May 5, 2010
On April 15, 2010, Linda and I went for dinner to Zeniya in Kanazawa. We received a warm welcome from the hostess at the front door and were seated at the counter. The chef, Shin-ichiro Takagi, then introduced himself in excellent English. He had spent an exchange high school year in Ithaca, New York, discovering when he arrived that it wasn’t near New York City as he had expected. He now goes to New York annually to cook for the Japanese Embassy to the United Nations. He had already heard that we had lunched that day at Otome Sushi; he knows the chef there well. Zeniya has a counter in front with seven seats where the chef spends most of his time. There are also eight private rooms in the back with a separate kitchen.
There was no menu, the food just started arriving. The appetizer had uni, sea urchin, on top and various good things underneath. On the right is a low saucer for drinking the white aperitif sake in it; it was the first time we had seen this at the start of the meal, but not the last. The sake was thick, opaque and slightly sweet, but an interesting kickoff.
Next came a soup with the fish arranged in petals that flake off when you try to eat them with chopsticks. We have had this fish before too; it is quite nice even if you end up slurping most of it with the broth.
The presentation of the first clear sake was elegant.
The chef, Shin-ichiro Takagi, prepares a nice piece of fish as sashimi for each of us, but my notes don’t say what it is; I guess seasonal sea bream.
A very hot rock is put in front of us on a salt base. A piece of mirugai, a local clam, still alive, is put on it by the chef for a few seconds on each side. There is another piece of the clam and two of octopus and of asparagus tip halves for us to place and cook on the hot rock. We then dip them in rice wine vinegar and eat them quickly. Very good.
The box for the next course has many good things. We were enjoying the complex course so much that we have confusing and incomplete memories and notes of what they are. There are two gold-leaf lined shells; Kanazawa does 95% of the gold leaf work in Japan.
Two pieces of salmon on skewers had been on the electric grill. The chef would occasionally baste them with teryaki sauce.
The salmon was surprisingly moist after its dry grilling. Very good.
The second carafe of sake was also elegantly presented.
Bamboo shoot braised in dashi with salsify. A good, fresh seasonal dish.
Pickles for the rice are put in front of us.
Then the chef prepares coarse rice with sea bream, which is in season in the spring, and serves it to us.
There was a cup of miso soup.
A mound of fresh strawberries with a gel on top.
A lovely fresh, red bean confection with a cherry leaf.
I regret that our notes and memories are so incomplete, as it was an outstanding meal. Sometimes preparing for the blog writeup takes a back seat to enjoying what is going on. Talking with the chef as he worked was a big part of the experience. We extensively discussed what he was cooking, but also chefs and restaurants in New York, Japan and elsewhere. (Shin is one of the few people we know who, like us, went to Pierre Gagnaire when he was still in St Etienne.) We are very glad we went to Zeniya.