Picking the most memorable meal, out of a year in which I ate very well, is difficult.
The Park Hyatt Masters of Food and Wine Festival in Mendoza, Argentina stands out for sheer decadence (by the end of my long weekend, I felt like a goose with an enlarged liver, fattened up for slaughter).
And then there’s the Thanksgiving dinner we had with my old friend Delia Neese and her husband, Jonathan Wright, who just happens to be the executive chef at the prestigious Sandy Lane resort in Barbados. The holiday will never be the same again.
But for sheer memorability, I’m picking the 10-course omakase that my husband and I had at Mashiko, a restaurant specializing in sustainable seafood – that just happens to be in our neighborhood of West Seattle.
Don and I are fairly adventurous eaters, although you’re never going to see me eat some of the wacky things that Andrew Zimmern downs on Bizarre Foods. In recent years, we’ve expanded our taste for the raw, moving beyond the basics on sushi and sashimi menus. An omakase – where you eat what the sushi chef picks out for you – seemed like the next step; while I had sat down to a meal served by the Iron Chef himself at Morimoto in Philadelphia about 10 years ago, Don had never tried one. Our 4th anniversary seemed as good a time as any.
Our server asked us if there was anything we wouldn’t eat. “That’s what we’re here for – to try new things,” Don told him. Omakase meals are a specialty at Mashiko; the night we were there, at least three other people at the sushi bar also ordered one. We knew quite a bit of food was coming so we split most dishes; we also fasted most of the day so we could truly pig out.
Our sushi chef heard us rave about geoduck, a giant clam indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Don and I had tried it once before, and enjoyed its texture. There’s a snap to it when you bite in, and it’s never mushy. For our first course, we had it served ceviche style with Asian pear.
The mollusk-fest continued with a pair of Kumamoto oysters and cherrystone clams. What I like about Mashiko is that they always put what’s fresh and unusual on their board, so you don’t have to ask. Don and I have eaten plenty of Gulf oysters over the years, so we’re happy to expand our horizons with varietals from the West Coast.
The next dish featured some new-to-us tastes. We had never had ocean trout or smelts served raw before. We liked the combo- fresh, but not too fishy.
I wasn’t sure about the next course, especially once the server described it. The photo is blurry so it’s hard to see, but the dish is fresh abalone, sourced from Big Island Abalone in Hawaii. The stomach of the abalone is served separately, filled with seaweed. While the thought of abalone stomach didn’t exactly excite mine, I gave it a try – and found it tasted very similar to the seaweed salads that I love. Points to Mashiko for introducing us to this.
Those points were taken away, though, with the next dish. Now I know sea urchin – also known as uni – is a delicacy. So I took a big bite – and almost spit it out. It tasted like paint to me, and Don agreed that there was an essence of turpentine to it. Others in at the sushi bar felt the same way, as almost everyone made a face and left the dish untouched after a bite. Don said he’ll give it another try sometime, but I’m wary. Luckily, we were quickly served some Northwest Albacore tuna in a chili ponzu sauce, which eradicated the taste.
And we forgave the chef with the next course, white king salmon tartare with quail egg, sea salt and avocado. The salmon and avocado in particular worked well together, for a velvety smooth texture.
On our trip to Lana’i earlier in the year, Don and I discovered the joys of poke (pronounced po-kay). The Mashiko version that day was made with yellowtail, and served with macadamia nuts. Bliss.
You’d think we’d be full by now. And we were, mostly. The chef insisted on serving an assortment of nigiri that included skipjack tuna, mackerel, cod and seared scallops. These aren’t the fish we normally order, so we were pleasantly surprised to add a few more to our repertoire.
At this point, I was out. It was up to Don to dig into dessert: Ginger ice cream with meringue and plums.
The total bill for our sushi pigout came to about $150, about par for a special occasion meal (we also had several glasses of sake). For us, Mashiko is a little pricey for a regular dinner out, but the omakase has now jumped to the list as an experience that we’d do once or twice a year, for birthdays or Valentine’s Day.
As you can see, I didn’t love everything we were served. But for me, a memorable meal isn’t just about the standards done well. It’s about introducing my palate to new sensations – and our chef at Mashiko certainly accomplished that.
Side note: I’ll be going to Japan for the first time in a few weeks. I’m excited and a bit nervous about all the new foods I’ll encounter. Stay tuned!