Article by Stephen Robinson
10106, Northeast Corner, No.3 Buliding, Fu Rong Xin Tian Di, Fu Rong South Road.
11:30am – 2:00am
Average Price per Person /人均消费: 235RMB
Great Japanese food is all about subtle complexities of flavor, emphasizing the natural flavors of the ingredients in a way that is rarely found in other cuisines. Such complexities are the result of rigorous sourcing of quality materials and absolute precision in the preparation of those materials that is present in some of the finest culinary institutions in the world. However, many of the Japanese restaurants in Xi’an fall short of this mark, typically by a wide margin. The ingredients are not so fresh. The preparation is less than precise. In short, there are pieces missing from the puzzle that is Japanese cuisine. If you’ve ever been underwhelmed by a meal at a Japanese restaurant, this is most likely the reason. If you’d like a culinary experience guaranteed to impress, you should go to 藏拙居酒屋 (Cangzhuo Izakaya).
Located in the Furong New World Plaza opposite the South Gate of the Tang Paradise Gardens, Cangzhuo Izakaya is immediately recognizable. Wooden beam architecture, assembled in the traditional style, and a plethora of paper lanterns adorn the outside of the restaurant. The hostesses and waitresses are dressed in traditional Japanese style. Entering through the doors, you enter the receiving area, separated from the restaurant by a sliding door. The interior is divided into three separate levels, a lower level seating area, with regular tables and chairs, a mid-level containing tatami seating with sunken in floors for leg space, and an upper level with tatami rooms in the more traditional style. The owner explained that each of the levels was designed to suit the needs of different customers. Each table was partitioned in a way that, even if the restaurant was full, you would never feel crowded. With private rooms available on each of the levels, you can celebrate any occasion in peace.
With décor in place, the meal began. First to arrive was a trio of cold pickles and salads to open up the palate, followed close behind by another trio, this time a trio of house-made tofu, each infused with different flavors and textures, ranging from silken to firm. Next appeared a small plate containing a sushi roll containing cucumber, fruit, and covered in, oddly, a thin layer of melted cheese topped with flying fish roe. This was followed again by a selection of fresh sashimi, a salad containing fresh vegetables and shrimp, and small packages of golden taro wrapped in shiso leaves, which had been deep fried. Each and every flavor was exactly as it should be. The tofu was perfectly done, with the silken variety being almost pudding-like, with the different sauces accenting each type. The sashimi was absolutely fresh, without a hint of fishiness.
This alone could have served as a meal, but it was not yet done. More and more dishes kept arriving. Skewers of carefully seasoned chicken and spring onion, in which the chicken was still succulent and tender and the onions crispy on the outside. Then the unagi arrived. If you’ve not had it before, unagi is eel, which is a popular dish in Japan, roasted typically over open coals. When it is done right, it is one of the most tender pieces of meat that you’ll ever bite into. In recent years, this dish has become very popular in Xi’an, with several restaurants opening up that specialize in it. This one blows all of them away. When you put a bite into your mouth, the meat literally just melts away, blending with the sauce that the eel is roasted in, without being mushy. They also leave the skin on, which adds an extra dimension to the dish by crisping up, giving a crunch to the bite and ensuring that the meat is not overcooked. The owner later explained that the difference lies in the technique, and that they use the Osakan method, which has the eel parboiled in the sauce before being roasted, whereas the eel is often steamed in other styles. This also means that the chef must be more careful in the preparation, to avoid ruining the dish. Tasting this dish, you sense the care and precision that went into this dish.
After this, the owner further recommended a few dishes that he felt would really show off the ability and skill of his restaurant. Though we were already getting quite full, we decided to meet the challenge. The first thing to be brought out was two pieces of nigiri sushi, both tuna, but not the same. Each was from a different part of the belly of the fish, otoro and toro, showing off the difference between the two. Both were expertly cut, thin enough to form the perfect shape. The otoro, much like the eel, simply melted on the tongue with no need even to chew. This was followed by a piece of grilled fois gras on toast with a sliver of mango and caviar. The mango helped to cut through the richness of the fois gras, creating a unique and pleasant taste. Next, a small table-top butane hibachi grill was brought to the table and the owner himself sat down to help prepare and talk about what was to come.
First was a grill chicken with a special yuzu-sauce that added the slightest kick and complemented the grilled meat perfectly. Then a platter of different grades of wagyu beef, including one that imported directly from Japan, with the remainder coming from Australia. If you’ve ever wondered the difference between the different types of wagyu, this is what you’d want to try. We started with the highest-grade and worked out way down, the flavors and textures morphing as we moved along the line. The Japanese beef was so marbled that it was almost completely white, with gradually more lean coming through in each successive type. The grill came with a selection of sauces, seasonings and spices, and each version was accented differently. We finished up our grill experience with grilled tripe. If you’re not a fan of tripe, you might want to give this a try. The typically fattiness of tripe is melted away, as it goes through four separate preparation methods before ever reaching the table, once again showing the attention to detail and dedication to preparation that was evident throughout the entire meal.
When people care about what they do, they want to share it with others. It was clear from the meal that we had, that this was the case. Attention to detail is a rare thing in many places here, so finding a place that does so is always a treat. And while they could easily charge a premium for such care, most of the food is incredibly reasonable, considering the quality, though, if you can afford to, this is an excellent place to go all out for a special occasion. So, if you have a chance, and want some of the best Japanese cuisines in Xi’an, check out CangZhuo Izakaya.
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Stephen Robinson is the editor-in-chief at xianease and would love to get your thoughts on everything we are doing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org