When I had dinner with Daisuke Utagawa (owner of Sushiko and Daikaya, expert in authentic Japanese cuisine, creator of the burgundy wine and Japanese food marriage, and all around super nice guy) I realized he is a very wise man for two reasons. One, he opens restaurants which cater to every need. Sushiko has an la carte menu with classic sushi as well as Japanese American options and an omakase option (chef selected tasting menu) which can be seafood focused, or, wait for it, vegetarian. There is no one who can’t and won’t love to eat at both Sushiko and Daikaya, which has both a sit down restaurant and a ramen bar. Two, Daisuke told me during this dinner that he sometimes drives several hours to get to his favorite restaurants just for lunch, simply because, “there are only three meals a day. You can’t waste one on bad food!” There is no better example of someone who loves both food and life.
The meal I was invited to sample at Sushiko was the new vegetarian 9-course omakase menu. Course after course, the flavors got brighter, bolder, and more explosive. The dinner started with a stunning glass enclosed bowl of kombu dashi jelly; essentially an elegant, Japanese inspired jello, the quintessential first bite that will awaken your taste buds, both with the flavor of kombu and texture of the jelly. Next was a bowl of wild mushrooms served in a warm kombu dashi broth. The soup was both earthy and comforting, with the silky broth a contrast to the meaty mushrooms. Then, finger-licking good crispy fried yamaimo (Japanese yam) tempura. My chopsticks skills are not anywhere near what Daisuke’s are, so in fact I ate it with my fingers and I speak with knowledge when I say the dish was truly finger-licking good. It came with a dollop of salted plum sauce, the perfect yin to the starchy yam.
Yes, that was just the first three courses. Six more to go! And they just kept getting better. House made tofu came in a clay dish, complete with a lid. Adorned with seaweed caviar that dotted the yellow tofu, the dish was ethereal and light and fresh, a shining example of Chef Handry and Piter’s notable creativity. (When I asked if the tofu was made in house that day, Daisuke scoffed and responded “today! It was made just now!” So when I say ethereal and light and fresh, I mean it.) Next was my favorite dish: eggplant roasted and cooked with miso, toasted sesame, and micro cilantro. The eggplant is cooked so perfectly it is almost creamy, with the edges cooked to a beautiful char. The eggplant was followed by an exuberant radish, beet, tomato, and cucumber salad, which was succeeded by the most memorable dish on the menu: black truffle congee. The congee, which is Asian porridge, was thick but not too thick, liquidy but not too liquidy, and basically melts on your tongue. The black truffle took it to a whole new level, adding depth and earthiness and a warmth that is almost indescribable. By some mirace I saved room for the eighth dish: assorted sushi that is easily the most visually appealing and tasty vegetarian sushi I have ever had: eggplant, sliced avocado, lotus root, and kabocha squash were just a few of the colorful assortment. Finally, to close, we sampled beet sorbet, a refreshing and palate cleansing end to the meal.