Mori was the only one working behind a super long counter with many customers, each with different order and pace - but otherwise it's good. And he also sort of "hit his own foot with a stone" when he seated me at the far end, leaving three empty spaces between me and the next customer. At first I thought someone have reserved those seats but surprisingly they were left unoccupied the entire time I was there. Didn't bother me much but I just found this arrangement peculiar, as every time he finished preparation, he had to walk a longer distance to serve. But he seems to be all cool and handled all the orders well.

Overall I still think the lunch was proper and decent and arguably of good value, but as I walked out the door, I was suddenly reminded of the slogan adopted by a cosmetic brand, "Less is More". Maybe this held true in cooking sometimes too.

My previous visit:

When? October 14 2015
Where? Sushi Mori Tomoaki, Ground Floor, 8-23 Shell Street, North Point, Hong Kong

No comments :