|Chef Seita Nakahara|
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. A year after my last visit to terra, I returned this week to dine on chef-owner Seita Nakahara’s autumn menu and I can attest to his consistently excellent delivery.
You might have heard that terra lost its one Michelin star in Michelin’s sophomore edition this June. While I don’t have the details of what happened, Michelin’s bizarre decision has by no means dented business at the Tokyo-Italian eatery judging by the packed house during my visit on a Tuesday night.
Nakahara is known for his use of pristine Japanese ingredients prepared in his trademarked Tokyo-Italian style, a minimalist Italian-inspired cuisine founded by the Tokyo native on the premise of using mostly ingredients from the land of the rising sun.
|Scrambled egg caviar bruschetta|
From the eight-course S$308++ omakase menu (one week’s notice is required), Nakahara sends out yet another game-changing snack that yields almost as much pleasure – and calories – as the sea urchin bruschetta we had last year. Instead of sea urchin, Nakahara serves his bruschetta with a layer of silky Oita organic scrambled egg topped with preserved yuzu-dressed caviar so that each bite is light as it is crusty. It’s redolent of a decadent breakfast but makes for a perfect snack.
|Hokkaido hairy crab, uni|
Fans of Hokkaido hairy crabs will be chuffed with the ensuing course of Hokkaido Funkawan kegani. Instead of having to battle the kegani with your bare hands, Nakahara hands it to you on a silver platter. All parts of the kegani – its leg, body and brains inclusive – is steamed, shelled, seasoned, stuffed hako zushi-style back into the quartered carapace and served alongside parsley-infused salsa verde topped with a tongue of Bafun sea urchin and a wedge of sudachi. The mild sweetness of the crab is gloriously counterpointed against a light pungency from the garlic and anchovy in the salsa verde and a refreshing touch of acidity from the sudachi.
You will also remember Nakahara’s ethereal chillied capellini with tonburi, uni and preserved lemon dressing with yuzu. While this dish can’t be beat, the Tokyo chef continues to innovate with unusual pasta offerings. First, a dish of chilled capellini crowned with thin wedges of refreshingly sweet Wakayama peach dressed in preserved yuzu dressing flecked with mint, a dish that brings unspeakable joy the moment you bite into the fruit’s sweet, soft and dangerously juicy flesh. Isn’t this fruit-forward pasta a wonderful thing?
Named for the guitar-like contraption that this pasta is produced, Nakamura serves his chitarra egg pasta with rare-cooked scallops from Sarufutsu. Located in the far north of Hokkaido, this village was reported in Japan Times to be the nation’s richest village due to its bountiful harvest of scallops from the Sea of Okhotsk. The scallops are sweet, meaty and rich in flavour of the sea and whilst unusual, these are paired against tender, almost melted, eggplant from Kagawa, al dente chitarra pasta and shaved bottarga fish roe for umami.
|Nagasaki abalone, brown butter pine nut sauce, cherry tomatoes, menegi|
If you ever doubt the value of this omakase, perhaps this last course will put paid to your reservation – sauteed wild caught Nagasaki abalone served whole. The springy-chewy mollusc arrives in its own shell doused in a brown butter pine nut sauce with Aiko cherry tomatoes from Shizuoka and strips of menegi (baby spring onions).
A trip to terra always feels like a celebration of Japan’s bountiful harvests. If you’re an oenophiles, you’ll most likely draw a parallel of the dining experience at terra to drinking a glass of natural wine, where there is minimum intervention so that the character of the ingredient and its origin are given the opportunity to shine. Where does that put Nakahara then? A modern wine maker perhaps?