Monday, September 20, 2010

HM The Cast and Crew

Masato and I are proud of the team we have working with us at Sanbiki and next door at Mori Mori. I gave everyone a brief introduction back in an August posting. Much better of course for them to introduce themselves!

So we know who's who, everyone will put their initials on their posting title (ie. I am HM for Heather Mcdonald) and we will sign each posting. Stay tuned over the next few weeks and find out more about our their own words!

Enjoy what's left of our wet weekend!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

HM:Back to School

The alarm is going off. But something is dreadfully wrong. I open my eyes but I cannot see a thing. There is a terrible, crushing pressure on my abdomen. I open my mouth to scream and hair.

This is how I know the seasons are changing and fall will soon be here. The cats come back. The mornings are cool again and so they make their seasonal migration from living room to bedroom. This morning they have decided to park themselves strategically on my belly and directly in front of my face.

For many of our customers and staff, 'tis the season for back to school. Students are usually happy to get back to their studies and friends. Some parents (particularly those with mulitiple offspring in the 5 to 10 year range) can scarcely contain their excitement. I giggle everytime I see the Walmart commercial with the Dad hauling his less than enthusiastic brood across the floor on the couch-sled. "They're going back...."

Sanbiki usually slows down for a bit whenever there's a change in season or a big schedule shift. Back to school; end of school; Christmas vacation and the like. Now is no different. Last week was fairly slow. But it gave Masato and the team in the kitchen an opportunity to start thinking about seasonal specials and any changes we may want to make to our menu.

Freshness and seasonality of ingredients are central ideas in Japanese cuisine. What can be hunted, gathered or harvested locally heavily influences an area's culinary traditions. What you'll find at a Japanese sushi bar often depends on where you are and when you visit. The first question many diners ask their Itamae (sushi Chef) is "What's in season?" Based on the Chef's recommendations, diners can then enjoy a meal that makes the best use of the available ingredients.

Customers tastes also change with the season. Summer time is not high time for tempura udon; a big bowl of steaming home made broth filled with crispy tempura veggies and shrimp. But as the weather cools, the udon orders begin pouring into the kichen. Guests begin asking for nabemono (Japanese style hot pots) and other warming comfort foods. Sushi is always popular but more so in the hot summer months. A toasty summer day in Kamloops can hit 40 degrees. Who wants to cook?

Paula and Mendel from the Farmers Market have warned us their lovely, organic lettuce may only be available for another week. But there should be lots of carrots, beets and other root veggies for a while longer. We have been spoiled with fresh plums, melon and apricots but the days of fresh, local fruit are perhaps numbered. Sorrento-based Crannog Ales' delicious Seasonal Cherry Ale (all organic!!) has long since sold out...or was it me that drank most of it? All in the name of quality control, of course....

Anyway, a new season brings new ingredients and we always have new recipes to experiment with. Kishino is back in the kitchen this week and we are working on some seasonal dinner specials. She's playing with a recipe for "Kata Yakisoba", crispy noodles piled high with mixed seafood and a light sauce. Soon Ja is spicing things up with a Korean style Kim Chi with stirfried pork. Me, I'm watching and learning (and sampling!). I help doing dishes but I'm not allowed to cook. "No knives and nothing that involves fire"'s safer that way....

Have a great week...more later...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

HM YVR Gluttony:Korean

I smell garlic. Lots of garlic. A frighteningly large bag of red chili powder lies open on the cutting board. From within a glass jar, labeled in an incomprehensible script, tiny, salted shrimps gaze sadly into nothingness with beady black eyes.

Soon Ja is the Korean Queen in Sanbiki's kitchen. Right now, she is standing with her hands on her hips, staring at the array in front of her. Perhaps in her mind's eye she is back in her mother's kitchen. Ordinarily she is fairly laid back, with a smile on her face. But it's kim chi time and she is all business.

Kim Chi is the King of "banchan"; the Korean side dishes that accompany virtually every meal in that corner of the world. Simply put, Kim Chi is a pickled veggie dish. However there are countless variations depending on where you happen to be in Korea and when. The most familiar to us Canadians is probably a mix of chinese cabbage, radish and green onions mixed with garlic, chili and teeny, tiny super-salty shrimp.

It was the first Korean dish I tried and is a familiar side offered on many Asian restaurant menus. You'll love it or hate it. At least everyone can agree it stinks. And so will you if you eat enough of it. Kind of like Caeser salad. But as I am learning, eating Korean is far more than spicy, smelly kim chi. There are rice bowls, hot pots, soups and do it yourself BBQ. Often spicy, sometimes mild; always an adventure.

Vancouver has countless excellent Asian restaurants and Korean cuisine is well represented. I arrived in Richmond late one night, checked in to the hotel and headed straight out again for dinner. Kim Ga Nae (near Aberdeen Centre; Cambie&#3Rd) was the first place I came across that was still open. Why not?

There was an AYCE (all-you-can eat) option for about $16 (late night special price) and an a la carte menu. Obviously popular with couples and post-bar snacking types, the other tables seemed to be going for AYCE BBQ. Dining solo, I decided to go with the a la carte. I over-ordered as usual, knowing the inevitable leftovers would be tomorrows lunch.

"Bindaeddeok" is a savoury seafood pancake often made with mung bean flour, green onion, and other veggies. We have had some success experimenting with this recipe at Sanbiki. We managed to get the outside crispy and served it with a spicy sesame oil dipping sauce. The one at Kim Ga Nae is a bit spongy for my taste. I like mine loaded with seafood and veggies and light on the batter.

The "banchan" (side dishes) were so-so. A sliced, pickled radish dish was slightly better than the kim chi and bean sprouts. But not much. I think Soon Ja has spoiled me with her home style Korean cooking. I may never be satified in a cheap Korean restaurant again, and I'm not sure I can affford the expensive ones.

The hot pot was as middle of the road as everything else. Lots of chewy potato noodles with a lot less overcooked seafood. It was served with one of those kerosene warmers which seemed a nice touch at first. Unfortunately it meant the already chewy seafood bits kept cooking, quickly taking on the consistency of rubber. I failed in my attempts to extinguish the burner; but came damn close to setting my table aflame. The server noticed my predicament but seemed far more interested in the wall-mount TV.

At least the beer was cold. Hite was the brand I tried. Cass and OB are two other popular Korean breweries. I only recently learned that Korean beer is usually brewed fom rice. This is different from Japanese beer which is usually made from wheat. Lagers are the most popular style of beer in both countries.

For better or worse, I had lots of leftovers for the next day. A botttle of previously untried "Bruised Garlic Chili Paste" from TNT Supermarket added enough kick to make lunch at least a little bit interesting. Hell, enough of a new chili sauce would make cardboard interesting. I definitely liked the new hot sauce more than the leftovers.

Back in Sanbiki's kitchen I am full of questions for Soon Ja. I know kalbi (or "galbi") is a popular Korean BBQ dish but is it usually pork or beef? Sweet or spicy? Apparently beef short ribs marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, sugar and occassionaly citrus juice is a staple kalbi recipe. Pork or beef may be used in spicy "Bulgogi" (literally; "fire meat") which, as the name suggests, is traditionally grilled over an open flame.

I've just started on my Korean food quest adventure. I can't wait to read and learn about (and (eat) more Korean dishes. For now, I should let Soon Ja get on with her kim chi making. But I cannot resist one last nagging question. You see I saw this show on the Food Network, and these guys were in a Korean restaurant and they were eating...well, I could be wrong...but it looked like they were baby octopus...

"Soon Ja, do you guys really eat live baby octopus?" She glances up from her kim chi making. There is a fiery glint in her eye and she lets out a laugh. A deep, dark laugh that makes me chilly. Did she just lick her lips, or are my eyes playing tricks? Yikes. And I though she was such a sweet girl....