Recently my girlfriend Lauren, who obviously knows me really well invited me to join her and a few others for an omakase dinner at Shokunin.
Omakase – a Japanese phrase essentially meaning to entrust another, has come to represent a style of dining where the menu choices are left to the Chef. A progressive style experience where the Chef will present a series of plates moving from light to heavier dishes. Although commonly attached to raw fish with rice, the phrase is also incorporates other styles and cooking techniques.
I love sushi, like love love love sushi. But I will say, after a recent visit to Japan it’s been tough eating sushi in Calgary. There’s some really fantastic sushi in Calgary, but it’s just not the same. Needless to say, this dinner was a treat and took me back to Narita.
We were provided with a menu that made my mouth water just reading it.
Having eleven courses of incredible sushi, it’s hard to pick my favourite – but I will.
I’m not a big sake person, I know – so disappointing. I will however have sake the next time I do this dinner. I do believe that pairing would elevate the dinner even more; but this time around Lauren and I chose beer. And an interesting beer at that. It was called Okami Kasu, brewed by Big Rock Brewery I have to be honest, I’m generally not a fan of big rock beers – like any of them. I will drink grasshopper if it’s the only thing around, but I just don’t dig what they’re putting out. So, I was very pleasantly surprised by this beer. The cool part is that it’s an exclusive beer made from Canadian grown rice and sake lees. It is light, refreshing and easy drinking, and complimented the sushi in a great way. I wanted the food to be front and centre in this dinner and having a mild, crisp beer like this made that possible.
So let’s get to the good stuff – FOOD.
First course chicharron…yum. It’s a great bite to excite your taste buds and get them going. It’s crunchy, silky, salty with a little spice to it. I could eat a whole bag of them easy, like potato chips.
Next course was snapper (tai). I don’t often order snapper when I go out for sushi, as I have found that it can be a bit tough. This was certainly not the case his time around. It was beautiful, the texture was melt in your mouth but the fish still had some weight to it. It was really enjoyable.
The third course was the side-stripe prawn (ama-ebi) from British Columbia. I love side-stripe prawns, but I usually love them cooked. I am a big fan of almost anything raw, but prawns and scallops just don’t do it for me. I find the texture can be slimy and a little jello like. The flavour when cooked is sweet and delicate, with a firm meaty texture; what’s not to love. So I took a deep breath and ate the raw one sitting in front of me; and without soy and wasabi no less.
Good choice! It was actually incredible, I don’t know why I’ve had such a problem previously. Like when cooked, it was sweet, subtle and delicious. The little bit of togarashi dusted on top was a perfect complement too.
Are you craving sushi yet….
Next up Atlantic mackerel (shime saba). Mackerel is also not a go-to for me when I have sushi as I find it can be really fishy sometimes. It’s probably starting to sound like I don’t like sushi at all, but I promise I do. This was maybe one of my favourites of this dinner. With a touch of a soy based glaze and the scallion on top, it was really tasty.
The following course was sole (hirami). I don’t think I’ve ever actually had sole in sushi format before, so this was new for me. It was a really nice dish, the texture, the roe and the aromatic herb on top were a nice touch and also added beautiful colour to what would otherwise be a very boring looking little plate.
The sixth dish is where I think the dinner started to get really interesting. This next dish was hamachi (hiramasa). I’ve had hamachi several times and have always really enjoyed it, but this one was different. The hamachi that I see is often drenched in some kind of sauce, ponzu or yuzu based. But this on was much more simplistic. With only a small dollop of wasabi on top, this fish spoke for itself.
I’m assuming at this point you’ve gone out for sushi, but if you haven’t then you will be soon. But in the meantime, you can let your taste buds water over the next dish.
Lobster. Need I say more? It was a beautiful and flavorful dish, topped with a little northern divine caviar.
The eighth dish was definitely a highlight – horse mackerel or trevally (shima aji).
Aji (as it’s known) is inexpensive and easy to filet, but has a really bold flavour. By being marinated in vinegar, the excess fat is removed and the texture becomes smooth. It is often paired with vinegar rice. The rich taste of Shima ahi in particular is very popular among sushi enthusiasts. It is commonly done as ‘namerou’ which is basically Japanese style tartare chopped and mixed with ginger, green onions, miso paste and shies. In this case ours was done reminiscent of this style topped with minced ginger and green onion.
My favourite dish of the night came next up and it was the bonito tuna (katsuo). It was ever so slightly grilled, served rare with a dusting of togarashi. This plate was incredible. There was a lot of depth to this very simple dish. I would literally eat it again ad again. In fact, when given the opportunity at the end to have our favourite piece a second time – this was the one I chose.
The second last dish was probably the most interesting. It was firefly squid (hotaru ika). I have never tried them before and they were sooooooo good. Probably the most interesting part was the cooking process. They were grilled over white coal (bincho-tan), traditionally made from high quality oak. If you get the chance definitely read up on this cooking technique, because it is so tasty.
It’s so hard to describe accurately what these little guys are like to eat. They grow to be only three inches long which allows them to be served whole. The flavour and texture were intense, similar to roasted crab. I would definitely recommend trying it if you ever see it on a menu, even if you don’t like squid. It’s nothing like what you’d expect and was literally an explosion in your mouth.
Last but not least was the miso soup, or in this case roasted snapper bone soup. It was a perfect way to end this phenomenal omakase dinner, with rich flavour and a silky texture that filled you right up.
Sometimes omakase can be a bit of a risk, especially if you’re a picky eater. You don’t know what you’re getting as you don’t get a menu like we did. But, I promise if you’re open-minded and are willing to try new things – it’s the best way to eat; and not just for sushi. There are many restaurants where the chef will prepare what they are feeling for the night and it’s usually a treat.
I think the coolest part about this dinner is that it’s capped at only twelve seats per seating. And we were lucky enough to get to sit at the kitchen bar, with a first-hand glimpse into the preparation. Watching our Chef at work was a privilege and I look forward to doing it again soon.
From what I understand, Shokunin now does this every third Thursday of the month and has four seatings a night, 5:30 PM, 7:00 PM, 8:30 PM and 10:00 PM. We have already booked our next one for April 20th, it was that good!
Hope to see you there next time!