Sunday, February 17, 2008

One of Those Nights

Every once in a while I have one of those meals that sticks with me. I don’t mean on the seat of my pants or the front of my shirt. I mean in my memory and subconscious as an event. A meal that sticks out as a true experience, one to be savored slowly and for years to come over and over again. an experience perfectly balanced and refined, fun and comfortable, masterfully executed and obviously, wonderful to eat. I recently had another meal that fits that description. Unfortunately, this one was a four hour flight away from my house.

Vail is not only the best place to ski in this country (in my honest and uninformed opinion) it is also one of the best places to eat. The number and caliber of restaurants in what could otherwise be a dinky ski village is dizzying. The meal of note I speak of was at Osaki's.

Osaki’s is absolutely teeny. The fact that the servers can maneuver at all makes one wonder how masterful they are on the slopes. Run by a husband and wife, Osaki's is so far beyond the spicy tuna roll that it’s almost laughable (they do have the standard sushi joint staples of course and they are wonderful, but they are not the reason I am writing this).

The proper way to enjoy Osaki’s and push the chef to exercise his imagination is to make a reservation and request omakase ahead of time, giving him the opportunity to pull together the practically unheard of ingredients that will soon come together into a meal you will remember for a long time, even after you stop grinning about it.

There were a number of things about this meal that I found striking. First and foremost, I saw (and ate) freshly grated wasabi. I was certain that I would live a long and unfulfilled life never experiencing real wasabi. I find that a lot of people are aware of the fact that the ubiquitous bright green paste included on all sushi platters in this country is little more than reconstituted colored horseradish. It is not wasabi. Real wasabi is a stout (and rather expensive) root that is not widely grown in this country.

The root in the picture is from Oregon. The piece you see was quoted at a price of $40-50. Here is a short pop quiz on wasabi root preparation. In accordance with tradition Traditionally, the root is ground and peeled on a a) metal grater, b) ceramic grater, c) the chef’s 5 o’clock shadow, or d) a shark skin grater. Contrary to your first instinct, the answer is not c. The answer is actually d, of all things. Wasabi root is traditionally finely grated on shark skin stretched over a slightly curved piece of wood. The skin ( I got to touch it!) is shockingly sharp and rough, almost as though it were studded with teeny industrial diamonds.

Next on the rarities list were real live yuzu lemons. I have never seen an actual yuzu before. I have seen the juice in stores, I know that it is used as the base for ponzu sauce, but I have never actually seen a yuzu fruit. There are a number of varieties of yuzu lemons, all small and knobby looking citrus fruit, some green, some yellow, full of little seeds. The taste is markedly acidic but much more flavorful and nuanced than straight lemon juice. It is floral and complex, like a more self-involved and less orange-tasting Meyer lemon. Combined with the sweet lobster meat, the yuzu lemon flavor will not be easily forgotten.

Broiled lobster tail with yuzu and yuzu-based sauce

Here are the rest of the dishes we had that night. While each of them warrants a couple of paragraphs of descriptions, explanations, and reactions, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I am still thinking about this meal.

Tempura – crab claw, sea urchin in seaweed with really crisp minty/basil-like leaf; shiitake mushroom and something else

Sweet shrimp, scallops, ginko nut, mountain peach, shallot shavings

Trio of tunas with fresh wasabi

Golden eye red snapper, Red snapper, fluke with black caviar

Torched kobe with radish sprouts
Unagi (fresh water eel) – with yuzu zest or green tea salt

House made mochi – red bean, green tea, raspberry (too sweet and acrid-tasting)

Looking over it all now, I cannot believe that I managed to eat it all. Although leaving anything behind on the plate was simply out of the question, practically against my religion.


Naveen said...

That does look like a truly amazing meal. Did you fly all the way to Vail just for the omakase?

One Food Guy said...

Wow, what a meal! I knew the answer to your fresh wasabi pop-quiz...only because I've seen Morimoto use it on Iron Chef America!

Anonymous said...


As a fan of Iron chef America, and Masahara Morimoto, I knew the answer to your Wasabi quiz, and had seen Yuzu (on TV of course!). I'm glad that thesis stuff doesnt stand between your food passion. and I like the concept of omakase.


Anna said...

Naveen - I have to be honest with you, the food was on equal balance with the skiing. Whenever I go to Vail, I look forward to all the food as much as the skiing.

One Food Guy - See! You were one step ahead of me. I had never even seen wasabi root before. I really need to start watching TV.

Mehdi - Thesis stuff should well stand between me and everything at the moment, yet I can't make it happen. I think I may be seriously screwed in short order if I keep this up.

JC said...

I knew that real wasabi was very rare, but I didn't know about the shark skin thing (although that was my guess among the choices offered). Cool!