Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Taste of Kaiseki at Hashimoto

Every year, we look for the top Japanese restaurant on the Toronto Life list, and every year, the only 5 star is always this mysterious Hashimoto that was out in Mississauga. For Tony's birthday this year, I decided it could be the unique experience I was looking for, and worth a rare drive out to the burbs.

Hashimoto only seats 6 people a night, so I felt lucky to get a reservation at all. It's very discrete, located in a random strip mall near the airport - you'd never believe there was an acclaimed restaurant tucked into the corner. Beyond the store front's standard glass door is a sliding door - felt like a secret entrance, and you step inside to a different world. The windows are covered and the interior is quite dark, but serene and intimate. The decor is all very deliberate, to transport patrons to a traditional Japanese kaiseki house, where meals are had in private rooms. It is all about the experience of being one with the exquisite food you are about to have.

We were greeted by a young and articulate Japanese man, Kei. As there is no menu at Hashimoto, there was nothing to look over. He asked us if we were interested in sake and then brought out two small imported bottles and started telling us about the origins and how they were made contributing to the taste. We ultimately went with a small draft that the chef said would be a great one to start with. We knew we wouldn't drink a lot because we still had to drive home, but could not resist our love for great sake.

Our 8 course meal began soon after the sake was poured, and we were the only patrons in the room. Talk about exclusivity!

The appetizer course was a sign of things to come: two small plates, one with a matcha sesame tofu in a sweet pea sauce. The second was an assortment of goodies including firefly squid in a miso based paste (had a mild wasabi/horse radish taste that was amazing), a beautiful mountain potato infused with cherry blossom to give it a pink colour and shaped as a star (honestly, was so cute I didn't want to eat it!), and fresh squid fried in such a light and tasty batter, you could barely tell it was fried, not oily in the least and so delicate.

Course 2 was sashimi, a porgy fish (aka bream), which is the same family as snapper. It was served on an elevated white porcelain platter, the lid adorned by a crane. The sashimi slices were presented like flower pedals, accompanied by fresh wasabi (so amazing!). I dabbed a little wasabi in my pedals of sashimi...yum.

Course 3 was soup, it smelled amazing as soon as I removed the lid. It was served in a bowl like your avg miso soup, and so the surprise inside was all the more spectacular. Duck breast was served on a lotus root paste and edamame egg custard as the center piece in a deliciously thick sweet pea soup. Amazing.

The next course was grilled salt water eel, served with the spine deep fried on the side and a lime-like sudachi fruit. The boxed eel also came with a yellow and purple potato and sweet potato pallet cleanser - it looked like a playdough ball, was so cute. Loved this dish, was very tasty.

Course 4 was a stewed eggplant purée, lightly fried to keep it's shape and served with slivers of fried ginger on top. The purée was amazing.

The meat course was probably our favorite. Waygu beef served with matcha salt (I want to put this on everything!), a side of fresh corn very lightly fried (to hold the sweet kernels together). The corn was incredible!! We had two little bundles, and I wish we had more. This dish also came with Hashimoto's signature daicon crane. I really didn't want to eat it, but the wings and tail all detach to be dipped in a carrot sauce. Crazy detailed and intricate.

The main course was 3 dishes: steamed porgy on rice (Tony loved the rice!), and soba infused with cherry blossom to give it a slightly sweet taste, served with fried shrimp in Japanese bread crumbs in a delicious broth. The third dish had Japanese pickles, including daicon marinated in squid ink and topped with sesame. This dish is traditionally meant to fill guests, so much to Tony's delight, we were offered seconds! Despite the delicate nature of the food and seemingly small portions, I was actually quite full already!

The final course, dessert, was spectacular. It was a plum preserved for 7-8 days combined with jelly made from the juices to create a crystal looking dessert. It was served on shaved ice with red bean and condensed milk. The dessert was absolutely beautiful and an incredible work of art.

Hashimoto was amazing. It is an intimate and beautiful experience that really allows you to focus on food. Everything was prepared lightly and delicately, using the freshest ingredients by season and smartly combined to create a wonderfully simple yet complex set of flavours. Nothing short of genius. The total menu generally changes every season, but the dishes can change in nature day to day. It is an experience to be had, everything carefully planned and executed I loved that many of the courses were served with lids - it was like opening a present each time! Our experience was topped with a meeting with Hashimoto himself! He was such a sweet Japanese man. He told of his sadness leaving the Mississauga location they had been in for 20 years, the first ten as a catering company before he pursued his dream to open a kaiseki, which he was formally trained. We learned that our host, who told us in detail about each dish, was actually his son, one of two who are pursuing studies in kaiseki to take over the family business - one in Kyoto at a time. All the more meaningful that his sons will continue this exquisite art form.

Hashimoto, you were worth the drive! And we couldn't take photos, that would obviously ruin the experience, but visit the site for some beautiful pictures.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Eating Our Way Through London!

Many of you already know that I am soon to be married. When my girls asked what kind of stagette I would like, I naturally thought of far off places and great food. Thankfully, they were all up to the challenge and so to London we went! Here are some of the food adventure highlights:

Red Fort: our first stop in London was an Indian restaurant of course, in Soho. Red Fort was newly renovated and offered a great deal for lunch: 3 courses for 12£. I, of course, ventured off the set menu and had a monk fish tiki to start and prawn risotto. Overall, the best value was still the 3 course meals, which came with more than enough sides for all of us to share. You really can't go wrong with Indian food in London.

Olivomare: good thing we walked around a lot because dinner found us at Olivomare, a Sardinian restaurant featuring lots of seafood! It was a funky place with a great vibe and plenty of delicious sounding items on the menu to choose from. I had cuttlefish with squid ink to start, which was literally a giant slab of cuttlefish (yum) and shared the sea urchin crostini. My general belief is that sea urchin is only good in Japan...but the crostini was pretty good. I still prefer sea urchin fresh and sashimi style, but it was uniquely prepared here, boasting a nice, sweet flavor. For mains, Lorena and I shared a Sardinian stew, which frankly was a bit disappointing although filled with lots of fish, and a more impressive salt crusted sea bream. The fish was uniquely prepared and the highlight of my meal. For dessert, we decided to try the one thing on the menu we didn't recognize, the sebada. essentially a light, puffy cheese fritter dipped in honey. It was delicious!

The Woseley: This is the hottest new place for brunch in London! It is so popular, in fact, there was no way for us to get a weekend brunch reservation so Friday it was. And of course, it was still packed! We were welcomed with a lovely pastry basket to celebrate Lorena's birthday and my stagette (although it said happy birthday to us both but whatever), thanks to Marissa. After a big start, I still found room for my crepe complet - a savory crepe filled with eggs, cheese, and bacon...lots of bacon. In fact, there was lots of bacon for everyone! A delicious brunch at this grand cafe, definitely worth checking out, but make early reservations!

The Orangery: A visit to London, and in particular, Kensington Palace, would not be complete without high tea. We had our taste of traditional tea (albeit iced because it was far too hot for regular tea) at the beautiful Orangery that was built for Queen Anne. There are an assortment of wonderful teas, cakes and pastries. I indulged in a delicious chocolate hazelnut torte. And the highlight? We ran into Stella McCartney on our way out!! What a bonus to have a celebrity siting - Stella with her kids and husband in tow for high tea. Felt like we were hanging with locals :)

Salt Yard: Friday night found us at this small casual chic restaurant, which reminded me of Trevor's Kitchen in Toronto. We were ready to go tapa crazy. Lorena, Rita and I arrived first and we were quick to order a charcuterie and cheese plate to start, we opted for the Spanish selection for both. While we had lots and lots of food, the highlights were the mackerel crostini (great suggestion from Marissa), the mackerel tartar, confit of pork belly, and roasted spring chicken with truffles macaroni. We ordered some vegetable dishes, but frankly none were very good. Stick to the meat and fishes!

Borough Market: Saturday was a new food adventure as we explored Borough Market. It was like foodie heaven! It was packed with goodies of all sorts, and plenty bustling as well. Our first stop was also my favorite, raclette melted on potatoes. The cheese smelled extremely strong, so i was a bit worried to start, but it was absolutely delicious! We got 2 between the 6 of us, which was more than filling enough. Our other stops included wild boar sausage, served with both cranberry and peppercorn sauce, and seared scallops served with bacon. The market also boasted a number of other homey items like a mushroom pate we would have all loved to take home but was just too inconvenient to carry around in the heat. Borough Market is a must stop.