Last night, 10 lucky hounds convened at Hama-Ko for a four-hour feast fit for an emperor.
ChowhoundX and Limster hosted, with CX doing lots of translating and educating.
The proprietors (hereafter referred to as "the boss" and "boss' wife") had graciously closed the restaurant for the 1st hour we were there, which was a godsend considering the amount of food that came to our table - our four hour dinner might have taken all night if they hadn't!
We started with a bowl of wonderful Asahi (sp?) clams cooked in sake with large, beautiful mushrooms (they looked like 'bellos to me). The clams were meaty and wonderfully briny. The sake broth, with its touch of sweetness, was a perfect complement. My only gripe was that all the broth went to waste without something to sop it up with. (Rochelle - and a few others - had their own ideas about that and used the clam shells as makeshift spoons for the broth).
Next up was a cooked squid dish. The boss told us that he had wanted the squid to come out more carmelized and charred, but that his burner wasn't cooperating. That didn't stop us from clearing the very large plate. Cooked to perfection, body and tentacles were served in a slightly sweet sauce literally loaded with fresh grated ginger. I thought the tentacles were wonderful, but the body pieces were unusual - the "guts" as it were, had the texture of bean paste - not awful, but not to my taste.
Here we switched to beer, as the sushi began to trickle in. First up: smoked sake (salmon) and halibut (I can't remember the Japanese word for this). The boss smokes the salmon there himself, and these cuts couldn't have been better. Fatty, buttery with the softest smoke ever. Not too salty, not too smoky - just enough to know it's there. The halibut was served with chopped shiso leaves, which to me tasted like they are part of the coriander family. The fish itself was very clean-tasting, and the most beautiful crystal-white color. These pieces had a higher rice-to-fish ratio of anything else we enjoyed.
Our next platter came out with Hamachi (yellowtail) and Uni (sea urchin). The hamachi was incredible - rich, buttery and beyond tender. But the true star was the Uni. Several of us remarked that we don't usually order Uni - textural issues and such. But this stuff was like nothing I've ever tasted. The texture was like a thick pudding and not as off-putting as the lumpy stuff i'm used to, and the flavor was simply divine. Sweet, briny and creamy - it didn't have that strange back-of-the-throat aftertaste either.
At this point, we switched to a sake from The Boss' hometown - Tida or Rochelle, can you share the name? It was very, very smooth, and very clean-tasting.
Our next plate was scallop and Salmon roe. The scallop was fresh and quite wonderful. The Salmon roe was surprisingly good - large, firm eggs, really flavorful, with that nice briny "pop" on the tongue. It wasn't oversalted, which is why I usually don't order the stuff.
By this time, I was starting to get nervous that we wouldn't be seeing the Ankimo i'd heard so much about. I was not to be disappointed. Ankimo and Saba nestled on a platter - i almost started to weep. This is not the pre-formed, cylindrical ankimo i've seen at other sushi joints. This was the real stuff - a little spicy, heavenly rich, flavor to kill for. Limster actually said that, given a choice, he'd take ankimo over fois gras any day. This is the only reason I need to go back to Hama-Ko... ever.
The saba was also very good - The Boss pickles it himself, which helps to cut the extreme oiliness of the fish. At this point, Ken (or was it Brad) pointed out that each platter that was served was a beautiful study in contrasting flavors, textures and colors.
Our next platter was Unagi & Mirugai (giant clam). The unagi had wonderful texture and was very, very fresh. The Mirugai was interesting, though the crunchy (almost like cartilage) texture was not to my taste. I couldn't get past that, really, to comment on the flavor.
Meanwhile, Limster was lamenting that he'd never had Ama Ebi at Hama-Ko since the Boss never had it fresh. Lo and behold, the next platter was... you guessed it, Ama Ebi. Sweet, fresh... delicious. Limster had a shrimp-eating-grin on his face that wouldn't go away!
Boss' wife brought us a wonderful platter of watermelon which would have been a perfect end... but then she brought out these little Japanese candies - doughy shell (a la mochi) filled with sweet red bean paste and a perfect little chestnut. Yum!
The best part of the evening was when the Boss said we could ask him any question about sushi. His favorite food? Everything - but he particularly loves the Japanese pickles that he can't get here - only at home.
Then he gave us a wonderful primer on soy/wasabi etiquette. According to him, one should put their wasabi on the edge of the soy bowl and mix according to the fish at hand - the oilier the fish, the more wasabi. And, the sushi should be dipped fish-side-down and eaten the same way (so the fish hits the tongue first).
After looking at their photographs, and making in into "the book", we all waddled on out, satiated (for now).
A big huge "THANK YOU" to Limster and ChowhoundX for being our wonderful hosts for this event, and to Boss and his Wife for entertaining us with food, stories and their incredible hospitality!