January 24, 2011

Tonight at Peko Peko (SF): Celebrating California’s Fish + Homemade Satsuma Age!

by Kayoko

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Sylvan Mishima Brackett is the mastermind behind Peko Peko, a Japanese catering service in the Bay Area. After working as Alice Waters’ assistant for SIX YEARS (dude must have the patience of a Zen master. Just kidding, love you Alice!), he apprenticed in a soba shop in Saitama, Japan, then came back to the Bay Area to start Peko Peko. For the last two years, he’s been hustlin’ around town, poppin’ up at various restaurants for a night here, another night there, and catering parties along the way.

This time around, he’s at the ever popular Bar Tartine, in San Francisco’s Mission district. The place was packed when I dined there last week for this weekly Peko Peko event– we had Nagoya-style black miso katsu and curry udon among other dishes.

But Sylvan’s culinary fancies shifts from week to week, according to what’s available seasonally (we’re all at the mercy of the farmers and purveyors, aren’t we?), and he’s going in a totally different direction for tonight’s dinner. He’s celebrating CALIFORNIA FISHES! Yippee! Here’s a sneak peak at tonight’s menu:

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I was lucky enough to visit the Peko Peko Test Kitchen yesterday, where his staff busily prepared for tonight’s amazing-sounding six-course dinner. Sylvan is extremely meticulous in his sourcing of ingredients– only using what is the freshest, local, if possible, and if he has to fly to Japan himself to get an ingredient, he’ll do it. (Tough life!).

Test Kitchen.

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Fresh wasabi (horse radish) flown in from Japan.

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Blocks of dried katsuo (bonito) from Japan– shave for umami.

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Sylvan’s engraved knife.

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The cutest little kishu mikan for dessert.

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Buri (yellowtail) from Ventura, that will be simmered with daikon. This thing was pretty huge.

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Line-caught gindara (cod) from Half Moon Bay. Salted in preparation for the saikyo miso marinade.

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Saikyo miso. You could literally marinate fish in this FOREVER, since it is used to essentially preserve fish. Ok, maybe not forever, but for a longass time. Kuni just told me one month, max. Whoa. That’s pushing it though, obviously.

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Fresh iwashi (sardines) from Monterey. For the satsuma age (fish cakes).

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Preparing the hirame (fluke, from Half Moon Bay) for another kind of satsuma age.

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Now, the homemade satsuma age, which will be served in the udon course, as well as a la carte tonight, is what sparked my interest most. I am a fish cake freak. I eat blocks of kamaboko during the New Year festivities, can endlessly consume oden (fishcake stew) and will order a plate of it for myself at Thai restaurants, if it’s on the menu. The store bought kind is always chock full of MSG (which is why it’s so addicting), but Sylvan and his staff will be making them tonight from scratch, with sashimi-grade hirame, with absolutely no MSG. DREAM COME TRUE!

I watched Yuko-san, a Peko Peko staff cook, make these step-by-step.

Put in chopped hirame into a food processor.

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Add salt, mirin, corn starch, ginger.

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Mix with chopped carrots.

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Shape into patties and rounder balls.

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Plop them into the fryer.

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Et voila!

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Gorgeously fried, perfectly moist and spongy. They taste so fresh and clean. No MSG!

The ones on the left here are the iwashi (sardine) version, which Sylvan will make with black sesame.

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Another totally amazing fish that will be on tonight’s menu is nishin (herring) that were caught right in the San Francisco BAY! He just got them delivered THIS MORNING! He’ll be frying them and marinating in a soy vinegar for a traditional Japanese preparation called nanbanzuke.

Six courses, $60. All this fresh fish, all from California. Best deal ever!!! Plus, Bar Tartine is just so romantic.

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Awesome sake and Japanese beer on the list.

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Peko Peko will pop up every Monday through February 7th. Don’t miss this tonight, though. Cancel all pre-existing plans right now! Trust me.

Map

BAR TARTINE
561 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
T: 415.487.1600

FAT MAP

12 Comments

  • Yamahomo
    Posted January 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    I am seriously jealous of this. It would be at least $120 here too… By the way, where can you get kishu mikan?

  • Yamahomo
    Posted January 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I bet the engraved knife was very expensive. I couldn’t ask for my full name engraved for the amount of money I spent..

  • seri
    Posted January 24, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Can’t make it tonight, but just booked for next Monday. Looking forward to it!

  • tomo
    Posted January 25, 2011 at 1:18 am

    Woah I just drooled all over my sofa

  • chiisai Yuko
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Wow, what a detailed and fun report, Kayoko-san!
    Allow me to introduce next Monday’s menu for this event as below link. The menu next Monday will be a la cart, but not a 5-dish-course. Very casual. Please drop by!
    http://eatpekopeko.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Tartine-Poster-a-la-carte.pdf

  • yoko
    Posted January 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I’ll be helping out again too this week! Please stop by and say hellp.

    Must try the satsuma age and hatcho miso katsu.

  • Jennifer Mallin
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Went to Peko Peko tonight and unfortunately came away very disappointed.

    First the set menu was not the one advertised above but something different and not nearly worth the $70 price tag it came with.

    We waited a while before the first course showed up. Then waited another 20-30 mins for the second course and when the second course came out it came together with the 3rd course. Then waited a while and got the 4th…and waited even longer the get the 5th course. The desert was not the one on the set menu but something else instead. Oh and very tiny portions so if you go in hungry chances are you will not come out very full.

    Nonetheless the point is that the most one should pay for such sub par cuisine and service is $20.

    I am a fan of Michellin starred restaurants so maybe I am too much of a critic. I have traveled to over 30 countries and know what good food looks like. Tonight unfortunately it was a big miss.

  • Kayoko
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Jennifer: I am so sorry you had such a disappointing experience at the Peko Peko dinner last night. I like to think of Umamimart as the center of exceptional taste, and awesome recommendations, so I do take this to heart.

    While I do not want to undermine your experience, please know that Peko Peko is a Pop-Up restaurant. The menu that was advertised in this post was specifically for that ONE NIGHT, which is how Pop-Up restaurants typically operate (as the chef is at the mercy of the farmers/ purveyors, which have ever-changing products from day to day; week to week). What shows up on one menu one day, may be totally different the next–which is the case with most restaurants in the Bay Area these days, as locavore-ism is so vital to this community.

    As for the timing of how your courses arrived: please take into account how busy the restaurant was, and the fact that the chef comes into a foreign space, once a week, to put on these dinners. It is quite typical that timing will be off, food will run out, and unexpected dishes will appear. It’s just the nature of these more ‘experimental’ dining experiences. Please do not compare them to international Michelin-starred restaurants. That is not fair.

    That said, you probably are most offended by the pricetag of your dinner, or experience, am I correct? You probably felt like you paid way too much for what you got, which totally sucks (I felt that way after my dinner at French Laundry. I’ll never forget the disappointment of that meal–pieces of smoked salmon in a cone is just plain insulting).

    I am sorry for this, as it’s the shittiest feeling.

    I do appreciate that you made this comment! At the end of the day, we all have certain expectations from restaurant dining–as we should!

  • seri
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Kayoko, I’d like to know what you thought of your dinner there.

    Partly because I must admit that I had some of the same feelings as Jennifer. Sservice wasn’t too much of an issue for me, but I can see how it can be if people had other plans after the dinner. Aside from the slow service (and miscalculated bill), I thought the entire wait staff was friendly, competent, and great.

    I guess my main complaint is that we’re paying 2x as much for ‘street food’ as we should have and add to that I wasn’t impressed with the quality of the food. The kushi katsu came doused in sauce. I’m guessing to make them look pretty, which they did, but at the sacrifice of taste. I had to scrape off sauce because all I could taste was that on the first bite. That dish would have been so much better if the sauce was on the side to start. On the udon, there were more than enough short (barely 3″ long) noodles in my udon and the texture was too brittle. It didn’t have the slurpability that udon should have. And ~$25 with all the toppings? I feel like udon/soba/ramen should never cost more than $15 and not more than $10 with no toppings. It’s just one of those foods like pho or burritos. It’s not fancy food, why price/make it that way? I knew the prices going in… I guess I was expecting more from the hand made noodles and toppings.

    I did enjoy the halibut sashimi and the ice cream was probably my favorite part of the meal. I loved the subtle flavors of the green tea and black sesame.

    I really did want to like this meal. I was super looking forward to it, but I left disappointed. I did have high expectations from a chef that studied/worked in Japan for a few years. At those prices for food that’s supposed be affordable and good, I don’t know if I see myself doing a similar dinner again. Sorry gals!

  • Kayoko
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Oh geez Seri, not you too! Was everyone waiting for Jennifer so say something, or what? Ha.

    Seri- I am sorry you did not enjoy your experience. It seems like you and Jennifer both had similar issues, the biggest one being the pricetag. I will absolutely agree that can the dinner is on the pricier end, but given that you are sitting in the soft, romantic, candle-lit glow of the Bar Tartine dining room, I don’t think we should really be taken aback too much. But I do understand that you feel that the value of your meal did not hold up, which is a shitty feeling.

    I want to make clear that the dinner that I wrote about above was for the California Fishes night. I did not write about any other night–not the a la carte night which you attended, nor the most recent one that Jennifer attended. I am sorry if I misled you both to think that your dinners would be the same menu, but $60 for the California Fishes night that I wrote about was a sweet deal.

    Peko Peko is a Pop-Up restaurant which basically means that Sylvan makes dishes according to what he can get his hands on, most often at the last minute. I probably should have made that clear in the post that menus vary each time.

    I actually think that Sylvan’s udon rocks. Together with the perfectly pink duck, and a sheet of nori the other night, it was fantastic. The katsuo dashi of the soup went super deep–there was that sour tang to it that proved its fresh homemade-ness.

    We all have different expectations from our dining experiences. Because the restaurant industry is in my blood, I tend to have a higher tolerance for mishaps in the kitchen and in service. Because of this, I could never be a proper restaurant critic.

    However, I do have a knack of knowing good food, and where to find it. I’m sorry I let you down with this one, but I really do think these Peko Peko dinners are fun and whimsical. A bit on the pricey end, but I also love the Bar Tartine space, and I take all those things into account when dining, and shelling out the dough in the end.

    Again, we all have different dining expectations, which means we won’t always agree. But it is important to me that we keep our expectations high when we eat out, so your comments are absolutely justified!

  • seri
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Kayoko – I wasn’t looking for an apology or trying to make anyone feel bad for letting us know about the PekoPeko dinner. I was also aware that I wasn’t going to be ordering from the menu listed on this page when I went. Maybe here wasn’t the most appropriate place to put my comments, but since it was a dinner in series with this, I thought it still applied. I think our dinner ended up being cheaper than the prix fixe layout anyway.

    I’m all for paying a premium for a nice ambiance, but being sardined between two tables (we had to scoot the table over for me to get in and out) and sitting right next to the door with gushes of cold wind blowing in your face every 2 mins isn’t what I had in mind. But again, that was just my experience there. It sounds like yours was a better one.

    I think the dinner could have been a great one and I’m glad I went, things just didn’t fall into place for ours. I still value your recommendations and this won’t put a damper in going to the next event.

  • Kayoko
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Seri, thanks for your comment. Excuse me, as I’m overly sensitive these days and take comments much more to heart.

    California is making me SOFT! UGHHHH.

    Hope to see you soon. Let’s go eat!

    xk

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