Full post + photos: http://oheithere.wordpress.com/2013/1...
I beat PeterCC to this (but not stravaigint)!
Just another dinner at Shunji – no big deal, right? Well, I usually just post pictorial updates (not here on CH - on my blog) of my dinners at the restaurant, with minimal commentary, because there are only so many ways to say how amazing something is. I’ve had extended dinners, running the full gamet of all that Shunji-san has to offer, from his signature dishes to sushi to experimental dishes few have the honor of trying. I’ve also had sushi-intensive meals here (again, the sushi here is arguably the most underrated in the city), as well as meals where I don’t even have to have any sushi at all.
This most recent dinner falls in the last category, because the dinner centered around an almost-mythical specialty of the restaurant – it’s not mentioned on any menus or special board listings, nor does the restaurant advertise it as an available dish (other than a teaser photo or two on their Facebook page). But all the regulars know of it, and we finally had enough diners (myself, PeterCC, stravaigint) and advanced planning to try the legendary truffle gohan – it was as if we caught Mew (lame Pokemon reference)!
I didn’t know what to expect from this dinner, surprisingly enough. That’s because I’ve never had a meal at Shunji where I was truly expecting a certain dish. And this being the single biggest dish at the restaurant to date, I wasn’t sure what else we would receive without being gluts. The dinner started simple enough, with the mozuku and suri nagashi amuses we’ve had many times before. But each of these appetizers got knocked up a notch – the former was topped with crab, red snapper, and red okra (which had the texture of a regular okra sans the slime), and the latter incorporate scallop and four types of mushrooms (I think: enoki, crimini, porcini, shiitake). Then followed a zensai plate with some of Shunji-san’s classics, some dungeness crab with its kanimiso, a fresh spiny lobster tartare made with truffles, and a matsutake dobinmushi for each of us. That matsutake dobinmushi – it’s so hot right now.
After we got past those afterthoughts of dishes, a big black pot of cooked rice was brought out, to which Shunji-san liberally shaved black truffles on. That’s right, the truffle gohan is technically a kamameshi – a traditional Japanese rice dish cooked in an iron pot called a kama, hence the name. According to Wikipedia, the dish “came to refer to a type of Japanese pilaf cooked with various types of meat, seafood, and vegetables, and flavored with soy sauce, sake, or mirin. By cooking the rice and various ingredients in an iron pot, the rice gets slightly burned at the bottom which adds a desirable flavor to the rice.” This is a very homey dish that seems somewhat out of place at a high-end sushi restaurant like Shunji – sounds like the guo fan that I used to eat as a child. But of course, instead of Chinese sausage or cured duck leg, there are truffles…
The dish was a practice in simplicity. It’s really just rice cooked with minimal seasonings, with some truffles added near serving time (I believe it was shaved, then covered for a few minutes to let the flavors soak in the rice and the aroma to be trapped, ready to be unleashed at the weak diner ready to be submitted to its mercy, then finally mixed into the rice uniformly). The bowl of gohan served to each of us came with “homey” accompaniments to complete the rice set of sorts: pickles, ikura, bafun uni, one of Shunji-san famous marinated egg yolks, and a small serving of simmered beef (in the style of beef you’d find in gyudon or nikujaya, but with a nice touch of sweetness and made with wagyu here *waves arms*). But the rice was so fragrant, so delicious, not overwhelming in any aspect, but whose flavor profile adjusted with each bite of the rice with each individual accompaniment. And we got to wash it all down with a bowl of spiny lobster miso soup – no big deal.
After finishing off our seconds, Shunji-san stopped serving. “This was it,” he must have thought, “I gave these fatasses so much to eat, there’s no way they’d want sushi, right?” But nope, in front of him sat three fully grown men, looking up at him with sad puppy eyes as to why he wasn’t busting out the fishes. So he caught on, and we spared him somewhat by only requesting three pieces of nigiri. But the clean flavors was a wonderful way to follow the simple, yet decadent rice, and to close out a typical meal at Shunji – in the purest, most classy way possible.
So my thoughts on the truffle gohan: arguably my favorite dish of the year, so good it gets its own sub-heading in the post title, and a spot on my favorite dishes list of this year (see: “Best Of” tab). Of course, the truffles definitely helped, but to eat this dish was to eat at a private dinner at Shunji-san house. But then again, the dish does take up a great part of the meal, so it is difficult to experience a wide variety of what Shunji has to offer if eating it. And its availability really depends on the man himself – whether he has the truffles, what kind of truffles, and if he wants to serve the dish at all. But if you’re a Shunji veteran who wants your experience at the restaurant to be just a little different and special, then you have to try this dish at least once. And bring friends (or other CHers who are dying for the chance at finding enough people for such a dinner).