I missed it! Well sort of. I left you a message on Christmas Eve. If you haven’t seen it I should remind you that 2016 was a busy year in which some terrific and some terrible things occurred. This year proves to be just as busy so far. Between some activities at work and moving in to my new place, I’m battling for posting time.
Nonetheless, after I wished you a Happy New Year, I headed to Yokohoma where something was bound to be happening. Culture shock: that wasn’t quite the case. There were some countdown events happening at select restaurants and hotels but it wasn’t as electric as I imagined, especially when compared to the States. For the Japanese, the new year (shogatsu) is widely a family holiday. Work comes to a halt (The shops on my street were closed for the first half of the week). Homes are cleaned and refreshed. And the ending year is celebrated with bonenkai (forgetting the year parties). For me, this means a quieter New Year’s Eve.
But no matter the holiday, food is always an appropriate celebration. I ventured to Tsukada Farm not too far from Yokohoma Station. I ventured up a set of stairs and was greeted by the hostess who was standing in the entrance. She offered the kind of greeting that makes you think twice about walking away. Nonetheless, I continued down the hallway to examine the other offerings, only to return to Tsukada Farm. Tsukada Farm is something of a farm to table izakaya– the Japanese pub, or even “gastropub”; they’re take on small plates. Tsukada has a very rustic, and relaxed feel, furnished with wooden tables and chairs. The kitchen staff wore black shirts with denim aprons; brown towels concealed their hair. The servers were denim button downs with black aprons.
I was welcomed by the crew, cheerful and lively, with some loud Japanese greeting. They clearly enjoyed working together. I was lead to my seat at the counter facing the cooks and the coal fired grill. With a wide smile, my server explained to me the menu, and I stared back at her smiling…until she asked me a question, at which point I tried my best to express my elementary Japanese vocabulary. Till now, she had been flipping through a Japanese menu, explaining to me in Japanese. But she quickly exchanged the Japanese menu for an English one and took her time pointing out some things in the menu and making her recommendations.
I ordered the Tori Kawa Ponzu, Salmon Tataki, and the Yam Omelet with Scallops. As I awaited the arrival of my food, she brought me a cup of soba soup. On New Years Eve, she explained, the Japanese eat soba for good luck. I was hungry and therefore grateful. It consisted of the soba noodles, a deeply shoyu, or soy sauce broth. and strips of chicken skin with a color and flavor that could only come from charcoal.
Torki Kawa Ponzu
When I ordered it, I saw a face of disapproval and heard the warning that it’s very chewy. I thought I’d take my chances. I though that despite the chew, the char or crunch would be sufficient to counter. Plus it appears to be common in Japanese dining. Tori kawa is chicken skin. Ponzu is a citrus based sauce with a name that almost forces me to order whatever it’s in. It arrived, with what appeared to be shaved radish on top and a helping of wasabi hanging onto the side of the dish. My first bite was slow and inquisitive. A little sweet, a tad sour, and a bit salty- the flavors were working so well together. But after the second and third bites, I had pretty much figured the dish out and I was just ready for it to be over. Chewing and swallowing as fast as I could. It wasn’t terrible. I just didn’t see reason to order it again when there was so much else to chew from. It was very chewy, as warned.
Tataki is another one of those things that I’m often a sucker for. It usually refers to meat or fish that has quickly been seared and then thinly sliced. The salmon was beautifully spread over sliced red onion beside a salad of coriander, dressed with some soy based dressing. It was a breath of fresh air. With every bite, it was fresh and sweet, kissed by that aroma that fills a room when slicing into fresh citrus fruits, watching the mist shoot from the bursting cells between the skin and the core. The texture was neither chewy nor slimy.
I was informed that the omelet was prepared similarly to an okonomiyaki, often defined as a Japanese pancake. But I would rather describe it, or at least the omelet as a thick crepe, only because it was filled. The sound of bubble wrap in my ear and a warm sensation kissin me on my neck. I snap to my right to witness the arrival of my omelet on a hot plate. “Be careful. It’s hot.” From side to side, a line of mayonnaise zigzagged over the omelet with a sprinkling of green onion and a generous wave of bonito flakes.
I was looking forward to the yams and especially the scallops. But I didn’t really taste either. It was creamy, despite the crunchy bites of vegetable that I could only guess were the yams. I’ll talk to you some other time about the usual joys of Japanese yams. And I’m not sure if scallops was lost in translation but I didn’t catch any in my omelet. It looked, and tasted more like surimi (imitation crab) though I wouldn’t believe that’s what they were serving. Sorry I didn’t ask; conversation was already strained as it was. Should I order anything else?
Yes please. I had ordered it with the rest of my food. Ice Cream and Cheese Cake with Haskap Sauce, server recommendation. Who could pass that one up? The waitress lowered it to the counter in what appeared to be a chilled mortar on small, square wooden plank. Two spoons in hand, she asked me a question that I couldn’t repeat to you. But with a head nod, the Cold Stone Creamery integration of the ice cream cheese cake and sauce began, transforming an otherwise composed dish into a home-style dessert.
As I lifted the contents of the spoon onto my tongue, the first thing I tasted was COLD! The cake, like the ice cream. was nearly frozen. it wasn’t as silky and creamy as I’ve know cheesecake to be. Granted, on their menu, there’s a space between the words cheese and cake. Perhaps a cheese flavored cake was their intention. At an Asian market in Virginia, I tasted a cheese cake that was more reminiscent of a sponge cake with a bit of tang. Speaking of tang, the ice cream, which felt a little more like sorbet, oozed the taste of buttermilk. Nonetheless, it interestingly worked well with the haskap sauce. What’s haskap sauce? Right. haskap (lonicera caurulea) is a berry not just related to honey suckle but in the honey suckle genus. The sauce has so far been my only encounter but it brought a lovely balance to the dish. It bled the color of blueberries but had a flavor more similar to raspberries, yet with greater depth- more than sweet and sour.
Down to the final bites, it was time to say goodnight. It was about ten minutes till midnight by the time I made it to the door. Arigato gozaimus! Oyasumi nasai! Bows were exchanged and I was out the door. But not so fast. One of the servers chased me out and I turned around almost startled. (When I had seen this earlier, I thought that guests had forgotten something.) “A souvenir!,’ she offered with here out stretched arm, widened eyes, and gaping smile. She handed me a pack of mints embellished with a denim print.
On the train ride home, watches and phones beeped to signal the New Year. The man next to me casually checked the time with his wife, as they compared their phones and watches. Raising his head, and turning to look her in the face smiles and whispers “Happy New Year.” I missed the countdowns but I got to the station in time to witness the line of people wrapped around the buildings and pointing at the shrine as they made their way to the gates to present their offer their gifts and prayers, a tradition referred to as hatsumode. As I got closer to home, I discovered another shrine. There was a raging fire. If I were in America I’d call it a bonfire. There was a line headed toward the fire and groups of people headed away in the other direction with cups in hand, broth daring to leap given the opportunity.
It was an intriguing evening, but only the start of a year of discovery. How’d you spend yours? How do you intend to spend the rest of it? Happy New Year. May yours be rich and prosperous…and delicious.