Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Spectacular Omakase Show

Since late last year, what used to be called Sushi Ta-ke has gone through quite a transformation from a cozy sushi-ya at Cubus to a new, much bigger location on the ground floor of Lee Garden shopping mall not far away. And in addition to sushi which they still offer at a longer counter, they also had separate sections for teppanyaki and tempura, making this one of the few in town that offers high-end Japanese fare in such wide variety of dishes and cooking styles.

I was there recently at the invitation of their PR team to check out their new teppanyaki and tempura menus at one of their private rooms with hot plate and deep-frying stations behind the long L-shaped counter that can seat more than 10 comfortably. The menu was specifically designed for our evening, based partly of their omakase menus for teppanyaki and tempura, so we were able to try a bit of both in order.

And I have to say, the culinary teams at Ta-ke did an outstanding job in all the courses that were presented, whether those prepared from the kitchen at the back, or in the grilling plate and deep-frying pan in front of us. We began with an elegant appetizer platter, while Chef Hara Eisaku and his apprentice began to prepare our first tempura course. The braised abalone (from Kochi prefecture) served on the shell with the liver sauce is always a crowd-pleasing dish, and I also loved the chopped shark cartilage served with plum juice and caviar inside a “bowl” made of sudachi skin. The acidity touch of that small bite was very enjoyable.

The appetizer quartet was followed by a couple tempura courses presented by Chef Hara. First was the Hokkaido snow-crab leg. It was coated in a light tempura batter, deep-fried and before serving, slightly grilled in a binchotan charcoal grill to infuse with the light smoky aroma. Then the second one was sweet carrots – also from Hokkaido – cut into shoe-lace sized thickness, then battered and deep-fried in the same pan. It was such a straight-forward dish with a simple set of ingredients but well-executed. I could easily call that a satisfying lunch with that with a bowl of rice and maybe a light drizzle of soy sauce on top.

We then moved onto teppanyaki course prepared by Chef Ching-pang Lam. Teppenyaki was never just about the food served but the process, often with elaborate, showy presentation right in front of the customers. This time, Chef Pang and his team, carefully de-shelled the huge Spanish Carabineros prawns on the red-hot grill in front of us, taking out the meat while keeping the tomalley – the best part of the prawn – inside its head. It’s served in western style like a pasta course, with the noodles, in our case Inaniwa udon which resembles linguine, mixed with a bisque sauce made with the prawn shells. The noodles took in all the rich umami flavor of the sauce, and of course, our favorite bit was to suck out the intense tomalley from the head of the prawns served in individual portion. Love the creativity in this dish and the flavor too – that’s my favorite course of the night.

Later we had another tempura course that scored high marks in creativity and presentation too. I wasn’t sure whether Chef Hara took a page from the Swiss fondue playbook to create this dish but it did somehow reminded me of the cheese fondue, with the corn potage with the same thick yellow-ish texture served in a wide pewter bowl, served with zucchini flower tempura wrapped with a cube of cheese in the center. The seasonal corn potage was sweet with a hearty flavor – it’s excellent even on its own. We also had another seasonal dish in Iwate kaki (oyster), also served as tempura on its shell. It was a test to prepare tempura dishes to so many people at a time but chef passed with flying colors.

We left the richest course at the end, both done on the teppanyaki grill. The omi wagyu beef – in sirloin cut – had just the right fat balance, and I love it with a dab of wasabi, a thin slice of fried garlic and a light dip of ponzu sauce. On the side there’s also the seasonal matsutake mushrooms and gingko, also sautéed on the grill. The bits and ends of the wagyu beef was made into a bowl of comforting fried rice with other ingredients, served with pickles on the side, and a bowl of miso soup served in an elegant lacquer bowl. 

Just as we were ready to call this a night, Chef Hara returned to prepare our dessert with ice-cream tempura served with peach jelly and a slice of melon. Once again, the presentation (with a decorative candle wrapped with thinly sliced daikon to resemble a lantern) arrived with a lot of acclamation across our table – it’s a true work of art, tasty art.  

Having Paul, one of the co-founders of the restaurant group, eating with us have at least one obvious advantage – we had quite a treat in the drink section on top of the many dishes served throughout the evening. We started off with a few glasses of Henri Giraud Fut de Chene champagne before moving onto a Junmai Daiginjo by the famous Fukuchiyo Shuzo brewery under Nabeshima brand. The full-bodied and well-balanced champagne in amber color, with a refreshing pear and slightly citrus aroma followed by good acidity on the palate and silky texture worked extremely well with richer dishes like those done on the grill. Meanwhile the limited-edition Nabeshima Junmai Daiginjo from Saga made using top-grade Yamada Nishiki rice was equally impressive, with the summer aroma of melon combined with a slightly off-dry taste, which I think went better with the tempura dishes. So we had all bases covered. 

I have my doubts of the concept of an “all-rounded” Japanese restaurant that offers a wide menu without particular focus, but I had to say, they managed the teppanyaki and tempura parts really well the night we were there. In fact it was spectacular. 

(Dinner was by invitation and based on a special tasting menu)

When? September 18 2018
Where? Ta-ke, Shop G01, Lee Garden Two, 28 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Spanish Carabineros red prawn teppanyaki with Inaniwa Udon
Domaine Henri Giraud Fut de Chene Grand Cru MV10
2017 (BY29) Nabeshima Junmai Daiginjo 45, Fukuchiyo Shuzo, Saga Prefecture

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