Pity my poor boy for a moment, it is not easy going out with such an unapologetic movie buff as myself. Every time he suggests a date we nearly always inevitably end up staying at home while I subject him to my continuing attempts to widen his film knowledge. Not that he doesn’t end up enjoying himself, it’s just that occasionally he likes to be reassured that there is indeed an outdoors, and also daylight.
So sometimes he will come up with a whole day or evening’s entertainment that is designed to lure me away from my beloved moving pictures. A booking for dinner at Wabi Sabi Salon lured me well and good – I’d been keen to try this particular Japanese restaurant for quite a while.
They’ve gone to a lot of trouble at Wabi Sabi to make you feel as if you’ve just stepped into Japan as soon as you enter the restaurant. It’s gorgeous in the front room where we sat, and apparently there’s another room out the back that overlooks a Japanese-style garden. The staff are all very cheery, although their attention did wain a bit once we’d given our initial order, but it was a full house the night we went so I’m happy to wave that off as the result of extreme busyness.
After a refreshing cup of miso soup each, we decided to order two entrees and two mains, figuring that that would be enough to fill us up. The entrees we chose were the vegetable tempura and an eggplant dish whose exact title has escaped me (and the website menu isn’t helping AT ALL, so we’ll all have to remain in ignorance), and for the mains we went with the seaweed salad and the tofu steaks served on a sizzling plate.
The tempura came first and was easily the best dish of the night, and probably one of the best tempuras I’d ever had. Crispy lotus root (I’d been hoping that as an authentic Japanese place that there would be lotus root, and I wasn’t disappointed), blocks of sizzling tofu, and perfectly round balls of potato all had this amazing crispness to them, the batter was in no way soggy or oily, just perfect, and the result transformed my mouth into a hive of exclamation marks. An absolute highlight.
Like Phoebe and her issues with eggs, I have issues with eggplant. I generally find that when eggplant is prepared and cooked well, it’s a truly wonderous vegetable, yet when it is cooked badly it is utterly, revoltingly horrid. And I have had enough awful eggplant to put me off ordering it when out nearly completely. However, The Boy was determined to have eggplant, and insisted that his good-eggplant intuition was bleeping. He was right: the cubes of fried eggplant, which were served in a hollowed out eggplant (an aubergine bowl!), were melty in the mouth, not too chewy, and even the sauce they sat in warranted a few spoonfuls once the eggplant cubes had disappeared. There were probably only five or so eggplant chunks overall, however, which I felt made the serving a bit small (unless we were expected to eat the bowl too!).
Onto the mains. The seaweed salad was a variety of seaweeds mingled with a standard mix of salad greens, with a light sesame dressing. It was so fresh and green that you could feel the nutrients seeping into you as you ate it. The seaweeds were varied, including one that I absolutely loved, it was bright pink and sprang about my mouth as I chewed in an intriguingly textural way. My one big gripe, however, is that the seaweed/salad leaves ratio was heavily stacked in favour of the salad leaves, and for $17 I found that to be a bit disappointing.
The tofu steaks saw our meal take a swift, deep plunge from pleasant with some quibbles, to downright lackluster. The tofu steaks themselves, despite obviously being threaded through with Japanese mountain vegetables and sitting in sauce and sliced vegies, were bland, bland, bland. Completely tasteless. And while omnivores might snipe that tofu is inherently tasteless, it is so EASY to do wonderful things with tofu that make it a taste sensation, that to be served a dish as uninspiring as this (in a Japanese restaurant, no less, the Japanese are KINGS of tofu!) really affected my experience in a negative way. That’s not even getting into the sauce that the tofu steaks were swimming in, which had a thick, gelatinous quality that I tend to associate with suburban Chinese take-away. Which is awesome when you’re actually ordering Chinese take-away, but in this setting just seemed to cheapen the dish.
Still feeling hungry, and starting to feel somewhat desperate in our desire for Wabi Sabi to regain the esteem we’d first felt on trying the tempura, The Boy and I decided to order dessert. The green tea cheesecake was interesting texturally, yet the green tea flavour wasn’t really present at all. The trio of ice creams also featured an under-flavoured green tea scoop, although the black sesame scoop was alright, and ended up contrasting well with pieces of the cheesecake. The red bean flavoured ice cream was the clear winner, I’d never had that flavour before, and it was delightful. More red bean ice cream!
Food-wise, Wabi Sabi Salon was a mixed bag, including one of the most impressive dishes I’ve sampled this year, to one so terribly uninspired I felt deeply depressed having to pay for it. I honestly haven’t had a meal before that started out so great and ended with my dining partner and myself staring across the table at each other in a disappointed funk. Despite the wonders of their tempura, I think it will be a long while before I venture back to Wabi Sabi.
Wabi Sabi Salon
94 Smith Street, Collingwood
Ph: 9417 6119