Tue 24 Mar 2009 12:26 am
Several weeks ago, we got a note from our friend Eric. It began:
“Real sukiyaki is something to behold. Like shabu-shabu, the raw ingredients (thin sliced beef, napa cabbage, shiitake, tofu, shirataki noodles) are brought to the table and the cooking happens on a hot plate right in front of you. The large shallow pot has a simmering sweet-salty sauce. After cooking in the sauce, you dip each bite in your own bowl of beaten raw egg. This is key, as it cools the food down and adds delicious richness.
I bring this up because I’ve been talking to Taichi Kitamura of Chiso and Kappo about doing a traditional sukiyaki dinner.“
The brain-reply connection didn’t take more than a second before we said we were in. Eric and his wife Kye have introduced us to some unparalleled dining pleasures, from the sticky-crunchy goodness of Chicky Pub to the super-addictive umami of the chilled noodle soup called mul naengmyun.
Our group of nine gathered at Kappo on Friday. It’s the quiet, spacious, private dining room upstairs from Chiso. Kitamura told me in an e-mail that he opened it so he could introduce types of Japanese cuisine that aren’t well represented in Seattle.
Sukiyaki is a difficult dish to serve in a traditional restaurant, in his view, because diners need so many directions, essentially a server’s undivided attention, when cooking the food themselves. It also requires enough special ingredients and advance preparation that, even at Kappo, he only offers it by advance reservation.
Our group went for the $75 sukiyaki dinner, which included appetizers, dessert, enough red meat to shave months off our collective lifespan, and enough leftovers to feed all nine of us the next day’s lunch. (Our table had three of these large round platters layered with overlapping pieces of ribeye sliced for Taichi by the meat department at Uwajimaya.)
Next came an iced plate of Shigoku oysters, a dish I’ve been waiting to try since I foolishly passed them up one Saturday at Oyster Bill’s Taylor Shellfish stand at the University District Farmers Market. The clean, crisp, tide-tumbled were already tough to get — and, as Taichi told our group, it got a lot harder to find them after their first dose of stardom.
Then, the main event.
Our server brought burners to each side of the long table, holding a bubbling cauldron of a light broth made from soy sauce, sake, cane sugar, and water. I had expected mirin, surveying other recipes, but Taichi said it could make the meat hard. He did add a piece of konbu kelp and a dried chili pepper “for extra umami flavor.”
We all had small bowls in front of us to break in an egg for the dip. Taichi offered either pasteurized or unpasteurized eggs; he recommended the latter for better flavor. After my previous look at the issue, I went for unpasteurized. It did, as Eric promised, add to the texture of the meat, not only cooling it but easing the friction that can make meat hard to swallow.
The drill was simple — a little like a savory fondue session, or a liquid translation of manning bulgoki on the tabletop grill.
We dropped in slices of onion and cabbage and enoki and chrysanthemum leaves for long simmering to enrich the broth. Shitake mushrooms, soaked for a few minutes to soften, proved as satisfying as beef — except that each supple, silk-thin round of meat added depth and flavor to the broth as we swished it to and fro for the seconds it took each slice to cook.
As the steam boiled off from the pot, we slowly noticed the broth concentrate and grow even more potent. Our server topped off the bowl with fresh broth, and it concentrated in turn. Near the meal’s end, it had become rich and salty to the point where we dropped in chunks of tofu and noodles and chubby rounds of wheat gluten, which puffed up like cereal, to draw out the flavors we had added in.
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[...] were as crisp and refreshing as I remembered them from our Chiso Kappo Sukiyaki event (click here and here for more on that) and the shallot kick was a nice touch. We noticed they also serve a [...]