Friday 12 October 2007

Kaiseki Sakura

As I've now mentioned twice on my blog now, my family and I dined at a wonderful Japanese restaurant last week in Toronto. The restaurant, Kaiseki Sakura, serves an omakase meal which I like to think of as a Japanese version of tapas. In reality, however, the only similarity really is that you get to eat a series of dishes in tasting portion size. Omakase literally means "Chef, in your hands" and when you order one of these, you don't get to choose what you eat. Instead, the chef will make whatever he feels like serving but at most good restaurants, this usually means he will create dishes that showcase his freshest ingredients or those that are in season.

At Kaiseki Sakura, diners get to choose if they want a 5, 6 or 7 course omakase meal. For some reason, however, these numbers do not equate to the number of plates you get served. For a 5 course meal, you get served 7 plates and so on and so forth. For smaller eaters, an a la carte menu is also available. Since there were quite a few women at our table, my family chose to have a 5 course meal, which was also titled Four Seasons.

To start, we were served an amuse-bouche of aubergine and fig puree topped with pomegranate seeds in a martini glass. Unfortunately, in my haste to eat, I forgot to take a picture. Hopefully, the next few pictures will help make up for this!

After this starter was our first real course, which we realized was meant to represent Spring. This was a dobinmushi served in the beautiful Japanese teapot that you see in the picture above. I must say that notwithstanding the quality of the food that we had, part of the fun of the meal was also in the exquisite presentation. For this dish, we were instructed to remove the top of the teapot, which also doubles as a tea cup, remove the lid to the pot and squeeze some lime into the soup within. The soup is then poured into the tea cup for drinking. Finally, the ingredients used to make the soup, including shrimp and mushrooms, can also be eaten.

It comes as no surprise that Summer follow Spring and just like in real life, this plate, in all its multi-hued splendour, did not disappoint. Since I accidentally threw away the piece of paper on which I wrote down the description of each meal, I'm afraid that I'll have to do the description from memory. As such, its likely that I'll miss out several of the ingredients that go towards making each dish so special. For Summer then, the plate consisted of two small servings of fish. The first was a seared salmon with garlic oil on a bed of heirloom tomatoes. The second was a sea bass topped with konbu (sea kelp). The decorative swirls that you see on the plate are made from various kinds of beet and the small leaves are made from deep fried sweet potato.

To go with this dish, we were also given a portion of fresh wasabi and a small grater on which to grate our own wasabi. Yes, even as a paying guest, you have to work for your food!

Before we knew it, Summer was over and Autumn was upon us. This dish, unlike the first few we had, was much more substantial in size and consisted of fewer than 7 different elements. There was a small shot glass of a tart soup that truth be told I can't remember much about except that it was the one thing that I did not like as much. There were also little clusters of edamame tempura, two pieces of unagi sushi, some sea urchin, a shrimp covered in seaweed powder, two meat balls and small pieces of sweet potato covered in crab roe powder. Again, you'll notice that the plate is garnished with some "leaves", again made of sweet potato and appropriately coloured to mirror the shades found in nature.

By this time, I was starting to get really full but I really couldn't pass up on Winter, which was a hearty stew of braised beef tongue served with bread from the famous Thuet bakery in Toronto. While I've had beef tongue before, prior to this, I never knew that it could be so tender. In fact, if you had told me it was just a regular cut of beef, I would have believed you.

Since the menu was titled Four Seasons, I was assuming that after winter we would be served dessert. Unfortunately for my already overbloated stomach, I was wrong. Before dessert, we were served ochazuke which I think of as great hangover food. Its essentially a Japanese style porridge which is usually served with savoury toppings such as furikake or nori. This version was served with a preserved plum paste and garnished with nori as you'll see below. I had to skip most of this dish since I was full almost to the point of bursting but my family thoroughly enjoyed this.

Finally, the course that I'd been waiting for dessert! Thankfully, dessert was on the small side but what it lacked in size, it made up for in satisfaction. The dessert plate was actually a composition of three treats - black sesame cookies, a green tea mousse and a red bean pancake. Just the way to cap a perfect meal.

The omakase menu at Kaiseki Sakura changes every month so you can be sure I'll be back the next time I'm in Toronto to check out what the chef has in store.

Kaiseki Sakura

556 Church Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 2E3

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