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 Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Unagi

Unagi 1

Who remembers the ‘Friends’ episode when Ross boasts to Rachel of his skill in the Japanese martial arts awareness technique of ‘Unagi’?  Of course, Ross got it wrong, for Unagi is actually the Japanese word for the freshwater eel that is frequently barbecued, and often included as a sushi offering.

Saltwater eel is also found in Japanese cuisine, where it is known as ‘Anago’, but it is less common (at least in the west), and not generally cooked in the sweetish Kabayaki sauce (very like Teriyaki Sauce) common with Unagi … Eel, by the way, does not generally appear as a (raw) sashimi and in sushi, and other preparations, is invariably cooked, generally by slow-simmering, occasionally followed by grilling.

Anyway, above you see Unagi as part of a Nigiri Suhsi offering I had at Hokkaido Sushi in Ottawa. It certainly isn’t the prettiest presentation I have ever been served but it was genuinely tasty. The fish was just a tiny bit drier than it should be but the sauce was delicately used and the full, very umami taste of the fish shone through perfectly. Many people tend to shy away from eel, despite being perfectly comfortable with other fish, but this worth trying…

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Unagi

Nosh - Unagi

Unagi, or freshwater eel, is a Japanese delicacy I have enjoyed many times and I thought I would share my most recent experience of it with you here. Japanese cuisine also makes use of sea eel (or ‘anago’) but you tend to find unagi appearing much more frequently on the menu at Japanese restaurants.

Like octopus and a few other fish products, unagi is always cooked, even in sashimi or sushi preparations. The cooking generally involves grilling but the eel is also sometimes steamed first. Often (indeed, every time I have ever had it) a sweetish glaze is added before grilling, but there is also a ‘shirayaki’ or ‘white-grilled’ version that does without. The glaze, when used, is often a Teriyaki sauce type preparation but here, on this particular occasion, I rather think that actual Eel Sauce formed the glaze. This is more than simply a sauce prepared for eel; it actually contains an extract from eel in the same way oyster sauce contains oyster extract and it has the same sort of sweet, umami flavor.

Although the sashimi and sushi pieces I ordered came plated very prettily with shiso leaf, shredded daikon, pickled ginger and wasabi, I didn’t think the eel was nearly as good as usual. It may have been due to overcooking but, in any event, I found the flesh really quite pallid and lacking in texture. Without the sauce, there probably wouldn’t have been a great deal of flavor and, on this occasion, the ginger and some soy were welcome additions. Normally though, I really enjoy this dish and, if you enjoy grilled fish you really should give it a try…