Maybe Horinyoa is not on the eating schedule for most visitors-but this one had a fabulous dinner there tonight.
It was a nice stroll down to Horinoya from my hotel (International House) and I was pleasantly surprised at the well-lit, spare interior with its tinkling fountain in the corner. I started off with a carafe of shochiko ginjo sake, nice and cold, and a look at the menu.
I am not a huge sushi eater. I like a hamachi roll with scallion, or something draped with avocado and mango, but I’m no connoisseur of raw fish – so when I find a Japanese restaurant that offers cooked dishes I’m usually pretty excited. A glance over the menu and I was easily persuaded to forego my first inclination (udon soup) for a succession of small plates.
The first was a delightfully light salad of julienne cucumbers, seaweed, and sesame seeds in a lightly sweetened rice vinegar sauce with a bit of freshly-squeezed lemon.
I followed with an order of sugaki-raw oysters with scallions, Japanese radish, and ponzu-but the maitre d' informed me to her regret that “The oysters were not really recommended tonight” and that I should choose something else. I opted for an order of shrimp shumai, smoked duck with shrimp and ponzu, and grilled hamachi cheek.
The shumai came first –six pillowy little tidbits of shrimpy goodness. I was just finishing off Number 2 when a beefy guy, who had just finished a huge meal of sushi and beer at the bar, stood up to leave. As he spun into his jacket, he spied the shumai on their barely-wilted lettuce leaf in the bamboo steamer. “What are THOSE???” he demanded in a perfectly ugly American combination of amazement and disgust. When I explained he grunted something like “Huh” and off he went.
A lovely little plate of duck came next-about 6 or 7 thin slices, each perfectly medium-rare and rimmed with a thin strip of ivory fat, drizzled with ponzu. Two split shrimp nestled under the slices. The subtle smokiness combined in a delightful way with the sweet ponzu-it was really delcious.
About this time I became aware that the constant drone from the corner table was a 20-something guy with a 50-something belly, eating a big boat of sushi and holding forth to his mostly-silent buddy. I’m not sure what his line was, but I caught fragments that always began with “Like” “…and like my driver, the guy who takes me from the airport who’s like, 35 at least…” and something about computers, software, Iraq and the horrors that would befall the US if Hilary comes back to the White House. Oh well. What is it about sushi bars that seems to attacrt pompous white guys?
I tossed another cup of sake and dug into the hamachi. It was a thing of beauty-a crispy salty crusty skin that soaked up lemon juice and parted to reveal snowy-white flesh falling away at the touch of a chopstick. Near the bones, the darker, oily flesh was a luscious counterpoint. The dipping sauce of soy, scallions, and lemon was superfluous. This was all about the fish, the smoky grill, and the salty, salty skin. And boy did that make my sake sing.
About this time two Japanese businessmen sat down near me and started discussing the menu with the maitre d' I don’t speak Japanese, but I did catch their amused “Cajun edamame? Spicy?” when they saw that on the menu. I noted a bowl showing up soon after, along with a big plate of sashimi. I wanted to stay and eavesdrop visually on their dinner, but by this time the sake was going to my head. I mentioned this to my waitress, as I ordered dessert and switched to green tea. She gently inquired whether I would be cabbing home, but seemed satisfied when I assured here the International House was a short stagger…. Uh…. stroll, away.
I ended up with the mango sherbet, two dainty scoops with a sesame cookie perched between. I was certain I would only make it through one scoop, but the smooth creaminess, barely sweet, barely tart, and the perfect Martha Stewart pastel peach, seduced me. By the time the Dodger were up again on the TV behind the bar, I was a member of the Clean Plate Club.
I guess the udon will have to wait until next time I visit New Orleans. But the saguki-maybe they would be on the recommended list next time. Along with soft-shell crab.