Saturday, October 16, 2010

Post 37: Birthdays at Maison Akira (LA-SGV: Pasadena)

There are a slew of friends' birthdays coming up, so I have been plotting (err.. planning) a few festivities.  While looking through pictures from last year's birthday celebrations for a few ideas, I came across a series of photos from outings at Maison Akira in Pasadena.

I came here for the first time for the Sunday champagne brunch for Connie's birthday.  I discovered right then that everything Maison Akira offers, from food down to service, is prepared, executed and presented with innate Japanese precision, courtesy of Chef Akira Hirose.  Granted, the brunch buffet is nowhere close to the spread at Universal Hilton, but not a single one of Chef Hirose's dishes are disappointing.  And the doesn't have the same mass-produced feeling that the Vegas buffets or the Universal Hilton buffet has.  Here are some of the expertly prepared plates from the Sunday brunch:

Assorted sushi.
Eel (unagi), salmon (sake), tuna (maguro), egg (tamago), and eggplant (nasu).

Crab chawanmushi.
A petite pool of pesto graces the top of the steamed egg.

The crab chawanmushi was my favorite item in the buffet spread.  The steamed egg is absolutely supple... beautifully supple.  Just slight pressure from the push of my fingers on the teaspoon pierces the skin of the chawanmushi to lift a portion of porcelain delicate, custard colored, tofu textured, protein laded bliss.  The pesto that sits atop the egg allows the tongue to flirt with a slightly saltier flavor for just a few seconds... just long enough for your brain to process the pesto's European origins... but not long enough for your brain to change its views on how Japanese the chawanmushi dish actually is.  Continued excavation into the sake cup sized chawanmushi reveals a pinch-sized lump of fresh crab meat, tender from its recent steam and juicy from absorbing of surrounding egg.  Mmmmm... who's ready to head back for seconds?

The first visit was such a relaxed and pleasant experience that it mandated an evening visit during the dinner service.  I revisited Maison Akira with a group of friends for Allison's big birthday, and we ordered a range of appetizers and entrees in both the tapas and regular plates.

Duo of Japan hamachi sashimi and big-eye tuna tartare.
This dish is so simple yet so tasty.  The wasabi tobiko atop the hamachi
is a creative substitute for the traditional grated wasabi root. 
It literally bursts with nose-clearing spice. 

Trio of big-eye tuna tartare, sashimi and sauteed Hokkaido scallops.
The first dish was a favorite, so we ordered a second helping.  The tartare is fresh,
and the hamachi melts in your mouth.  The scallops are still rare in the middle.  Perfect.

 Tower of portabello mushrooms, yams, tomatoes and maytag bleu cheese.
This combination of vegetables from the ground is piled as high as the pungent 
yet creamy bleu cheese will allow it to go.  It has a transcendentally earthy feel.

Grilled duck foie gras in a port wine truffle sauce
with daikon pot-au-feu and king oyster mushroom.
One of the greatest experiences in life is biting into a chunk of fatty foie gras 
and having its fat juices burst into your mouth and run over your tongue.

Oyster flan in a sea ikura beurre blanc.
This dish combines two of my favorite foods together... oyster and sea urchin roe.
Their creamy textures and ocean origins blend well together.

American kobe beef ravioli in karashi red wine sauce.
Although flavorful, the tender fattiness of the kobe beef is missing from the ravioli.
I'll be having Japanese kobe beef in steak or for shabu shabu in the future.

Sauteed Canadian scallops with king oyster sympatic in lobster jus.
The zucchini basil flan acts as the nucleus for the electrons of scallops,
holding the soft flavor and smooth texture of both flan and scallop together.

Baked Alaska.
Teenage Glutser has an action shot of the baked Alaska during the flambe process here.

I've only ever read about Mrs. White's baked Alaska at Mr. Boddy's extravagant dinner parties in the Clue series as a elementary school kid.  I finally got a chance to try this marshmallow flambeed dessert dish.  The surprise inside is a Japanese green tea ice cream, sweetened by the raspberry sauce and softened by the tough yet airy roasted marshmallow.
Vanilla ice cream with fresh berries in a cookie shell with caramel netting.
The best desserts are simple, fresh, and don't push you into a food coma.

The restaurant is nestled on Green Street behind the Pasadena's main thoroughfare in a space that has room for just over a dozen tables.  The mirrors at any ends of the dining room trick the guests into thinking that the restaurant is actually much larger than it really is.  There are chef prix fixe menus as well as a chef's omakase tasting menu, which I am quite curious to see about next time I visit.  Reservations are highly recommended.  Who's ready to drop some bills?

Until we make it rain again, let's get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20101014/20091101+28

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