Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: The Surf Clam

Surf Clam 1

I have come across ‘Surf Clam’ on many Japanese restaurant menus but, on the few times I have tried to order it in the past, it always seemed to be out of season, or otherwise unavailable. In any event, back this past December, I tried it, not once but twice, in two different restaurants in Ottawa. All I could think was that it was a shame I had not managed to try them before as they were probably the nicest clam type I have ever had…

I really cannot tell you exactly what species constitutes ‘surf clam’ for culinary purposes as the information I was able to find was quite confusing. It may well be that there are more than one species, including one that is fished offshore from Bedford, Nova Scotia.    The inset in the above picture shows one such species (Spisula sachalinensis) and I have included it to give you an idea of the part of the clam that is used.

The sashimi and sushi you see pictured above was served to me at Wasabi, where they identified on the menu as ‘Orange Clam’ and ‘Hokegai’, the latter apparently and in-house spelling of the more common ‘Hokkigai’. Surf Clam seems to be the most common English name, but one also encounters ‘Red Clam’, and ‘Sea Clam’.

What I like about the Wasabi version, was the presentation. As you can see, the edible portion of the clam (apparently called either the ‘foot’ or the ‘tongue’) is ‘butterflied’. It is simple pressed almost flat on the plate for the sashimi version, but is made into a pretty little conical ‘hat’ for the sushi. His is quite unique and different from the way it was cut at my next port-of-call… Continue reading “Notable Nosh: The Surf Clam”

Posted in Foodstuffs

Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder

Instant Dashi 1

Some years ago, I wrote a post featuring the Japanese soup stock known as Dashi. In that post, I mentioned that Dashi could be a simple mushroom stock, or a stock made using just the seaweed called Kombu, or, more commonly, a more complex stock combining Kombu and the dried, smoky tuna known as Katsuobushi

Anyway, in my Katsuobushi post (see the above link), I showed several varieties of the proper fish product and one the ‘instant’ powdered versions. I was, it must be said, a bit scathing of the latter, indicating that it wasn’t, for several reasons, as good as the ‘real’ thing, but, while that is generally true, the same can be said for homemade chicken stock versus one made using bouillon cubes or extract. One uses homemade if that is practical but, sometimes, especially if only a little stock is needed, using an ‘instant’ substitute is perfectly acceptable…

Today, I thought I would take a little more detailed and closer look at the basic product, and also do a bit of a comparison of a few different brands. There are literally scores and scores of different instant dashi products to be found but the ones you see pictured here are three of the bonito tuna based ones that I have most commonly come across in my part of the world… Continue reading “Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder”

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Wasabi’s Unagi Taters

Wasabi's Unagi Taters

Dear, Oh dearie me… this little offering was… just… sad…

Normally, a dish or meal is featured as a ‘Notable Nosh’ dish because it was either very good, or otherwise interesting in some way, but, unfortunately, that was not the case here… I love the Japanese Restaurant, Wasabi, down in Ottawa’s Byward Market, not just because they usually have top notch food, but also because, sometimes, they can be innovative in clever and tasty ways. Occasionally, though, or at least a couple of times in my experience, they have managed some truly frightful boners. Their ‘Unagi Taters’ which I tried just before this past Christmas, were, I regret to say, boners in the first degree

The menu introduced ‘Unagi Taters’ as: Miso herb croquettes with unagi (eel), cheese, and chives.

Sounds sorta interesting doesn’t it?

Let’s unpack ….

To get the full idea of the croquette, imagine a dollop of cold, unseasoned and mashed potato that is pressed flat, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. You may well imagine that the result would be somewhat flavorless and with an unpleasant texture, and… you would be right. Had these ‘croquettes’ included the advertised herbs or miso, the additions might have saved them. As it was, however, they were nowhere in evidence; Not merely added insufficiently, mind you … but completely absent.

The Unagi was the only thing that added any sort of decent flavor here… Unfortunately, it may be that the chef was having a bad night or something, but only two of my four ‘taters’ managed to have any eel put atop them, and in both cases, the amount was not quite enough to be described as ‘stingy’. The final insult to the otherwise decent fish came with the addition of the cheese.

The cheese, and I swear this is true, was actually squares of processed cheese that were added to the ‘taters’ before being popped under the grill. This might have been alright except that the grilling wasn’t even long enough to properly melt the cheese (much less toast it to make it flavorful) and so there it remained as cold, and plastic-like, as it usually is. Sadly, this is not a dish that was poorly executed, it wasn’t even well-conceived to begin with.

Well… in all fairness to Wasabi, despite my little diatribe here, I love the place and will continue to eat there when I come to town. But guys … for heaven’s sake, retire this one from the menu and, for future innovations, if it comes to mind that processed cheese with fish might be a good idea then … NO, NO, and .. NO!!

 

 

Posted in Wine

Wine: A Vertical Tasting

Vertical Tasting 1

Today’s wine post will depart from the usual by sampling not one but three wines. Back when I did some reorganizing of my blog, I announced that, henceforth, I would only be reviewing wines that I thought were excellent, or otherwise particularly special. Neither of those things really apply to the see wines you see pictured above, however, and the reason that they are featured today is because I embarked on something that I have not done before and conducted what is known as a ‘vertical tasting’…

For those unfamiliar, wine tastings can come in different… well, flavors, as it were. In a regular old, run-of-the-mill variety, a group of people will come together and taste and evaluate a wide range of different wines. In what is known as a ‘horizontal tasting’ wines of a particular type, and of the same vintage, will be sampled and compared, but each wine will be from a different winery. I n a ‘vertical tasting’, however, the same type of wine will be tasted, but it will be different vintages from the same winery.

Anyway, for my ‘private vertical tasting, I had the three bottles you can see pictured above. All are Spanish, produced by Bodegas Navalon, in the Valdepeñas DO (Designation of Origin), they are all 100 percent Tempranillo grape and the three separate vintages I had were 2012, 2009 and 2007.

Now, I am not going to go into great deal of detail on their respective characteristics, especially, as I said above, none struck me as particularly noteworthy. All had a little sour cherry dominating, with mild tannins, and light floral notes, but what was interesting to me, from a vertical tasting perspective, was being able to see the acidity go from being brash to something more mellow and rounded with ageing. It was also possible to discern the texture going from hard-edged to much smoother, and see the complexity develop over time.

Some vertical tastings I have read about have investigated a dozen or more vintages from a single winery, which sounds like either a great way to see the evolution of a wine, or at the very least get cheerfully hammered. I would very much like to organize one where a sequential set of vintages could be sampled over 5 years or, more…. There was only me for this tasting of just three vintage… with more wines  I am going to have to dragoon a group of appreciative friends to assist me 😊

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Sea Bass Sashimi and Sushi

Sea Bass Sashimi and Sushi 1

A while ago, I got to try Sea Bass for the first time. At least, I think I did…

It is a sad truth that there is a lot of fraudulent substitution when it comes to seafood, and this happens no less in sushi restaurants than it does with fishmongers, or down-market fish-and-chip places. While researching for this post, I happened to find quite a few different pictures of Sea Bas on the web that didn’t look much like the fish in the above picture. This might be concerning, except it turns out that there are quite a few varieties of Sea Bass, including ‘White Sea Bass’ and ‘Striped Sea Bass’.  Still, even though the Wasabi restaurant in Ottawa is pretty reputable place, one never knows …

Anyway, when I am trying a sashimi selection, I like to try it as nigiri sushi as well, and I did this for my first experience with Sea Bass. Here you can see that sashimi portion of my order is formed into a nice little ‘rosette’ and garnished with Masago, or Smelt roe. This is actually almost a tasteless ingredient and didn’t affect the experience of the fish other than adding a little visual interest.

Unfortunately, I really wasn’t all that keen on this choice for sashimi. The flesh was a little fibrous, but other than that it had a rather soft texture that wasn’t all that pleasant, and it seemed to leave a slight ‘residue’ in the mouth. This suggested something less than peak freshness, but there were no other off tastes that would further tend to that conclusion. What flavor there was actually had the very slightly muddy taste I associate with fresh fish rather than the marine varieties… it is chiefly for this reason that I began to suspect that my ‘Sea Bass’ may have been something else…

In any event, on my next trip south, I will try and sample ‘Sea Bass’ in a few other establishments and see if I can learn a little more….

Posted in Wine

Wine: Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2016

Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2016

Today’s wine selection is the last of a series of obscure wines I purchased at the end of last year, some of which I have featured in past posts already. This one is a little special as it is Croatian (and I have never had a wine from Croatia as yet), and also because the dominant grape in the blend is Teran, a new varietal to me. The other grapes in the blend are the familiar Merlot, and Borgonja, which, I believe, is just another name for Gamay. In any event, the blend works very nicely indeed…

The wine is a very dark ruby, and it is medium bodied with a silky mouthfeel. It is pretty dry, with bright acidity, smooth tannins and a finish that persists somewhat but weakens quite quickly. The nose is quite rich with dark berries and plum jam at the front, and there is dusty wood and some floral highlights over a faint forest floor quality, and some barnyard notes underneath.

The palate has plum, cherry and blackcurrant, with just a little citrus, and there some fairly aromatic floral notes and a little bit of wood and leather. This isn’t a hugely complex wine but, at $17.50, I thought it pretty good value for the price.

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Palais Imperial Style Kung Pao Chicken

PI StyleKung Pao

This dish appears on the menu of Ottawa’s Palais Imperial as ‘Imperial Style Chicken (spicy)’. However the Chinese character entry (reproduced in the inset in the above picture) reads Gōngbǎo jīdīng, and translates, in its most common spelling form as Kung Pao Chicken (Cubes).

For ages, I have rather thought of starting an ongoing blog feature here called ‘The Kung Pao Chronicles’ as I find this a very interesting dish indeed. I still may get around to doing that someday (maybe), but, for now, I am going to continue trying this widely variable dish wherever, and whenever I get the chance and I may, occasionally, share the experience here.

My interest lies mostly in the fact that I have come to regard ‘Kung Pao dishes’ as being a good way to assess a Chinese restaurant. This is because you typically find it reproduced it three ways:

  • Chinese style;
  • Westernized Chinese style; and,
  • Straying so far from the basic theme as to be neither of the first two.

I am not going to go on at great length about the characteristics of these, except to say that the latter case will generally consist of some chicken with peanuts, or cashews, in some sort of hot sauce. This is true of all three cases, of course, but the basic Chinese tradition has certain other essential features as well. In today’s case, Palais Imperial follows the essential idea pretty well…

The one thing that is to be noted is that there is a lot of ‘bulk’ here in the form of vegetables, and indeed, this could really be called ‘Kung Pao Veggies with a Bit of Chicken Added’. Most recipes will often only include some green onion along with the chicken and peanuts, but here, the Palais Imperial includes red and green bell pepper, water chestnuts, celery, carrot, bamboo shoot, baby corn, and mushrooms. To be fair, of course, a restaurant has to be cost conscious, and a certain amount of filler is to be expected. Here though, it really was quite a lot at the expense of the chicken quantity.

The chicken in this dish was actually cut more in slices (piàn), rather than dice, or cubes (ding), but this is hardly fatal to a ‘proper’ Kung Pao dish, and I note that Palais Imperial used the darker thigh meat, which is more in keeping with Chinese tradition, as opposed to the white breast meat more commonly used in westernized versions.

The ‘heat’ for this version comes from the addition of Thai style dried red chili and this restaurant has given the dish the one of the signature ‘Kung Pao’ flavor elements, which is a ‘scorched’ chili flavor obtained by frying the chilies in the cooking oil until they darken before adding the other ingredients. This allows the unique flavor, and the heat, to permeate the finished product.

Beyond the chili heat, a Kung Pao dish is also slightly sweet and sour. In westernized versions, both elements tend to get exaggerated, of ten to the point that the sauce is pretty much the same sort of ‘sweet and sour sauce’ typical in these restaurants. The Chinese version is much more understated but, funnily enough, this place has actually gone to the other extreme. There is a tiny bit of sweetness, but very little ‘tang’. All in all, though, the dish I was given was delicious, with just the right amount of heat for me. They seem to cleave pretty close to the traditional Chinese original, with the deviations being no more than their proprietary, individual touches…

 

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Japanese Seafood Chowder

Japanese Seafood Chowder

Well, this particular creation of Wasabi in Ottawa was pretty interesting in concept but not, unfortunately, in execution…

The menu described this being ‘Shrimp, scallop and fish in light miso’ but it was pretty hard to see how what I was served matched that description in any material fashion. Firstly, I was rather expecting that the chowder would be a dashi based miso soup lightly thickened in some fashion to make it a ‘chowder’ of sorts. Here though, the medium was definitely a chowder that had been thickened, as far as I could tell, with potato, as is the case with many western chowders. There was, however, no dashi flavor, nor (more to the point) any hint of miso at all. Basically, the only real taste was something akin to a cross between potato and mushroom soup.

The promise of actual seafood in the dish was also pretty optimistic. I could tell that a few of the chewier pieces were fish, and there were some tiny pieces of shrimp, but neither was in abundant supply and there was no scallop as far as I could tell. Indeed, the majority of solid pieces in this brew were actually potato.

The only real Japanese aspects to this dish were the strip of Wakame floating on top, and the Panko on the side. The Wakame was alright, I suppose (but added more for garnish than anything substantial), and the Panko was somewhat interesting. Normally, crackers or the like are provided with soups so they can be crushed and added in for a thicker heartier result. Thickening was hardly needed here but, if a little was sprinkled on each spoonful, it did lend a slightly enhanced texture.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I really enjoyed this all that much, but I still think the idea is good. An actual miso style soup thickened with potato, and with lots of good seafood added, would be very good. I guess though, I will have to do it myself …

Posted in General

Wine: Disznókö Furmint Tokaji Dry 2016

Disznókö Furmint Tokaji Dry 2016

Way back in my college days, I used to buy the same two wines over and over again, and both were Hungarian reds. It is somewhat funny, then, that in the last 5 or ten years during which I’ve been keeping notes, I don’t seem to have bought a single bottle of Hungarian wine until I bought this dry white Hungarian during the past Christmas break.

The ‘Furmint’ in the name here refers to the grape used, and ‘Tokaji’ is the protected designation of origin (PDO) region where the wine is produced. Some of you may recognize the region name in connection with ‘Tokay’, which is an Anglicization and refers to a very sweet white wine from that area. Today’s selection, however, is, as the name indicates, a very dry wine. The Furmint grape, which accounts for about 60% or so of all wine production in the region, is also grown in Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. There has also been plantings of it in the USA in recent years and some suggest that, though still relatively unknown outside of its traditional regions, it may see an increase in popularity in the future.

In any event, this particular product is very nice indeed. It is medium-light bodied, fairly dry, and has a very bright, crisp acidity from start to finish. The nose is very muted, but carries golden apple with a backdrop of dusty straw and some faint aromatic floral notes. On the palate, one finds gold and sour green apple with a dash of mild citrus, some green vegetal highlights, and cedar with notes of resin and toasted sawdust. The slightly resinous quality may limit the appeal for some but I liked it very much and I think that this makes a very decent sipping wine and should do nicely with seafood, especially smoked salmon and smoked oysters.