Some of you may already know what a pop-up restaurant is – a guerilla style dining event where the chef borrows a kitchen from another restaurant and serves fancy dishes. It’s like, all the rage right now in LA, thanks to the charismatic Chef Ludo.
Well there’s another fairly popular pop-up series, called Hatchi. It’s hosted at the BreadBar in the Century Mall, and the chef changes every time. If you’re a ‘hot’ chef (or mixologist), you do a Hatchi – Marcel Vigneron and Michael Voltaggio from the TV series Top Chef, Walter Manzke (who used to cook at Church and State), Kuniko Yagi from Sona… In the chef series, they all have to create 8 8-dollar dishes (Hatchi/Hachi means eight in Japanese) – in short, it’s a showcase for potential groupies and investors. This Hatchi was a showcase for Chef Makoto Okuwa, the executive chef at Sashi in Manhattan Beach. I wasn’t too interested at first because Century City is faaaar… But then I found out that his theme was Power of Miso. So when Kevin offered me a spot, I pounced on it like a ninja.
I should take a moment here and tell you that soy beans are awesome. Because of its high protein content, switching up the fermentation method or agent can yield very different products. For instance, you can boil it and wrap it in hay to make natto (the gooey stuff), or add yeast and bacteria to make soy sauce, OR add koji – basically a mold mix that helps with fermentation – to make miso (okay, so it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the jist of it). In miso alone, just changing up the mold mix or fermentation time will yield different types of miso.
Which brings me to why I went to this Hatchi. I love miso. So much that I have THREE types in my fridge (I make my own miso mix plus use normal ones for miso soup). I would probably die (of boredom) without miso because miso makes my cooking life so much easier – imagine what a professional chef can do with it.
So without further ado, I present to you 8 (+1) fancy ways to eat miso, per Chef Okuwa.
Epi with Miso Butter (4). BreadBar, as the name implies, sells bread. So their bread was served with three types of compound butter – red miso, white miso, and mugi miso. Red miso is fermented longer so it’s much more saltier and savory. White miso is sweeter because it retains much of the sugars from the koji… And mugi (barley) miso is based off of white miso (some regions use red though). The butters reflected each miso type well.
We also started with some cocktails. This one is the Okuwa Watermelon (12). Fresh squeezed watermelon, shochu, lemon, and gomme (an Arabic simple syrup). It was very, um, juicy (which is good). It actually has a good amount of shochu in it, but the juiciness hides it well (which is bad if you keep pounding this).
I stole a sip of this Shiso Mojito (12) from Darin. Fresh shiso, yuzu, lime with rum, cachaca, agave, and a umeboshi-sesame seed salt rim. The rimming salt is very sour and punches you in the face, but the cooling mojito instantly calms down your nerves. Also, note the ginorminity of the drink – that’s like a regular pint glass of mojito.
On to the main courses!
1: Miso butter poached loch duart salmon, feta cheese, micro basil, tomato foam, pesto powder. Miso and salmon is a classical Hokkaido (northern Japan) style pairing. Poaching the salmon in miso butter is… Hokkaido 2010. With a Mediterranean upgrade (the feta/tomato/basil). Throw in some candied kumquats and you have an elegant, worldly dish.
2. Asian donuts peach “taco”. smoked lobser, miso frozen yogurt, paddle fish caviar. The “taco shell” is actually dehydrated sweet potato – snazzy! But as awesome looking as this dish is, I found it hard to eat – it was either a really smoky bite, a really sweet bite, or a really briny bite but never a combination. Not to mention that it was a little messy. Bye bye table manners. Not that I had any though, really.
3. California baby squid and salmon sashimi “nuta” style, pickled scallion, wakame seaweed chip. Nuta is a type of a preparation where you toss stuff with a paste – usually vinegar miso (basically a miso version of a sunomono). The baby squid was stuffed with blue crab, and the ‘nuta’ part was… Squid ink miso! I hate squid ink, but if you add miso in it, I will fall in love with you. The tuna was sectioned off with a little bit of green onion puree and sumiso (vinegar miso). Very straight foward and yummy.
The wakame chip took me by surprise though. I thought that it’d be like a Korean seaweed (fried with sesame oil) but it was actually candied wakame!
More booze! This one is Nihon Teien (12) – Grey Goose Le Citron, agave, apple juice, fresh cucumber, cucumber foam, and some sansho leaves. Easily my favorite drink of the night. The name’s a bit weird though – it means “Japanese garden”.
Which reminded me of this one story: Sen No Rikyu, grand tea master, asked his student to sweep up his garden. So the student spent alllllll day sweeping up leaves and stuff. When he was done, Rikyu fwapped a nearby maple branch, made a few leaves fall on the now-clean garden, and told his student, “now this is prettier”. Exhibit A: scattered leaves on foam.
5. Sushi rice salad “Shikai Maki”, cucumber, prosciutto, tuna, fontina, miso emulsion. With strawberry powder (front), home made sriracha sauce and a bean salad hiding underneath the rolls. Shikai Maki (four seas roll) is a fancy futomaki (see above fanciness) – and this one is a fine and dandy mixture of the east and the west. It was really good with the spicy sauce.
4. Taiwan miso ramen soup, ground steak, bean sprouts, red hot chili, crispy egg noodle. I LOVED this dish. It is such a straight forward deconstruction, very tasty, and all cutesy to top it off. Part one: spicy miso soup with chives, lemon verbena, and garlic paste. It’s a very elegant miso soup, very herby and spicy. The garlic paste reminds me of ma-yu, or blackened garlic oil/condiment that is often used in ramen.
Part 2: the ramen parts. The noodles are fried into little buns, much like a Mos Burger rice bun. A little bit of naruto (fish cake), an itty bitty ajitsuke tamago (marinated egg), and the juiciest mini hamburg with spicy sprouts… Heaven. So good.
6. Dengaku trio with braised wagyu x summer truffle, crispy tofu x kinome, polenta x chorizo. Again, east meets west on what originally is a very traditional dish. The crispy tofu dengaku is classical – a white miso dengaku paste and the dainty little sansho leaf – but then you get to the braised wagyu and it’s like WHAM. In the beef dengaku, a very sweet miso (I think Haccho Miso – a bean miso from Nagoya) gives the morsel a heavy flavor punch… Only to be 1-up’d by the polenta with chorizo mugi-miso. Lovely.
And now, dessert!
7. Caramel miso cream, almond cinnamon crumble, apricot sorbet, butter milk foam. I want to eat this until I fall over. I can’t even tell you how good this is, other than that it was effin’ good. The individual components are tasty as-is, but together it’s like OMGwow. Caramel miso is like the new fleur de sel caramel.
8. Pliable yuzu curd, candied raspberry, chocolate sponge, dry miso powder, sweet miso chips, coconut sorbet. This was really good too. The yuzu curd texture was firm, like a dense custard but minus the eggy flavor. What I liked to do was load the miso chip with curd, candied raspberry, and coconut sorbet and nom in one bite. Flavor assplosion in your mouf, let me tell you.
I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about Hatchi, but I was impressed! Chef Okuwa should definitely let his creative juices flow and do these haute-ish showcases more often.
Thanks Darin (Darin Dines) and Holly (The Michelin Project) for tolerating my constant oohs and aahs. And thanks much to Kevin (Kevin Eats) for getting me to drag my ass out for this!
But wait. “You didn’t think that I’d let you get away with just a restaurant review, did you?” In accordance to Ila-is-easily-inspired protocol, I tried to make something from last night. Because good food inspires. Yeah.
The first thing I did this morning was to consult my handed-down-from-Mom traditional Japanese cooking book.
See this book? It is epic. It’s like kaiseki cooking for beginners, and categorizes it recipe by technique (grill, pickle, stew, etc). Dengaku was on it, sure enough. It was filed under shojin ryori (Buddhist cooking). The recipe is easy peasy!
A little on Miso Dengaku: according to Wikipedia, Miso Dengaku is a traditional tofu dish (but can be made with konnyaku, eggplant or taro root), slathered with scented miso, then broiled. Traditionally it is skewered with a two-prong pick, which looks like stilts that are used in dengaku dancing (a dance for the rice paddie gods or something like that) – hence the name, dengaku. Miso Dengaku is said to have developed in the Edo era, sometime between 1603~1868.
Miso Dengaku 2 Ways – makes 12 squares
Adapted from Fumiko Makita’s recipe on Nihon Tokusen Ryori, 1982
1 block tofu (14 or 19 oz)
Yuzu Miso Paste
Miso 100 g
Yuzu Kosho (yuzu pepper paste) 100g
1 egg yolk
Garlic Miso Paste
Garlic Miso 200 g
1 egg yolk
First, drain your tofu. Wrap it up with paper towels, sandwich it between two cutting boards, place something heavy on top, and press it overnight.
Make your miso paste. Combine miso and sugar in a sauce pan and heat over low. Stir until well combined. Add egg yolk and mix until paste becomes droopy and thick. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cut up your tofu into 12 squares. Pan fry with a nonreactive oil (canola or grape seed) until both sides are nice and browned.
Slather on miso paste…
And broil for 8-10 minutes.
Leftover miso paste can be kept in a well sealed tupper, fridged, for up to a week. According to the book, it can be used on “fish for sake”! We used the extra paste as dipping sauce.