ShinBay - Stunning Japanese Fine Dining

Good eating in the Valley of the Sun
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

Okay, Christina and katfishkh... if I have to do this myself, I will :-)

I suspect part of the difficulty in posting about a place like this is doing it justice... there's so much, and it's so fabulous, and the dish descriptions are so packed with Japanese names that it kind of feels like you need an encyclopedia to even begin writing about it. I went for the first time in August of last year, I've been looking for an excuse to return, and I certainly can't think of a better occasion than a birthday dinner!

This place is such a respite... that modern, high-end Japanese design -- real modern Japanese design, not faux-Asian -- that's clean and minimal and soothing and... is that classical music? When's the last time you heard classical music in a restaurant in Phoenix? The bar's beautiful, a smooth, sanded wood, and we were parked right in front of chef Kurita for the evening. We went with the omakase, and while I haven't ordered off the regular menu, I can't imagine not doing the omakase here. When you call to make a reservation (you have to call a day in advance for the omakase), they prompt you to do $100 or $125. I told them we'd be willing to chip in a bit extra if they had something special on hand that evening:

Him: "We have some wagyu beef from Japan, would you like that?"
Me: "Wait... from Japan, or a Japanese steer raised in the U.S.?"
Him: "No, no, raised in Japan!"
Me: "Really? Is it legal again?"
Him: "It is!"

Um... yes?!

And the best part is, the stunning Japanese wagyu was not the highlight of the meal.
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House-Made Tofu
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What a fabulous start. Here we got the house-made tofu in two levels of firmness, soft and... let's say less soft (firm definitely doesn't apply), with a bit of soy (mixed with dashi, I think) and a dish of accompaniments for you to add to your taste. I decided to take the two in different directions.
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Soft Tofu
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I went gentle on the soft tofu, some scallion, myoga bud (a subtler cousin of ginger), and a dab of fresh wasabi... a textbook example of how completely inadequate the substitute, green-dyed horseradish paste is when you're making this kind of food. That kind of "wasabi" would have just been harsh and overpowering. But the real stuff can be so mellow -- still with a little sting, but the depth of flavor is so much more, it's night and day. And the tofu... wow. Meltaway tender with a clean, cool flavor.
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Firm(er) Tofu
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The firmer tofu still bore the marks from the basket in which it had been drained. I used the stronger accompaniments with this one... more scallion, the grated ginger, and a chunky red miso that was actually a lot mellower than I would have guessed from the color. I stress firmer. This was still incredibly delicate, it just had a little more resistance, and I actually loved the texture from the basket marks.
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Kampachi Sashimi
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Though I'm a touch fuzzy on my Phoenix culinary history, I always think of Kurita and Fukuda as contemporaries (is that a fair assessment?). At least in my experience thus far, where Fukuda focuses heavily on East-West combinations, Kurita's food is more strictly Japanese, though very contemporary. He's got a little bit of the cross-cultural juice in him, though. The kampachi was paired with tomato, and dressed with olive oil, cherry blossom salt, and shaved asiago, of all things. Cheese and raw fish seems like a long shot -- even when I've had cheese paired with seafood at Sea Saw or Teeter House, Fukuda's always done it with cooked or cured proteins (has he done cheese and raw before?). But I was really taken aback by how well this worked. I think I'd be disappointed if he strayed into this territory too often. But man, as a little detour into East-West, this was mighty fine.
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Sashimi
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What? What was that? No, no. There wasn't a bluefin tuna tartare with avocado, pine nuts, wasabi, myoga, rice cracker and fried lotus root in that upper left compartment. I wasn't so eager to get into the sashimi that I forgot to snap a photo until I'd eaten one of the offerings. And it definitely wasn't one of the most fabulous tuna dishes I've had in recent memory, an amazing piece of fish deftly minced and accented so beautifully, both in terms of flavor and texture. No, I have no idea what you're talking about. What I did have, starting in the top center and reading like a book, started with lump of chilled king crab dressed with a splash of sanbaizu (a mix of soy, vinegar and mirin), topped with house-cured salmon roe and kimizu -- a kind of sabayon made with dashi and vinegar rather than wine -- and paired with a dab of wasabi and pickled chrysanthemum. This was a stunning bite... cool, sweet crab, a creamy sauce with a gentle sourness, the little pops of briny salmon roe and floral touch from the chrysanthemum. I'd call it one of my favorite bites of the evening, but I can think of two others just on this plate (the ankimo and the non-existent tuna tartate) that I enjoyed just as much. Next up was some heady stuff... dense, chewy aoyagi (orange clam) in a lightly sweet miso marinade mixed with spicy Japanese mustard. On the bottom left was another East-West touch, lightly grilled (torched?) scallop with tomato, truffle oil, truffle salt and some shaved black truffle. The next is such a gimme... a Kumamoto oyster with ponzu gelee and uni. And the ankimo... ooooh, my, the ankimo was so wonderful (monkfish liver, for those not familiar with it). The foie gras comparison is a common one, and it's not altogether misleading, but good ankimo is so delicate in its complexity, and that liver funk is just barely, barely there. I've yet to be convinced that it isn't best treated simply, here with a splash of ponzu, scallion and a tiny bit of spicy daikon. So, so wonderful.
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Miso-Marinated Foie
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And, as it would turn out, a segue into the miso-marinated foie. Wow. Wow. Wow. Gads, was this something. What I loved is that it threw convention out the window, and I think was better for it. How do we do foie? Sear it hard and pair it with something very sweet and a little tart. This was seared, but only just barely. It didn't have that deep color. And while the sweetness was there, it was a very subtle sweetness. And man, those two things just brought the foie sharply into focus. And it was so good, served with tempura fried persimmon, crisp sugar snap pea and hajikami, a pickled ginger shoot. Each of the three accompaniments took it in a slightly different direction, and all three were stunning. I repeat: wow.
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Clam Mushimono
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Last time, we had this impossibly delicate mushimono course, a mix of shrimp and fish. The mushimono this time around -- if it can accurately be called mushimono -- was a little more hefty, more hearty, more comforting, but only in a relative sense. It was a rather generous helping of Asahi clams (the photo's deceptive for some reason... this was a big serving) in a garlic and sake broth, piled high with sauteed mushrooms, shredded scallions and chile threads. We were told there were five types of mushroom. I identified three -- enoki, honshimeji and bunashimeji -- but it was a lovely tangle of whole, chopped and sliced mushrooms, so a couple of larger ones were probably cut down in a way that made them hard to see. The garlic was present but very, very mellow... it almost made me wonder if it had been blanched or something first. And the broth was almost buttery. I wonder if there wasn't some butter involved. So that killer, buttery clam and sake broth, with a little raw scallion and chile sting... yeah, this was really, really good.
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Japanese Wagyu
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Oh, my. So apparently, the on again off again beef trade war with Japan is off again... again. I can't keep track anymore. All I know is this beef was the real deal. I'm sorry, I keep hearing about how fabulous some good domestic wagyu is, and it's wonderful in a very different way, but I've never seen anything like this stateside unless it came across the Pacific. I'm not sure how Kobe became synonymous with premium Japanese beef outside of Japan, because there are plenty of regions in Japan that produce beef at least as prized -- if not more so -- in the mother country. I asked Chef Kurita from whence this stunning specimen hailed. At first I thought he said Kagoshima, then I thought he corrected me and said Kamoshima. I think there is a town called Kamoshima, but it's tiny, and Kagoshima is one of the most famous wagyu-producing regions in Japan, so I suspect Kagoshima is correct (to be clear, I'm not questioning his knowledge of his product, but rather my hearing!). Anyway, who cares where it comes from... freaking look at that stuff. We talked about it a bit... he said it became available again about a month ago, and we had a joyous little moment of shared excitement over that fact :-)
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Tobanyaki
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It came aside a blazing hot ceramic toban along with some enoki mushrooms and asparagus tops, plus two types of salt for seasoning and a small dollop of a mild, grated horseradish touched with soy. You really need to sear this stuff hot and fast. It was sliced so thinly that I didn't want to flip it... I got some color on one side, and left the other raw. But it only took about 15-20 seconds before the fat just started flowing out of it. It has to cook hard and fast or all of that beautiful fat gets away. So I cooked it fast, And it was amazing.
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Nigiri - Kinmedai, Kisu, Shima-ebi
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Last time, the parade of nigiri was what bowled me over. This time, I might give that to the sashimi or the foie. But this was still amazing. The first here is kimnedai with just a light wash of irizake, a sauce made with sake and salted plum. The second was kisu, a tiny whitefish with a splash of yuzu and sea salt. Both of the first two had a little character, a little funk... I wonder if they'd been aged slightly (much as tuna often is). Speculation, though, I really don't know. Wonderful depth of flavor on both. The third one is something I tried for the first time in Japan this past January. It's shima ebi, and though it looks like one piece, it's actually a swarm of maybe a couple dozen tiny shrimp, kind of packed together so that they resemble a brain. They got a little key lime zest, and they remind me of amaebi, but a little more delicate, maybe a little sweeter, though that might be my imagination.
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Nigiri - Magurozuke (not pictured), Mirugai, Aji, Otoro, Uni
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Again, there wasn't a slice of magurozuke that I ate before I remembered to take a picture. I have no idea what you're talking about. There was definitely mirugai, giant clam, with a little yuzu. The aji, which he did with ponzu and a little sprinkle of peppery sansho, was dynamite. The otoro was KILLER. Wow, what a piece of fish. It had a touch of nikiri. Please don't add anything more. And lastly, some Santa Barbara uni, creamy and sweet, with more nikiri and a touch of wasabi.
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Chawanmushi
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For dessert, a chawanmushi, not terribly sweet on its own, but covered with a deep brown slick of house-made black sugarcane syrup, and topped with berries and fruit.

Can I stress how amazingly fortunate we are to have this guy operating in our fair city? I mean, this food is simply astounding. When you're so blown away the first time, you wonder if you can help but be disappointed the second. But if anything, I might've enjoyed this dinner more. Maybe not. I don't know, I can't decide. Fortunately I don't have to. But let me say this again, this restaurant is a FREAKING TREASURE. Kurita's operating on a different plane. And a big price tag can buy anybody killer ingredients, but thank god they're landing in the hands of somebody who does such spectacular things with them. I continue to feel that ShinBay is criminally underappreciated in this town. We sat down at 5:30, left shortly after seven, and the restaurant was maybe, maybe a third full. I'm not sure if that's still by design, but if it isn't, it's absolutely criminal. With the Beard mention, I wonder how this season is going to be for them. I hope it's a breakout one because this food so, so deserves it.

ShinBay
www.shinbay.com
7001 N. Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85253
480-664-0180
Dominic Armato
Dining Critic
Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
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ScottofStrand
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7 years ago

Drooling over here every step of the way! Shinbay was seriously one of my top 3 dining experiences ever. That's it, I'm gonna go next month. Forget Christmas and Hanukkah presents. Amazing report Dom, and Happy Birthday!
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

It seems like he follows a pretty standard format, with varying dishes therein... was what you had similar, Scott? Christina and katfishkh, I'm really curious to hear how your differed as well, since you were both there fairly recently.
Dominic Armato
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Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
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ScottofStrand
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7 years ago

My experience was very similar. There was a shabu shabu course instead of one of the middle courses, and the Tobanyaki had a lesser quality meat along with Enoki and Asparagus. I'm having a hard time remembering the first couple courses, but I don't believe there was house made tofu. All in all it was a couple individual courses, followed by the mind-blowing sashimi, onto another individual course, shabu shabu, then tobanyaki, then the nigiri and finally dessert. The bottle of wine + sake is making the experience a little foggy!
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Dapuma
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7 years ago

looks like there is a lot of new stuff on there - glad to hear the foie was awesome - i agree the beef waygu was not my favorite part of the meal when i went, and that isn't to say it wasn't good - i would rather have them cook the meat vs me, by the time i figured out how to make it the way i liked it, it was gone

Not sure which waygu we had when we were there if it was us or japanese, it was back in June so probably US due to the ban

Asked the Mrs which she liked more Benu or Shinbay, and she said Shinbay without any hesitation

The same: looks like the sashimi plate (but with a few varied items) dessert, the meat course (probably variations of which meat you get) - the other courses look different or varied (compared to June 2012)

Looks like a big enough difference to go again and verify your findings... :mrgreen:

And I wondered why the restaurant was 1/3 - 1/2 full - does no one know about this place or is it too pricey on their regular non-tasting menu - they don't have a menu on their website and they didn't give us a regular menu, so I (and I assume everyone else) has no idea how much a regular meal would cost there vs tasting, and the tasting menu is something you don't do every day - that could explain the lack of being "busy" - or they don't want to be any busier than that to put out such an exceptional product, hard to say
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

Dapuma wrote:i agree the beef waygu was not my favorite part of the meal when i went, and that isn't to say it wasn't good - i would rather have them cook the meat vs me, by the time i figured out how to make it the way i liked it, it was gone
To be clear, I thought the beef was absolutely fabulous. I just meant that the rest of the meal has to be really exceptional for the Japanese Wagyu to not be the highlight :-) I can see how a little instruction might go a long way, though.
Dapuma wrote:Not sure which waygu we had when we were there if it was us or japanese, it was back in June so probably US due to the ban
Almost definitely the domestic. I don't think it was available yet, and if it was, there was a supplement for it.
Dapuma wrote:And I wondered why the restaurant was 1/3 - 1/2 full - does no one know about this place or is it too pricey on their regular non-tasting menu - they don't have a menu on their website and they didn't give us a regular menu, so I (and I assume everyone else) has no idea how much a regular meal would cost there vs tasting, and the tasting menu is something you don't do every day - that could explain the lack of being "busy" - or they don't want to be any busier than that to put out such an exceptional product, hard to say
This is the weirdest thing. When we went last summer, they told us they were intentionally only booking about a third of the restaurant while they got everything up to speed, polished and trained the staff, etc. But that was over a year ago! I've been to some places where that's SOP... but IIRC that was at the kind of absurdly high-end fine dining joints with significantly higher price points. If that's how they run the place and they can make the balance sheet work like that, I think it's fabulous. I just hope that's the case. FWIW, I told them we'd prefer to eat around seven or eight but would be happy to accept whatever was available since it was the day before, and they told me they could do 5:30, so that certainly seems to imply that that they're being careful not to fill the place all at once.
Dominic Armato
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Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
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The Cosmic Jester
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7 years ago

That's always been par for the course with Kurita-san. Back when he was in Ahwatukee, there were 14 seats at the counter and a couple of small tables to the side. He would take care of a maximum of only six guests unless it was a large group order. If you just happened to show up and there were already six dining, too bad. And it was every bit as glorious back then as it is now.
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uhockey
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7 years ago

I knew Japanese Wagyu was back in the US but thus far have seen it on zero menus including my trip this weekend to Chicago where Sixteen, EL Ideas, and Elizabeth (as well as Alinea) were still serving domestic or Australian. Perhaps quantities are still so limited that only places serving a handful of folks are getting it. Similarly, in researching Vegas spots it looks like only CUT has it on the current menu.

Looks like a truly impressive meal - not just "for Arizona" either.
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

The fine dining restaurant that held the most interest for my sister was ShinBay, so... y'know... twist my arm.

We went back last night, just a few months after our last visit, and though there were a few dishes in common, it was mostly a new menu.
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Hirame with Ginger, Scallions, and Ponzu
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This is one that I'd tried when the restaurant first opened a couple of years back, but I'm pretty happy to get a second shot at it. It's thin slices of halibut, lightly seared with a drizzle of grapeseed oil and dressed with scallion, ginger, and ponzu. I especially love the texture of the fish here, which has a little resistance and gives it an almost meaty feel, despite the light dressing. Great flavor.
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Amaebi
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Nothing fancy here. Just a huge chunk of dense, sweet amaebi on the sashimi plate with big wasabi sting.
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Nigerian Tiger Shrimp with Black Bean
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He kind of has a thing for monster crustaceans, huh? I almost wondered if this was kind of a salute to Chinese New Year, broken down into bite-sized chunks and seared with a light black bean sauce. Big flavor, and man, was this thing meaty and dense. Really satisfying and delicious.
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Shabu Shabu
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Hooray! Finally the shabu shabu! I hadn't yet had a crack at this one, and I loved it. The konbu broth at the top was sitting on top of a flaming base, and the accompaniments were a simple ponzu with scallion and yuzu kosho.
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Sea Bass, Shrimp, Scallop
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A few pristine slices of raw seafood, just a quick swish to barely give them some color, a restrained dip in the ponzu... done. I enjoyed the konbu broth afterwards almost as much as I enjoyed the seafood.

We also finished with the usual nigiri and sweet chawanmushi. Another killer meal. I freaking love this place.
Dominic Armato
Dining Critic
Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
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