It seems like every time we visit Aburiya Kinnosuke, something has changed; once we were told they didn’t do [and never had] sushi, another that they didn’t know what almond jelly was [even though it was our favorite dessert]. Most likely, this has been a trouble with translation, but after seven previous visits it’s become apparent that no matter how used to the experience we become, we’re never quite on top of things.
And so it was no different, on this very special birthday edition, that we were confronted with another change. The various menus had since been consolidated into one large binder, including the drinks. While this might seem like a mundane point, you have to realize that there are literally upwards of 100 dishes, taking into account that many have secondary options (like rice balls with sour plum vs. rice balls with salmon). Though the text is now hand-drawn and thus hard to read, they’ve at least segmented the myriad dishes into major categories like “fish,” “meat,” and “rice.” Are they mainstreaming? The menu’s easier to read but still far from what I’d call simple. With a large group, usually one would order 2-3 dishes per person and share as they’re brought out in the order in which they were cooked (or sliced I suppose, for sashimi).
With our shochu sours (shochu + soda water + choice of citrus juice, freshly squeezed table-side) arriving, we were ready to order. I was hoping to partake in the prix fixe eight-course menu, which I’ve done twice before, but it’s inexplicably not on the menu anymore despite still being on the website. Instead, we went omakase. At $70 (which is again, not reflected on their website…get on it folks!), and not exactly what I had wanted, I was expecting a lot. Needless to say we were not disappointed.
The waiter gave us plenty of time with the menus, refilled our glasses often, and performed the usual warm towel hand-washing with ease. When we said we’d like to go omakase, he asked if we had any food allergies and wanted to know if we had general likes or dislikes as well if there were any dishes in particular we wanted. I wondered how far we could have taken that. Like, could we have ordered several of the most expensive dishes? Of course when I was put on the spot I froze and managed to get out, “anything fresh,” and “maybe mushrooms?” He nodded so knowingly it was as if I had explained the meaning of life, when really he was probably thinking to himself, “ugh, American swine!”
Maybe because I was still reeling over the disappearing [and stricken from memory…I asked] prix fixe option I listened to everyone order around us. As we settled into our cocktails, a curious couple arrived and was seated at the table next to us. Clearly married and probably wealthy, I immediately noticed that they had presented the greeter with a business card from the restaurant with something hand-written on it. She even asked, “do you have the card?” Had the owner presented them with a carte blanche? Those bitches! As they perused the menu and asked the waiter numerous questions, it was clear that they had neither never been to a place such as this nor knew quite what they were in for. Actually, they were friendly and genuinely seemed excited by all of it, so despite the apparently exclusive treatment they received I’ll still give them a pass. Pass from what? Being judged? Girl, they do not care, that’s for sure.
Next I noted the people to the other side of our table, through the wooden divider. They were just finishing their meal when the waitress asked, “would you like brown tea?” Justifiably perplexed, the diner asked “what is brown tea?” You know, as in, “can you describe to me this thing you call ‘brown tea’ using characteristics other than its color, which I patently understand to be brown?” “Um, it is brown…tea,” was the reply, not even rephrasing the original words. Loves it! This is of course the infamous “paper bag tea,” as J and I describe it, which appears often at the end of a nice Japanese meal, as if to taunt you over your indulgent meal with something so light and bland that only dirt water could compare.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
First up came a lovely crab salad, which was actually just iceberg lettuce with crab and flavored mayonaise-based dressing. To say it was “just” any of those components would be a disservice, for not only were the crab chunks fresh but they were also in abundance. I found myself lapping it up without pausing for conversation, and when the waiter came by to spoon the remainder into our bowls (a common occurrence, given the small amount of table area and the frequency with which new dishes appear) I was secretly envious of J’s extra portion.
This was followed by a sashimi platter featuring salmon, porgy, and another white fish whose name I can’t recall. These were accompanied by fresh wasabi, pickled seaweed (for the white fishes only), and three distinct soy sauces for dipping. The sweet soy was easily my favorite. The flavors of the fish, pickled seaweed, and soy were uncommonly good together.
Next came a marinated and grilled shiitake dish which was even more incredible than the crab salad. It was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, yet not at all mushy — a feat I’m not sure how to replicate at home. I couldn’t quite place the broth it had been marinated in, but it was certainly in the umami family.
The fourth course was a simmered Berkshire pork with daikon radishes. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve had this dish, which isn’t to say that it’s not good, but I was hoping for something crazier. I felt it was not quite tender enough, but J disagreed. Next up was basically a grilled plain eringi mushroom, which was just OK for me. J blatantly started dipping his into the pork’s broth, which was thankfully still on the table. When no waiters were in sight, I did the same thing.
When those plates were cleared away we were presented with a roasted whole sea bass — scattered with garlic, stuffed with thyme, and steeped in butter and white wine. The waiter deboned it with such calmness and skill that I didn’t even notice how relaxed I’d become just from watching what in hindsight is an animal being mutilated. It was perhaps that level of skill that led us to ignore the other, less noticeable bones still prevalent in the fish. The flesh amazing, and after I realized the skin was also edible it was a real treat. This thrill was short-lived, however, when J started to bite into tiny bones. One or two at first, then more, until eventually after each chopstickful it was impossible to eat. At one point I fished out a couple dozen tiny bones, no pun intended. Thus, it was disqualified from being the best dish of the night.
Moving on, we were presented the restaurant’s signature dish, the tsukune. Basically, it’s a grilled ground chicken meatball with a runny egg for dipping. Oddly, they had changed the dish from the past seven times I’ve had it from being cooked simply on a wooden paddle to now being speared with asparagus. I suppose that’s more practical from a waste perspective (and maybe they had a disastrous wooden paddle fire?), but the result is a longer more slender meatball. It was just not juicy enough. J said that the flavor and texture didn’t match the appearance. I sort of felt like we were supposed to like it. It was my least favorite.
Next came an odd grouping of pickles. One was definitely daikon, and two were bitter melon, but the fourth I didn’t understand. That one was pitch black. I like pickles as much as the next person, but a whole plate of nothing but? I was expecting maybe a beef short rib, or a rice ball, or something more typical of the menu. Or, I don’t know, maybe pickles with something else? J took the tiniest of bites from each and promptly declared I would need to finish them all.
Our last course, as we had designated no desserts, was an incredibly rich and satisfying rice bowl with dried seaweed and mushrooms mixed in. It was striking in its simplicity and depth of flavor. This is the dish I wanted most of all to be able to replicate at home. It was warm and meaty, and I could picture myself cozying up to the TV on a cold night with just a big bowl of this stuff.
Joking back and forth which was our favorite dish, I realized it had been quite a long time since I had a meal with so many contenders. Stuffed and fast approaching the end of our designated two hour window, we made the unusual decision to walk 5.2 miles home. Which, you know, is a great idea when you’re stomach’s full of fish bones, indeterminate pickles, and obscure alcohol.