Planting myself on a chair next to DC, I spied the uneaten scallop on her plate, and made an innocent query after studying the rest of her plate, “Are you eating that?” She said no. I calmly speared the scallop with my chopsticks and munched on it while a bowl of sesame and cream-doused spinach was being passed around.
We were sitting down for the preview of the special popup from Wasabi by Taj, an event curated by the brand to bring the team of Wasabi to Kolkata. Created by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, a man who has long been my inspiration and a reason for my love for Japanese food, the menu boasts of an incredible array of hot and cold appetizers. We started with a platter of assorted Sushi and Sashimi (Chef’s Choice). I spied the Hamachi (yellowtail) and Tuna belly (otoro), which comes from a region right under the fin, and speared a couple of pieces for myself before paying attention to the pristine white and pink Salmon Nigiri as well as more scallops.
A side of freshly grated wasabi and some gari is placed on the side. I pick some up, and then spot some plump salmon roe, glistening like transluscent orange pearls. Of course, this time I use the spoon to scoop some up and promptly pop them in my mouth. The freshness of the fish roe makes me almost delirious with forbidden pleasure.
The toro tartare is a beautiful bowl served on a platter of shaved ice to maintain the fish’s freshness. A bit of caviar rests on top. My inexpert taste buds believe it to be Beluga, but I may be wrong. Its paired with Yangmei, or mountain peach, and the finely chopped fatty tuna belly, an act of decadence, is sharply in contrast with the salty soy and caviar pearls.
I assume the salmon to be seared more, but apart from a mild blowtorch on the sides, most of the fish is left untouched, with some crisp garlic and chopped onions to add to the textural contrast.
I was impatiently waiting for the Hamachi Carpaccio ever since I saw it being prepared by Masaharu Morimoto in Iron Chef America. The fish was marinated in soy and yuzu, and had a beautiful piquant flavor which was addictive. I might have taken more than my share.
The white fish carpaccio was creamier, and had a far milder flavor. A tofu carpaccio lay on one end of our table, mostly forgotten while we fought over the last slice of sashimi.
The spicy avocado in the wasabi tacos is an homage to Chef Morimoto’s links to the US. The taco shell was crunchy and topped generously with shichimi togarashi and a slice of olive to keep with the Tex-Mex origins of the dish while adding a whiff of Japan.
The main courses featured a Japanese vegetable curry rice, wasabi fried rice which was a unanimously agreed upon hit, and sauteed vegetables, which we turned to after eating incredible amounts of fish.
The miso soup with crab and seaweed was my other favorite – white miso cooked down with dashi and some fresh crab claws to bring the dish together.
The Aburi pork kakuni was served with a little bit of mash, but to be fair, it didn’t need that. The kurobuta pig belly was cooked for hours and it fell apart at the first touch of a fork. My table might have let out a collective moan at the silky texture of the belly, and inappropriate, sexist comments might have been made.
Dessert included a beautiful tofu cheesecake with pineapple sauce, and a wasabi creme brulee which had a strong Wasabi flavor, but my favorite would be the Kuro Goma mille feuille (fresh caramel, Hokkaido chocolate ice cream), with buttery, crumbly mille-feuille paired with slices of fresh strawberry and chocolate ice cream which wasn’t too sweet. The Wasabi by Taj Popup is an a-la-carte event, and will be on till the 19th, and if you’re lucky, you might get a seat still.
Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee was invited by the management for a preview of the popup. Her respectful worshipping of Masaharu Morimoto has nothing to do with her finding the food incredible.