Taste the innovative Japanese cuisine of James Beard Award winning chef Nobuo Fukuda at the intimate Sea Saw restaurant in Scottsdale. Authentic Japanese flavors meld with various global influences in the clever tapas-style plates that Chef Fukuda has designed to complement some of the extraordinary wines on co-owner Peter Kasperski's extensive list of over 2,900 different bottles. The unconventional, izakaya-inspired menu is designed for sophisticated grazing. Diners can enjoy the view of the talented Sea Saw chefs, as they prepare each eye-catching dish in the central open kitchen. Passionate foodies will surely be delighted by Sea Saw’s inspired fare.Read More ...
At the acclaimed Sea Saw restaurant, across from the Waterfront in Old Town Scottsdale, you will find a nationally recognized culinary star burning brightly in a small and modest space. The atmosphere here isn’t flashy, but a welcomed antidote to the polished, over-designed “concept” restaurants that dominate the Scottsdale fine dining scene. The décor isn’t fancy: just a smattering of bare tables in a largely empty room with mossy green walls and a few strategic candles. The overall effect is calming, even Zen. With only 28 available seats, the restaurant boasts a decidedly intimate feel. The central focal point of the space is a simple square dining counter, behind which Sea Saw’s chefs carefully prepare the delicate plates that won Executive Chef and owner Nobu Fukuda the coveted James Beard Award for “Best Chef — Southwest” last year. The food is clearly the heart of this restaurant, both literally and figuratively.
The menu at Sea Saw is unconventionally organized. Rather than dividing food into traditional courses, the restaurant offers a split menu of small plates separated by temperatures: “cool” and “warm”. Once diners have made their selections for the evening, the flow of the meal becomes a fluid progression from cool to warm plates, beginning with the subtlest flavors and concluding with the most intense. The pace of the meal is generally relaxed, with dishes arriving one at a time in a steady stream of deliciousness. Almost as if by magic, the next dish makes its timely appearance only moments after the contents of the previous dish have disappeared. This style of service has all the eloquence of an English high tea, without the needless formality and hovering.
Sea Saw’s tapas-style small plates, designed to accompany co-owner Peter Kasperski’s wine list, are an homage to the izakayas of Japan. However, Fukuda’s artful and original dishes are a far cry from the casual bar food at such sake houses. Tailoring authentic Japanese flavors to compliment an array of European wines requires some brilliant culinary ingenuity. This translates into a unique style of food that smoothly incorporates foreign ingredients into the Japanese spectrum with such skill, that these global elements taste completely at home in well-balanced marriages of flavor. Sans wine, each dish speaks beautifully for itself.
Like the design of the restaurant, the culinary aesthetic is pleasingly minimalist. While the plating style is detailed and aesthetically attractive, there are no superfluous garnishes to be found. Each drizzle of sauce and pop of green has clearly been thought out, contributing as much to the taste of the dish as to the visual appeal. Portions are substantial enough to even accommodate splitting between two people. I recommend bringing along a close friend and tasting as many delightful dishes as you can manage to order.
For those with deep pockets and trusting palates, Sea Saw also offers omakase: a Japanese convention that puts the chef in the driver’s seat. Instead of ordering items à la carte, diners can grab a seat at the counter and watch up close as chefs prepare a tasting menu filled with surprises, accompanied by wine pairings for an additional fee. In this case, the automatic wine pairings are priceless when faced with the daunting task of reading through the gargantuan list of over 2,900 wines. This behemoth bill of bottles is the shared wine menu for all of Kasperski’s restaurants. It even has its own prologue. While I’m sure the “Kazbar” epic is a real page-turner for intense wine enthusiasts, my friend and I simply scratched our heads and ordered two pots of green tea.
In contrast to the endless list of wines, Nobu Fukuda’s menu is sparse at a mere 14 items. Nevertheless, each offering sounds so impossibly good that we still had trouble deciding. Ideally, one of everything would have been the way to go, had our appetites and wallets been permitting. Forced to choose, we finally settled on five items. However, this self-imposed limit crumbled partway through the evening, when we ordered a sixth dish that haunted me with its lingering memory. Even now, as I reread the Sea Saw menu, my heart is wistful for the promise of the dishes that went untasted. Since there are no predictable selections on this menu, foodies will find it difficult to pass up a single option.
Our feast began with the pleasantly creamy and cold Edamame Soup. Arriving in little green bowls, this soup came attractively garnished with a swirl of ginger crème fraîche that added a nice hint of warmth and spice to the mild soybeans. The use of edamame to create a puree with such richness and velvety texture was a surprising revelation that left me wondering about the possibilities of an edamame gelato. Perhaps this is a question best pondered by Pastry Chef Tracey Dempsey.
Next came the Seared Tuna Tataki, which came chilled atop a cold roasted beet puree with drizzles of pinot noir reduction. Pairing the meatiness of super-rare fresh tuna with a red wine based sauce made for a very successful combination. The perfectly seasoned beet puree left us wishing for a spoon.
Our final “cool” selection was the Cool Duck. The slices of exquisitely rare duck breast were fantastically flavorful. The soy-zinfandel sauce was a match made in fusion heaven. Using salty soy sauce to add a savory dimension to a European wine reduction is a truly novel concept that actually works. Candied yuzu citrus was sparingly applied to the duck as well, contributing an added element of sweet and tart, like cranberry sauce with roast turkey. I would gladly swap my Thanksgiving turkey for this memorable chilled duck.
The “warm” part of the evening began with Shinshu Mushi. If you have a cold, order this dish and horde every drop for yourself. This crock of ume-shiso-scented mushroom broth is more inviting than the best bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup (For those who may be unfamiliar, ume-shiso is the classic Japanese combination of salty umeboshi pickled plums and aromatic green shiso herbs). The noodles here are green tea soba and the chicken has been replaced by meltingly tender steamed sea bass. With plenty of fragrant shiitake and enoki mushrooms floating around, this dish has a supremely earthy quality. It is truly fish soup for the soul.
Before the final “warm” dish arrived, we interrupted the flow of service to order just one more “cool” selection that seemed too tantalizing to pass up. As an Italian-American cook, I just had to see how Chef Fukuda could incorporate distinctly Italian ingredients into a sashimi dish. The Gravlax is a plate of barely-cured raw salmon, served with balsamic reduction and basil oil. Each luxurious slice of cold fatty fish is topped with a single shaving of Pecorino Romano cheese and a toasted almond. When the components were assembled in a single bite, I was astounded at the interplay between the various ingredients. The mildly acidic sweetness of reduced balsamic vinegar cut the richness of the salmon. The salty Pecorino brought an oceanic quality to the seafood element and the almond enhanced the inherent nuttiness in the cheese. Genius!
Yet our final plate was the most astounding, leaving my dining companion to delightedly exclaim: “Foie Gras for dessert! Who knew?” The secret here is the shiny coat of miso-fruit marinade that glistens on the surface of the warm foie gras. At once sweet and savory, this glaze helps bridge the luscious foie gras with the gently poached fruit served alongside it. While “dessert” may not have been the intended effect, the indulgent aspects of this dish left us wanting nothing more. If you love foie gras, consider skipping dessert to give this dish a try. We found it to be a very satisfying end to our meal.
My long awaited trip to Sea Saw confirms the numerous and much deserving accolades that Chef Nobu Fukuda has garnered for his clever cuisine. I am already perusing the menu again and plotting my return.
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