By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 18, 2013
Then: Tradition reigns(2007)
Again: Tradition with a twist
Dinner at Makoto, more than two decades old, is a tutorial in Japanese culture. After exchanging your shoes for slippers in the small foyer, women in colorful samui show you to one of only 25 seats in a room the width of a train car. Diners make only a few choices on the $70 eight- to 10-course menu, which is otherwise determined by the cooks, partially visible behind the red curtains at the wooden counter, my preferred landing spot.
A nest of thin somen noodles decorated with pickled cherry blossoms, green beans and mountain vegetables makes a cool and refreshing introduction. A showier platter brings together smoky eggplant with some bite from leek blossom, a large scallop sparkling with orange fish roe, mussels that hint of anchovy in a mince of vegetables and a slender slice of salmon garnished with chive stem. Feel free to take a photograph, but one of the house rules is no cellphone calls. (The site also bans shorts and excessive cologne or perfume.)
Fresh soft-shell crabs are rolled in rice cracker crumbs and fried to a golden crackle. "You can eat it with your fingers," a hostess coaches, motioning to the trio of seasoned salts on the plate that only excite the pleasure of the nubby seafood pieces. There's a choice of grilled fish; black cod with miso sauce is fabulous. Served near the end of the feast, sushi is as you wish it were everywhere: perfect pillows of rice matched with perfect cuts of fish, maybe local rockfish. The intimacy of the setting means the servers are never more than a few feet away from whatever you need. The hyper-attention is either welcome or annoying.
Jazz plays softly in the background. Head chef Gene Itoh, son of the longtime owner, thinks the music adds "a little bit different flavor" to the experience and encourages his kitchen colleagues to be more creative. Rock on, man.