Friday, March 4, 2011

Hashimoto Restaurant, Toronto, One of North America's Finest Japanese Experiences

We were greeted at the door of the new Hashimoto restaurant in the Japanese Cultural Centre by the chef’s wife. She was dressed in very traditional formal Japanese clothes. We had made advanced arrangements with the chef for a very private, formal kaiseki dinner. All of the fish and vegetables were seasonal and freshly flown in from Japan.

After being seated we were presented with sparkling saki (something newly being produced in Japan), a junmai daiginjo saki. Slightly on the sweet side, perhaps more than I initially liked, it was refreshing in a way with it's very small bubbles and was better with food.

Shortly, we were presented with a lacquered tray on which were placed 3 dishes. One contained a small mound of sticky white Japanese rice. Another, a small stock of burdock, stuffed with minced quail, standing in a pool of white miso adjacent to kintoki red carrot topped with a micro dab of mustard. With the ambient lighting (which the flash fails to reveal) the presentation resembled delicate ornamental objects in a moonlit reflecting pool. The miso had a creamy texture and was very mild and fresh tasting. Another dish had mountain potato, lotus root and lily bud leaves that surrounded a mildly vinegar flavoured, softly firm egg yolk with a rhubarb sauce.

Eikun draft saki (pasteurized once), a pleasant mildly fragrant saki was introduced to accompany the next dishes.

The next presentation consisted of 2 dishes on a lacquered tray, one topped by a formal decorative crane and the other a small bird that when the top was removed, contained a small pool of a truly excellent, complex tasting, house made soy sauce. The crane dish contained ma-dai (wild porgy) with julienned daikon and ground fresh wasabi. We were instructed to use either the wasabi or the soy sauce for the fish, but not both as that would affect one's appreciation of the delicate taste. What an experience to taste such exceptionally fresh tasting fish.

The following course was impeccably fresh ama-dai ( red tile fish) accompanied by very finely julienned carrot . The fish’s scales (these from one of the few fish that has edible scales) were  placed in front. The scales were very lightly battered and fried to a wonderfully crispy texture. The same mild and complex tasting soy sauce was used again as a condiment. The exceptionally fine julienne of the carrot so positively affects one's appreciation of their flavour!

Uni (sea urchin), topped with a small dab of wasabi, was simply presented in a modest wood topped ceramic bowl. The inner simplicity of an undulating layer of dark green adjacent to the pale beige was somewhat reminiscent of the sea. This kaiseki presentation was further enhanced by the placement of the bowl within the sea urchin's spiny shell. The sea urchin bowl and a small blue bowl were placed in an ice strewn rectangular bowl in a very spare presentation. The small blue bowl was filled with a stronger and richer tasting soy sauce to accompany one one of the 2 pieces of very cold uni, the other piece to be tasted with the small dab of fresh wasabi.

Aka-mutsu (red grouper) and hakusai (a Japanese cabbage) were lightly braised at the table in very hot kombu (sea weed) broth and dipped into ponzu sauce. The fish was so buttery in texture, after being braised and incredibly tender. The slightly bitter aspect of the cabbage and it's barely crunchy texture were a perfect complement for the buttery fish.

Hou-bou fish (blue finned guernard or sea robin) was presented with udo, a stemmed Japanese root vegetable. The udo was presented in 2 ways, a fine julienne and a thin slice. The udo had a very slight citrus flavour (typically served at the beginning of the spring season), the taste of which is more obvious at the tip of the tongue, while toward the back of the tongue a jicama like flavour was more obvious. The presentation dish continued the crane theme. A mild soy sauce and some freshly grated wasabi accompanied this dish.

A lacquered tray with an Edo period ceramic bowl(!!) was presented with pieces of Isaki (sweet lip fish), thinly sliced red radish and kombu, all at bottom of this deep bowl. A mild ponzu sauce accompanied this dish.

Kamasu (whiting fish) came next, accompanied by a bit of spinach. Some mild soy sauce came with a bit of grated ginger all for dipping in an adjacent small bowl.

Koshin (watermellon daikon) was finely julienned and presented
with sayori (needle fish), a slightly oily fish with a flavour that has a very pale similarity to sardine. Sayori bones and head were wonderfully crispy "fish chips". We ate the head, long needle point, jaws and all!

Our final saki was Genshu, a high, 22% alcohol daiginjo saki. This much stronger flavoured saki was an important accompaniment for the following dishes.

Awabe (abalone) sashimi was presented with julienned daikon and a small yellow ceramic vessel resembling a lemon, containing a mixture of soy sauce with the liver of the abalone. This mixture had a slightly briny, earthy flavour and was a strong tasting accompaniment for the abalone.

Next, owan-mono (soup) with a complex layering of bamboo shoot wrapped ma-dai fish, abalone, dried steamed sweet rice (doumyo-ji), kintoki (red carrot) and all tied with green strip beans then topped with a thin slice of white turnip, yuzu, uguisu-na (petite turnip with leaf) and suizen-nori (seaweed).

Mana-katsuo (pampano fish) followed and was lightly sauteed with it's scored skin and presented with a lilly bulb, a dab of sour plum puree and fuki (stem vegetable).

Next came something steamed and stewed. A sculpted dome created from daikon covering mashed ama-dai fish (tile fish) wrapped in grated turnip and all wrapped in spinach with a sauce of premium kudzu starch,  touch of yuzu and grated ginger.

Lightly fried "popped" rice left on the original stems (such fun to eat and way better tasting than popped corn), specially brought in from japan (for longevity), called enaho, were beautifully presented with karuma-ebi ( the highest quality Japanese shrimp) accompanied by tarano-me (sprout vegetable) and fukino toh (sprout vegetable) to awaken us from the winter (it is almost early spring in Japan) with it's slightly bitter flavour, a crane carved from daikon radish served with kintoki red carrot dressing, matcha (premium quality green tea powder) salt for the shrimp and in a separate dish, crispy, barely battered and fried crispy shrimp heads topped with decorative kudzu starch.

Our next  course, grilled grade 5A (the highest grade of marbling) wagyu beef strip loin served with 20 year process, house made teriyaki sauce, was a fantastic gustatory experience. This is the fois gras of beef!!!! The terryaki sauce was the perfect complement.

Our final saki was ginjo okunomatsi.

Finally, lightly stewed Ma-dai fish eggs, rice steamed with uni, seaweed and ma-dai fish all topped with ginger and served with pickled white turnip, turnip leaf and cucumber.

Our dessert was  a refreshing pureed iced strawberry with agar agar and house made vanilla flavoured ice cream. I apologize for the the rest of the photos as my camera lost the use of the flash because of low batteries.

The Tea Ceremony

We were then escorted down a hall to a cosy separate tatami mat covered room, where in the middle of the floor was a heating element and a quietly hissing caste iron kettle. Slightly sweet tasting mashed yam with black sesame seeds was served just prior to the actual ceremonial preparation and serving of tea.

The precise hand motion and deft body movements of the person performing the tea ceremony were an orchestration of visual and auditory harmonics, the extensive and traditional black fabric brushing together with each arm motion and change of posture, the hissing of the water slowly boiling in the black cast iron kettle, the ritualistic motions of the hands and fingers, the role of the cleaning satin and the careful precise cleaning motions for each utensil. Then, the passing of the prepared tea, the tea maker eyeing and carefully appreciating the brew in the tea bowl as he ritualistically turned the bowl 3 times and placed it in front of us, and our ritualistic response, turning the bowl 3 times to admire both the ceramic bowl and it's contents, the forest green frothed tea. And, with the drinking of the tea, bringing the slightly bitter broth to our lips 3 times, the evening ended in serene tranquility, with our appreciation of the skills of the master chef and his harmonious sense of artistry, and his traditionally skilled staff who extended his aesthetic to this the final moment. As our car pulled away from the restaurant, the chef, his wife and the entire staff, as Japanese with tradition, stood outside waving as we pulled away into the night.

HASHIMOTO Restaurant
6 Garmond Court (Don Mills/Eglinton area)
Toronto, ON M3C 1Z5

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