But there’s a twist: Ben Flatt’s training is mainly in Italian cooking. And that’s what he’s pursuing, in his own way, on the Noto Peninsula, north of Kanazawa.
Now, when traveling in Japan, my wife and I have always steered clear of Western food (except for pastries). But how could we resist something like this?
For people like us, who speak little Japanese (or none, in my case), arrival at a small rural guesthouse can seem fraught with uncertainty and misunderstandings, although the ending is invariably happy. But here at Flatt’s, those first steps are easy: The owners speak English. Ben Flatt met his wife, Chikako, when she was teaching in Sydney, and he followed her home to Noto, where he has now been for 17 years.
The absence of a language barrier means that you can ask even complicated questions and that you’ll enjoy a fuller experience. We’ve had great fun in places where scant English is spoken, but we’ve missed real interaction with the hosts and with other guests. At Flatt’s, this conversational dimension is restored, and it makes a memorable difference.
For dinner we were offered the option of sitting at a Western-style table. This was sorely tempting, until we saw that it would isolate us from the main action. So we chose Japanese-style seating — with the understanding that we would quickly end up sprawling rather than sitting neatly, buttocks on heels.
We began with a potato soup that said a lot about this restaurant. The potatoes were home-grown; the savoriness came in part from ishiri, a deeply flavorful liquid made from fermented salted squid innards. Most people buy ishiri in bottles; Ben brews his own, and it is remarkable in the way it adds umami, or savoriness, without bringing along the flavor of seafood. This soup tasted not of squid, but of potatoes, enhanced. (This is akin to the way anchovies are used in Mediterranean cooking.) There was good focaccia, from the Flatts’ own nearby bakery/cafe.
For the most part, the remainder of our meal was seafood-based. The fishing boats go out around 3 a.m. and return a few hours later. This is exciting: Seafood comes into the kitchen alive and in prime condition.
The next dish was notably tender whelk in a gentle garlicky emulsion — the first detectable garlic we’d had since arriving in Japan 12 days earlier. Then, another gastropod: sazae (turban shell) with basil dressing, served alongside slices of raw hiramasa (yellowtail amberjack) with a homemade salt/yuzu/chili condiment (yunanba) that had been aged for two years.