Thursday, April 19, 2007

My Omakase Initiation at Iketeru

In 1991, I learnt my first Japanese phrase: Itadakimasu (let's eat). I had not tried a morsel of Japanese food then, but I was quick to learn the useful phrases. My friends didn't understand why I would wish Itadakimasu upon eating my roti canai at the mamak stall. But somehow, that phrase stayed with me and I felt that it was a good start to a meal, somewhat like saying a prayer.

I learnt a few more Japanese phrases since then, at least enough to get by when the Bald Eagle and I went to Japan in 2005 to watch Liverpool play in the FIFA Club World Championship where, being the groupies that we were, we stalked the Liverpool FC players at their hotel, with SLR cameras in tow like paparazzi. Sao Paulo won that year, and instead of sulking like little children who were deprived of their favourite candy, we gyrated to the samba beat with the Brazilian supporters on the streets of Tokyo.

I soon became obsessed with all things Japanese, from cutesy objects to delectable Japanese cuisine. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy Japanese food, I was never inquisitive enough about delving deeper into what I was eating and why I was eating it. So my visits to Japanese restaurants were usually about the same predictable food that I had always been eating for so many years. Not that it's a bad thing. After all, why get scientific? If I like tuna belly sashimi, why should I try anything else? Again, I was demonstrating my same predictable boring nature of not having a curiosity for something new.

My interest was piqued when I hooked up with another blogger and we agreed to dine at Iketeru. Iketeru has a special Omakase menu that changes every month. Omakase literally means "entrusting". At some restaurants, when one orders an Omakase, one basically leaves it to the chef to determine the entire menu. In Iketeru, however, a couple of sets are predetermined by the chef, but what one is assured of is the use of the freshest seasonal ingredients available.

Spring in Japan is associated with the prolific blooming of cherry blossoms (sakura). And so, with the advent of Spring, our menu was tailored towards the sakura and other seasonal produce available in Spring. My Suzu order, at RM290++, was a 9-course meal.

My appetiser consisted of 3 items. The boiled rape blossom (a popular springtime ingredient) with mustard sauce did not have the sharp flavour that I expected to taste but it was a good start to the meal as it was fresh and crunchy. I liked the chilled egg custard which looked very much like tofu, but had a slight taste of sesame in it. The smoothness was very much like tofu although it wasn't as light in texture. What was undoubtedly my favourite for the night was the marinated firefly squid. The firefly squid is the smallest of all squids and has thousands of light-producing organs. The light emitted from the squid is said to either protect itself from predators or attract its prey. These seasonal creatures, when captured by fishermen, are immediately thrown into a concoction of sake, mirin and soy sauce and pickled. I think it's the ultimate way to go - dying from being drunk in a pool of alcohol! The squid had a nice bite to it and upon puncturing it with my molars, I felt a squirt of salty juices fill my mouth. It was absolutely lovely.

A clear soup of bamboo shoots and seaweed was served next. It tasted delicious in its simplicity.

I had barely started on my soup when my next course arrived. The sashimi platter prettily displayed four types of sashimi: tuna belly, king clam, firefly squid and raw sea bream wrapped with sea urchin. The tuna belly was firm enough in texture and sufficiently fatty.

the one that got away

The firefly squid in this instance was not the marinated kind as described earlier, hence the freshness of its flavour was accentuated by the aftertaste of the sea rather than the sake/mirin/soy sauce combo. The raw sea bream wrapped with sea urchin was interesting; the filling was creamy and mushy while the "wrapping" had a nice bite to it. The filling literally oozed out into my mouth as I bit into this unusual sashimi.

simmered bamboo shoot, sea bream roe and japanese yam in bonito sauce
Next up was the simmered dish of bamboo shoot, sea bream roe and japanese yam in bonito sauce. The seasonal vegetables were a little too soft for my liking. I certainly didn't expect the sea bream roe to look like a hard piece of sponge, and unfortunately, the taste was forgettable too.

grilled trout with teriyaki sauce, baby octopus and assorted vegetables
The grilled dish was more exciting. Beautifully presented on a long plate, the baby octopus was nice and chewy while the grilled trout with teriyaki sauce was firm to the touch and tasted wonderful in its sweet marinade. There were a couple of skewered balls, one fish and the other, crabmeat that were quite unlike the fishball which we are all familiar with. Instead, the texture of these balls were less springy while the ingredients seemed to indicate that more fish/crabmeat was used as compared to the conventional chinese fishball. I enjoyed the diced mixed vegetables with what tasted like cubed squid in a creamy green sauce that was both sweet and refreshing.

By this time, I was already feeling rather full and welcomed the distraction provided by a kindly Australian gentleman next to our table who thought Henry and I were both food writers (we immediately corrected him, of course, by letting him know that we were bloggers). I suppose the cameras and the boisterous food talk gave us away!

I am not a big fan of tempura, but I ate it anyway because mum always said vegetables were good for me. The next dishes of claypot rice cooked with bamboo shoot and miso soup were downed without much thought as I was already feeling my food coming up my throat and out of my nostrils at that point. Thankfully, Henry was kind enough to help me out.

japanese pastry
I regained my appetite when dessert was served. Sliced fresh fruit accompanied a single piece of pastry filled with red bean paste. A sakura leaf, soaked and dried, wrapped the confection. The taste was exquisite as I bit into the soft pastry.

Chef Ricky
Towards the later part of the night, as the crowd thinned, Chef Ricky was able to pry himself away from the kitchen to share some of his knowledge with us. I left that evening with a sprig of sakura from Chef Ricky, my head crammed with information, and my belly filled with the best japanese meal I had ever tasted. Will I go back to old favourites again? Possibly. But I shall open up my mind to the unknown as I dream of firefly squids, lit up in all their glory and dancing in the darkness of the night to the sounds of Brahm and Vivaldi.

Other reviews:
The Other Blog

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Anonymous said...

Is the marinated firefly squid the one below the egg custard? At first, I thought it looked like pig blood or something :O
I'm also like you, seldom try other dishes in Jap restaurants other than the usual sushi, those "looked fresh" sashimi, then either udon or don...heehee. But maybe for me, it's because I don't know too ignorant to know what to order...;p
And oh, I always love those Jap pastry with red bean paste...
Oishii !

boo_licious said...

Yum! Everything looks so good. Now I have a bad craving for Japanese food.

Anonymous said...

Wah, your meal looks fantastic! I also seldom try other stuff in Japanese restaurant especially raw ones because 1. I'm a picky eater *blush* 2. worry that they're not fresh.
But I guess places like this should be no problem :) So, have you found your perfect sashimi?

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

tigerfish: oishii indeed! yes, the pig blood looking thing is actually firefly squid. Looks bloody but tastes bloody good. :-)

boo: go satisfy your craving at iketeru. U want company? hahahaha.

jason: perfect sashimi? lol. If I tell you, there may be repercussions. :-P But seriously though, the sashimi at Iketeru was fantastic!

Precious Pea said...

Aiyoooo....sedapnya...oiiishiiii....oiiiishiiii!!! Is that real sakura?

Anonymous said...

The food looks so tempting...especially the grilled dish in a long plate :)

Anonymous said...

Hey hey ... I admire your effort in working on your articles. The writings, the photos ... I know it takes a lot just to put those up. I think it'll take me at least a few days !!!

That being said ... bravo ! Tim.

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

precious pea: damn sedap la. Yes, that's real sakura.

lightfl: their presentation is always great and contributes to the overall dining experience.

timothy: pls see Barbie for fan club application. lol. kidding lar!!! I'm still learning and there are a lot of helpful sifus around. You'll meet them soon. :-)

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

300pls per person?? oh dear me..i want to go ever so badly thats 600rm if i go wif my gf..ouch ouch ouch..die i need a cheaper fix of sashimi esp sea urchin..wat m i goin to do?

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

SWICC: Well, there is always the a la carte menu, although I don't recall seeing the sea urchin on it. I know the firefly squid is available. So's the sea bream sashimi. Be prepared to pay between RM20 - RM75 per dish.

sc said...

the dishes were so beautifully presented, it's an artform..lovely, just sure food tasted fantastic too..

Henry Yeo said...

Settlers of Catan, you say. hehehehe.

Don't worry, let me see if I can dig up a few kakis for that game. and bring along a few other light games.

You might also want to look at the games published by "Days of Wonder" since they employ almost similar mechanics (Draw cards, play cards, build things).

Henry Yeo said...

And if you all are craving for more food, try to download all the free podcast from the culinary institute of America.

now featuring the famous ferran adria that anthony bourdain has introduced on channel 11 astro.

Enjoy your food.

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

sc: I love to see beautifully presented food. The Japanese are masters lah.

henry: why're u laughing about settlers of catan ar? too easy meh? Anyhow, my all-time favourite game(and you may laugh all u want :-P) is Cranium!

Tummythoz said...

All sounds so exotic! To me, that is. So good to eat and appreciate with someone who's in d know. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Rm290 is darn expensive! Will try it if i get Rm20k as bonus. *Dream lah*

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

henry: thanks for the cool link.

tummythoz: it was foreign sounding to me too! I hafta go back for that firefly squid! Aaaargggghhhh.

xiu long bao: with dat hilton discount card...can save money one. Oooh, if I get 20K bonus, I'd eat all the firefly squid I can get my hands on.

Henry Yeo said...

To lemongrass:
not that it is too easy.
It is just that I suck at dice-rolling/chucking/spinning, etc.

should bring you to the Malaysian Settlers of Catan championship, if it is ever going to be held this year, after last year's haphazardous qualifiers.

To everyone else:
just go for the omakase at Iketeru. I am sure they will bring down the price once we start flooding the place with regulars.
Economy of Scale, remember? hehehe

wmw said...

Wah...a masterpiece post! Lovely looking food for me to admire (I'm not adventurous enough to try them). Your twin sister is not in unison with you here...hahaha..

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

henry: well, I certainly wanna go back for the squid again. It's on the a la carte menu, y'know. :-D

wmw: thanks! Start slow lar...come with us the next time. ;-)

MeiyeN said...

yummy....jap food always my favourite! never been to iketeru... looks like we got to save more $$$$ to dine here! :D

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

meiyen: u shud try this place. worth spending the money!

Henry Yeo said...

I finally found out the name of the bean they gave us for starters, it is called edemame beans