Tokyo, a city known for its fireworks and seafood, came to White Bear Lake On August 4th. Food blogging extraordinaire, Rachael White, creator of the blog, Tokyo Terrace, combined with wine genius Kurt Hegland, owner of Ursula’s Wine bar and Café, to produce a Japanese fusion wine dinner, an event sparking taste buds of both timid and adventuresome guests.
Ursula’s Wine Bar, cozy enough for strangers to sit at tables face to face, was filled with curious foodies and Rachael admirers. Curiosity triumphed expertise as sparkling HouHou Shu sake was served with delicate Lotus Root chips as small talk began.
“Your sake bubbles more than mine, are they different?”
“Are the lotus root chips really shaped like this, or are they cut into this design?”
Guests admired pictures–rows of ornate rice wine barrows, tightly shelved Buddha statues, as they waited in line for samples dried squid and edamame, a Japanese soybean.
Seated at the table with me and my boyfriend, Ben Murray, was a married couple, Andrew and Jessica. Ben and I were visiting Ursula’s for the first time; Jessica and Andrew were regulars.
The four of us gawked and pulled out our Iphones and Cybershots to snap a shot of a full dried squid (see below). Of the four of us, Andrew was the only one who had been in Japan. He was fascinated by the tiny dried suction cups and pointy head of the squid. Instead of eating it, he gawked, naming it “insect of the sea.”
Brad White, Rachael’s husband is a tall and friendly man. He and Rachael moved to Tokyo two years ago, knowing very little about Japan. To share their experience, Rachael began food blogging in while also substitute teaching as Brad taught full-time. Having admired the elegant prose and the glamorous photos of Tokyo Terrace, I recognized the bright-eyed cook as soon as she appeared in her chef’s uniform. Rachael’s smile never broke as she apologized for the daring choice of squid and reassured us that following courses would not be as “scary.”
Going on six years as a couple, Brad appeared enamored with his wife as she spoke, as though they were still newlyweds. Rachael directed our attention to the back of our menus where she’d included mini “blog-type explanations” of her food choices–perfect for curious foodies.
Then she hurried back to the kitchen, but not before her husband–the teacher—taught us Bon appetite in Japanese: Itadakimasu.
The first course had the edamame doing double duty, this time it was a spread for a crostini. It was served with Meyer lemon and Shiso, a Japanese basil. A rice wine, much like the sake, but with a vodka base, was served alongside it: Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo.
The second course was a staple in Rachael’s menu—Gyoza, a Japanese pot sticker that Rachael filled with corn kernels and scallop. It left everyone hungry for more! The gyoza sat in a creamy yogurt sauce, its parameter marked by four red dots of a very hot dipping sauce–Sriracha.
Ben and I laugh with Jessica and Andrew as we swirl our HB picpoule Pinet and dare one another to try more Sriracha.
The third course introduced the first red wine of the evening: Ramon Bilbao Crianza Rioja 2005. This wine was rich and crisp, drawing out the fresh, clean flavors of Rachael’s Asian slaw: raw cabbage with herbs found in many Vietnamese and Thai dishes.
Atop the slaw was a combination of meat and leek on a skewer. In Tokyo, this combination is a popular way to serve chicken, pork, or fish. However, on this special night, the leeks framed a juicy pork belly laced with a light sesame glaze.
The miso butter, served beside a milky-smooth salmon. Miso paste is a mesh of fermented soybeans. Miso butter is a delicious version of miso paste, and it enhanced not only the salmon but the snap peas beneath it and the quail egg topping the salmon.
This course was served with another red wine, DeuxAmis Zinfandel 2007, which was nearly as smooth as the salmon.
The Japanese fusion experience was wrapped up neatly with a dessert: peaches with whiskey sabayon. This was a light, sweet dish—it tasted like homeade whipped cream whiskey. The Pacific Rim Vin de Glaciere Riesling served with it was perfect for such a light dessert.
Ben and I felt that Rachael’s first TokyoTerrace event was a success. She told us that she had never cooked for 41 people, and wasn’t sure it would go over well–but it did. She left Minnesota, knowing nothing about Japan to bring to her table but she came back knowing just how to bring Japan to our tables. Her food remains an inspiration for both food bloggers and adventuresome foodies.