Friday, June 23, 2006

Zest Japanese Cuisine

The eaters

The mushroom salad. MMMMM.

The beef. Dorothy, we're not in Kobe anymore.

The flounder. Flee!

Scallops, shrimp and asparagus. That's why you go to restaurants.

An interesting take on soba noodles.

Our defacto son-in-law Dino and his wife-to-be Krista invited us out for father's day, to Zest, a newish Japanese fusion place we'd heard good things about. The first dish to appear on our table was the mushroom salad, if something hot can be called a salad. I was expecting something along the lines of the mushroom foil-yaki at Zen. Nope. Oyster mushrooms, red and green lettuce in a subtle sauce that creeps up on you and then you discover, "This is Fantastic!" The flounder, from the specials menu, was like having your tongue invaded by Ghenghis Kahn. Avoid at all costs. I hadn't ordered the spring roll as it has roe in it, but Fumiyo insisted I'd enjoy it so I had a piece of her order. It was, to my surprise, very good. Very dry, like a good champagne is dry. Is the crust made of corn flakes? A superb sweet sauce accompanies the spring roll. Another treat is the soba rolls covered with grated daikon. It sent me back to when I first went to Japan in 1971 in waves of culinary nostalgia, and yet it was also new. The familiar tastes are so rearranged that memories of having hot soba noodles in cold train stations fluctuated with a curiousity as to the sheer novelty of the dish. Karage is Japanese fried chicken, and usually very good, far more flavourfull than any of the Colonel's offerings. Seeing Karage Italiano on the menu reminded me of all the great Italian food I'd had in Japan- far better spaghetti than I ever ate in Italy. It seemed a natural fusion food. Maybe in other hands it would be, but instead of succulent chicken flesh exposed to the best Italian flavours, it tasted like skin a chicken was all to happy to lose. Interesting flavours are happening there, but there's not enough substance to sustain them. The Kobe beef vegetable roll sounded like something Fumiyo used to make, carrots and asparagus rolled up in thin slices of beef and presented in a sweet sesame sauce. The sauce for this dish may have that origin, but the beef was, well, a long way from any Kobe beef I've ever eaten. If you didn't see vegetables on the menu, you would never guess they are buried in this meaty excess. It's as if whole species of cow are being slaughtered on your taste buds. Ouch! Soon they'll be extinct, but you won't miss them. The scallop, shrimp and asparagus thing was genuine restaurant food. Very pleasent. Subtle, between the more seriously flavoured courses. Next we had a variety of tonkatsu (the Japanese take on pork cutlets) stuffed with cheese and ground up shiso leaves. I can't see cheese going well with pork, though it is superb with other meats (lasagna, Italian cheesy chicken recipes, etc). Shiso, on the other hand, is the taste god's gift to everything it touches. I can't imagine a better tasting leaf. The pork tasted like it should have been left on the pig, to live a contented life and die of old age. In general, the meats of Zest are considerably inferior to what I'm used to in Vancouver restaurants (not to mention meat-heaven Japan). They need to find better suppliers.
The desert menu featured tomato ice cream. Now that's just odd.
Go to Zest for the mushroom salad. The rest of the menu still needs work.


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