Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sasaki, Kagurazaka (神楽坂 ささ木)

It is hard, my friends, to find really good kaiseki places in Tokyo that don't break the bank. After this visit to Sasaki, I would say I know four (Onodera, Uemura, Sasahana...actually I could stretch to include Yuwaeru even though it's absurdly cheap and high quality. And probably Fukahama. I suppose six is probably enough options, eh? Never mind).

Seriously, there are so many places out there where the courses start at $100. That's nuts, isn't it? I respect Sasaki san for doing it solid, just him and an assistant and (probably) his wife. Maybe that lets him keep the prices down, or maybe it's just that he's young and is working the price up. Seriously, he looks almost too young to have his own place. There's another Sasaki on the other side of KGRZ, but it's slightly cheaper and doesn't indicate that he's the junior chef of a partnership or anything.

Sooo many times a course starts very strong and then lets you down. This sakizuke was probably the weakest part of the meal, and it was already good. The highlights were the (boiled) mirugai in the back and the (grilled, fried, vinegared) fish in the front. Squid guts on grated radish is still not my favorite thing.

Yum, yum, yum. Can't remember what kind of fish this was, nodoguro maybe, but it's great that he crisped it up before putting it in the soup, and this also seriously livens up the bamboo course, which is obligatory for a couple weeks in this season. Even the seaweed was tasty; must have been fresh.

Sashimi was excellent. If you blow this up, you'll see where he torched the skin of the tachiuo on the left, and you'll also see how good the snapper and (Hokkaido murasaki) sea urchin look. Excellent. You'll also see that I'm not commenting on the torigai, because I don't like their texture.

Even better. This is a slice of madai, obviously cut from quite a big fish. The skin was hard and crispy, but the inside was all squirty with juice. Japanese chefs almost never get this right like we prefer it in the west - cooked means cooked, not 'soft and almost rare in the middle'. Roughly chopped radish, pickled lotus root good enough to make me go home and try to make the same thing, slice of lemon, pure awesomnality.

Looks like hell, doesn't it? This was just as good as the preceding, although boiled instead of grilled. And firefly squid instead of big snapper. And fern shoots, and other spring-y tree buds and bitter vegetables. I'm pretty sure the rusty reddish bits floating in the soup were squid liver that oozed out during cooking, and I'm very very sure it was delicious.

The waitress seemed strict and humorless until she asked if I wanted to take a picture of the rice pre-serving. Then I liked her. I'm shallow like that.

Later conversation made it seem like they were thinking I was there in some kind of professional capacity. They really thought I would need a receipt for submission and reimbursement, which as usual made me want to cry.

The rice didn't make me want to cry, but this is how rice is supposed to get done. I could almost think about switching over to making rice exclusively in ceramic pots if it would come out this well, with this much crust. Boy was it good.

Well, we've wound up another course there. The place was full, with some obvious regulars. Some of them weren't eating course either, so that might be a responsible option. Or you could augment the course; there were some delicious-looking things, and there were some humorous jabs like croquettes. Like they were straddling the line between neighborhood standout and full-on fine dining, and doing it just right as far as I'm concerned.

Sasaki san had these huge 'decopon' for dessert. Who wants to guess about the name? The 'pon' is certainly because they're ponkan, a type of large tangerine. The deco? Well, they have a bump on top that could be construed as a 'forehead', or 'deko', but I like to think it's because they're carefully selected for beauty (perfect shape, two even, green leaves still attached, etc) and thus more deco-rative. He said the specific company they come from, then apologized for serving a 'designer fruit' but said he thinks the balance of sweet and sour is just right in these. And it is, if you like being whapped on both sides of your head at once, really sweet on the left and really sour on the right. Loved it.

Just like I loved this plate. I can't go past anything with a turnip, dunno why. But it should be obvious why I liked this place.
03-3260-8484

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