GRAZING ELEGANTLY JAPANESE AT 'HAKUBAI' IN NEW YORK
'Hakubai by Nadaman' is located in the basement of The Kitano Hotel in Park Avenue (Murray Hill). Nadaman boasts a long history of offering distinctive Japanese "kaiseki" cuisine, famous for its exquisite presentation and delicate taste. Nadaman;"Sazanka-so" opened in 1830 as the first restaurant in the group in Japan. Executive Chef Yukihiro Sato was not on duty around Memorial Day but Assistant Chef Shimada was up to the task. With 24 hours notice, my Omakase (trust me) Kaiseki dinner would be ready......
Please note that all senses are assailed during a kaiseki meal. The dishes are served in perfect dishes and porcelain to set off the smell, look and texture of the perfect seasonal ingredients. The stocks, broths and sauces are complementary but not overpowering the freshness of the produce.
Tokonoma (seat of honour) alcove
Usually art work or a floral arrangement is displayed behind the guest, who is thus framed by beauty.
NYC and Tokyo Time
Ulysse Nardin GMT+/- Perpetual Rose Gold Ltd Edn makes changing timezones so easy.
Please note the different sake tokkuri (flasks) and matching cups. The restaurant only serves 3 types of nihonshu but they were the best examples of their kind around. I decided to try them all and left it to chef to decide the order of appearance.
Nihonshu 1: Masumi Dai-Ginjou Yumedono, Nagano Prefecture
Fruity with depth and resonance in finish.
Nihonshu 2: Ken Dai-Ginjou, Fukushima Prefecture
Subtle and sharp taste, almost metallic.
Nihonshu 3: Kubota Hekiju Junmai Dai-Ginjou, Niigata Prefecture
Clean, light and dry taste, in keeping with the brewery style. Kubota was severely affected by the recent earthquake and had to destroy 17,000 bottles. Junmai designation means no added alcohol is allowed. The series of brews rises in quality and is numbered from hyaku-ju (100-ju grade) to sen-ju (1000-ju) and man-ju (10,000-ju). Now, if only someone could tell me what number "heki" is...... I bet it's a large number!
Eggplant and Mountain Yam Paste
The rough black stoneware counterpoints the smooth texture of the de-skinned eggplant simmered in delicate hon-dashi and the white yama-imo (mountain yam) paste, which has a slippery texture. Rough and Smooth, Yin and Yang , Black and White.
Clockwise from top: Seaweed Shot-Glass, Sesame Tofu, Simmered Tsubugai Shell and Mixed Tempura (fish, peppers and squid)
Shizakana accompaniment to sake: mixed tastes in mixed presentations. The lightly vinegared seaweed and crispy vegetable shot glass provided contrasting textures that enhanced the fruity wine. The goma-dofu (sesame tofu) with wasabi and light soy sauce also contrasted with the chewy, simmered, tsubugai shell. Finally, the lightly battered mixed tempura brought out another dimension to the sake. The fish was river 'ayu' fried whole, with its distinctive bitter liver intact, which is considered a delicacy.
Vintage bowl with gourd-shape cutouts and hand-painted gourd motif
Shellfish on carefully placed stones
Sashimi: Chuo Toro (fatty tuna), Hamachi (yellowtail), Tai (snapper) and Suzuki (sea bass)
Living only 5 minutes drive from Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market in Tokyo, I was pleasantly delighted by the freshness of the sashimi in New York. Of course, the wasabi was freshly grated and the soy-sauce of top quality.
Yuba (tofu curds)
Curds are formed on the top of simmering soya milk. These are skimmed off and rolled before serving like tofu-sashimi.
Duck meatball served with crab, shunkiku (edible chrysanthenum) and shitake (mushroom) sauce
Simply delicious, moist, coarsely minced but tender duck meat in a glorious sauce. As a side-bar, please note the delicate hand-painted matching motifs inside the bowl and lid; a feast for the eyes as well as mouth.
Matching hand-painted motifs
Tsukemono: Pickled cucumber
Palate cleanser before the next course.
A dish fit for a king.
Clockwise from top left: Stir-fried Abalone and vegetables, Deep-fried Octopus and Grilled Hotategai (scallop) and Uni (sea urchin roe) au gratin, with pickled white lotus root.
I thought that after the duck dish, it could not get better. I was wrong and it did. The hotategai-uni combination was just about this side of Heaven and I have pressed my tongue against it!
The memory of the tender morsels of abalone fried in garlic and vegetables almost made me cry.
Abalone shell can also be a beauteous dish
Prawn Tempura and Cold Noodles
The noodles were imported somen or hiyamugi from Kanagawa Prefecture. These are similar wheat noodles but somen is thinner than hiyamugi. After boiling and cooling, the noodles are eaten by dipping into soy sauce based soup called men-tsuyu (soy sauce, sake, mirin, water and salt in bonito or kelp based soup). Since these cold noodles are plain, it is served with side ingredients (yakumi) to mix with the dipping soup. These were remarkably 'al dente' or chewy, which is a feature of good Kanagawa noodles.
Time for another drink?
Back to the favourite Masumi Dai-Ginjou Yumedono but in another tokkuri style
Dessert: Traditional Japanese cuisine has no dessert course so this herb-infused blancmange with creme anglaise was an interesting end to the meal.
Chef Shimada-san and Waitress Moritomi-san in traditional kimono
This was an exquisite Japanese meal, which is all the more remarkable for being in New York, considering the effort to obtain fresh ingredients and also the norms that I am familiar with, back in Japan. Most definitely the best kaiseki dinner, outside Japan, that I have had.
Highly recommended but pricey "2-hooves up!"
Photos and Text Copyright Melvyn Teillol-Foo, 2005.