Chowhound Presents: |

Restaurants & Bars

San Diego

Yet another "Shota" moment at Kaito - any others?

Share:

More from Restaurants & Bars

Restaurants & Bars San Diego

Yet another "Shota" moment at Kaito - any others?

cgfan | | Oct 14, 2007 12:12 AM

I just came back from what I would call another "Shota" moment at Kaito in Encinitas.

For those who may not know of the genre, "Shota" in this case refers to the main protagonist of the Japanese "gourmet" TV drama (gurume dorama, as they say) named "Shota no Sushi". It chronicles the struggles of Shota, a young itamae-san in training as he conquers skill after skill with every episode. Though the dramatic portions are overdone and hilarious in their lack of subtlety, the series also runs like a docu-drama of sorts on the ins and outs of traditional sushi. Every sushi fan must see this excellent series. (English subs are available.)

In any case practically every detailed skill presented in this series does not appear to be readily available in any of our western media. Each skill, on its surface which appears to be so small, becomes the basis for an entire episode, the secret to cutting a nori-maki, the personal style of one's own sushi, the different styles of forming a piece of nigiri-sushi, the role of fish selection, the secret to a good tamagoyaki, etc. Though the viewer will hopefully understand that these skills would take a lifetime to master, it's quickly consumed by the viewer a single episode at a time.

So I have come to describe experiences, and there have been many at Kaito where Morita-san would share annecdotes collected from a lifetime of training under two masters under one roof (his master and his master's master), as "Shota" moments.

So what was tonight's Shota moment? Shortly after Morita-san had prepared a nigiri of toro for me, (his selection of excellent tane is so diverse that I've taken to have only a single piece per order), he paused briefly before pulling back the plate and decided to prepare a second nigiri out of the same block of toro; in fact he made his next cut from the part exposed by the previous slice of toro. He also used the same rice, and asked me to judge the difference.

Well I reversed their order, having the second one first, and after contemplating the nigiri I had my second piece. This was my personal assessment, which I related to Morita-san in Japanese. The first nigiri I had tasted predominantly of shari (the sushi rice), and the toro was barely noticeable, to the point of almost being denatured, lifeless. The second piece I had had a wonderful balance to it, with the shari playing a supporting and complementary role, that is present and playing "backup harmonies", to the tane which in this case just exploded with flavor and texture. Both the nigiri and the tane of the second piece were seductively textured and exploding with oil, while the first one did not.

The first nigiri seemed just a tad firm while the second one had the nice texture that I have come to expect from Morita-san, though this I did not relate to him as the taste difference between the two became the "headline story" of the test. (I find he varies the texture depending on the tane, with some of his lightest touches present when he prepares a nigiri of fresh anago, a perfect match for its delicate texture...)

The difference? The first nigiri I had did not have any "air" in it, while the second nigiri did. In other words the difference was in the touch of his hands as he formed the nigiri, of years and years of training and dedication to his craft culminating in these bite-sized culinary jewels. He relates that he can form the nigiri faster by leaving out the "air", but does not in order to serve the best product that he can.

(If the "air" part seems a bit strange, some cross-cultural food analogies might be in order here. Some that come to mind - a barely whipped-up biscuit mix [or tempura batter for that matter!], meatballs formed with the right consistency [or for that matter the ball of meat in a gyoza or shu mai dumplilng], a properly formed hamburger patty or the incredible crab cakes at Oceanaire! And sometimes it's still compressed, but just enough, such as in a well-pressed sandwich or in a properly tamped puck of carefully ground coffee to make a good espresso.)

So that was my latest "Shota" moment. Any others out there that would like to relate their own "Shota" sushi moments?

Feedback