Thursday, January 04, 2007

Birthday feast - Akane restaurant

Aside from eating way too much chocolate than is good for my health, it’s been a great December. I’ve had some truly memorable meals, both here and in Cambodia, but the one meal that I just had to blog about was my birthday dinner at Akane.

Every year for my birthday, my dad takes me out for a really nice dinner at a restaurant of my choice. We normally always go for Western, and invariably will end up at a French restaurant, but this year, after having heard so much about Akane restaurant at the Japanese Association, there was no doubt in my mind as to where we had to go. I reserved seats at the sushi counter, not wanting to miss out on the action of chef-owner Nogawa-san. Unfortunately we were not so lucky as to have him tend personally to us, as he was taking care of a Japanese family, obviously regulars, and a family of Australians who were there for the first time. However, Nogawa-san did make his way over to our side of the counter to greet us and say he would take care of our sashimi platter. He was very cheery throughout the dinner, and would explain the dishes to the Australian family, and at one point disappeared into his kitchen, only to re-emerge with a huge turnip to demonstrate the source of what they were eating.

I shall always regret forgetting to bring my camera, as now I have to rely on my memory to recall what all the lovely dishes looked like.

On sitting down, we were given a little appetiser of 2 cubes of anglerfish liver. Nothing unusual tasting, just like pate. The second appetizer was an oyster wrapped in spinach leaves. It was slightly warm, and we loved the beautiful smoky taste as we bit into the oyster and let it slide easily down our throats. While waiting for our other food to arrive, my father ordered a half bottle of red wine, while I decided to have some home-brewed plum wine, in keeping with the whole Japanese theme.

Our sashimi arrived, beautifully arranged and decorated with autmn leaves in a row on a long glass platter. Our chef pointed out yellowtail (hamachi), mackerel (saba), arc shell (akagai), prawns (ebi), tuna belly (toro) and others I can’t remember. Everything was achingly fresh, and I had to stop myself from squealing “oiishiii!” Japan Hour style with each bite. Of course, the winner here was the toro. If only it wasn’t so prohibitively expensive, I would have ordered more!

After we had polished off the sashimi, our tuna cheek soup arrived. This was a recommendation by our waitress, who promised we would love it. The soup was a clear broth with straw mushrooms, tofu and braised tuna cheek. Words cannot describe just how much I loved the soup. The flavour was clean, delicate and lip-smackingly delicious. I would have licked the bowl clean if I could have. My mother, with her Cantonese background and therefore being a major soup lover, remarked between slurps that this was like nothing she had ever tasted before.

Next up was the agedashi tofu. This was something my father insisted on having, and I was at first rather miffed that he would pick such a normal everyday dish. But I realised after my first bite that in the end, simpler is better. The tofu was nothing like what you get at those big sushi chain restaurants, but had a very refined flavour with a beautifully light, slightly crispy skin that didn’t go soggy. Unfortunately eating this has forever spoilt it for me. I can’t go back to the Ichiban or Sushi Tei versions anymore! The soft-shell crab arrived next, and it didn’t disappoint with a crispy shell which remained so even when sitting on the plate for a while.

The only letdown of the night was the grilled saba. Considering I’ve had some pretty good saba at Sun with Moon, I thought the Akane version was too salty and not particularly memorable. Luckily our final dish, eggplant with miso sauce, rounded up our meal. Beautiful mushy, and when tempered with the sweet miso sauce, absolutely sublime! We were actually supposed to finish off our meal with a rainbow roll, but our straining tummies did not allow us to, and we had to sadly cancel our order.

However, I was not too full to try the Japanese strawberries for dessert. They arrived, two big red strawberries on a genteel porcelain dish with a dash of whipped cream. While admittedly big, sweet and juicy, I just couldn’t justify the high price. At $6 per strawberry, it’s a rip! We washed everything down with some tea, and after gently easing ourselves away from the counter, rolled our way down the aisle with the cries of “thank you!” ringing in our ears.

Damage: $437 for 3 people
Considering what we ate, and when compared to the prices at other Japanese restaurants like Sushi Yoshida, I think it was quite a reasonably-priced meal. I’d say this was a triumph of a meal, when my dad declared it the best Japanese meal he had had in many, many years and asked for the restaurant card, while my mother, who is normally not fond of Japanese food, said it was a very enjoyable meal. Definitely a meal I’ll be dreaming of for a long time to come.

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