Saturday, October 26, 2013

[香港 HONG KONG] - Ringing in the New Year at Sushi Ta-Ke 竹壽司 Causeway Bay

Almost 10 months later and I am trying to recall this ridiculous New Year's Eve meal at Sushi Ta-Ke 竹壽司. Shame on me for being a lazy ass and putting this off. So please bear with me.

In doing research for this past trip to Hong Kong, there were only about a handful of really good nigiri sushi restaurants. Sushi Yoshitake had just opened for about 2 to 3 months when I arrived in Hong Kong, immediately received 2 Michelin stars, and of course priced out of reach (although I wouldn't mind actually spending the money and eating in Ginza Tokyo, but not have to pay silly import prices). Sushi Rozan in Wanchai was also newly opened, but had little to no press at the time, and Sushi Sase of course being the more affordable high end option. Sase closed for vacation about a week to two between late December and early January (I believe Sase-san actually went back to Hokkaido to spend with his family) to coincide with Tsukiji Fish Market holiday closures. Thus the only other option was Ta-Ke, and fortunately they were open.

Ta-Ke, like other sushi options in town, find other means to source seafood as needed. While Tsukiji shut down for the holiday, they and other restaurants were still able to get fresh seafood from Hokkaido and Kyushu, and as a result I was able to try quite a few interesting things I had not before (or have not had in a long long time).

Slabs of deliciousness, within plain view at the counter.
The sushi counter was not made of wood, but the semi darkened interior and lighting created a nice mood and atmosphere, that was upscale and I suppose "romantic". Naturally in prime real estate, the prices are a lot higher than usual.
Since I was on vacation, I decided to kick it up a notch and in some ways daringly (and some might say stupidly) ordered the marked up "New Year's Eve (set) Menu". It is not cheap at all, and came to less than HK$2000 after 10% service charge. But for what I received, I would say it easily outperformed 99% of Japanese restaurants in Northern California.

Really beautiful looking Japanese wild prawns, next to the pen shell clam

The head Japanese chef was busy entertaining advanced reservation regulars on the left side, who were Japanese expats. I ended up with a Hong Kong local sous chef who served me, pretty well trained and knowledgeable (and friendly), and sat near the middle section of the counter.

"Ah Do" the chef on the right, who is now at Kishoku in Causeway Bay
One of the pleasures of ordering a set menu is that you don't have to worry about what to order. The restaurant simply takes care of everything else. That is, provided that you like the healthy balance (or imbalance) of certain dishes, and don't mind the progressions. Ah Do, who was the sous chef there (now I read that he has moved on and is now a head chef at Kishoku), was very pleasant and quite a fun character, and seemingly had a few loyal followers who are locals. Local Cantonese speaking chefs like him provided the necessary experience and bridging the gap between locals who don't speak Japanese and fear eating with a strict traditional Japanese speaking chef, as I learned from speaking with my neighbors at the counter.  
 Black bean appetizer
The meal started off with a beautiful dish of "kuromame", large chunks of simmered black beans that is very typical New Year celebration food. The menu listed this originally as "Japanese New Year Salad: Marinated Radish and Carrot with Black Beans", but somehow just evolved into this. No matter...these were delicious, sweet, and perfectly done.

Next up was sea urchin with sweet shrimp and caviar. Quite a decadent combination to say the least, and my first time having this combo. If this doesn't impress the spendy raw seafood lover, I'm not sure the rest of the meal will!

Another first for me, Hokkaido hairy crab (ke-gani). The upper leg meat still in its shell (but fairly easy to extract) with the rest of the meat already de-shelled and arranged in the bowl. At this rate, the high price of the set menu didn't seem so bad after all.

Prepping the sashimi plate
Next up were some sashimi mini courses

Hokkaido shrimp

 Geoduck with yuzu zest
 Originally kinmedai was on the menu, but the chef swapped it out with kawahagi. This is the liver
Quite enjoyable to have kawahagi as it has been a long long time, but the mushy liquidy liver was rather unusual (shouldn't it be a bit more solid?) Unfortunately the liver was served first, and when I was almost done with it, did the body of the kawahagi sashimi came. Should have waited for both, so the liver sauce could be used as dip.

Amberjack (Kanpachi)
Chu toro
I believe the chu toro came from a farmed Bluefin tuna via Kyushu. The trapezoidal cut seemed a bit odd.

Next up, a signature of Chef Do's (that he took over with him to Kishoku). A piece of otoro
(fairly odd shaped cut) with shiso, some rock salt, on a piece of crispy nori. At this rate I'm feeling a little too much gluttony, and a bit of an imbalance (there is yet a little more toro later). But definitely
getting bang for the buck!
Ridiculously creamy and nice cod milt (sperm sac). This is the way it should be! This was not part of the NY eve menu, so it may have been substituted for another dish. I had this before the meal at Sushi Mori, where the shirako was a lot drier (not my style).
 Simmered spiny lobster (ise-ebi) with spikenard
This appears to have been fried first then simmered in dashi. Another first time for me eating spiny lobster/ise ebi, although I wasn't sure about the frying part.
 Ankimo (monkfish liver)
I can honestly say that Ino Sushi in San Francisco, as well as Maruya, do not have anything to fear. I did not enjoy this as much, although perhaps by local standards this was decent.
Grilled sliced Japanese Wagyu A5 Kagoshima beef with spring onion and crispy garlic
This was hands down one of the best items of the evening. Although I was a bit wary of the gold flake decoration. I have no idea what was in the dip sauce but that too was just extremely delicious. Restaurants in America really need to learn how to take Japanese beef and cook it like this, instead of a USA style steak on a broiler which totally ruins the flavor (or by searing it on a broiler for that matter). Minimal handling the right way preserves the original flavor and taste!
A little salad prior to the nigiri course, and the myriad of crunchy vegetable textures and delicate seasoning were a pleasure.
Oh yes, pickles! But not the kosher kind. On the left we have takuan and the imbedding of katsuobushi (bonito flakes) was a very nice touch. On the right, simmered burdock (still very crunchy) with sesame seeds. Sushi Mori in Causeway Bay had a similar pickle course, but without the katsuobushi in the takuan. I liked this better.
So after the pickles, it was nigiri time.
Budo ebi (grape shrimp)
 Budo ebi (grape shrimp)
 Unfortunately can't remember what this was. Chef Do said "saba" but it's a bit too pink on the inside.
 Hon maguro akami (Bluefin dorsal cut)
Chef Do holding up a slab of toro
More toro
This was either barracuda or mutsu/aka mutsu
Seared toro sinew, needless to say, incredibly rich
The set menu nigiri course was supposed to be Toro, Akami Tuna, Halfbeak (Sayori), Grape Shrimp, Torigai, and Anago....but they didn't have some of them for some reason, and I got different and perhaps extra cuts, and was not charged additional. Guess it pays to get on the chef's good side ;-)
Toshikoshi soba (hot)

 End of meal miso shiru
 A rich bowl of miso shiru indeed (shrimp, mushroom, tai, clam, yuzu zest)
 Dessert: Strawberry Daifuku Mochi
 Haha, it looks like a dim sum BBQ pork bun!
Yes I actually did crack a joke to my neighbors and Chef Do, that I thought I was getting a dim sum BBQ pork bun for dessert, and they agreed that it did look like it under the dimmer lighting of the restaurant. That would have been funny if it were true!
So a few comments:
The quality of the seafood is top notch....unfortunately during the nigiri progression the seafood overpowered the rice, where I couldn't taste it much. Not sure who was behind the sushi rice seasoning, but it was lacking, and did not appear to have red vinegar in it, like Sushi Mori and other high end places.
Having more toro than usual for an expensive meal is nice, but I would have preferred a bit more of a balance, perhaps more of something I did not have. It is easy for local chefs to stereotype and assume that the customer base prefers toro, uni, maybe salmon, or that their palettes are limited to just that...but no sir, there are a few of us out there who want a broader spectrum of flavors :-)
The vegetable mini course perhaps could have been placed nearer the front (the thin julienne cut salad).
This was otherwise a very memorable meal, as I had litte to nothing to compare the experience with locally, and then went to Sushi Mori 5 days later.
Is it the best in town? My pulse says "no" to this day, but provides a nice option to those who want to dine in the area, want something with a semi exclusive feel, laid back, yet elegant. And obviously, for those who don't want to pay $5000+ at Yoshitake, or $3000+ at Rozan per person. Given the fact they were open on New Year's Eve, this could yet be an option for visitors and locals who want high end sushi and set courses, when some of the competition around town may be closed on vacation or break during this timeframe.
Sushi Ta-Ke 竹壽司
12/F, Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Road, Causeway Bay
銅鑼灣開平道一號Cubus 12樓
Tel (852)-2577 0611