WAKO – a special Japanese dinner

I have never had a prix fixe Japanese fine-dining experience so for my birthday, my sister took me to WAKO, a quaint Japanese restaurant in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco.

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The evening started with an “amuse-bouche” of miso tofu and uni (sea urchin). A perfect start for uni is my favorite!

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It’s followed by a platter of appetizers: clockwise from top, tako (octopus) and cucumber, roes, miso cream cheese, unagi (eel) and egg, snapper, squid and sea weed, ad waguy beef ball. Everything was tasty but nothing knocked our socks off…

FirstCourse

Then the nigiri sushi starts…all from left to right

Kelp-Sandwiched Halibut and Wild Red Snapper

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Bonito, Striped Jack, Ink Squid with Sea Urchin

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A small plate of Cherry Blossom Rice Cake with Organic Chicken and Bamboo Shoot in Bonito Broth – quite yummy!

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More nigiri sushi …

Barracuda and Red Nose Amberjack

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Jalapeno Soy Marinated Blue Fin Tuna, Cold Smoked Cherry Salmon and Mackerel (forgot to take a picture but you get the idea! ;-))

Another small plate, Mackerel with Vegetables

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Horse Hair Crab with Crab Miso

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Sea Urchin (again! YUMMMM!)

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Blue Fin Tuna with Caviar (and a gold leaf!) – this is absolutely delicious

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Sea Eel

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Wagyu Beef – after a Wagyu dinner at Alexander Steakhouse (not recommended!), I am not a big fan of Japanese Wagyu beef (way too fatty, like eating a stick of butter). But in this tiny nigiri sushi amount, it’s actually very good!

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Red and White Miso Soup

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Last small plate: Seafood Egg Pancake

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And two delicious desserts: Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce

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And finished with Red Bean Jelly with Green Tea Sauce

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With everything being bite size, it didn’t seem like a lot of food – and we could order extra from its Nigiri and Sashimi Selections (there were 6-7 that weren’t in our dinner) – but we both were fairly full.

All in all, it was a nice experience. Each piece/serving was already seasoned so there was no soy sauce/wasabi as with regular Japanese sushi dining. But raw fish/seafood is essentially raw fish/seafood and the seasoning/sauce already prepared with the delicate fish is pretty mild (as not to power the fish itself). I’d just be as happy going to our neighborhood sushi restaurant for a fraction of the cost and dip my nigiri in soy sauce and wasabi! 😉

 

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An Exceptional Evening at Benu!

There are six Michelin Three-Star restaurants in the Bay Area with three – Saison, Benu, and Quince – in San Francisco. Needless to say, reservation at these restaurants can be difficult. We were lucky to actually manage one at Benu last evening with only a five-week in-advance booking (neither Saison and Quince had availability thus making the decision easy).

Benu offers prix-fixe Asian-inspired cuisine and its offerings exceeded all of our expectations. It was truly an extraordinary evening of creative culinary delights.

We also did the (shared) beverage pairings and enjoyed sake, Riesling, Grüner, beer, Madeira, Pinot Noir, and Côte-Rôtie throughout the evening but for the life of me, I can’t remember what was served with what!

The evening started with “small delicacies” and there were many of them! Each was single-bite size yet Benu managed to introduce so many fabulous and complementary flavors within that one bite – we felt like a symphony was playing on our palates with each course!

First delicacy was a chicken “jelly,” mountain caviar

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It was followed by tuna “marrow” but none of us took a picture! 😉

Third delicacy was ankimo (monk fish liver), crispy bulgur wheat, ikura (salmon roe)

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Fourth delicacy was dumpling with pork belly topped with an oyster

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Fifth delicacy was Korean blood sausage wrapped in ika (squid) “sushi” (didn’t know blood sausage could taste this good!)

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Sixth delicacy was abalone and crispy abalone “liver”

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Last (seventh) delicacy was egg white custard, truffle, faux shark fin

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Whole-grain bread fresh from the oven served with tangerine-infused honey butter was followed – finally – by the first of our menu items! Wasn’t sure I was hungry at all by this time… but we did persevere! 🙂

Thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger – it wasn’t quite 1,000 years but the egg did take six weeks to make

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Foie gras xiao long bao with house made soy sauce

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Uni (sea urchin) marinated in fermented crab sauce served with green onion Koshi Hikari short-grain rice

uni

Crispy frog’s leg, lettuce, vegetable sweet and sour (I skipped this due to my issue with frogs… don’t ask!)

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Steamed bass, fish maw, black moss

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Smoked quail (we were told that Benu works with a farm that has been raising these quails for the past 40 years, breeding them for a larger size, and picking the docile ones for their sweeter meats … )

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Served along with spring bamboo shoot

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Warm mantou (Chinese steamed bun) with truffle cream

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Sea of Okhotsk sea cucumber (I never liked sea cucumber until tonight!) stuffed with lobster

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Beef rib steak with assorted condiments – kimchi radishes, marinated fern with shaved cashew (sure wouldn’t want to be that sous chef shaving those wee cashews, one at a time?), and soy bean paste (the leftover from its house made soy sauce that takes 9-12 weeks – in the little celadon jar)

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Leafy crudités for dipping in the soy bean paste

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Consommé, shiitake mushroom, vegetables

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Omija (five-flavor berry – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami), olive oil

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Fuji apple, bellflower root, acorn and chocolate (another miss on the photography!) rounded out our scrumptious dinner!

I recommend putting a Benu dinner on your bucket list – it IS that good!