In regards to my last blog, I found myself and Mr. C at Obento Ya on a droll Tuesday evening. Japanese food is my new conquest , since the cuisine has been largely left out of my food experiences. I told myself I didn't like it. Through Obento Ya, I experienced the meaning of food experience, and acquired tastes.
Mr. C and I are fond of small plate eating (see Moto-i) and were delighted to find quite the small plate variety at Obento Ya. Obento Ya is a little out of the way place in SE Minneapolis, and it's atmosphere is that of a small cafe/sushi bar. Very quaint and pleasant. The waitress was friendly, and good about answering my sushi questions. I told her I was somewhat of a sushi noob, and this would be my first place to eat "good" sushi. She helped me along the menu, and agreed the Unagi Nigiri (Eel on top of rice, wrapped with a small strip of nori) is good for beginners, because the eel is slightly cooked, and the sauce is sweet. She also agreed the spicy salmon or tuna Maki rolls (wrapped with nori - which i haven't had great experiences with) are good, recommending the salmon over the tuna because it has avocado in it. And avocado rules. After much mulling over the variety of things to get, we finally decided.
I opted for:
The Spicy Salmon roll
Chicken Katsu (japanese frying method, usually with breadcrumbs, and they have varieties such as eggplant, scallop, etc)
A Scallop Tempura (tempura is an egg based batter, in which the items are fried.) These were all small plates, so you get one item apiece, besides the sushi of course.
Mr. C opted for:
Petite Katsu (a variety of vegetables, katsu style)
Eel Nigiri (yes! I got to try some of his!)
a Japanese Pumpkin Tempura
Yakitori Trio (grilled skewered chicken-different parts offered, such as thigh etc. He opted for the thigh portion.)
And we split an order of gyoza (pan fried dumplings, usually with pork and veggie mixture, all ground up.)
I introduce, in no particular order!
Spicy Salmon Rolls
These were very, very good. I did not taste the kind of "fishy-ness" I have previously had with every other sushi I've eaten. There is a delicate flavor, but it's natural and fresh. I am pleased to say I did not get a hint of the unpleasantness I normally have from the nori. I did have to pull at it with my teeth (as I struggled with at Oishi), so decided to go for it and eat the whole piece at once. While it does fill my mouth extremely full of food, (making me feel kind of...rude,) it also gave me a lush sushi experience. The salmon and avocado texture was VELVET. The spicy sauce came through light, but definite. I also ate more wasabi than I have before - putting a tiny ball on the end of one chopstick before picking the piece up and dipping it in the soy sauce. It was a perfect compliment to the flavor combination, adding a sharpness to remind your senses to come back home and evaluate what's in your mouth. Lovely.
Unagi Nigiri (sorry for the terrible picture)
These were just awesome. One thing I love about certain sushi's is the sesame seeds. That flavor pops right off. I then immediately tasted the eel - which had a more fishy flavor than the salmon, but it was slight and pleasant.. The texture was soft, and the sweet and salty eel sauce on top is the perfect partner to the sticky rice and eel flavors. I totally loved this!
I have had these before, and I must say I found these to be bland. The sauce was the same as anywhere, just a less salty/more sweet soy sauce. I didn't get the crunch from the edges like I did at Oishi, so I would have to say I prefer that gyoza over these.
I don't really know what vegetables these were, but I ate a few bites of the one on the far left. I think it was zucchini? I didn't care for it much. It didn't suck, but it was kind of watery and not much katsu or vegetable flavor coming through. Doesn't the picture kind of make you think: lollipops??
This was gorgeous. The tempura came through nicely, and scallop absolutely melted in my mouth. Scallops are a favorite of mine - with their mild, light, almost buttery flavor. The tempura definitely didn't take away from this, and stayed crispy outside of the soft center. The only complaint I had is the sauce - for a tempura dipping sauce, it was quite mild and did not add to nor take away from this dish.
My first Katsu ever - and it really is just like a great fried chicken item. Nothing too "asian" about it, except the cooking method being different from ours. Imagine the most flavorful, moist piece of white fried chicken you've had, but with lighter and less greasy - and you have this! It was fantastic, but my real praise goes to the sauce! The only way I can describe is: japanese BBQ sauce. I ate the entire dish of sauce with my chicken. It was very nice.
Japanese Pumpkin Tempura
I found this to be complex, and maybe too much for me to evaluate yet. It tasted like tempura potato, but without a lot of potato flavor. It was slightly squash-like, and I really don't like squash. This was just so-so. I much preferred the Moto-i tempura sweet potato, it had much more depth of flavor and was well defined.
I had these at Moto-i, and found them to be...just grilled chicken. Which it is - but these were much more flavorful. The sauce tasted like a mix of soy and sweet sauce, but it actually permeated into the chicken a bit. The char is well defined, and the grill tastes lingers on your palette for a few minutes after eating it. Very well done.
After this feast, the waitress asked if we would like dessert. I wasn't expecting them to have dessert, so I asked about what they had. I usually never get dessert, but upon hearing CHOCOLATE BANANA CREPES, I buckled. I did not regret this decision upon viewing it - HOLY Mama!
Crepes are another "new to me" thing. I had one at the State Fair (chicken and pesto) and loved it. This was my first dalliance with the sweet side, and man was it amazing. Very simple, with sliced banana's, whipped cream and decadent chocolate ice cream inside. The whip cream had to have been homemade or something, it had that sweet, creamy flavor that a good whip cream should deliver. There was plenty of ice cream. So much it came out the sides, to my delight! Seriously would go back there just for this dessert.
Overall, I had one of the best restaraunt and food experiences ever at Obento Ya. As I explore and learn more about (some) Japanese foods, I find them mysterious, sexy, and delicious. I am still iffy (or downright frightened) of some Japanese cuisine (octopus pancake ball??) However, we are in this awesome honeymoon phase where the heights of our passion know no limits.