The good folks over at Tabelog saw fit to invite me to once again join them for one of their elite tasting events. This time, the event was at Maison O in SoHo to celebrate Japanese department store Isetan’s newest pop-up store that was open in SoHo for fashion week, in line with Japan’s “Nipponista” movement.
What is “Nipponista,” you ask? It’s part of a Japanese project called “Cool Japan” that was created to spread Japanese fashion, design, art and food throughout the world. “Cool Japan” and “Gross National Cool” became slogans for Japan’s growing and expanding cultural movement, which eventually arrived here at NYC fashion week.
Chef Tadashi Ono, the former executive chef of Matsuri, presented his culinary creations at the Tabelog event. We enjoyed a special tasting menu of Dashi and Agar, along with Mizubasho sake pairings. As with any good meal, you start out with some booze. Our official booze man was Shoichi Nagai, of the Mizubasho brand. Here is a shot of him explaining the differences between some of the sake we tasted:
See below for the mouth-watering images of our meal and sake pairings.
First we had some sparkling sake with dashikarikori-kan (dashi jelly) with black truffle, sitting on a slice of radish and topped with scallion. The sake was like champagne, only better, because I hate champagne and I love sake. The dashi was earthy, had a really nice meaty texture, and it delivered a great crunch from the radish.
We also had a Kumamoto oyster with ponzu ice to go along with the with sparkling sake. It was tart, with a sour, grapefruit type of finish, but very crisp and clean.
Then one of the dashi specialists explained to us the difference in miso soup that uses just miso + water versus miso + dashi, and he showed us the two main components of dashi (kombu kelp and katsuobushi/benito flakes). We were easily able to taste a vast world of difference between the two cups of miso. The miso + dashi was way more rich, earthier, and generally much more awesome.
Next came the fish course: black cod with a sake and dashi-kanten gravy (dashi plus agar for thickening and flavor). It was paired with a cold-aged, 2-year sake that was crisp and complex. We drank it from two cups (one glass and one tin) and the type of cup you drink from actually alters the flavors. Tin cup is much better. As for the cod; the aroma was amazing, and the flavor was light but powerful. It was cooked perfectly.
Our next course was beef rib eye with caramelized onion and grilled rice ball. NOW we’re talking! The onions were the real star here. They were minced and delicious. The dish came with a grilled shishito pepper too, which was nice and smokey. The steak was slightly over-cooked, but still very tasty and tender. I didn’t mind at all. The rice ball was crisped like it was grilled on the same surface as the beef, and it even retained a little of that meaty flavor from whatever it picked up off the grill. The sake pairing was a 2004 vintage, 10yr cold-aged sake that was limited quantity (only 40 bottles remain). It was clean and easy to drink, light, flavorful, and paired remarkably well with grilled meat even though it wasn’t as robust as a red wine.
For dessert we had a sweet, 2009 dessert sake that was reminiscent of ice wine. They said it would pair nicely with everything from sweets to fois gras and even uni or salmon roe. I could see it for the uni, as the taste was somewhat aromatic and perfumed, as is uni. This was presented with a coconut panna cotta and green tea tiramisu. The tiramisu had great flavor, and the panna cotta was firm and packed a lot of punch for something that looked so light.
Then chef Ono came out to greet us and talk with us.
And here’s a decor shot for the road:
And a list of the menu items we had, just in case you are keeping track:
You can see a quick video of the event HERE, although the page itself and most of the video contents are in Japanese. Unfortunately my incredibly handsome face didn’t make it into the edited clip. It could have benefitted from my gorgeousness, or at least from that of my stunning wife.
MAISON’O IS NOW CLOSED