Alright, it's been a long time coming. I apologize, and I hope it's worth it. If it's any consolation, I'm experimenting on this post with some YouTube videos. Next up is dinner at Sazanka, the teppanyaki restaurant on the 11th floor of the Hotel Okura, Tokyo. This place has a legendary reputation, and is considered by many to be one of the best teppanyaki restaurants in Japan. This was the 3rd trip in my life to Sazanka, making me one of the luckiest little boys on this side of the Pacific.
It is my personal opinion that teppanyaki is still ultimately the best way to enjoy good Kobe beef. To me, a meal at Sazanka means ultra high-grade Japanese beef in its greatest form. And to be honest with you, this third meal there was better than the ones I remember from before. It seems like each time it just gets better. I suspect this has more to do with the enhancement of my own palette in between trips to Japan, and a consistently growing appreciation of how much better Japanese food in Japan really is.
Our group of 11 was joined by Arthur Hungry inspiration and Tokyo resident Nobrin (her much more punctual, Japanese post on this meal can be found here), which meant enough people to fill a private room with a big long table and 2 Japanese grillmasters. Anyone who's been to Benihana will know what these rooms feel like, but the chefs at Sazanka are generally a lot less flashy than their Americanized counterparts. I guess when you're using the highest grade A5 Japanese cattle there is, you can forego the little spatula flips and stuff. Needless to say, the service is friendly and professional. The place also has a relatively casual atmosphere. It feels totally comfortable to be dressed casually here, but it'd be just as comfortable to have a business meal too.
The fixed menus start from around 10,000 yen (US$100 or so), but once you start adding expensive cuts of beef and fresh seasonal seafood to the mix, that price can absolutely skyrocket. A base Kobe beef meal starts somewhere in the $200s, and with all the bells and whistles you can break $400 per head. We went all out and got in the $400 range when you factor in all the food and drink, making this probably the most expensive Japanese meal you can find if you exclude high-end kaiseki.
Sazanka always carries whatever luxurious seafood there is in season. We happened to be there at just the right time for these gorgeous black abalones from Izu. Here's a video of them still moving, if I got it to work properly:
Just testing this stuff out. Let me know if you guys like it or not, and maybe I'll start posting more videos. In this one, you get to hear my dad and my uncle Jack having a deep discussion of these abalones' origins.
They always serve the seafood as a sort of appetizer, so as soon as the grill was hot the cooking began. The teppanyaki grilling table probably looks familiar to most of you. Do not click on the following if you're scared of slimey looking moving things.
I know I'm not gonna score any brownie points with PETA for posting this one. Check out the one on the bottom left. It totally started spazzing out. Not that we doubted its freshness... Anyway, there's more random Che family banter - some Cantonese, some dad on the phone, and some play by play by yours truly.
Finally, the finished product. With just a nice grill and some light seasoning, the subtle abalone flavor really came out. Each piece was perfectly tender as well.
And now for something a little more exotic: abalone liver. Apparently, this is truly a rare delicacy. The livers from these black abalones are only edible during a very short period of time during the season. Usually, the liver has too many toxins built up inside, but we happened to be there during the 2 weeks where it was still alright. This was some of the strongest livery/foie-y tasting stuff I've ever had, and I don't think most people would enjoy it. I actually liked it quite a bit - it was like an intense, dense, concentrated ankimo. Very interesting stuff.
I guess for the sake of thoroughness I should include these grilled veggies. They were quite delicious, actually, with a nice char to them. Obviously they're not the main event though.
BAM. As you can imagine our jaws dropped when they brought out this baby. I guess the picture says more than anything I can really type here... the marbling on this stuff was incredible. They have both sirloin and filet cuts - as you might expect, we opted to have a higher proportion of the sirloin.
Here's a shot of the filet cooking. It's grilled very lightly, with a nice sear on the outside.
And the finished product, with some fried garlic chips on the side. Notice the slight glistening. This had a meatier texture than the sirloin, but was more tender than anything stateside. Nice, even marbling and good fatty flavor.
Here is our expert chef chopping up the sirloin into more manageable pieces. Just looking at the white lines of fat on this make my mouth water. It's really an awesome sight.
At this point, I'm thinking this beef must be pretty impossible to screw up. Just look at that color! Now for the finishing touch:
Sazanka can hold its own in the showtime department, as you can see. Luckily we had a big table that had 2 sets of beef cooking, because I missed the first round. Nothing like some hard liquor to finish off that beef.
And this is it: absolute beef heaven. Each bite of this sirloin is like a dose of bovine perfection. There are those who say that beef can be too marbled or too fatty, and to those people I say NAY. The deliciousness of beef only goes up with marbling, and Sazanka is here to prove it. Entourage fans: What if I were to tell you that this beef is more tender than any meat you've ever had, and literally melts in your mouth? Is that something you might be interested in?
Another quick break from the meat overload - a break I didn't really need. I didn't eat much of this, but luckily Nobrin, who can't quite eat as much as me, was happy to trade me her beef for my bean sprouts. I say yes to that deal every time.
This is gonna gross out some of you out there who aren't fat-loving carnivores like me. In teppanyaki, when you've got really high grade brief, the standard practice is to use the trimmed fat from the meat and use it for fried rice. The chef will chop it up into little bits and use it as the oil base. Here's another vid:
That looks pretty gross I guess, but keep in mind that it's for a huge amount of fried rice.
A teppanyaki style fried rice is one of my favorite forms of the simple dish. Usually they'll just throw on a mountain of rice, some egg, some seasoning, and the fat trimmings. This leads to an amazingly flavorful, beefy fried rice.
And still, out of the monstrous stack of rice and oozing pile of fat, the Japanese manage to make it all look clean and presentable. Funny how that works, isn't it?
And here is a closeup of the final product, served simply with a few shreds of pickles. The beef has done a thorough job of imparting it's marbled flavor throughout the entire bowl.
And of course, at the end of the meal, you get some soup and pickles to go with your rice. This miso had a nice variety of mushrooms inside. Very soothing after eating so much meat.
They also throw in some incredibly sweet honey dew. I've talked about the melons before, and this is just more of the same. Sweet and juicy beyond belief.
Of course it'd be more stereotypical to go with some green tea ice cream, but I like to buck trends. I got chocolate. That's right; you heard correctly. I like to live dangerously. So that's it. The best Kobe beef you can eat anywhere. I know it will be impossible to convince many of you that $400 isn't a total ripoff, but I will try. If you really want to experience a meal that is absolutely best in class and unlike anything else in the world, a top-shelf teppanyaki restaurant really fits the bill. There are no Benihana gimmicks here, just amazing food using exquisite ingredients. Eating here changed my perception of beef as a whole, just like Kyubey changed my perception of sushi. I urge you to try Sazanka if you get the chance.