Friday, August 17, 2018

Kushikatsu Dinner

We came across this little izakaya in Causeway Bay specializing in Kushikatsu, when we were looking for a casual bite in the area on a Friday evening. When we found out there’s no space at the yakitori joint we frequented in the area, we made a call to this restaurant called JunG39 with short notice and asked them to save two spots at the counter for us while we made our way over.

This relatively new restaurant on the high floor inside a commercial building may be better known as a late-night dining spot – they opened til 4am daily – but it was packed even during early evening when we went shortly after they opened for business (at 7:30pm), except the two seats they saved for us at the corner of the kitchen counter. Kushikatsu, the branch of casual Japanese cuisine with deep-fried food served on skewers, was said to be originated in the Osaka/Kansai region, and the ambiance did remind me of those kushikatsu restaurants we visited while travelling there, and I guess the majority Japanese-speaking clientele at the time we went did help with that impression a little bit too.

The food and drink menu was all over the place – on the laminated sheets with drink list and seasonal specials, on the order forms (in both English and Chinese) that one could check off with a pen with most of their dishes listed in various sections, and also on the blackboard on the wall where the daily recommendations were written. We picked a bit of dishes from each, and also a bottle of sake, then just waited while the chefs behind the counter began their preparation in order.

The appetizer dishes were the first to arrive and they didn’t take long. The beef stew was simmered in a miso sauce with bits of beef meat and tendons served in a small bowl, and the hotaru ika (firefly squid) was done okitsuke, marinated and fermented in a rich soy-based sauce with the distinct, pungent smell. Both worked well as otsumame, or dishes to go with booze. It may be a tad bit heavier than the sake we were having but we loved them as starters.

Hamo (pike conger) and ayu (sweet fish) were two items listed as “blackboard special”, and both were well into their prime season during summer time. The Hamo was served as "sashimi" (which was actually cooked with a quick blanch in boiling water) with a side of yuzu kosho or the pickled plum puree (I love that savory-sweet taste!), and Ayu body was filleted and grilled then head and tail deep-fried and served with salt and a dipping sauce made with rice with a pinch of wasabi, and both were delicious, came straight from the open kitchen to our table once they were ready.

Our skewer dishes took a little longer and they came in several rounds, saving us the trouble of having too many to deal with at one time. There were the usual ones like the beef and the chicken with plum sauce, or the anago (sea eel), and there were also offals or internal organs like the beef intestines or chicken cartilage. Each was marinated, then coated with a light batter and deep-fried to golden color and crispy before passing to us on a stainless steel tray, and served along with the dipping sauce (which tasted like Worchestershire sauce but slightly sweeter) and raw cabbage. There were also a few interesting combinations, like the one with egg and pork belly, with the whole Japanese egg wrapped with thin slices of pork belly then deep-fried with batter – think Scotch Egg except it’s soft in the center with the runny yolk. It’s sexy and super tasty.

After we were done with our initial orders, we asked the chef for more recommendations, and he pointed us to a few that we haven’t picked. We tried the Komochi konbu for the first time and glad we did – apparently that’s a seasonal item and available during the herring spawning season when they laid eggs (or roes) on kelp, then it was harvested and cured. It has a good crunchy texture and strong umami taste. We also liked the fish cake mixed with sakura ebi with a bouncy texture and rich shrimp flavor.

We probably had more than a fair share of skewers but we were still into a couple more dishes to wrap our meal with. A bowl of chazuke (rice with broth) with pickled plum and a couple pieces of Inari-sushi (sushi rice stuffed in tofu skin pockets) were both filling and comforting. That sure brought our meal to a satisfying conclusion. This sure is the perfect place for late night supper that we would love to return for.

When? July 20 2018
Where? JunG39 Japan, Level 17, Circle Plaza, 499 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Anything on a skewer or whatever on their blackboard special
Drink? Denshin Yuki Junmai Ginjo - Ippongi Kubo Honten, Fukui Prefecture
伝心 [雪] 純米吟醸 - 福井県一本義久保本店
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