Review: Aki Matsuri Festival at the Brooklyn Brewery Nov. 3, 2016

Cover image: Chef Yoshi Kojima © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

Nobu 57's exquisite seared tuna with black truffle and yuzu. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Nobu 57’s exquisite seared tuna with black truffle and yuzu. © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

Bottom Line: The Gohan Society Aki Matsuri (Fall Festival) fundraiser at the Brooklyn Brewery was a rare treat to sample amazing tuna-inspired creations from some of New York’s high end chefs.

Review: With surgeon-like precision, Chef Yoshi Kojima from Tao Downtown dissected a tuna carcass to the sounds of an accompanying wadaiko drum by artist Kaoru Watanabe of Taiko Ensemble. Then using a spoon on the remaining skeleton, Chef Yoshi  meticulously scooped the ruby red meat off the tuna bones.

Traditional Tahitian dance © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Traditional Tahitian dance © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

Just a dash of soy sauce was all it needed. “Nakaochi,” he said gesturing me to try it. Next to me, stood Brooklyn Brewery master Garrett Oliver nodding in a approval after taking a generous spoonful. The textures of fatty and lean contrasted really nicely, and at the end, there was a clean finish. “It’s really fresh with a deep flavor!” Garrett said while taking another mouthful. I agreed. When it’s that fresh, you don’t need to do anything.

With Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

With Garrett Oliver © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

Organized by the Gohan Society to raise money for the prestigious US-Japan Culinary Exchange Scholarship, Aki Matsuri featured an amazing amount of culinary talent centered around tuna and Japanese gastronomy. International Export company Ocean Products Tahiti provided Ahi tuna or better known as yellowfin. Unlike its northern cousin, bluefin, the tropical yellowfin is smaller and has a lighter flavor. Several participating chefs at this event presented their interpretation of this fresh ingredient, from the simple and traditional to the more daring.

Suzuki NYC's akami no zuke, marinated tuna sushi © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Suzuki NYC’s akami no zuke, marinated tuna sushi © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

New York newcomer Suzuki NYC, which opens its doors this winter on 47th Street, served a very traditional akami zuke, lean marinated tuna nigiri style sushi and nakaochi scrapings. Similarly to Tao’s ceviche dish, there was very little artifice. The flavors were clean, refreshing, allowing the tuna to speak for itself.

Chef Nobuhiro Mori of Hasaki's tuna soba packed a punch of wasabi © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Chef Nobuhiro Mori of Hasaki’s tuna soba packed a punch of wasabi © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

Hasaki Restaurant’s Chef Nobuhiro Mori dished out a salad of marinated cubes akami zuke and micro herbs over a bed a green tea soba. The generous drizzle wasabi dressing delivered a huge belt of heat that went straight to my nostrils. Like an abusive girlfriend, I had to come back for more.

There were other bolder tuna-inspired concoctions that challenged the palette into unknown territory. If you had proposed a dish garnished with  black truffle and yuzu, I would have probably run a mile, but Nobu 57 managed to pull it off with a brilliant tuna tataki (seared) with yuzu truffle tamari sauce.

Chef Chris D'Ambrosio of Bouley's Tahitian inspired dish. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Chef D’Ambrosio’s Tahitian inspired dish. © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

The most daring dish of the evening came from Bouley’s Chef Chris D’Ambrosio, who was inspired by his travels to Tahiti and the fresh seafood he encountered. His eclectic style dish of marinated tuna with a kaffir lime cloud, caviar and vanilla miso was a very brave attempt to tell a story. While I really liked the caviar and  kaffir lime with the tuna, the vanilla was a step too far for my personal taste. There was a bit too much going on.

Sake provider Kazuhiro Kinoshita of Wine of Japan Import holding the goods. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Kazuhiro Kinoshita © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

In between tuna takes, Kazuhiro Kinoshita of Wine of Japan Inc. offered a welcome sake palette cleanser. My favorite was the crisp, dry Itami Onigoroshi from Hyogo. Guests also sampled Brooklyn Brewery beers on tap. The Sorachi Ace had a really quirky, sourness that could compliment any fish dish perfectly.

Chef Kono's ultimate showstopper, an exquisite chicken pâté. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Chef Kono’s knock out dish. © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

There was, however, more than just tuna on the menu. Michelin-starred Tori Shin‘s Chef Atsushi Kono delivered the ultimate showstopper: a perfectly seasoned country pâté of free range chicken meat, liver and skin with saikyo, or white miso, pepper corns, gold leaf and micro herbs.  Beautiful as a work of art and balanced in flavor, it was an absolute joy to eat. If I weren’t so polite, I would have had at least six of them!

Atsushi Kono of Torishin with his prized chicken pâté with saikyo miso. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Chef Atsushi Kono © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

With so much raw food about, it was great to have tonkotsu ramen by Hakata Ton Ton to warm the belly. The sounds of grateful slurping guests echoed in the corner.

Pâtissier Jennifer Lynne's ethereal Gâteau Basque with kirsch and cherries. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

An ethereal Gâteau Basque. © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC

For dessert, Chef Pâtissier Jennifer Lyne of Riviera Caterers, Long Island, who had worked for over six years in Daniel Boulud’s empire, served her version of the beloved Gâteau Basque, a crème pâtissier-filled moist cake. Hers was almost like an ethereally light cheesecake with a kirsch cherry and almond flavor. It was a fantastic marriage of Gâteaux Vosges and Basque.

With live entertainment and memorable dishes, Aki Matsuri was a huge success showcasing Japanese cuisine with a little French accent and Tahitian beauty .

For more information on upcoming events and the US-Japanese Culinary Exchange Scholarship, visit the Gohan Society.