Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Ishikawa Prefecture Drops in on NYC

Here are a few photos from a beautifully cooked and presented dinner I attended last night at Gramercy Tavern in celebration of one of Japan's most culturally rich areas, Ishikawa Prefecture. Hosts Michael Romano, president of culinary development for Union Square Hospitality Group and  GT executive chef  Michael Anthony presided over the event, held in a private room decked out to the nines by USHG's talented in-house floral designer Roberta Bendavid.

Before guests arrive,  ChefAnthony decides to preserve the moment.

Paying homage to the foods of Ishikawa, which is located on the more picturesque side of the country, the Sea of Japan coast, nine courses showcased oysters, lobster, crab and kinmedai (golden sea bream) among other delicacies. We sat down to a first course of sea urchin, creamy Hakurei turnips and apples dressed in miso and pumpkin seeds. A teepee-like wooden construction stood over each dish, an allusion to the yukitsuri rope coverings used to protect wintering trees in Japan, and in Ishikawa's Kenrokuen park.

Two of Ishikawa most famous exports (besides Chairman Kaga of Iron Chef  fame) are Kutani ceramics and Wajima lacquerware, both of which were represented at the table. I was so taken with this Wajimaware bowl, but the matsutake mushroom and crab soup inside it was equally refined. Chefs Romano and Anthony were assisted by a surprise guest, chef Shinichiro Takagi of Zeniya restaurant in Kanazawa, the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. (Orchestrating the dinner behind the scenes was Gohan Society founder and Korin Japanese Trading Corp. President Saori Kawano.) Later, Anthony noted that the one word he took away from the kitchen lessons of the evening was "restraint;" this clear soup exemplified that value.

Romano, who has been given the honorary title of "Ambassador of Culture and Fine Dining" by the governor of Ishikawa Prefecture, enthusiastically discussed his Ishikawa culinary finds, especially koji, the mold-innoculated rice that is enjoying its moment in Japan, especially mixed with salt to form a kind of super-seasoning, and ishiri, an Ishikawa-made super-powered fish sauce containing pickled and fermented squid intestines. In what must have been catnip to the roomful of chefs, Romano evoked those moments "when you just need a little something to round out a dish, fill in the middle." A squirt of ishiri, he marveled, "fills up a whole flavor spectrum on your palate." 

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