Sunday, January 6, 2013

Eating Japanese

Summer's hot weather brings the desire for simple, fresh food and great flavours that don't weigh you down after you've eaten. Japanese food fits that prescription nicely and the holiday season gives us many such opportunities. Here are two!

As a pre-cinema lunch, we had an opportunity to dine at the recently opened Ippudo, another establishment in the Sydney city Westfield fine dining level of the food "court". I say "court" although it is one of the dining venues which has its own private space, much like Xanthi. 
Even though it was barely after 11.00 am  when we arrived, there was already a queue and while we were seated at our table fairly quickly, (following our mass greeting of the more informal "moshi moshi" which is great when it's aimed at you but starts to get irritating when every customer is greeted just as loudly in the same manner!) the restaurant, which has booth-style and 2-person tables as well as a couple of bar-stool counters and a long share table, had filled by the time we had placed and were awaiting the arrival of our order. 
The menu, though fairly basic, was perfect for the light lunch we were anticipating, for this, ladies and gentlemen, is a noodle shop. Anyone who has seen the film "Tampopo" by director Juzo Itami will jump at the chance to dine at a noodle shop to test their newly informed noodle consumption criteria. I won't spoil the surprise if you haven't seen it but suffice to say that you will be looking for the perfect noodles. So back to the menu which consists of a few starter dishes followed by a number of variations on bowls of noodles graded by egg or non-egg and degree of spice required. 
I had thought the service a little slow as we had been seated some time before our orders were taken but this was more than made up for by the swiftness with which our food arrived.
We ordered to share:

Gyoza - which were crispy bite-size morsels of soupy filling, a perfect number for our table of 5.

The cucumber salad was a whole cucumber sliced and balanced on its edge with a yummy sesame miso dressing - quite refreshing.

When I saw pork buns on the menu, I had in mind the Chinese version which can be stodgy and filling. Luckily la chouquette sucree, who had dined here recently talked me into ordering one for myself because although I haven't tried David Chang's original which I'm sure inspired these, I'd return for these without hesitation. (My only request would be to please remove the mayonnaise which I managed to scrape from my bun before eating every crumb. The bun was as light as marshmallow, the pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender and I could just as happily have eaten two more.

Alas, we had the main event to come - the noodles! And although I wasn't disappointed, (the pork buns were a hard act to follow) the noodles were al dente, the broth was neither too salty, nor too spicy nor greasy, the pork was delicate, I didn't feel the urge to "down the broth" (and if you weren't tempted to watch Tampopo before, this surely will entice you because you will only understand my meaning if you have).  

As I mentioned before, la chouquette sucree had already tasted the noodles so she kindly ordered an eel on rice dish so that we could sample something else on the menu.  And we are very glad that she did because I have not tasted a better eel dish than this. The meat was as tender as a just-steamed fish, the sauce wasn't too cloying. I would easily also return for this.

And I'm sure it was this wonderful meal which helped to sustain us through the 3 hours of Les Miserable we went on to see!

Located in the Macquarie shopping centre (get off at Macquarie University station! There, I've committed it to memory so will hopefully no longer get off at Macquarie Park as is my inclination!) in the food hall leading up to the cinemas, Mitzu is a traditional sushi train but I have to say that we were impressed by the variety and innovation of some of the fare.
I was inclined to think a sushi train is a sushi train is a sushi train but while the chefs at Mitzu also deliver the usual tempura prawn, seaweed, sweet corn, cucumber, salmon and nigiri, etc., sushi, partway through the meal we began to see a number of dishes we had not seen on a sushi train in Sydney before. (I'm not claiming to have eaten at every sushi train in Sydney and I definitely haven't eaten at one in Japan so I speak only from limited experience!)
Even so, they bowled us over with the quality of their sashimi. 

We were in fact pretty full by the time these "unusual" dishes started arriving but so intrigued were we that we only started photographing at this point.

Teryiyaki Salmon & Avocado Sushi - coated on the outside with a sweet spice mix not dissimilar to the sprinkles which generally go into ramen.

Scallop & Seared Salmon Sushi - not only topped with ribbons of mayonnaise and mustard but the rice was triple layered with nori and a seasoned tuna paste.

Fried Prawn & Lettuce Sushi -
fairly traditional but for the green coating.

Teriyaki Chicken skewered with Spanish Onion & Capsicum. The chicken was moist and tender and the vegetables provided a lovely counter texture with the sweetness of the sauce.
Even though we were practically rolling off our stools, we grabbed the next plate of these that came around. It was that good.

We have pledged to return to sample some more when we've fully digested the last meal!

Both meals turned out to cost about $25 per person and I think everyone walked away happy!  : )