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Happy (belated) Birthday to Me!

A bit over 3 weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday.  It has been the tradition for the last several years that Lindz and I would go out for sushi.  This birthday had an added bonus, it was my last official day doing construction.  And as an extra special bonus, we hit the happy hour pricing at Osaka!

IMG_20130827_200416_2Spiraling in from the top and going clockwise, I got tuna, red snapper, surf clam, flying fish roe, smoked eel, smoked salmon, and mackerel.  Most of these I’ve had before, but I did find a couple of new things to try.  I never the flying fish roe sashimi before.  It is served in a cucumber cup.  It wasn’t bad, but I prefer the sushi version that is served in a nori cup.  The cucumber muted the flavor of the roe IMHO.  The stand out was the smoked salmon.  It had a nice but not over powering smoked flavor.

As a thank you / going away present, my boss gave me a really beautiful smoker.

IMG950785It was a good day!

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A Traditional Birthday Meal

Well, a traditional meal if you are over in East Asia.  Or if you’re me, it’s something that I’ve been doing for the last six-ish years.  That’s right, it’s sushi time!

This year for my birthday meal, Lindz and I went out to Osaka with Matt and Janessa.  Since it was my birthday I got to get whatever I wanted (not sure how that is different from any other time we’ve gone there, but I just rolled with it).  I decided that it was past due on ordering a boat load of sushi.  I mean that quite literally.

A boatload of happy!

Osaka has an item on their menu called the Love Boat.  It contains 10 pieces of sushi, 18 pieces of sashimi, a rainbow roll, and a dragon roll.  All served in a wooden boat.  Hence the name.

All of the pieces were “chef’s choice,” so from the outset I wasn’t expecting anything too lavish as far as selection.

Close up of the bow selection.

Close up of the stern of the boat.

I was right about the selection.  A lot of tuna, salmon, and the like.  Nothing off the beaten path, but all very tasty and a lot of it.

Ever since Matt and Janessa ordered deep fried crab in RI, we’ve been ordering it as a an appetizer.  Been working good so far.

Not quite as good as Enn’s, but then that was the best I’ve ever had.

Since I can put away a lot of sushi, I finished off Lindz’s half and still ordered a couple of extra pieces to cap off the meal.

A bit of octopus and eel as a nice finish to a nice meal.

RI: Enn

When Chef Aaron from the Seminary found out a bunch of us were going to Rhode Island, he gave us some suggestions of places to eat.  He went to culinary school out East so he had the insider knowledge.  Top of his list was a sushi joint called Enn located in Lincoln (north end of RI).  He claimed that it was the best sushi that he had ever eaten.  So naturally, we wanted to go and give it a whirl.

The happy couple and the last blurry photo!

We went there on Thursday and the special was half priced wine and sake.  Matt opted for the sake, Lindz, Janessa, and I split a bottle of malbec.  Dave was the responsible driver and had his Diet Coke.  Lately, my wine of choice has been malbecs.  It is a full bodied red which is not as heavy in tannins as a merlot, and it has a nice bouquet with notes of plum and earth.  (Yeah, I looked up that last part.)

This was a very good year for the vinyard.

Collectively, the group ordered three apps.  Lindz and I got the fried oysters.  They were quite good and the creamy dipping sauce was amazing.  These were much like the clam cakes that we had at Champlin’s.

5 fried oysters, 5 people in our group.  Coincidence?

Matt and Janessa wisely chose the soft shell crab tempura.  Hands down, this was the best app that we had.  Which is saying a lot because this was the best sushi place that I’ve ever been to.

This. This is worth driving 1400 miles for.

Dave opted for the agedashi tofu.  I’m glad that he ordered it because it is something that I never would have even considered.  There always seems to be something else that would catch my eye (and stomach).  It is a firm tofu that is dusted in a starch and then deep fried.  It is served in a tentsuyu broth that consists dashi, mirin, and soy sauce.  It’s definitely worth trying once if you see on the menu.

I’m middle of the road on tofu, but this has me rethinking my opinion.

As for the entree’s, Matt and Janessa decided to split four rolls between them.  Had they known how big the rolls are, I think they would have chosen differently.  One thing that I found impressive was the plating on a couple of these rolls.  The first one to show up was the Summer Tuna Roll.  Inside it has avocado, spicy mayo, tobico (fish roe), and tempura flakes.  And on top it has maguro tuna, jalapeno pieces, and a creamy sauce.

Seriously cool plating.

Next to come was the Craig Roll.  This one has soft shell crap tempura, cucumber, and avocado topped with eel and shrimp.  If I had opted for rolls, this would have definitely been one that I would had chosen.

Amazing how a little piping of sauce can spruce up a plate.

Their last two rolls came together on one plate.  On top, there is the B-52 Maki (at least I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right).  This one has a crab stick, avocado, flying fish roe, and scallion rolled with yellowtail tuna, then it’s deep-fried and layered with rice.  The bottom one looks like a California Roll which has crab, avocado, cucumber, and fish roe.

Your basic sushi presentation. But the food still looks good, so why mess with the basics?

Dave ordered the Sushi / Sashimi platter.  Which is a gamble in my opinion.  It is an assortment of sushi and sashimi which is left up to the chef to decide what you get.  It also comes with a salad and a bowl of miso soup.  Here in the Mid-West, it usually consists of a couple of kinds of tuna, salmon, shrimp, and egg custard.  All of which I like, but it just reeks of being “safe” and cheap.  I was very impressed with the chef’s choice at Enn.  The platter actually consisted of many things that I normally order a la carte.

At the very top is what looks like a tuna roll. The next row has flying fish roe, shrimp, and surf clam sushi. The row of sushi below that has binchou (albacore tuna), mackerel, and fresh-water eel. The sashimi is maguro (red meat tuna), salmon, and, well, honestly, I have no idea what the last one is.
Update: Dave informed me the unknown fish is “yellowtail, sweet delicious yellowtail.” (hamachi)

Lindz ordered a la carte like I did.  We’ve found that it’s cheaper and we get exactly what we want.

Starting far left and going clockwise: a spicy tuna roll, tobiko (flying fish roe), unagi (fresh-water eel), salmon, and a Blaze roll (at least that is what Lindz thinks it is).

I always get a smile on my face when Lindz explains why she orders the flying fish roe: she like the popping in her mouth as she eats them.  Really I have no room to talk because that is definitely a factor as to why I order them all the time too.  I think I’ve said this before, but the unagi (fresh-water eel) is a favorite of both of ours, so it’s no surprise that you see it on every plate that we order.  The Blaze roll has spicy tuna, cream cheese, and avocado on the inside.  Then the roll is deep-fried in tempura batter and finished with a sweet and spicy sauce.

Finally, we get to my plate!  As I said before, this was the best sushi place that I’ve been to.  It had the freshest fish hands down and it’s very reasonable priced.

Starting at the bottom and going widdershins (because I like to be difficult): I got the unagi, octopus, surf clam, and mackerel sashimi.  And two of the flying fish roe (tobiko) sushi, one with and one without a quail egg.

Honestly, I really didn’t notice much of a difference with the quail egg on the tobiko.  Both were good, but I don’t think it was worth the extra $0.75.  The mackerel (saba) was breathtaking.  It had a nice full fish flavor and was oily without being overwhelming.  The surf clam (hokkigai) was good, but wasn’t significantly better than others that I’ve had.  The octopus (tako) was nice and tender with just the right amount of chew to it.  The unagi!  Oh, the unagi.  Words cannot do justice to this oily, fishy, sweet morsel from heaven.  All in all, this was as perfect of a sushi meal as I’ve ever had.

Well almost.  The only thing that could have made it better was if Ringer was there.  We have a longstanding tradition of going way off the beaten path every time that we have sushi.  I love my standard selections, but I do miss going crazy sometimes.

So Chef Aaron was right.  Making a trip to Enn was well worth it.  It will take a really impressive sushi place to even come close to this meal.

Mmm . . . Tuna Melts

For some reason I always forget how cheap and easy tuna melts are to make and how much I enjoy them.  It may have something to due with the fact that I’ve had plenty of bad melts in my time.  This mostly stems from institutions, i.e. school, and a particular restaurant that I used to frequent.  In the former case, it was just flavorless and in the latter, the tuna always seemed to be cold.  I’m guessing it was due to the fact that they pre-made the tuna and refrigerated the mixture and it never got a chance to heat through when they made it.  Which leads me into the major benefit of making it for myself and Lindz.  The tuna starts off room temp which is a 30 degree headstart going into the oven.  Also, I get to make it to suit my palette instead of going with a more neutral flavor.

For two people, I start off with three tins of tuna and add mayo until I get the right consistency.  For me it usually is where the tuna looks wet with mayo but not swimming in it.  I finely dice a couple of slices of onion and add them to the mix.  A little salt and pepper to taste, and this part is done.  I then evenly distribute it among six slices of bread.  For mine, I added some sliced banana peppers.

The base of a good tuna melt is a good tuna mix.

Add a slice of tomato.

I first ran across the addition of tomato at the cafe that consistently had cold tuna and I have been using it ever since.

And finally the cheese for the melt.  I usually use cheddar, but this time I used up some mozzarella that was hiding in the back of the fridge.

Usually I would try to squeeze another slice of cheese on each, but I ran out.

Finally they go into a preheated oven (I think I had it set at 375 degrees F) for about 15 minutes (I think).  I usually check it frequently to make sure nothing is burning.  I pull everything out when I have a nice golden brown on the cheese.

Great. Now I’m craving tuna melts.

You probably should rotate the pan once or twice while baking.  As you can see, some of the cheese is significantly more browned than others.  Unfortunately, Lindz’s pieces took the hit the hardest which ticked me off more than if mine were worse.  It’s a pride thing.

Categories: recipes, supper Tags: , ,

601 Graves, part III

The restaurant that Lindz and I went to was the one located in the hotel.  I can’t describe Cosmos any better than the line from the New York Times: “Hybrid of SoHo slick and Minnesota nice.”  Like the rest of 601 Graves, it has a modern chic decor.  The staff was unbelievably nice from the hostess, to the bartender who chatted with me at the bar while I was waiting for Lindz to come down, and to our AMAZING waiter who was spot on with personality and menu suggestions.

The first step into going out to a fancy place is getting suited up properly.

Lindz is justifiably proud of her smokin’ hot dress.

We were seated in a quiet corner of the restaurant, which wasn’t too hard because there were not a lot of people dining that night.  But they did take care to place at least a couple of tables between us and the closest diners for a more intimate experience.  Lindz and I decided to split a bottle of one of their cheaper wines.  $40 is cheap for a bottle considering they had some that ranged upwards to $1000.  Like I was ever so subtly hinting at before, our fantastic waiter struck up a conversation with us right after we were seated.  In the process of explaining our little celebration, he threw out a few suggestions to try on the menu.  One of which was the tuna tartar appetizer.  He described it as “habit forming” and that he would eat it as often as he could.  Since both Lindz and I like sushi, we figured this would be a safe bet for a starter.  Boy were we wrong.  Saying that this tartar was a safe bet is like calling McD’s cheeseburger a safe bet and getting filet mignon set down in front of you.  This tartar is not comparable to anything that I’ve ever had before.  The freshness of the tuna was unquestionable.  The richness of the fish and whatever spices they mixed with it was heavenly.  Plus, as a side, they put a dollop of avocado ice cream on the plate.  This may sound like a weird concoction that you would see on Iron Chef, but it really does work.  The creaminess of an avocado transitions beautifully into the creaminess that one gets with a high quality ice cream.  So like our waiter said, habit forming.  One quick example why I have a bit of a foodie crush on our waiter is that he went ahead and had the kitchen split our app orders without asking us.  He was able to anticipate our wants and needs even before we realized them.

This photo does absolutely no justice to the beauty that was on my plate.

The other appetizer that we split was some lobster bisque.  I’m not sure what Lindz’ motivation was, but I just like to say “I’ll have the lobster bisque.”  Makes me feel like a Vanderbilt.  I was not to be disappointed with this selection either.  The bisque was a thick creamy seafoody bowl of goodness.  It was everything you would expect out of a bisque plus more.  The more was a couple of morsels of lobster chillin’ in the bottom of the bowl like the prize in a cereal box.  Only better.  Much better.

This lobster gave its all. And all it gave was gleefully cherished.

Between our app and main course, the waiter brought out a palette cleanser for us.  It was one of those fun little things that molecular-gastronomists like to do.  It had a concentrated citrus liquid (orange I believe) suspended in a gelatin skin, which was in turn suspended in a different liquid in a shot glass.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of it and the only thing I remember is the strong taste of citrus and the pop of gelatin skin.  While it may not be the highlight of the meal, it was definitely fun and amusing.  The timing on the courses was stellar.  There was no awkward lag between one dish and another.

Lindz decided to go all out on the fancy seafood this night.  For her entree she chose the butter poached lobster.  There is really no way you can go wrong with that combination.  The little bite that I stole from her proved that very well.  Without a doubt, this was the most perfectly cooked lobster that I’ve ever had.  The butter flavor was infused into the meat and since it was poached, the meat was unbelievable succulent and tender.

Now this is how to create visual appeal on a plate.

I opted for the white wine braised rabbit.  I choose it mainly because I haven’t had rabbit in a long time, also it was the most out of the ordinary dish they had for entrees.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like to be adventurous with my food.  It pains me to admit this, but this was the weakest dish that we were served the entire night.  I’m a self-proclaimed salt fiend and by the time I got to the end of my dish, it was getting a bit salty even for my palette.  Other then being a bit heavy handed with the NaCl, this was a great dish.  the rabbit was tender and flavorful.  The pasta, I’m 98% certain was made from scratch and cooked to the perfect chewiness.  All in all, it was a great meaty and earthy dish.

I usually shy away from pasta dishes, but with one like this, who am I to resist?

Even taking our wild sushi meals into account, this was by far the most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten.  That being said, it was also without question one of the top three meals that I’ve ever eaten.  As soon as we can afford it, I’m planning on going back.

Ouch!

I do feel a little guilty about the tip we left our waiter.  Don’t worry, it was in excess of what we normally do and we are generous tippers.  If we could have afforded it, I would have left him a 100% tip because with his help the experience was that great and the food selections were even better.  If you can afford to splurge for a night, I recommend this place without hesitation.