So last night the SO and I were lucky enough to get one of the eight seats at Chef Abe Hiroki's monthly "Kitchen Counter" meal at EN Japanese Brasserie. It's a kaiseki, but radically different than the usual one served there, which is more of a classic "chef's greatest hits" tasting from what I gather. This is a monthly excuse for Hiroki-san to stretch his culinary ideas, play with some hyper-seasonal ingredients and modern techniques. It's all served - as the name implies - at the counter, with Chef Abe personally prepping and serving everything. The flavors, for the most part, are decidedly Japanese - aside from some Perigord truffles, he didn't get "fusion-y" with the palate. The menu is in the pics below, and I'll single out a few dishes in my round-up, in the unlikely event he ever decides to offer them (or some variation) a la carte:
Beet Mousse - yowza. It seems so simple, but one of the best dishes of the night. It was sweet, yes, but there was a surprisingly deep, almost meaty savoriness to it. Really took us both by surprise in a wonderful way.
Yuba Caviar - hands down, the best Yuba I've ever had. It was like the burrata of yuba, just ludicrously decandent and creamy.
Hokkaido Cherry Trout Sashimi - beautiful. Didn't even need the truffle soy sauce, aside from it adding salinity. Just a few crystals of salt would have been fine instead.
Nigiri - stunning. Just two pieces, but probably the best of the best fish at this very moment. If you see that particular snapper or perch on the menu in the near future, get it.
Pen Shell - I'm surprised to say I've never had pen shell before. These were enormous, like clam steaks. Really good but they honestly could have been half the size.
Uni Ice Cream - I mean, for god's sake, it's uni ice cream. The only issues I had were that earlier there was an uni toast, and why bother serving uni toast if later you're going to serve uni ice cream. They could've replaced the toast with something else, since while good it was only going to pale in comparison. The other little thing was that given that it was fresh, creamy uni on top of literally creamed uni, texturally it all came off fairly similar. It was beautiful, but could have used one other element to break it up. Like, a bit of lobster tempura on top instead of more uni - would give a little crunch, a second flavor, plus a hot/cold contrast. It was like the bones of a brilliant dish that just needed that one little thing to flesh it out and take it over the top. Hopefully he tinkers with it and gives it another go. With the right tweaks, it could be a signature dish.
There was another pair of dishes that were a bit similar - the ice fish & firefly squid (in dashi with an egg-drop) and the crab chawanmushi (which is... eggs and dashi) - I suspect the idea was to present the same ingredients prepped two different ways, with different accoutrements, but they wound up reading somewhat the same on the palate. I can't say one was better than the other, they were both excellent, but one could have been replaced with something else just to break it up a bit. They were both VERY rich, as well, and on either end of the uni ice cream, it was like, rich-rich-rich. If I were rewriting the menu and wanted to keep the egg theme going, I'd have maybe replaced the first one with, say, a little hotaru ika omelet and something like a citrus / squid ink sauce, to add a little brightness to break it up.
A5 Miyazaki Wagyu - like I need to describe it? Gorgeous. First a filet, simple with salt and wasabi, then the rice pot, little nubbins of strip loin and the grains slicked with beautiful Wagyu fat... mmmm...
Dessert was a Matcha pairing - first a fondue with strawberries for dippin', then a crepe with sweet red beans and a matcha chantilly.
We started with a couple cocktails - a ginger-soju and a hojicha-infused tequila that I absolutely loved, which really embraced the astringency of the tea. For the meal we stuck with the theme of ephemerality / "mono no aware" - a seasonal unpasturized sake (Kukusui Hiya-Oroshi) and with dessert, a discontinued whiskey from Nikka, the "Miyagikyo" single malt, which the waiter recommended (correctly) as a good pairing with the matcha. It actually paired even better with the little cup of hojicha served at the end - the ultimate deconstructed luxury hot toddy.
The only dish that didn't quite work for me - and there'll often be one on any tasting menu - was the scallops with truffle and yuzu. I love Perigord truffles. I love yuzu. They just weren't meshing for me together. Not bad, just kind of not clicking. Also, the truffle was chopped - that added a textural element, but the flavor shines more when they're shaved or microplaned.
That said - there was not a drop of truffle oil in the meal, hooray! When it said "truffle" it was legit. Nice change. It's been a while since I've been, but I recall the truffle chawanmushi on the regular menu having had truffle oil in it years ago. I don't know if that's changed. Or maybe I'm mixing it up with the one at Brushtroke? That one definitely had my most-hated-ingredient in it. Hopefully it's been banished from the kitchen. If anyone has had that dish recently I'd be curious to know.
The pace could have slowed a touch. It seemed like as soon as we finished one dish the next was ready, or just about. We never felt rushed, but a couple points in the meal there could have been a few minutes inserted to relax - say, one before the first egg dish (which followed the clam, which was quite heavy) and another between the Wagyu and desserts, give the diners a little time to peruse the spirits and tea menus.
All in all, though, excellent - as I noted to a friend elsewhere, any quibbles are like complaining your batter hit a triple with three RBIs instead of a grand slam. Pricey, but very reasonable for the quality, and in comparison to other tasting menus around town, or compared to their normal every-day kaiseki ($160 vs $120) - the only question is whether one can actually get seats, given that they're so limited. Two seatings of eight people, and that's it 'til the next month.
I'm not a big picture-taker, but menu below (and uni ice cream, 'cause why not?)