Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cobaya Makoto

Makoto, in Bal Harbour, is one of my three favorite places in town for sushi. But when we decided to do a Cobaya dinner with Chef Makoto Okuwa, the guy whose name is on the door, we knew it would be impossible to do sushi properly for that many people at once. We gave Chef Makoto the usual pitch - serve what you really want to make, do something off-menu, don't be afraid to be adventurous - and left it to him to decide how best to put together a dinner for 25 people.

What he came up with was one of the most intriguing and unusual menus we've seen at one of these events, combining outstanding ingredients, some stunning presentations, and a good dose of diner interactivity.

(You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this Cobaya Makoto flickr set).

To start, something I'm pretty sure none of us had ever tried before: a turtle headcheese. "Nikogori"[1] apparently refers to dishes - often seafood, but sometimes meats or vegetables - bound in aspic. This dish - which Chef Makoto said he'd never made before - used turtle meat, rolled and bound in its own gelatin, then chilled and sliced thinly. Reminiscent of pickled tongue, curiously enough, with just a hint of the marine flavor you would expect of an amphibious creature, I thought this was great. The accompaniments were equally unusual but worked: pickled mustard seeds, crispy kale leaves, a purée of smoked eggplant that called to mind baba ghanoush, a drizzle of molasses.

(continued ...)

We would not have sushi, but we would not miss out on Makoto's outstanding fish and seafood either, which were featured along with a colorful panoply of accompaniments. He called this dish "Techili to Iseebi to Kimosoe," and any assistance in translating is welcome.[2] Blowfish (apparently a domestic farmed variety, not the potentially lethal fugu) came in two forms - a tataki-style filet, barely seared on the exterior and topped with a dollop of caviar, and thin, translucent, collagen-rich ribbons of the skin, dressed in a yuzu kosho vinaigrette. Spiny lobster sashimi used both the tail and the knuckle. A cube of ankimo (monkfish liver) was my single favorite bite of the evening, like a perfect savory bonbon. Scattered and stacked around the plate were various other little bites - a sheet of tatami iwashi (a thin, cracker-like sheet of tiny dried sardines), a stalk of white asparagus, a sliver of ripe tomato, a ruddy purée flavored with truffle (and, I'm guessing, some lobster innards), a Japanese peach bursting with flavor.

The next course - "Sumi Jitate"[3] - came to the table looking like the remnants of a campfire. But nestled within the bincho-tan charcoal were butterflies of tempura-fried blowfish, camouflaged with squid ink to be the same black hue as the charcoal. Even without the trompe l'oeil effects, this was very fine tempura, with a wispy crispness that didn't overwhelm the delicate fish. Cubes of pickled watermelon, dabs of tangy yogurt, a scatter of micro shiso leaves, and a sprinkle of green tea salt completed the composition.

Sushi may not work for larger groups - but shabu shabu was perfect. And this was about as luxurious a version as there could be, with gorgeously marbled Kobe beef sliced thinly and ready for a quick swirl in the hot broth. You expect Kobe beef to be delicious - but the accompanying vegetables were the real surprise here, including a lacquered golden beet, plump mushroom, and earthy smoked carrot, all atop a rich miso paste.

To finish, Chef Makoto offered up an Okinawa black sugar cake with a creamy white chocolate filling, plated with soy sauce ice cream and bubbles of passionfruit foam.

The attention to ingredient quality, detail, and presentation made this a special meal, one that I was glad we were able to share with 24 other guinea pigs. Many thanks to Chef Makoto and all of his great team at Makoto, and as always, to all of the Cobaya supporters who make these kind of events possible.

9700 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour

Makoto on Urbanspoon

[1] Searching for translations of Chef Makoto's menu has been a fun but mostly unfulfilling adventure.

[2] The only piece I've been able to decipher is that "ise-ebi" is spiny lobster, here served as sashimi.

[3] I'm guessing "sumi" refers to Japanese ink-brush painting, a reference to the squid ink used to paint the pieces of tempura fish.

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