Feb 28, 2012

Ishizen 石膳日本料理


Ishizen is a surprising little Japanese hot pot restaurant located in the fringe of the Sin Yi District. The chef is an actually Japanese and a direct descendant of a famous chef family line. The chef's grandfather was the founder of sumo wrestler hot pots and his father was a famous french chef lauded by the Japanese royal family. By some twist of fate, the owner married a Taiwanese woman and ended up bringing his family recipes to Taiwan and serves authentic Japanese food to the people here. The standard hot pot set consists of many types of seafood, slices of red meat, and plenty of vegetables. They use the most high quality ingredients, their salmon and scallops are sashimi grade, so the high price is warranted. The soup base is also very special. They use white beans fermented for a year as the base of the broth, and they also place a few secret spices including red peppers. However, the meal will be rather light in flavor in comparison to spicy Taiwanese hotpots, but you can defintitely taste the freshness and the raw unadulterated flavors of their ingredients with their style of soup base and condiments. Ishizen is worth a visit for a unique Japanese hot pot experience in Taipei.

Address:  台北市基隆路一段428號
                 Section 1, Jīlóng Rd, Sinyi District Taipei City
Phone #:  02-8780-2836
Business Hours: 11:30-14:00, 17:30-21:30
Website: http://www.ishizen.com.tw/
Accepts Credit Cards: yes
Price Range:   $$$$
Attire: casual
Good for kids: yes
Take out: some items
Waiter Service: yes
Outdoor seating:  no
Alcohol: yes


Food Quality: 4.5 out of 5
Decor:  3 out of 5
Service: 3 out of 5
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
Final Thought: Authentic Japanese Sumo Wrestler Hot Pot

The interior is quite small with a capacity of only five four-person tables. The owners aren't trying to serve too many people at once, but they will only cater to only as many people their husband and wife duo can handle. The interior is not decorated in any fancy way. The decor seems more like a cafe than a hot pot restaraunt, and their seaweed desserts are showcased in these glass cases in the storefront. I think the service could have been a lot better if they had at least one more hired hand because the wife is so busy doing everything from ringing up the bill to busting tables that there really isn't any time alotted to explaining the meal and the optimum preparation for each item. Our server helped us prepare the more vital portions of our meal, but then ditched us to deal with the more easy-to-prepare items. 
In the beginning you get this soy milk looking broth, which begins to turn caramel brown when it boils for a little longer. You can see the bean paste swirl in the broth and see some red pepper slices float around when the stock starts bubbling.
As we waited for the stock to reach the right temperature they wheeled over this mound of treasures. The standard set comes with 2 prawns, 2 slices of salmon, two slices of sea bass, two pieces of scallop, two pieces of angler fish stomach and cheek, an assortment of mushrooms and vegetables, two octopus meatballs, a wad of abalone meatballs, slices of pork, and slices of beef. This is more than enough food for two, and if it really isn't filling enough, they also add in udon and make porridge out of the remaining stock.
The condiments they provide are very minimal and they encourage you to only use a small amount of each in order to get the full taste of their special broth and the freshness of their high quality ingredients. The top left is a spicy raddish paste, the top right is a sesame paste, the bottom left is vinegar, and the bottom right is sliced green onion. Most of the seafood items require just a dab of vinegar to coax out the flavor. The sesame paste is better for those who might feel it it is too bland to just rely on vinegar, and the raddish paste works well if an item needs an extra kick to it.
The first item the server hand cooked for us is the scallop. They controlled the time it cooked so that that the outside is cooked, but the inside is left raw. A little dab of vinegar and this morsel turned out to be a sensational piece of scallop. It was sweet and soft and yet a little spicy from the broth.
Next, they cooked this slice of sashimi grade salmon in a similar way by leaving most of the interior raw. The texture is quite amazing and the oils were more pronounced when it is cooked in his fasion. Again, a dab of vinegar paired with sesame paste added a deeper flavor to this piece.
The huge prawn was also great ingredient for the broth. They cooked it just right. The meat was not too hard or too soft and the sweetness of the shrimp still resided in the shell. The soup itself was great to slurp on. We were told ot mix in a little green onions. There is a subtle spiciness, a underlying beany pasty texture, and a perfect level of saltiness. I am tempted to call this miso soup, but it is not made out of the same bean. It is very similar to miso.
The sea bass, whatever 鱈魚 translates to, was annoying to eat because of the vast amounts of bone, but the accessible meat was very flakey and yet soft. It seemed to melt in your mouth after an initial tension. Most of these items started tasting the same because of their union with the same broth. Only slight differences in the inherent flavor of the ingredients differed.
I don't know if I like this abalone meatball. It seemed to have turnip, pieces of abalone, and pork bunched together and tasted like a loose "Lion's Head". I didn't really taste the abalone in this one.
I am also not sure how I feel about eating angler fish. When I did there was a lot of soft bones, and cartilage. It seemed to be like rubber. Not much taste in it.
The assorted mushrooms and vegetables are just as you can imagine them. They also provide bak choi. They are good palate cleansers. If you love enoki mushrooms like me, you can slurp them up like noodles.
The slices of beef were of exceptional quality. They provided slices of short rib. The marbling was of a good ratio, so each slice had a good texture. Not too chewy and the fat exuded a fair amount of beef flavor, the savory and semi sweet goodness. After slice upon slice of meats they turned the stock into...
This huge pot of porridge/congee. They cracked an eg in there and threw all the rest of the green onions in there. At this point I could not devour an actual bowl, so I just tried a few spoonfuls. It was indeed delicious and seasoned just right. However, I needed to save room for dessert.
They have an assortment of these desserts with many types of flavors. They are supposively made out of a seaweed native to Hokkaido. I got the strawberry flavored one and it tastes like a strawberry smoothie, but has the texture of mousse. It is very airy and lightly flavored. It is not so sweet, and is perfect for the Taiwanese who don't like their desserts too sweet. Actually, if you don't feel like dropping 3000 for a two person hotpot, or the other expensive items in their restaurant, it might just be worth it to bring 40 NT and try one of these desserts. I might come back and try the other flavors sometime. They aren't extremely impressive, but they are scrumptious and priced modestly.

Ishizen is an interesting hot pot experience. It is not everyday you eat at a store of a direct descendant of the creator of Sumo hot pots. Although the decor and service is not so great, the sheer fact that you are eating something handed down for decades is amazing. This recipe was more or less the same from 1885, and a twist of fate caused this Japanese descendant to provide it here in Taipei.

1 comment:

Paul Cowsill said...
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