Ever have those people in your life... you know the ones i'm talking about, no matter how hard you may try/scheme/plot to do outdo them, you just can't? Now, i've never been a girl with that many strings to my bow, I know a few things, and I know them well. I know where to go to eat well, but Tatsu, God Bless Him, puts me to rotten, foodie shame. There isn't a place in Sydney that he hasn't tried, once, twice, gotten over already. Not a place that he didn't know about first. I am the Newman to his Seinfeld. All of my Culinary Eurekas are a mere rerun for my Tats. Apparently, he's been Tsukasa'ing from way back when. It's just down the road and it's Madonna's pick for Japanese when she's in Sydney. What the...why wasn't I told! Well, let me say I am glad not another god given day expired before I discovered this little subterranean Hole In The Ground. It's happening and it's Jappening. Tatsu, who finds Japanese food in Australia okaaaay at best, likes it, I, love it. I have eaten here twice already in 3 days, and I have Lived to Tell you Beautiful Strangers precisely how much of an experience this is to Cherish.
It's a loud late night kind of scene they have happening in this saloon type set up. Tourists, cool locals and Japanese people themselves all come in droves for fresh sashimi, not just your standard tunas and salmons, they have bonito sashimi here! General Restaurant Rule of Thumb: if it's Lebanese food and Lebanese people eat there, good sign. If it's Italian and Italian people eat there, good sign. So you're catching my drift about the fact that lots of Japanese people dine here (if not, just Nod and Keep Smiling). The Menu, a line up of all your usual sushiudonsukiyakisashimimisso suspects, reflects this authenticity with a few delicious and traditional curve balls you may not have had the opportunity to sample elsewhere.
Begin with some magic in miso. Because the enzymes in miso become denatured when they're heated too long, most places serve you lukewarm miso, like something disappointingly flaccid when what you really wanted was something sharp. Good miso is hot hot hot, it's light and beautifully brothy, salty and dancing, never too heavy, and the shallots should be very thinly sliced. The miso here is bang on, and like a restaurant that serves divine bread, good miso is usually your cue that they know what they're doing.
Salmon with spinach is a sparkling starter. The sashimi is fresher than adolescent predilections towards being jaded, richer too. It crowns a splendidly crunchy and verdant bed of blanched spinach (ohitashi), dressed in a beautiful sauce, a maddening mess of soy and mirin, sweet and sharp and almost syrupish. It's a wonderful dish, light and healthy but really flavoursome, the little flecks of sesame seed throughout give a nice nutty texture to the smoothness of the fish and the crunchiness of the greens.
The Seaweed Salad here is a tad Jitalian. The usual aramewakamesesamesweetsoyoily mass of wicked weed sits atop some lettuce and tomato in an old school Mamma Mia wooden salad bowl, but I shouldn't knock it if it works. And it does. The plainness of the lettuce and tomato are a good reprieve from the saltiness and sweetness of the seaweed, going back and forth between the two tastes is good mouth tennis.
Chef's Shoes is the name of the next starter, and it's about as close I have come in my rather innocent life to a Foot Fetish. A delicate sashimi mix dances around little strands of rare mushroom, it's a balmy flavour, gentle and deep all at once, dressed very lightly. Mix through some of the dried seaweed on top as it lends a saltiness that contends very well with the oiliness of the fish. This is a gorgeous Japanese Classic, but it was quickly (almost) forgotten in the fateful moment that was soon to descend upon my baffled buds.
Eggplant with sweet miso and shallots, I believe Signor F. Flinstone phrased it best: yabbadabbadoo! It's dishes like this that make you want to just hang up your gloves and retire. Why keep looking for love when you've already found it. This heady little vixen consists of a slab of baked eggplant, gooey and steaming and smothered to ecstatic eggplanty death beneath the richest sweetest most beguiling miso sauce, the first bite is The Prince raising Sleeping Beauty from an ancient flavour slumber. So Good! The freshness of the shallot bounces off the richness of the miso and eggplant just like it ought to. Little spoonfuls of this will make your eyes roll into the back of your happy head. I couldn't even pretend to be sympathetic when Tats professed he was allergic to eggplant and that a spoon was all he could have! I will order this on every subsequent trip, its so deep. So supple. So tender. So giving. Succumb to its gentle, flavoursome folds and dissolve willingly into the serendipitous sigh it emits from you.
The Prawn and Vegetable Tempura with Dipping Sauce was great, but Cat Stevens knows the first cut is always the deepest. My heart belongs to that eggplant. Tsukasa is a good, rollicking night out, and at a reasonable price. Sukiyaki, Udon, Sushi (hand rolls as well) and most of the usual favourites can all be had. A noisy place, much more beer with a crowd than wine with another. Good, unpretentious Japanese.
It'll make a Bay of Pigs of the lot of us.
Tsukasa happens at 200 Crown Street East Sydney, Call them on 9361 3818.