Cover image: Chef Yoshi Kojima © Kaori Mahajan WhereNYC
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.