Yesterday, while having dinner, I both gained inspiration to make roasted eggplant AND lost my appetite for seafood. All in the same restaurant.
Since I rarely find myself hungry in Richmond past 9pm, I decided to head there at dinnertime and get myself some post-workout sushi.
The restaurant was big, with a menu to match. There were dozens of appetizers, snacks, and robata to choose from, as well as sashimi, nigiri, rolls, maki, cones, noodles, soup, and some Vietnamese-esque vermicelli dishes. Because they offered both gomaae and ‘spinach with ponzu sauce’ (‘Ohitashi,’ $4.75) I told myself to give up the gomaae for once and try an alternative.
I regretted it.
It’s not that the spinach with ponzu sauce was necessarily bad, it was just WAY too salty for my liking, and with each bite I just kept thinking “I should have gotten the gomaae!” Sad story, right?
For sushi, I had a Samurai Roll ($7.95), a spicy scallop cone ($3.50), a piece of tamago nigiri ($1.30), and a Hamachi nigiri ($2.25).
The Samurai Roll had prawn tempura, cucumber, tobiko, avocado, and BBQ’d eel. It was quite tasty – freshly prepared with warm, relatively good rice.
Things sort of went downhill from there, however. The tamago nigiri was mediocre, and the Hamachi (yellowtail) nigiri was just plain off.
It didn’t taste great when I first bit into it, and got worse as I chewed. The scallops were also of the funky variety, so I only managed one bite of the cone.
I ordered the grilled eggplant from the robata menu ($3.95), and that I enjoyed. The small Japanese eggplant had been grilled until it was soft inside, then sliced open and served steaming hot with ponzu sauce.
The eggplant dish was simple and tasty, but I especially liked it because it reminded me of my Israeli friend Naama, this flower fairy who parades as a mortal.
We did our Masters in Food Culture together, and Naama had a reputation amongst our classmates for being a phenomenal cook. During our year, she fed us countless times; we marveled over her golden braids of challah, beautiful salads, tahini cookies, and amazing charred eggplant dip. She first made the dip for a class lunch we all prepared together on campus, and between the garlicky goodness of the eggplant and the rest of our classmates’ cooking, I nearly passed out from happiness.
Naama and her partner now own their own restaurant in Tel Aviv, called A’haluzim 3. Could they look any more wonderful? No, I don’t believe they could.
The dip (called chatzilim) starts out the same way as the Japanese robata – an entire eggplant is grilled, then broken down. In Naama’s version, she likes to char the eggplant over an open flame on a gas burner, which is messy but rewarding. The smoky eggplant flesh is pureed with a few simple ingredients, then eaten with EVERYTHING. It’s that good. Here is Naama’s recipe, which she shared with me for a cookbook I made of our class recipes. Matsuyama may not excel with sashimi, but hey, it’s good for rolls and fond memories!
Naama’s Roasted Eggplant Dip
1 medium/large eggplant
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Garlic, boiled (so it’s not too strong)
Roast eggplant on a gas element or flat top electric burner. It will be messy but don’t worry! You want to char the entire outside while cooking/softening the flesh inside. When roasted, remove from the element, let cool a bit, and scrape off the charred exterior. Puree the roasted eggplant with remaining ingredients, to taste. Serve as sauce, dip, in/on/with anything that appeals to you!
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian and vegan options available