For anniversaries and birthdays, I’m always hard pressed to find something I’d be proud to gift. When thinking of something to give for those big occasions, I’ve always considered an experience to be more thoughtful than a physical good (unless, of course, its an item that will provide more experiences down the road).
So for our second year anniversary, Michelle and I opted for an experience – an Omakase at El’s Japanese Fusion.
An Omakase is the Japanese equivalent for a tasting menu, except that as a patron, you essentially hand over your money and culinary life into the chef’s hands. We’ve been to El’s Japanese Fusion before to have their sashimi and rolls (which we also highly approve of), so we thought that an Omakase was one of our must-trys. El’s offers three tiers of Omakase: $50, $100 and $150 per person, where I assumed the price levels corresponded with different levels of quality, and all three needed to be reserved in advance.
Mike, the chef at El’s, greeted us after sitting down. As we were newbies at this Omakase-thing, Mike pleasantly explained to us that the Omakase was going to be presented to us one dish at a time, allowing us to enjoy each dish sequentially. At this point, we still had no idea of the dishes to come.
To start off, something warm – a seafood Chawan-mushi. Served in a small cup with a lid and a spoon, the Chawan-mushi was a hot egg custard, and set inside with fish, prawns and green onions on the top. Unlike typical custards, this egg custard was not sweet, but had all the savoury flavourings of the prawns and dashi.
Our second appetizer was a Beef Sashimi, layered with a raw egg yolk and asian pears. We’ve both had beef tataki before, so the concept of near-raw beef was not new – having purely raw slices of beef was definitely unexpected. The raw beef was tender, moist, and hardly chewy. Spreading the egg yolk added texture to the beef, and the julienned asian pears complimented with an unexpected light and fresh way to finish the dish.
Perhaps the most “tame” dishes of the Omakase were the last two appetizers, a salad with sauteed oyster mushrooms, seared scallops and roe. The other dish was an avocado halved, with spicy mayo, atlantic salmon sashimi and avocado pieces – Michelle particularly enjoyed unique presentation, and we’re both suckers for all three of those ingredients used.
After we had finished the above dish and our table was cleared, we heard Mike in the background tell the waitress that the dish was a Live Lobster Sashimi. “Excellent” I thought, I’ve never had raw lobster before! Except…
This lobster was still twitching! The lobster was cut in half, with the claws and body presented on the plate – the tail was carved out and the meat was sliced and presented on top as well. I was impressed (and shocked) with the presentation, but nothing drove the point of ultimate freshness better. And the lobster tail meat was, in a few words, amazing, smooth, firm, clean, fresh.
The lobster was soon whisked away from our table. While recovering from the shock that we actually ate something live and twitching, we were served assorted sushi and rolls including scallop sushi and tuna belly. The lobster soon returned though, cracked and boiled in a large bowl of rich and flavourful miso soup (“Hey buddy, you’re back”). The sushi and lobster miso soup effectively stuffed us.
Rounding off the night was some very un-Japanese cheesecake, which we immediately recognized as the cheesecake available in the freezer section of Costco. The cheesecake was decent, but we definitely would have looked forward to something a bit more Japanese (even green tea ice cream).
The Omakase was fantastic experience, which Michelle and I will be raving for years to come. Each dish was creatively presented and tasted just as great, so I give the chef Mike props for a wonderful meal. I just hope that next time, we don’t get cheesecake for dessert!
El’s Japanese Fusion
17-2008 33 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2T 1Z4