Saturday, February 19, 2011

Food Highlights from Niseko

I love taking pictures of foods that we eat. Maybe if things don't work out in architecture, I should consider a career in food photography. The following selection is from our recent trip to Niseko. Though these images might lead you to suspect that all we did was eat dessert, we did ingest from every food group.

Japan's best downhill ski venue, Niseko, is located on the island of Hokkaido. The snow here is unparalleled but the locally grown (and produced) food is pretty good too. We make it a point to visit at least once a year. If Gunma and Niigata are Japan's rice bowl, then Hokkaido, which is covered with vast fields and large farms, is the country's bread basket. And no one knows better how to champion those local goods than those merchants who are trying to turn Niseko into the Aspen of Asia.

Most days I like to start with Sekka's All-Day Porridge: Japanese oatmeal topped with sliced bananas, slivered almonds and a dollop of fruit compote. The Hokkaido milk and the berry syrup are welcome but totally unessential so I usually leave them off.

Whole dried salmon. Not my idea of fun but I had never seen a entire dried fish like this hence the picture.

Falafel Salad from Sekka. This was an interesting riff on that Middle Eastern classic. The falafel themselves were slightly oblong and not overly crisp or greasy. Short on garlic (fine with me), they were more mildly flavored than the usual. The lemon tahini dressing was quite piquant and there were some unexpected, but not unwelcome, tastes mixed in with the vegetable. In addition to garden variety lettuce, the salad was laden with tomato chunks, lots of avocado, fresh mint sprigs, cilantro, scallion greens and some other growie that I could not identify. I picked out the red onions.

Mini Tomato Bottle. Isn't this an adorable juice bottle? I like the hour glass shape, the tidy little handle and the no-nonsense label depicting a solo tomato. Direct and to the point. I am not entirely sure how to interpret the name. Is the juice made from mini tomatoes? Does it refer to the bottle's petite size? Unlike the usual bottled fare, the flavor was quite authentic. Surprisingly, Abby, our resident tomato queen, did not really cotton to it.

Pizza at Yummy's. I apologize for the partial photo. It is hard to hold hungry skiers back from freshly baked pizza. It is not the best pizza by a long shot but the flaky crust definitely delivers. And they do not skimp on cheese either.

Yummy's Chocolate Chip Cookies. We knew before we even placed our order that there was no way these biscuits could compare to Abby's homemade treats but we still had to give them a go. Crispy (not a desirable trait in a chocolate chip cookie) and lacking in vanilla (also a bad move), they were more like sugar cookies sparsely accompanied by chocolate chunks. Part of the reason I wanted this cookie was because I like the combination of the round shape and the square chocolate bits. You have to admit, this cookie has eye-appeal. And once you accept its flaws, or accept that it isn't really a chocolate chip cookie at all, it is not a total disappointment.

Dried asparagus. Who knew? Turns out asparagus is quite tasty when dried. Lightly salted, these airy stalks still have the flavor essence of asparagus. And they look great too.

Eve's Caramel Milk. Thank you, Sekka. Warm milk served in a glass topped with a drizzle of caramel sauce. Beautiful presentation but they really should make their own syrup. Hershey's just doesn't cut it. I suppose the squeeze bottle is good for creating decorative designs.

Potato Bread with Olive Oil and Dukka. This alone makes the trip worth it. We love Sekka's potato bread. Soft and slightly doughy, it is the perfect medium for the high quality oil and the housemade herb - finely chopped nut garnish. I could eat it with a spoon. In fact, sometimes, in the privacy of my own kitchen, I do.

Seven Textures of Chocolate. This is one of Sekka's signature desserts. If you count the powdered bits and the molten, white chocolate filling inside the brownie there are, indeed, seven different chocolate renditions. I really like the idea of exploring the texture of a single food item. This dessert really showcases chocolate's versatility: from slimy cubes of pudding on the side to the brittle sheet covering the moist brownie.

Hazelnut Semifreddo. Sekka's other signature dessert. This one is even better than its chocolate flavored cousin. Frozen hazelnut mousse layered with crisp sheets of caramel ... how can you top that ???

JoJo's Raspberry and White Chocolate Scone. Hearty, robust fare, this pastry is not for the faint-hearted. Not overly sweet and perhaps a little too bready, it must have been made by some Aussie trained baker. A Japanese person would go for something a little more dainty. I especially like the recycled newspaper wrapping. I wonder if they chose The Japan Times just for us?

Sea Bass at The Barn. Topped with toasted bread crumbs and bottomed with local potato puree, this got raves from our entire table.

Sekka's Vegetable Frittata. Laden with local vegetables, including erengi mushrooms, baby potatoes and corn kernels, this is a marvelous dish. The toasted rye bread on the side brought back memories of the Rosen's rye with (caraway) seeds from my Chicago childhood. Now that's a high compliment.

JoJo's Adventure Bar. Eating this bar truly was an adventure. The bottom layer is densely packed with oats and coconut. On top of that is a thick layer of gooey caramel followed by a satisfyingly thick coating of chocolate. This triple-deckered treat is a winner. I wonder how I can get the recipe ...


  1. Thank you for this roadmap post! We leave in less than 48 hours and i must print it out. you had done the research for us!xoxo

  2. If you go to JoJo's, please ask for the Adventure Bar recipe. Thanks!