Chef of Chefs @Zeniya, Kanazawa

Date of Visit:  March 1 2013

The Kaga cuisine of Kanazawa is a distinct regional cuisine known as kaiseki ryori (a traditional Japanese multi-course meal) which is famed  for fresh seafood  caught off the Sea of Japan, rice and vegetables growned in the Kaga Plain and superior sake made from the quality water from the Hakusan Mountains.

It was a lucky fluke that  Zeniya turned up in my search for fine dining in in Kanazawa.  Little did I know that Chef Shinichiro Takagi is well-known for his innovative approach to Japanese cooking.  Zeniya’s founder was his father who started the restaurant in 1970.

We were thrilled to find out that Chef T spoke English and kept us entertained and informed throughout dinner about the local culture and places to visit.  He also told us that he has another restaurant in Kanazawa in the Geisha district and another overseas branch in Seoul.  He also divulged that his father and him were invited to open a fine dining establishment in Sydney in the 80’s, but the deal did not go through.  With training from the famous Kyoto Kitcho restaurant and having studied abroad including a stint in New York, it’s  no wonder then, Chef T regularly guest chef overseas. On the night of our dinner, he and his team of chefs had just returned from a week long of cooking for a private function in Saudi Arabia.

The unassuming restaurant is actually a 2-storey building with large private dining spaces, popular with the local politicians, media personalities including overseas star chefs Tetsuya and Alain Duccase!  To be close to action, we chose to sit at the  eight-seater counter.

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The food at Zeniya is a celebration of the culinary culture of Kanazawa, where local produce is artfully presented  and also healthfully with a twist.

1st COURSE

White Fish with Amasake (a traditional Japanese sweet low alcohol drink made from fermented rice)

An artfully arranged pair of fish atop fresh produce in sweet mirin

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TO DRINK:

YACHIYA SAKE  from the most famous and oldest sake brewery in Kanazawa.  It is a family business started in 1628 and currently in its 16th generation.  True to Japanese family-run restaurant tradition, his wife came out to pour a round of sake for us.

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There has been comments that kaiseki was developed in Kanazawa as a means to show off the fine lacquerware.  The lacquer ware and crockery that the food were presented at Zeniya were from Chef T’s father’s collection from over 40 years ago.  They are still in pristine condition.  Chef T also mentioned that a must-visit in Kanazawa is the gold leaf factory where he had accompanied Alain Duccase to buy 200 sets of gold-leaved chopsticks!

2nd COURSE

Soup

The soup was very light, yet bursting with umami.  Egg and fish, wakame with wild fern from the mountains and a slice of carrot to add colour

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3rd COURSE

Sashimi, prawns in yuzu accompanied by local tomatoes.  

The star of the plate is definitely the baby tomatoes.  Have you ever seen such small cherry tomatoes?  Red distinctive rings on the the prawns marking freshness and ‘seasoned’ by the squeeze of yuzu juice.

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AMUSE BOUCHE

Chef T’s explained that this is his twist on carpaccio.  Bonito shavings on marinated sashimi decorated with edible flowers.  It certainly has a ‘twist’, very tasty and ‘Italian’ with additional flavouring, departuring from the traditional sashimi of soy sauce and wasabi.  The piece of fish practically melts on my tongue.

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4th COURSE

BBQ Clam

The prepping of the locally sourced Manjugai clam was a bit violent!  The clam was given a few slaps on table to toughen it, because otherswise it would be too soft.  Then sliced and presented on a bowl of ice.  The rock was handpicked from the river, less than 10% made it to the table since it need to sustain very high temperature.  This is a DIY where we cook the clam on a hot stone, then dip the clam into the soy sauce under the watchful eye of the chefs.

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5th COURSE

Assorted Sashimi accompanied by local Kaga root vegetables

This is an exquisite platter of appetisers.  Each piece is meticulously prepared.  The star here is the Firefly Squid on a gold-plated plate that Kanazawa is so famous for.  The squid signals the arrival of Spring and is special as it emits blue light.

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6th COURSE:

Grilled Fish

Milky and tender – what more can I say?

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7th COURSE:

Beef

Kogashima Beef, one of the Top 3 beefs in Japan, served with freshly grated wasabi, turnip and leeks.  The beef was not fatty, but meltingly tender.

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8th COURSE:

Crab Rice

Grilling the crab legs

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Lots of fiddly work to pick the meat out of the long spindly legs of the crabs, so co-operations of 2 chefs are needed.  Chef T on the right with his second-in-command.

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Accompanied by pickles and wakame

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O-Cha to cleanse our palate

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DESSERT

A very simple dessert to finish our meal – a humongously sweet strawberry

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Dining at Zeniya is not cheap at ¥30,000 per person, but Chef Takagi – with his entertaining stories and sociable demeanour – completes the experience.

Porky The Flying Ace @Porcorosso, Sydney

A tip from a ‘clayton runner‘ ( A runner who is not a runner ??), once you’ve taken up running as a sport, NEVER TAKE AN EXTENDED BREAK ‘cos it’s darn hard to pick up from where you left.

So, what’s up?  With travelling, work and family matters over the last 3 months, I’ve stopped running – or any kind of exercises for that matter.  Moreover, my relocation to the fringe of the tropical jungles on Borneo means that despite my good intentions, I am at the mercy of the weather – blinding hot sun likening to life in the Sahara or a heavy downpour likening to T8 in The Philippines.   But before my guilt kills me for sitting on my arse too much, I made the resolution to get up before the crack of dawn each day when Mr Sun is still asleep to get acquainted with my Asics again.

As I ran, my mind harkens to the jumbo grissinis at Porcorosso, a Japanese-Italian pizza pasta joint in Sydney – and also it’s mascot, Porcorosso

(Tip #2: Thinking of food when one is seriously huffing and puffing is a good motivator to keep running – think of carbo-loading after!)  

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Honestly, naming your restaurant after a figurine pig may seem daft, but befitting for the joint partnership of a Japanese and his four Italians mates.  Intriguingly, Porcorosso is named after the animated crimson pig (Porco Rosso in Italian) made famous in a popular animated film by Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki.  Porcorosso was an Italian WWI fighter ace pilot turned bounty hunter who was cursed and turned into a pig…

The restaurant is located on the unassuming ground floor of a residential block in the industrial area of Waterloo.  

(Tip #3:  Buy some nuts at The Nut Shop  opposite  for your trail mix).  

Not much money is spent on refurbishment –  concrete floor, exposed overhead pipings, sacks of flour on the floor, parma slicer on the counter  and the most the interesting part is that there is a window where once can eat and watch the baker making the fresh pizza and chef cooking pasta.

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Carrying on the quirky theme of Italian- Japanese joint effort, the pizzas are named after Italian numbers, whereas the pastas are named after the Japanese numbers.

Antipasti of Jumbo Grissini and Parma Prosciutto

This is large platter for all to share.  The crusty chewy grissinis were freshly made and hot out the oven while the sweet smelling rosy coloured parma ham were sliced to order

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Pasta

Very oriental-inspired.  A bit like my mom’s cooking at home.  Mushroom and broccoli with sun-dried tomatoes all stirred up and fried in a pan.  I like this pasta because it was not heavily drenched with sauces.  The pasta was also made at the restaurant and has a chewy springy texture

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Calzone

This was the ‘Special’ on the board on that day.  A simple pizza with ham and cheese folded in half.

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Much of the credit to the success of Porcorosso lies in its Neapolitan-style pizza crust, lightly crispy, slightly chewy,  little bit charred and fragrant

Pizza Uno

Laid with tomato sauce, parma prociutto, mozzarella, rocket and cherry tomatoes.

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Pizza Due

Laid with tomato sauce, smoked ham, mozzarella, wild mushrooms, artichokes, olives

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While you’re at it, chinwag with a glass of Rosso!!  Let’s all go all cheery and crimson like Porky!

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