it is an extraordinarily sparkling meal. not just because of the meal. what could it be. how about this. watching wonderful, thoughtful parents, who happen to be my cousins, raising wonderful, thoughtful children. so happy to see their dedicated sacrifices bearing fruits. check this out. every weekday six thirty am my cousin tommy cooks and packs lunch for his two kids. i am not talking about those semi-processed packets. i'm talking about stir fry sirloin steak. no wonder the kids' classmates want to have a taste of their food. can't blame them. i would too. the impact on the child as a person in terms of character, in terms of what truly matters, is beyond measure. priceless. it's so heartwarming to see the kids discussing their lunch menu with their father. being raised in america they have no problem criticking their father's cooking all done in a good nature way. see, it turns out to be an opportunity to practice speaking honestly with respect and love. their mother, holding a high power job in a big corporation, makes sure she groceries not once a week but every couple of days, so that the kids have fresh food. how cool is that.
i kind of digress. so why are we having a meal all the way out in napa on this sunday? as hwubby says, this is a chinese bar mitzvah moment. my nephew is turning thirteen. see, the way i look at it, a kid's birthday is the time to celebrate the parents as well. and good for my nephew, he makes a speech and thanks his dad and mom. now, that's the sign of a mensch.
it's japanese food. i love, love, love japanese food. but it's hard to decide which maki to get when they all look so good. not so with my niece. her father assigns her the task to pick a couple of maki her bright, sparkling eyes go down the options. obviously she is carefully considering. in moments she raises her head and says, with great clarity and conviction, eelskin avocado and salmon skin. i am impressed. on the spot she is presented with an opportunity to make a decision that has immediate consequence, and she steps up to the plate beautifully. her choices turn out to be one of my top fave in the sumputuous meal. eelskin and salmon skin are difficult to pull off. more often than not they are chewy, rubbery or utterly dry. this is none of either. the texture is a fine balance between crispiness and al dente. the unique taste and aroma of fish skin is held intact. evidently top quality oil is used and fantastic deep fry skill is involved here. there's nothing like the distinct taste and smell of deep fry oil that can spoil the taste buds. even half a drop of excess oil can drag the composition down. none of that here.
i can't recall who picks the beef carpaccio. that's my personal top fave. veil thin slices of ruby color wagyu beef marinated in a ginger sauce. the whole experience of it is fresh and alive. never imagine i would use these two words to describe beef. there is barely any marble in the meat. but it is incredibly juicy and creamy while showing tender texture. there is chewing involved as beef should be but it's effortless. in fact the chewing creates some alchemy drawing out a subtle sweetness that keeps intensifying.
for my entree i decide on a rice bowl. check this out. i can't see the rice because the entire surface is covered by edible gemstones. bite-size superb quality sashimi. a dazzling array of saffron hues mingled with alabaster, soft gold, ruby. the ocean and jewels have become one. i don't know why i choose chirashi over sushi but, boy, am i glad i do. dare i say it's an 'inner self moment.' wait a sec. how can i forget the crown jewel. uni. every one is a pearl drop of ocean essence.
the birthday boy chooses potstickers as his pick of appetizer. i am skeptical about that until i eat it. but before i can eat it i look at the plate and says, where are the potstickers? all i can see is a amber dome around the bottom which are clusters of foam. the waiter says, the potstickers are under this bacon cream on a bed of sundried tomato puree. boom. this is off the charts creative. often i think the traditional red vinegar dipping works well for pork potstickers but too overpowering for chicken potstickers. sundried tomato puree? absolutely change i can believe in.
my cousin picks a different kind of rice bowl. the shimmering yellowtail slices are cooked at the table. the stone rice bowl is four hundred fifty degrees. couldn't be more straight off the wok than this. given the superlative quality of the fish this is the best way to showcase the quality of the key ingredient. this is clarified butter and ocean deep all in one.
my cousin says, you've got to try this tempura sauce. it's not the conventional tamari-based one. creamy white. it has a tiny tint of heat and citrus. i can place the yoghurt. that's how far i can get. turns out it's a japanese citrus, yuzu, and there is wasabi. talk about restraint. this is it. just a teeny wheeny bit to make the right amount of difference without taking over the delicate veggi.
i lose count of how many wonderful japanese meals that are spoiled by one thing. pickled ginger. so often i stay away from the vinegary attacks. too bad because i really like a nice pile of good pickled ginger. this time something tells me this is different. it definitely looks different. ivory. not hard pink. i gingerly take one bite. and in short order my cousin transfers all the piles in front of everybody to my custody.
all in all i have a blissed out time. so much so that i completely forget to follow up with the waiter about what cut of the beef that is. at least i know it's australian. a huge spiritual teaching is not to compare. but i can't help but judge that this down-under stuff trumps kobe. and i 'll compare one more thing. comparing my nephew with his father. dare i say the son is on track to outdo his father. what a good thing that is. happy birthday, nephew. thanks for being born. may you continue to make the world a better place the way you do.