Originally published August 11, 2015 – “Occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way,” is Google’s definition of serendipitous, and it’s a good description for last evening.
I stopped off at one of my favorite local restaurants, Izakaya Sanpei, on Joy Road in Canton, MI. Izakaya is a Japanese restaurant, and while I have never traveled to Japan, the food seems authentic (meaning, it may be, but I’m not qualified to say so).
I sat at the sushi bar, rather than a table, and in short order, was working my way through a plate of shumai (shrimp dumplings) and a bowl of tempura soba.
But that’s not what this post is about. I mean, the food was great, the dumplings small bits of seafood deliciousness, the tempura perfectly light, topping a bowl filled with rich broth and buckwheat noodles. The food is always good at Izakaya; that’s why I eat there.
But tonight? Well, tonight I saw something different.
About halfway through my soba, I noticed the sushi chef preparing a very large bowl. He had a wonderful arrangement of fish, a large seashell, a flower, lemon slices, and other garnishes arranged around the bowl. When he poured a bit of water into the bowl, it began smoking, overflowing the bowl, creeping across the counter.
I snapped a quick photo as the waitress was carrying it away, then started to talk to the chef about its preparation. I found it was their special of the day, fresh aji (small Japanese mackerel) and fresh conch.
Fortunately, as we were talking, two more orders came in. I was able to watch him prepare the entire dish, beginning with filleting the aji, and bracing it with chunks of cucumber.
Once that was completed, he took the ahi meat, and mixed it with chopped vegetables, perhaps gobo (burdock root) and perhaps jalapeno, creating a fresh fish salad. He then arranged the salad on the fish, and garnished with scallions.
He then took the conch shell, rolled a ball of wasabi paste, and used that to stabilize the shell, now next to the fish/salad combination in the bowl. Pulling a whole conch from the chiller, he began cutting thick slices of the conch, arraying them across the shell. I thought the thickness of the slices a bit unusual, as conch is usually pretty tough.
With a few more garnishes, the dish was finished. He poured water over the dry ice, and the presentation was complete: a beautiful sashimi dish, artfully arranged, with special effects to take it over the top.
I complimented chef on his work, as the owner came over to join our conversation.
I was pleased to meet Harold Kim, owner of the restaurant. We talked about the unusual preparation. Mr. Kim told me he wanted to serve very authentic food, and sushi needs to be more than just rolls. He had interviewed Chef Sang J. Kim, and they shared a desire to serve more traditional Japanese cuisine.
The menu is already extensive, but there is now a second menu of Japanese appetizers (you have to ask), for those desiring more of the traditional experience of small shared plates, drinks, and conversation.
They also have arranged to provide local tastes to their Japanese clientele, or to those who wish to enjoy similar delicacies. So they’re eating “local”, but “local” is home, not the restaurant location. Doing so requires a long supply chain.
Each Wednesday, they receive a “mystery box”. Flown directly from Japan, the box contains fresh local fish. Mr. Kim receives an email with a picture of the fish as it is crated for the flight (the first notification of what type of fish he will receive), and it arrives in Detroit twelve hours later, less than a day out of the local (Japanese) waters.
The fish is served fresh on Wednesday evening, and is gone by Thursday afternoon.
I mentioned the conch, and the thicker slices I had noticed. Mr. Kim told me that Chef Kim does not prepare the conch in the traditional method, which does toughen the meat, and requires thinner slices. Because his method does not toughen the conch, the thicker slices are still enjoyable to eat (similar to the hamachi you see in the top photo, my dessert for the evening.
There are also plans to expand a bit more into yakatori, Japanese charcoal-grilled skewers (Raku, in Las Vegas, is an outstanding example of this genre – http://raku-grill.com/grill/index.html). While he cannot offer the 100 or more varieties offered in an authentic yakatori grill (more than 20 of chicken alone: thigh, skin, breast, hearts, livers, etc), Mr. Kim does want to offer a few more. Again, for smaller shared dishes, and communal conversation.
It was a very enjoyable evening, at a wonderful restaurant, learning more about sushi and Japanese tradition, such as the sushi press in the photo below. It’s used to press the seasoned rice into rectangles, rather than the hand-formed mounds one usually sees.
I was looking for a delicious meal, but found a master’s course in sashimi. Serendipitous, indeed!