Monday, February 24, 2020

Dinner During Troubled Times

The other day a few of us dropped by at our friend A’s restaurant Nikushou for dinner and drinks. I felt like I am here more often than I remembered – a few times for a proper sit-down dinner, but more frequently I just stopped by at late night for a quick drink and snacks with our friends. And this time, it’s for a few new dishes that the restaurant is soon launching on its lunch and dinner menu, plus a few seasonal dishes.

Well we started off light, with a cold appetizer of a few seasonal ingredients from the land and sea, including nanohana (rapeseed flower), fukinoto (butterbur), soramame (broad beans), hotaruika (firefly squid) and karuma ebi (giant prawn) with a mild vinaigrette dressing. The slightly bitter taste from mountain vegetables such as fukinoto (and nanohana to a lesser extent) was considered typical spring flavor especially in Japanese cuisine, and they paired up well with the refreshing taste of the seafood. We went on with a mini sashimi platter, with thick slices of buri (wild yellowtail), uni (sea urchins) and ankimo mousse. The ankimo was spectacular – like a mouthful of fatty cream full of rich sea umami flavor in a ice-cream like texture.

We all saw Anthony’s cooking experiment with local eels a la kabayaki style in his Instagram stories lately, and I was glad to have a taste of it finally. The freshwater eel was bought fresh from the market just nearby and went through the long preparation process, which involved cleaning, steaming, carving and grilling. The meat became firm and bouncy while the skin was crisped as if it’s been deep-fried. To finish, the generous tare sauce was drizzled across, with strong sansho (mountain pepper) and smoky flavor and toned down on sweetness as compared to the common version. I trust this and a bowl of rice would make the perfect lunch donburi dish.

While we were enjoying our starter courses, the whole uncooked giant crab was shown to us before being whisked away for steaming in the kitchen. The Matsuba-kani (snow crab) must be over 1.5kg in size and more than sufficient for the six of us to share. Once ready, the whole crab was bought back to our table – we started with the crab legs first, bursting in flavor just with its own jus. And the kani miso (crab roes) plus the remaining crab meat was picked and grilled on its own shell (in the traditional method known as korayaki style). That went perfectly well with the sake and we never had enough of that.

We ended our savory courses with a few katsu-sando, which was something the restaurant’s kitchen team has been working on to bring to their menu so we were drafted to be the tester to see which combinations worked best. A thick piece of wagyu tenderloin cutlet (using Hida-gyu from Gifu Prefecture) was battered and deep-fried, and served with different kinds of bread with a generous smear of tonkatsu sauce (sort of like barbecue sauce but less on ketchup flavor and less sweet) We started with one using Hokkaido milk bread, followed by traditional French brioche in different thickness (with the bread made from our favorite bakery in town The Bakehouse in Wanchai). And our verdict was clear unanimously – the thick slice brioche just worked perfectly well with the fatty beef cooked medium rare in the center, super tender and with the crispy crust outside. Love the sauce too – again it’s made in-house and with punchy flavor with a little bit of acidity to cut down the fatty taste.

Before we moved on to dessert, we each had a small bowlful of the Japanese curry. The tendon and trimmed meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the sauce – with a touch of Sichuan pepper oil – just gave the sauce an unique kick which made you wanting more. I count this my favorite Japanese curry in town for a reason. Dessert was simple but not so simple – homemade milk ice cream served with plentiful of winter black truffles shaved on top. Can’t be more sumptuous – the truffles were so plentiful that I needed to ask for a second scoop of ice cream to take them all in.

A few bottles were poured, starting off with a Junmai Daiginjo that I brought from home. I was experimenting with aging the bottle a little in the refrigerator, and turned out it has a much rounded body after 5 years. It’s followed by another Junmai Daiginjo from Osaka, and this one was nice and dry, medium-bodied with a nice bouquet of floral aroma. With the katsu-sando and the curry we went for a couple of new world reds. The Sonoma Pinot was particularly great – well-balanced, medium-bodied, light on tannin and with cranberries and some herbs on the palate and a hint of cedar smoke. The Cab was a bomb - full-bodied, dark ruby color, ripe black fruits, vanilla, some oak and smooth tannin.

With most of us stuck at home for a good part of the week because of what’s going on around town, this is a meal and gathering that we all badly needed – just to catch up with friends over some kickass, simple food and a few bottles to go around despite the troubled times.

When? February 6 2020
Where? Nikushou, 22/F Zing!, 38 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay
Menu Highlights? Unagi Kabayaki
2013 Kamoshibito Kuheiji “Eau du Desir” Junmai Daiginjo, Banjou Jouzou, Aichi Prefecture
(2013 醸し人九平次 山田錦 EAU DU DESIR 純米大吟醸 - 愛知県 萬乗醸造)
Daimon 35 Junmai Daiginjo – Daimon Brewery, Osaka Prefecture
(大門 35 純米大吟醸 - 大阪府 大門酒造)
2012 Williams & Selyem Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Coastlands Vineyard
2001 Elyse “Morisoli Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

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