Monday, July 12, 2010

Iron Chef America Viewing Dinner Party @ Sashi - 07/08/2010

451 Manhattan Beach Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 545-0400

I tend to shy away from restaurants that bill themselves as "lounges" believing that they are more about the atmosphere than the food. Still I should have paid more attention to Sashi, based on the pedigree of its Executive Chef, Mokoto Okuwa. Chef Okuwa got his start in Japan at the tender age of 15 apprenticed to Sushi Chef Makoto Kumazaki. Afterward he spent six years with Chef Masaharu Morimoto, learning to blend his classical Japanese training with worldwide influences. He even was one of Chef Morimoto's assistants on Iron Chef.

This evening we were here to celebrate Chef Okuwa's turn on the other side of the competition. Joining him were five other chefs: his mentor, Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Voltaggio currently of The Dining Room, Noriyuki Sugie of Ironnori (though we might know him better for his work at Hatchi), Sonny Sweetman of Wolfgang Puck, and Waylynn Lucas of Patina. The event began at 5:00 with sake, beer and cocktails as well as 5 canapes with the actual dinner beginning at 7:00 and a showing of Chef Okuwa's Iron Chef battle to conclude the evening.

Below is a list of the four Hors'dourves I tried. Unfortunately, I showed up around 6:00 and was unable to sample the savory macrons of Chef Sweetman.

Hors'dourves: Shikai Maki - Prosciutto de Parma
Makoto Okuwa, Sashi
The man of the hour provided an intricately patterned maki that at first glance appeared to be vegetarian. Upon closer inspection I saw the layer of Prosciutto sandwiched between the crispy exterior and the roll itself.

Hors'dourves: Ume "Onigiri" - Bamboo Leaf
Noriyuki Sugie, Ironnori
Next up was an intricately wrapped onigiri provided by Noiyuki Sugie "Chief Gastronomy Officer" for BreadBar's Hatchi. The rice opens with a distinctly nutty attack courtesy of the bamboo and releases a subtly sweet tang from the umi upon mastication that adds a bit ov levity to the sticky rice. Humble and enjoyable, just what onigiri was meant to be.

Hors'dourves: Chilled Nasu, Unagi Roll - with Shiso
Troy N. Thompson, L' Hermitage Hotel
I've never cared much for eggplant; hence I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. The Nasu possessed a supple firmness and distinctly smokiness that complimented the eel perfectly, while the single shiso leaf was just enough to give the dish a light herbaceous counterpoint.

Hors'dourves: Sweetbread "McNuggets"
Top Chef Michael Voltaggio, ?, Los Angeles, CA
I could see Chef Voltaggio's style written all over these. Take an obscure and oft-intimidating ingredient and present it in a way that is approachable and delicious. This looked and tasted so much like a classic Chicken McNugget that I would have been hard-pressed to identify the filling as sweetbread had I not already known beforehand. I'm wondering if there was a bit of humor involved in the use of organ meat to make the filling; perhaps a nod to the questionable origins of the dish's namesake.

The dinner proper began at 7:00 though it took some time for people to get seated and the first courses weren't served until 7:20.

Appetizer: "Bagel and Cream Cheese" - with Smoked Copper River Salmon
Makoto Okuwa, Sashi
The meal started off strong with a modern presentation of the Jewish American classic bagel with cream cheese and lox. The creamy interplay of the salmon and cheese was punctuated by flavors from the citrus and seaweed that sat atop the cheese which added depth without stealing focus from the core ingredients.

Soup: Cesar Salad Soup - with Bacon Foam
Noriyuki Sugie, Ironnori
Our server described the "salad" as deconstructed but I think Chef Sugie took it a step beyond. Though enjoyable, I found the bacon and cheese elements of the dish overwhelming. To be fair, the other elements of a classic Caesar Salad are lighter in flavor. Still, considering this course was supposed to be a salad, I would have liked the vegetable broth to feature more prominently.

Salad: Chilled Lobster Salad - with Tiny Greens, Summer Vegetable and Yuzu Dressing
Sonny Sweetman, Wolfgang Puck
Chef Sweetman's lobster salad was a far cry from the cloying mayo slathered lobster fruit salad typical of Chinese banquets. Instead the lobster comes with crisp bitter greens and a saccharine yuzu dressing. The simple yet stark contrast was delicious and a beautiful compliment to the lobster.

Fish: Steamed Kinmedai Snapper - with XO Jan and Fish Sauce
Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Morimoto
I suspect a fair number of those in attendance came specifically to taste Morimoto's food and he did not disappoint. My companions likened the fish to a Chinese steamed fish and I was inclined to agree at least initially. What set Morimoto's fish apart was the masterful use of the XO sauce, drawing on its heavy umami flavor to accent the fish without overwhelming the delicate essence of the snapper.

Meat: Wagyu Beef - "Thai Flavor"
Top Chef Michael Voltaggio, ?, Los Angeles, CA
The final savory was a super tender Wagyu beef short rib (I think) prepared by Chef Voltaggio. Beef short rib tends to be heavily marbled and fatty, doubly so with Wagyu beef so I was expecting the Thai flavor to be something of a footnote. Instead the delicate coconut and curry essences and savory crisped rice came through shockingly clearly.

Dessert: Dark Chocolate Ganache - Eucalypus Ice Cream and Peppermint Meringue
Waylynn Lucas, Patina
Dessert came courtesy of Chef Waylynn Lucas, and featured a base of chocolate ganache accompanied by a mint meringue and a spectacular eucalyptus ice cream. As with the bagel and cream cheese, it is the multifaceted complexity these accents bring that makes this dessert special. Taken with the meringue, the amalgam is reminiscent of a York Peppermint Patty, while the ice cream adds a completely unique floral sweetness that is unlike anything I can remember.

The meal turned out to be quite successful. The food was quite elegant highlighting the skills and styles of each of the six chefs. Whats more the service proved to be fairly solid, quite impressive considering the fact that staff had to plate and serve 200 courses simultaneously. The actual showing of the Iron Chef episode was a bit awkward as it was hard to follow the episode while enjoying the dinner. Still based on this experience I think Sashi deserves a return visit to sample some of Chef Okuwa's creative small plates and sushi.


Komal Mehta said...

Wow, looks like it was a great meal.

Food GPS said...

Good seeing you at Sashi for a memorable (and a memorably long) meal. Great photos of the maki checkerboard, among other dishes.

kevinEats said...

Any interest in the upcoming Hatchi event?

Epicuryan said...

It was pretty damn good. You should have gone.

Good seeing you as well, I'm sure we'll run into each other at more events. Too bad you missed Morimoto serenading his former apprentice, it was a fitting capstone to the evening.

Definitely, though I'd like to see the menu first.

Komal Mehta said...

Let me know if you guys do the Hatchi, I may come then!

Komal Mehta said...

By the way Ryan the menu is:

Makoto's menu has eight ($8) courses -- six savory and two sweet -- among them miso butter-poached Loch Duart salmon; Taiwan miso ramen soup with ground steak, bean sprout, red hot chili and Inaniwa udon; and caramel miso cream with almond cinnamon crumble, apricot sorbet and buttermilk foam. Custom cocktails like the shiso mojito (shiso and lime mixed with rum, Cachaca, agave and garnished with plum and sesame seed) and Okuwa watermelon (watermelon, Shochu, lemon and gomme syrup) will be on mixed at the bar.