My first more-than-one-shift-a-week job was at a Japanese restaurant in the city. It was a ‘character building’ experience in that my hourly rate was never over ten dollars an hour even once I turned twenty-one. Aside from the appalling pay and unofficial translation and English-teaching duties, it wasn’t too bad as all employees were fed, both lunch and dinner. Over countless shared meals with my colleagues, I learnt a lot about Japanese culture, as well as cuisine. For a start, as someone of (varied) Asiatic background, I was horrified to learn that my boss defined me as a typical Westerner. Fair enough, I’ve lived in the UK and Australia most of my life (I did spend one year in the Philippines when I was four).
I set about to rectify this immediately (embarrassingly, I’m still doing so…) and we discussed the meaning of the word ‘itadakimasu’, a greeting used at the beginning of a main meal. It literally translates as ‘thank you for the good meal’. Much to my colleague Yoshi’s frustration, I asked “Do we still have to say that even if the food’s crap?”. At first he looked shocked then realised, I was taking the piss.
I am a horrible tease.
It was birthday week and I was thrilled when the parents decided they wanted to take me out to dinner on my actual birthday – at first I was supposed to go to early music rehearsal but skived it. It seemed improbable we’d get a booking at Otsumami but they managed to squeeze us in. I’ve been to this fabulous restaurant a few times before but was nervous to go with my parents as they can be fussy.
It didn’t used to be so readily available, but one of my favourite starters is edamame – steamed, slighly salted baby soy beans. I’d like to claim that edamame is actually seasoned with crack, but this might get me into legal trouble. It is, of late, a current culinary addiction of mine. Best shared with a drinking buddy as sakana or otsumami (Japanese small dishes) often are.
Unlike the traditional à la carte menu, the dishes at Otsumami are divided by size – small, medium and large. Peko Peko in Collingwood also uses this system. The smaller dishes correspond roughly as entrées.
They sounded pretty ordinary to me, but Mum chose salmon harumaki from the small foods section. She was going to be the most critical of our dining troupe. but really seemed to enjoy these.
Dad chose the seared scallop sushi, which I’ve had before. They were so unbelievably succulent and cooked perfectly.
On this occasion, I chose the special offered – tuna sashimi marinated with soy, sesame and a pistachio dressing, and finished with coriander. Pistachio is not something I would have thought would work with raw fish or the Japanese palate, but I was pleasantly surprised. The soft crunch of the crushed pistachio complemented the slivers of raw tuna.
Other standard items on the small foods menu previously enjoyed include oysters with daikon (I tried to order but sadly they were out), marinated green bean salad (which even those who aren’t fond of vegetables will love), and the sumisoe (the pronunciation is su-mi-so-eh, in case you’re wondering). My tummy hates avocado (rather against the wishes of my tongue) but I figured sampling this sweet miso marinated raw salmon dish was worth any gastric pain caused. I would have liked the avocado a tad firmer and in smaller cubes. This is one of the most expensive dishes in its group. Damn you delicious raw fish!
The sumisoe, I would argue is an essential selection at Otsumami. In the large dish group, the kinokodon is my nomination – several types of mushrooms served in a butter sauce. Again, butter with the woodier, more pungent Asian mushrooms doesn’t sound like an ideal pairing, but it is heavenly. This was the choice of main for my partner, a reformed mushroom-phobe. Along with your standard mushroom, there is enoki and sliced shittake all of which differ in flavour so much.
Dad had the deconstructed take on a niku don. I was worried the serving might not be enough, and that it would be too muted a choice, but he loved it.
Mum chose the very safe but satisfying lemongrass yakitori don. On account of its size, she wasn’t able to finish it. Like her chosen entrée, it too was beautiful in presentation. I’m glad she chose dishes I would have otherwise ignored – think I might have to try them myself one day.
All of the selections above were from the large dish group, except mine which was a ‘medium’ one – the sake carpaccio (sake being Japanese for salmon here, not the Japanese rice wine). It’s a little difficult to see it with its deep-fried ocha soba hat, but you can view it in better detail on Flickr.
On a previous occasion, I had the very filling tsuke sashimi don – too much rice for my liking, and not vinegary enough. I much prefer the CBD-located Meshiya’s sashimi (specifically tekka) don.
The atmosphere and service are always consistently good, and the food really enjoyable and moderately priced. It’s also outside the city, and not ridiculously far from me. It gets tiring having to be in the city for all the good eats! I was especially grateful on this night that they managed to fit us in and the parents said they would dine there again. Definitely book ahead, as it’s quite small and popular.