Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A single tomato and a green tea cream sandwich at the IWFS Dinner

Tonight we ventured across town to Roxas Boulevard to attend the special dinner organized by the Philippine chapter of the International Wine & Food Society (IWFS) with a Japanese theme, at the restaurant Furusato. I don't attend many of the IWFS events but I made particular effort to join this one because it was cooked by my chef-friend Hiroyuki Amano, who runs a small but extremely well-regarded restaurant that exists almost purely by word of mouth, in the picturesque little town of Oshino, at the foothills of Mount Fuji in Japan.

Amano-san had visited Manila a year ago, and had enjoyed the company of several IWFS members then, over long wine lunches and dinners. He'd even found time to cook a blowfish dinner at my house for a couple of friends. And when he left, he vowed then that he would cook a proper Japanese meal for his new wine friends at the next opportunity.

A proper meal one year later

Well, that next opportunity was tonight, and he'd come all the way from Mount Fuji for three days to prepare and cook a feast for 45 people. He'd brought all the ingredients from Japan himself, with the help of his sous chef, Hisashi-san; and they estimated that all together, they'd brought about 100 kilos of foodstuffs for the IWFS dinner tonight. Then, he'd worked with the chefs of Furusato, which is incidentally owned by an IWFS member as well, to make the most authentic Japanese meal possible. He used no local ingredients save for calamansi, which was provided to each guest to sprinkle on the crab.

Eclectic crowd and Robert Parker

I know how well Amano-san can cook, and I eat at his restaurant at every opportunity -- which is not often enough, unfortunately. But every time I'm there, his warm and inviting restaurant is always crowded with an eclectic crowd of who's who in Japan -- from Japan's richest man and the governor of Tokyo, to the president of Tokyo's new opera house and the latest sumo champion, and to people like me who just love food and who find him a lot of fun. Famed wine critic Robert Parker has also written about Amano-san and his visit to this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

"Robert Parker was here?" I asked incredulously, when he first told me. I was seated at the counter of his Fuji restaurant and he was chopping up some sashimi for me, when he casually mentioned this fact. "What wine did you serve him?"

"He brought his own wine," Amano-san replied. "But he definitely ate my food."

Amano-san's wine cellar is nothing to smirk at, by the way. He has hundreds and hundreds of bottles and he literally dug two rooms under his restaurant, just for his wine. The first room holds okay wines, but the second room holds all the specials. He and his Fuji friends love wine so much that on Friday nights, just for fun, they hold blind wine-tasting sessions with no pre-conditions -- one is allowed to bring wines from France, and also from countries as far-flung as Estonia, Turkey or even India. They take great pains to hide the bottles and labels -- wrapping the bottles up with paper or plastic and even trying to disguise the shape so that the wine people in his group would not be able to guess the wine based on bottle shape alone. What amazes me most, though, is that they often get the guesses right.

Tonight's wines

Back to tonight's dinner, which was literally packed into a series of suitcases and boxes and served to 45 people who are picky about good food and who are not so easy to please. They also brought the wines, including Manzairaku, a plum wine voted number one by the Nikkei Shimbun (Japanese Economic Journal); Kiyoizumi, a Niigata sake with a smooth taste that would go well with the food; and Rubaiyat Koshu Sur Lie 2009, a local white wine.

When I arrived, it was already in full swing. I came just after 7, as the invite said, and already most people were there and the plum wine apperitif was running out. Then we took our pre-arranged seats, and I happily found myself next to my neighbors Terrence and Adrian on my left; Jay Lab, a good friend who is active in IWFS and Chaine des Rotisseurs on the right; and two very serious foodies and wine enthusiasts, Noel and Catha, in front of me.

A single tomato

Dinner began with a single tomato, full of the kind of flavor and sweetness you won't find either in a Philippine tomato or in an Italian tomato. It was cut beautifully and seasoned delicately so that we all found it delicious, although we couldn't really figure out whether it had been marinated in some sauce or not.

Unusual appetizers

Then we had a plate of appetizers that included salmon roe marinated in soy sauce, monkfish liver marinated in miso, and a salty piece of squid. Lots of people found this assortment most intriguing but they were very happy to be tasting something new and so delicious.

The clear soup that followed, with a piece of tilefish and a block of sesame tofu, was a big winner. We had people who have eaten everything everywhere in that room that night, but many of them said they'd never had this delicious combination before.

Scallops and crab

A lovely scallop terrine then arrived, followed by shredded Japanese crab meat marinated in egg yolk and vinegar. The crab had come all the way from Japan, of course, as it is the season for crab right now; but as you can imagine, it's not easy -- and, perhaps even impossible -- for two persons to bring in enough crab for 45 people. So Amano-san and his assistant had shredded the crabs in Fuji, packed them in chilled boxes along with the shell, and thrown away the crab legs which are supposed to constitute most of the crab weight.

A single fried oyster on a radish

For the agemono course, which literally means a fried dish, he fried a single oyster for each diner with miso, and then placed this on top of two slices of fried Japanese taro. The combination worked beautifully.

All about the beef

The beef, again, came all the way from Japan on Sunday, and tonight it was done shabu-shabu style, barely cooked and doused very slightly with wasabi sauce. It was koshu beef, which is basically the local beef found in the Yamanashi prefecture and its surrounding areas. As it's Japanese beef and the water and grass in this area is clean and clear, you can expect Koshu beef to be delicious even if it's not as famous as Matsuzaka, Yonezawa or Maezawa beef.

But Amano-san gets his supply from a special source and the Koshu beef I've tasted in his Fuji restaurant is truly among the best beef I have ever had. Sometime soon, however, a friend's invited me to taste some Tajima beef -- and Koshu beef come from cows that are originally from the Tajima lineage (unlike Matsuzaka, which is from a different cow line altogether) -- and I'm really curious and looking forward to comparing these two.

I liked the beef tonight a lot, but if I had a choice, I think I would season it a little more just because good Japanese beef is usually very oily in taste that some salt or sourness really balances it out. What I actually did -- as I was one of the last to taste the beef since I'd been so busy talking -- was to dip the beef very quickly in the soy-sauce based dipping sauce of the cold somen noodles of the last course, and this combination really worked for me. I enjoyed my meat so much more this way.

And, in fact, another chef friend in Tokyo actually showed me a great way of eating Japanese beef: when she served me a really good steak one day, she had soy sauce and wasabi on the side as if we were having sashimi instead. But this combination really worked so well that I now almost always have steak with wasabi and soy sauce!

The best monaka in the world

Dessert was a beautiful Japanese monaka filled with sugarless green tea cream sweetened only by strawberries. Everyone loved it and some even wished for seconds. Amano-san serves this dessert in his restaurant in the summer and he's very proud of this. Japanese are usually very reticent about their achievements and all, so when Amano-san is so outrightly proud of his monaka, you can be sure it really is good.

All in all, a truly excellent dinner that was much more appreciated because we all knew the efforts that Amano-san and his sous chef had taken, to prepare it with ingredients flown all the way from Japan. He's so busy in his restaurant in Japan that he usually takes only one holiday a year -- and this year, this was his holiday, spent making dinner in Manila for 45 persons. We all gave him a rousing applause.

To explain his dinner, he had this to say: "In Japan we say “Ichigo Ichie – literally ‘one time one meeting’”. To me it means that “This time which I am being with you would never come again, therefore, I care for this moment and I would like to take best care of you.”

To reserve a limited seat,
please call Rachel at 813-8400
or email travelife@travelife.biz
Tickets for the dinner and concert
cost PhP 1499 per person.


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