September 23, 2010

Otsumami I, II, III

Date visited: May 5th 2009, February 18th 2010, March 3rd 2010

257 High Street
Northcote, VIC 3070
(03) 9489 6132
Food: Japanese

Otsumami is one of my favourite places to dine at for high quality, well-prepared Japanese food. It can be hard to locate at first, neatly tucked in between the shops along bohemian High Street, but once you've found it you are guaranted to return, clearly spotting the white sign at the front with a very small "otsumami" printed across it.

Inside, the decor is minimalist and dainty with moody lighting created from large, funky woven ball-shaped lamps dangling from the roof. The space is cosy, occupied by modern furniture in the front of the restaurant, and tradtional low tables at the rear. The dinner crowd here is a mix of couples out on a romantic date, girlfriends catching up over a chic meal and young families happily seated at the low tables, enjoying a night out with their children.

Although the menu is divided into small, medium and large dishes, there is no clear line that distinguishes entrees from mains. Food is whisked out in no particular order, it just depends on what the chefs finish preparing first. I guess the concept is much like tapas-style dining, with dish sizes sitting on a much larger scale.

I am guilty of indulging myself here 3 times in the past 2 months, so have decided to bind them all into one post. Brace yourself for a plethora of mouth-watering dishes.

First visit:

Kingfish Tataki - Slices of lightly seared Kingfish, served on an onion salad with an uplifting soy and citrus dressing. Tasting so divine with vibrant flavours, the restaurant usually sells out of this dish on busy nights.

Soft Shell Crab - Crisply fried on the outside and seeping with juices inside, the density of the crab is cut through by the zesty aioli.

Tori Niku Gyoza - Chicken, coriander, shiitake mushrooms and five spice dumplings, with a soy and chilli dipping sauce. Quite a pedestrian dish, I would have prefered the dumplings to be more caramelised at the base.

Tsuke Sashimi Don - Mixed sashimi marinated in soy, garlic and sesame oil, served on sushi rice with shiso, nori and pickled ginger. I love meals like this where different textures and sensations are combined in one bowl and you simply just need to use a spoon to appreciate all the wonderful flavours (the laziness in me coming out). Each cube of tuna or salmon that you devour is so savoury and fragrant, you really do need the rice to balance out the flavours, and finish with a sliver of the piquant ginger.

Kinokodon - An enriching dish of meaty textures from the field, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, which have been sauteed in a butter and garlic-based sauce, and served over a bed of rice.

Second visit:

Tofu Shumai - Delicately steamed dumplings, filled with tofu, carrot, shiitake and bamboo; served with a sweet soy dipping sauce and intriguingly, a knob of wholegrain mustard.

Tori Niku Gyoza - Chicken, coriander, shiitake mushrooms and five spice dumplings served with a soy and chilli dipping sauce. Much more crisp and golden brown at the base than at our earlier visit.

 Nasu Dengaku - Gorgeous, chunky cubes of eggplant cooked in a sweet miso and sake sauce. It was cleverly served on a nest of baby spinach, which beautifully soaked up all the excess sauce.

Okonomiyaki - Pancake topped with a thick Japanese mayonnaise sauce, nori and bonito fish flakes. The sauce overwhelmed the poor little cabbage pancake underneath, so it was hard to taste anything but the mayo.

Soba Salad - It was such a delight to feast on this; the green tea soba noodles, cherry tomatoes, spinach, onion and avocado were tossed in a refreshing, sweet sesame dressing.

Kingfish Tataki - This time, it was garnished with shards of dried red chilli and looked a little haphazardly plated up. Nonetheless, the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of the fish, lathered in a fragrant soy and citrus dressing was still all there :-)

Niku Don - Comforting, thick slices of beef, "BBQ-style" seared and served on a bok choy salad with daikon, chilled ponzu dressing and a side of rice. It was a relief to bite into the beef and find it perfectly cooked, with a slightly nutty tang.

Third visit:

Kaki Sashimi - Natural oysters, served with a zingy Japanese citrus dressing and fresh daikon

Maguro Sumisoae - Chunks of chopped fresh Tuna and avocado, marinated in a tart miso and vinegar dressing, finished with a sprinkle of earthy toasted sesame seeds

Ika Salad - The squid was marinated in soy, coriander and lemon, then deep fried and tossed with a scrumptious salad of spinach leaves, cucumber, mint and a sesame dressing

Kingfish Tataki - A consistent winner for us.

Sake Carpaccio - Salmon sashimi marinated in a garlic oil and served with an apple, soy and citrus sauce. For me, the garlic oil was too strong of an addition to the soft flavours of the salmon, so I let Damian tackle this one on his own - which he all too happily obliged to, almost licking the plate clean!


Vee - A Melbourne Munchkin. said...

Okaay that kingfish tataki is just off the hook. But I'm never in Northcote; reckon it's worh a special trip??

Saucy Thyme said...

definitely! as long as it doesn't take you TOO long to get there. you could even have a little shop around beforehand to make the trip even more worthwhile ;)

Libby said...

Oh wow, it looks like the kingfish tataki is the way to go. The soba salad certainly seems worthy of a try too. And while I'm normally like heaps of sauce on my okonomiyaki, I do agree with you - too much sauce and mayo spoils the whole thing!