Monday, February 09, 2009

An Afternoon of Tasties and Tidbits

I've never really gone all out and tried to learn the ins and outs of Asian cuisine. I mean, don't get me wrong, we live in San Francisco and I grew up in New York. I've watched Yan Can Cook, and made my fair share of stir fry and dim sum. I can even do up those steamed pork buns that My Omnivore loves so much. But I've never made a full scale inquiry into how to make fine Chinese or Japanese cuisine. My Chinese teacher once tried to teach me how to make noodles for my birthday, and I don't recall a single thing about it.

So I tend to bypass the great little Japanese markets around here, which is a shame, because they have, as I discovered, fantastic fish, as well as a dizzying array of Stuff I Can't Identify. Some of it's written in English too, and it's still perplexing. What, for example, WHAT is "Pocari Sweat"?

I'm on the hunt for yuzu juice though, to make a yuzu sorbet. Fortunately they have a large sign saying "YUZU" in English, and I consider my options for a sec before picking up a bottle. It's all in Japanese, so I can't tell if this is salted or unsalted Yuzu juice -- why do they even sell yuzu juice salted?

Speaking of salt, I then spot more salt -- Hawaiian pink sea salt, and I pick that up too. Never shop when you're hungry, or when you can't read the language.

Anyway, the reason for all this market-haunting was the Tasties and Tidbits party we held on Sunday. It was inspired by all the crazy little foodie gifts that people gave us over the holidays--truffle salt, truffle oil, yuzu powder, Himalayan Rock Salt, Merlot Vinegar... quite the haul. So we decided to invite everyone who'd given us foodie fun items and make a lot of, well, tasties, with each of the ingredients -- not all of them together in one dish, mind you.

Assembled in our apartment: Randy and Cindy of Food Migration, Ms. Food Snoot, The Pajama Queen, Mr. Tarte Tatin and Ms. Devushka -- amazing that we can fit that many people into our humble abode, isn't it? And that's missing Ms. & Mr. Art Attack and La Canadienne.

Here's our foodie list in our suggested tasting order:

SALT (Mr. & Ms. Art Attack)
  • Chicken Liver pate with a tasting of salts: Maldon Sea Salt from Essex, La Baleine Sea Salt from Camargue, Hawaiian Pink Salt and the salt that kicked off this whole idea, Himalayan Rock Salt from Nepal.
YUZU (Cindy & Randy)
  • A Tasting of Misos with Yuzu and Leek on tofu, with a Sesame Wonton Crisp and Daikon Sprouts (courtesy of Cindy from Food Migration. I am so sorry I didn't get a photo of Cindy and Randy applying the daikon sprouts with angled tweezers! Expertly done, I must say.)
  • Bites of Maguro Tuna dusted with Yuzu Powder
  • Yuzu Sorbet
  • Roasted Portobellos drizzled with Merlot Vinegar.
  • Salad Dressed with Merlot Vinagrette
  • Wild Herb Sorbet Intermezzo (which we needed, to "re-clear" palates after trying the Yuzu Sorbet!)
TRUFFLE SALT AND OIL (Pajama Queen & Mr. Tarte Tatin and La Canadienne)
  • Sips of Cauliflower and Roasted Garlic Soup with a Drizzle of Truffle Oil (executed by Ms. Food Snoot according to Martha Stewart's recipe.)
  • Truffled Foccaccia slices with Taleggio and Robiola and Truffle Oil
  • Green Tea Financiers (courtesy of Cindy and Randy)
  • And regular old Flan
As you can probably imagine, I wasn't sure what to serve to drink with all of this, but while picking up the tuna in the morning, the wall of sake at Nijiya Market caught my eye. Why not? After all, I like sake, but I know absolutely nothing about it. And this is all experimental anyway.

As I stood there considering the possible merits of a jereboam of sake on sale for $9.99, a woman came up to and asked earnestly, "Do you know anything about sake?" Oh, honey pie. Not a bit. I didn't even do any of my customary sake research until well after this whole event was over.

According to True Sake's website, "the best way to taste sake professionally is to eat very little for breakfast and find a cream-colored room with windows that have a northerly exposure. Then without wearing any perfumes or colognes, enter the room exactly at 10:00AM with your mind cleared of thoughts of the outside world and begin tasting."

So we ate breakfast and lunch as usual, and had our tasting in a room with a disgusting green carpet that faces south. I spritzed myself with my favorite French perfume, lit a scented candle in the bathroom and started us off at around 3:30 pm. So I guess that puts us exactly on target?

I carefully selected our sakes with an eye to bottle color (green, black and white frost) and price range (~$6), and we ended up with a Junmai Nigori ("cloudy and sweet") from Gekkeikan in the green bottle, a Tanrei Junmai ("crisp and dry") from the Murai Family in the black bottle with the fetching warrior on it and a "fresh and light" Junmai Nama from Hakushika in the white bottle.

Yes, I almost purchased the matched set of pink and blue frosted bottles with names like "Dream Cloud." Oh, give me a break, people. I know nothing about sake and we had to start someplace. At least none of them had Pokemon figures on the label.

So, my final feeling was that among these three "nice and cheap" sakes, my favorite was the Hakushika, followed by the Murai family. The Nigori was very sweet, and compared to the others, I wasn't as impressed with the cloudiness. Still, when I tried it again today (2:14 pm, still in my green-carpeted, south-facing room) I liked it better, and could imagine it with a dessert of some sort.

Guess I have to try more cheap sake choices and work my way up.

Even after a long bout of sake tasting, My Omnivore is still sharp enough to solve six little foam puzzles....

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