Oct 9, 2017
Not sure how an unassuming sea bream feels about being chopped up and made the centerpiece of a well-wishing human collective, but this is the role that the Japanese have given to the fish - and it's not the object of the well-wishing sentiment.
The Japanese love a bit of word association so it is that sea bream, being tai (鯛) in Japanese, is the main dish of choice for such occasions of "omedetai", celebratory dos held to wish someone, or each other, well - in this case, it was the Japanese partner's mother's birthday ... of a significant number. It could also have been a wedding, New Year's, someone's graduation, the 7-5-3 ceremony and many more.
Not that tai is limited to such special appearances but it's unlikely feature in any weekday-after-work dinners, the preparation of it calls for some dexterity. It should be noted though, that there are many kinds of tai or sea bream. It don't know which we are eating here, or if it even matters. Although given the setting (Aoyama restaurant, private room, city view) and price, I'm assuming it was one of the good ones!
Our sea bream was part of a six-course washoku (Japanese food) extravaganza, the best part of which for this well-wisher was the Matsusaka steak (see the picture below). Matsusaka beef comes from the, well, Matsusaka region of Mie Prefecture. Maybe it was because we were only afford a couple of small slices but our luxury steak fared much better than other high-end cuts in Japan which I personally find way too oily. Honestly, I'd take cheap supermarket Australian beef over Kobe's finest. I really do mean that. Anyway, the stuff from Matsusaka is promising.
Back to our tai. It came with head and tail fin intact as you can see from the images, with the rest served as sashimi on a shredded daikon (Japanese radish) base, along side cuts of tuna (again, as sashimi). The meat was kind of translucent and had a delicate look to it. Taste was clean, refreshing almost.
The whole thing was served on what looks to these eyes like a bridge, although the Japanese partner insisted it was a boat. Once we'd eaten everything on the "boat", it was taken away and the dish holding the head / tail of the tai (along with "omedetai" decorative items) left to occupy the center of the table for the remainder of the meal.
Our "omedetai" slap up dinner cost around 7,000 yen per head and included a glass of bubbly at the start.