By Heather Hoch
By Lauren Saria
By JK Grence
By Eric Schaefer
By Robrt L. Pela
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By Laura Hahnefeld
By Laura Hahnefeld
Fukuda grins slyly as he pours our accompanying sake: It's supposed to be Kurosawa Daiginjo, but he's treating us to a sake so special that he's not even supposed to show us the label, he says. The "secret" rice wine is available only to restaurants passing a stringent menu review by the distributor, he explains proudly, and for some odd reason (hype?) the purveyor doesn't allow the bottle to be displayed. It is fabulous, actually, served properly cold and luminous with a clean, melon tone.
Our next course brings a spellbinding tuna tataki, alternating slivers of flash-seared ahi and poached albacore in a pool of sesame oil, pinot noir, puréed onion and soy. I love this snack and have never had it prepared better. The ahi is rosy pink in the middle, and both tunas are impossibly silky. Tucked with a forkful of organic Japanese baby spinach, the dish is absolute bliss. The Roederer Estate champagne served alongside is genius -- crisp, bubbly and rich enough to handle the fishes' heady onion sauce.
A third course of tuna tartare is anything but redundant, delivering six little train cars of blue fin tuna minced with garlic, soy sauce, pine nuts and tiny dicings of Fuji apple, cucumber and avocado. Perched on feather-light strips of lotus chip, the glorious mix melds beautifully with its accompanying soft Billecart-Salmon French champagne.
6204 N. Scottsdale Road
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253-5423
Region: Paradise Valley
Hours: Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Menu sushi, per dish $10
per half-glass $3.50-$6
sushi tasting $50
Prix-fixe 10-course chef's menu
(wine and sushi) $82
Note: specialty (non-menu) sushi and wines, or extra courses (as reviewed) available at additional cost.
Geoduck (jumbo clam) is not available this evening, Fukuda apologizes, but he substitutes New Zealand red snapper to our undiminished joy. Translucent spirals of fish circle a ramekin of green tea salt and yuzu (sour Japanese fruit) that explodes with citrus. We dip tiny pieces, the snapper dissolves on our tongues and we finish with sips of Sancerre sauvignon blanc 1998, a crisp, citrusy wine.
Here, Fukuda pauses. He has been a bit generous with his pourings (usually two to three ounces each), and wonders whether we may be getting lightheaded. Oh, we are, I promise him, but the alcohol has little to do with our giddiness. It's the food, the comfortable atmosphere, the memories of my misspent childhood that have my head in the clouds.
And we're not even halfway through. Ankimo is a smooth, pâté-like terrine of monkfish liver layered with avocado in dueling sauces of shiso oil, balsamic vinegar reduction and citrus. It's the only dish that fails to impress me, primarily because I find the pâté and avocado pairing overwhelmingly mushy, and the Reinhold Haart '98 German Riesling served with it a bit too fruity. It's simply too heavy a creation for my taste.
By our sixth course, we are understandably slowing down. We persevere, though, bravely tackling hirame aburashimozukuri. Fluke is substituted for the menu-standard East Coast halibut, again with no complaints from us. The firm fish is thinly sliced and seasoned in a slightly bitter blend of chive, ginger, sesame seed and yuzu juice, then poached in soy and hot olive oil. Its partner, a Mason Cellars sauvignon blanc, is stronger than what I would expect to find with this dainty meal.
As Fukuda brings out yaki kinoko, my companion and I lay down our chopsticks in defeat. Any more, and the sensual flavors will be lost under our gluttony. Yet, as he tears open a brown paper bag, releasing the scents of Japanese mushrooms (enoki, shimeji and shiitake, to name a few) baked with sake, soy and garlic butter, we give in. I adore the slippery, juicy fungi, perfectly paired with a rich and fruity Sanford Pinot Noir.
Returning several days later, having fasted and now furiously hungry, I lay myself once again at the mercy of Fukuda. And he delivers, rewarding me with perhaps the most decadent creature I've ever had the privilege to eat. Uni sashimi sounds simple enough; the sea urchin is available on almost every sushi menu in town. But I guarantee you've never had uni such as this -- flown in fresh from Santa Barbara, served absolutely plain and perfect. Cold, soft and nutty sweet, it's served with Cristom '98, a big pinot noir from Oregon, and has haunted my dreams ever since.
Some "sushi," such as Fukuda's mushroom dish, doesn't even include fish. Kamo, for example, is a beautiful fan of pan-seared and poached duck breast, sliced thin and served cold in reduction of ginger red wine soy and duck juices. It's as rich and familiar as any entree served at high-end restaurants around town, especially when coupled with a berry-toned Karly '98 zinfandel.
Breaking up the menu over two nights brings other benefits, too. Suddenly, Fukuda throws us a curve ball, setting before us an exquisite specimen of Canadian Valley foie gras, marinated in miso and wrapped in nori (seaweed) on top of sticky rice. It's not on the menu, but it's a decadent secret, and we are much the better for having been exposed to this salty sweet gem. It's served with the same self-confident Cristom as the uni.
Without splitting up the menu, too, I doubt that even the most dedicated gourmet would still be standing by Hapa's regular 10th course. It's worth the effort though, with an exotic blend of barbecued eel and avocado layered with sushi rice on a pool of port wine, honey and soy. It's almost a dessert fish, cloying and sugary, and further sweetened by a glass of port wine served alongside. I'm not sure I like the fruity finish, but the dish's weird textures certainly appeal.