Friday, August 4, 2017

Chef Masa's Masterpieces

In my opinion there are only a handful of high-end sushi-ya in Hong Kong that's comparable to the decent ones one may come across in Tokyo. And earlier I was lucky enough to be dining in one of them and had an amazing sushi omakase right at our doorstep.

Sushi Masataka was actually the reincarnated Rozan at the same location by the same chef, Masataka Fujisawa. Other than the name change (now bearing Chef Masa's name), the restaurant interior also underwent significant change, moving from the spacious dining area with a large L-shaped counter to an intimate space that now seats only 8 in a single file. (for better ambiance and interactions between the chef and the customers, as the restaurant PR has explained to us)

Took a while for the everyone in our party to arrive, then Masa-san walked out from behind the curtain on the side and began the final preparation at the counter, before his masterpiece dishes were presented to us in sequence. Three courses of appetizer were served to start, and they were all very different and good in their own ways. The pieces of unagi (freshwater eel) - steamed than slightly grilled on the charcoal stove just behind the counter - were presented in a small earthenware dish with pickled cucumber, Okinawa mozuku (seaweed) and a splash of light vinegar and sesame on top. It was appetizing with the slight acidity from the vinegar and pickles. Then it's the single piece of the seasonal isaki (grunt) with red shiso leaves and sansho wrapped inside, followed by ankimo (monkfish liver) served with ponzu jelly spooned on top - it was quite mild but I loved the creamy texture.

We then turned to a series of nigiri sushi, as Masa-san began to prepare the ingredients with the small batch of shari (vinegared rice) in a hinoki basket ready on one side, and a slab of ice on the other side of his counter (to cool his palm so as to keep the optimal serving temperature of the sushi pieces)

We largely followed the traditional serving order of going from light to rich flavor, but this time the courses were on the fatty fish side with a few exceptions. It's hard to say which ones were my favorites as I thought quite a few were top-notch. The shiro-ika (white squid), our first nigiri sushi course, showed how chef's knife skills and carefully curated condiments augmented the taste of the main ingredient (or neta in sushi term, if you must go technical) The piece was slid in cris-crossed pattern for numerous times to tenderize, then on top was addition of sudachi juice, yuzu zest and a dab of yama-wasabi for the kick of flavor.

The shiro-ika was quickly followed by nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch), which was super rich in oil giving it excellent flavor and soft texture, served with just a brush of white soy sauce. Tokishirazu-sake was another piece that I liked - this seasonal salmon was caught wild off Hokkaido coast in early summer (considered rare during this time of the year at this colder region) It was known for the fatty meat which worked extremely well with the vinegared rice, and Masa-san only seasoned the sushi piece with a simple dab of mashed chives.

Ishigakigai (white sea cockles) was a beautiful sushi piece with a clean and mild flavor, fresh as if it's just lifted off the sea, and served with minimal seasoning highlighting the umami flavor from the shellfish; on the other hand, the kinmedai (goldeneye snapper) was served with the sauce made with the head and bones of the fish with excellent flavor with hint of yuzu from the zest brushed on top.

After kegani (Japanese hairy crab) served with a drop of the crab roe sauce, Chef Masa-san began preparation for the courses of tuna. First was the akami-zuke (marinated tuna) served with a tiny dab of fresh yuzu-kosho (which I thought came with a slight hint of smokiness), then the o-toro (fatty tuna) served in the unique style of having three thin pieces piled on top of each other, the same way he served ours during the days of Rozan. It was decadent and delicious. The last piece was grilled noten, a rare piece coming from the top of the tuna head with even fattier meat than the toro part. It was served with julienned myoga (Japanese ginger).

The appearance of a neatly arranged box of uni (sea urchin) always delighted the crowd at a sushi-ya. And it's the shiro-uni type from a top purveyor, the type harder to find and even more creamier and tastier. Chef Masa prepared this piece in nigiri-style and served by placing the piece on everyone's palm. Then it was the steamed ayu (sweetfish) coming from the river streams in Wakayama served with plum sauce and shiso leaf, and the negi-toro hand roll with well-balanced taste wrapped in crunchy sheet of nori. We finished our meal with the typical pieces - anago two-ways (conger eel - one with salt and yuzu, and the other with a brush of the sauce and sansho), then the small squares of tamago-yaki (soft with made with eggs and shrimp broth), soup (prepared with seaweed and fish bones) and a simple dessert of Japanese fruits (melon and grape)

Truly masterful.

Note: The meal was by invitation of the restaurant group. More pictures can be found on my Flickr page:

When? July 8 2017
Where? Sushi Masataka, Shop 2, G/F, The Oakhill, 18 Wood Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong

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