The International Wine and Food Society (IWFS) Philippines Branch rarely does Japanese dinners so I was particularly interested in joining this Kaiseki dinner; the last one being about two years ago. This dinner was to take place at Inagiku in the Shangri-La Hotel Makati.
As explained by restaurant manager Ishikawa-san, Kaiseki is the formal Japanese banquet consisting of many small dishes. The food is organized not according to ingredients as in a Western meal (appetizer, seafood, meat, dessert) but rather according to method of cooking. There might therefore be a raw dish (sushi, sashimi), a dish in vinegar (sunomono), a fried dish (tempura), a boiled dish, etc. At the end there is always rice and pickles as it is actually the rice that makes it a meal. Otherwise it would be more like a series of little snacks. Care is also taken to use ingredients that are typical for the season.
The word kaiseki means “hot stone.” It is said that fasting Buddhist monks would heat stones and put them next to their stomach to take their mind away from hunger. It was originally a vegetarian meal served at Buddhist temples but evolved into the elaborate feast it is today. The most formal Kaiseki meals involve much ritual and stylized movement by diners but that is rarely seen today. In fact, Ishikawa-san informs us that many Japanese no longer know how to act during a formal Kaiseki. Fortunately such strictures were waived for us this evening and all we had to do was make sure we enjoyed ourselves.
Daffodil Cotelo, Bernie Sim, Diane Koppenhofer, Klaus Koppenhofer, Edgar Lee, Hans Brumann, Lawrie Martin, Oscar Ong by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
Bernie's Killer Shoes by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
Aside from the food, wines were also provided however, instead of a strict pairing per course, it was up to the individual diner to determine which wine he preferred for each course according to his personal preference.
Before being seated in the tatami room, cocktails were served outside. Dishes of cashews and caramelized nuts were laid out accompanied by Champagne Jean Veselle Oeil de Perdrix Brut Rose NV. Oeil de Perdrix means “eye of the partridge” and refers to the color of the wine. Excellent, medium to full-bodied, with strawberry and cherry flavors. I loved this so much I insisted that if there was any left after the cocktails it be poured for me throughout the dinner. I’m a firm believer in the pairing of Japanese food with champagne.
Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix Brut Rose Champagne NV by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
For the dinner, the other wines provided were an Etienne Henri Sancerre 2009 from Henri Bourgeois; a rather creamy, riper interpretation of Sancerre, almost New World in its size, with strong green pepper and guava flavors making an appearance here, and a Domaine Pignier a la Percette Chardonnay 2009 from the Jura. The Chardonnay was quite soft but with a firm finish. Full bodied with some good ripe melon fruit. There was also a 2009 Pommard from Louis Jadot which was quite young, showing good fragrance but an austere palate.
Henri Bourgeois Etienne Henri Sancerre 2009 by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
IMG_0958 by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
Louis Jadot Pommard 2009 by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
Menu by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
The first dish was a rather simple boiled rape flower with bonito shavings, the bland vegetable just serving as a vehicle for the strong bonito.
Boiled Rape Flower with Bonito by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
The second dish had several elements to it. Broad bean, roasted duck, sesame tofu and strawberry butter and skewered cheese. The flavors here were also muted but the textures were nicely varied. The cheese was a surprising element. Three small, differently colored spheres on a stick. It was the most strongly-flavored element on this plate.
Broad bean, Roasted Duck, Skewered Cheese, Sesame Tofu and Strawberry Butter by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
A clear soup of short-neck clams followed and then an excellent sashimi of salmon, tuna and yellowtail. Executive Chef Wataru Hikawa is supposed to be a master of sushi so I thought it was a pity that no sushi was served.
Short Neck Clam Soup by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
Salmon Tuna and Yellowtail Sashimi by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
The sashimi was followed by grilled bamboo shoot and wagyu. The bamboo shoot is somewhat like an artichoke as only a very small part is eaten. The wagyu was great; well-marbled and very tender. There was also a dish of what looked like creamed corn. This had a very strong sweet/salt flavor to it which I though was a little strange.
Grilled Bamboo Shoot and Wagyu Beef by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
Next dish was steamed horsehead fish with cherry blossom flavored rice. Again, a rather bland dish. Almost like a congee where the rice was just firm enough to shape into a ball and held together by a shiso leaf. Not too interesting.
Steamed Horsehead Fish with Cherry Blossom Flavored Rice by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
The fried dish that followed was dust shrimp kaki-age tempura style. I would have preferred a regular tempura as this reminded me of the Filipino dish okoy. This was also quite salty.
Sakura Ebi Kaki Age Tempura by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
As the rice makes the meal, we also had rice with wild vegetables accompanied by the usual pickles and miso soup.
Steamed Wild Vegetable Rice by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
Finally dessert. A scoop of ice cream on slice of mango with a wafer made from mocha flour. Interesting use of mochi flour here. Japanese aren’t really into dessert so I wasn’t expecting too much here.
Ice Cream and Mochi Waffle by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
We also had two extra bottles. A Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 from Napa care of Jojo and a Japanese dessert wine care of me.
The Seavey (from magnum) was already fully mature but still very dark. Leather and dried fruit being dominant and showing soft tannins.
Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
The Japanese wine was a Shugoro no Vin (Shugoro's Wine) NV from Grace Winery. It’s a light, fortified wine in the style of Madeira, according to the website. It seems somewhere between a Verdelho and Bual in style. The grapes used are Muscat Bailey and Koshu and the fortification is achieved by adding Cognac. Apparently the favorite wine of the famous Japanese novelist and short-story writer Shugoro Yamamoto, his praise of the wine is recorded by the calligraphy on the label.
Grace Winery Shugoro by jaylabrador.winesteward, on Flickr
While it was a good dinner overall, it was certainly overshadowed by the Kaiseki the society had two years earlier. Perhaps I’m just not familiar with the techniques and ingredients showcased in this dinner but it is always interesting when we do things that stray from the usual Western meal with wine.
Inagiku is located at the 2nd Floor, Makati Shangri-La Hotel. Tel 8138888