Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Heavenly Meal in Queenstown, New Zealand

In New Zealand, the term crayfish generally refers to a saltwater spiny lobster. In Queenstown, crayfish are also called Rock Lobsters. At a Japanese restaurant named Minami Juisei, they are Heaven on a plate.

Minami Jujisei is probably the finest in Japanese dining I experienced in Queenstown. Although it has a small sushi bar that seats only four, I was able to sit there and confer with the chef. The glass display case showed off beautiful selections of fish, including a container of “Tako Wasabi,” or octopus marinated in wasabi seasonings, which came from a purveyor, the chef conceded when I asked.

The menu, displayed outside, originally enticed me with an unusual item: a Venison Tataki and Alfalfa Roll, for NZ $18. I have always been a fan of extremely original and house-created sushi rolls and sauces, but a seared Venison roll with alfalfa sprouts in New Zealand definitely takes the cake.

I was even more pleased that Chef Koji added a housemade Japanese chili and lemon soy sauce on the side for my Venison roll, which arrived in front of me lightly seared, as tataki items are, with green onions sprinkled on top. Chunks of venison were rolled inside with the alfalfa, while thin slices of it sat on top. It was a beautiful roll, and it tasted a bit like seared beef, and wasn’t hard to chew or gamy. The alfalfa balanced out the flavors and textures just right.

On the menu, there’s another section that catches my eye: whole crayfish—your choice of sashimi, poached or grilled—at market price. Today’s market price? NZ $85. I decided to order the crayfish, but insisted I wanted it served with sushi rice, seaweed and Japanese mayonnaise. Chef Koji responded right away and began to construct a sushi roll for me from a whole poached crayfish. It was big as a lobster, shiny and bright red, and then it became white and pink chunks sticking out of a roll, with avocado, sushi rice and black seaweed laced with Japanese mayo. Then he bedaubed it with Japanese chili and lemon soy sauce, and did the honor of serving it to me personally, by stepping out from behind his station and walking around the bar to place it before me, this brilliant, incredible heap of steaming sea meat in a sushi roll. The crayfish chunks that didn’t fit into the roll were piled on the side and also touched with the sauces, to be simply savored in bites.

The taste of the crayfish was so good, I was nearly moved to tears, and I felt suddenly grateful for this moment in time, for this wonderful journey to this exotic paradise…this moment…this was the moment I had been searching for in all my travels. It’s this moment that makes it all worth it.

According to Chef Koji, the water is colder in South Island, which might explain why the meat tasted sweeter than I’d expected.

The Japanese mayonnaise and house-made sauce offered a refreshing change from the way a lot of the sushi joints in California would have seasoned something like this—drowning it in eel sauce and spicy mayonnaise, then blanketing the top in green onions and smelt fish eggs. It’s one of those generic, habitual treatments in places that don’t seem to recognize that meat itself has a taste, and it need not be coated with so many seasonings that its greatness is lessened. I felt jubilant to have completed my New Zealand sushi tour with this most outstanding of meals.

Minami Jujisei
45 Beach Street, Queenstown, New Zealand
+64 3 442 9854

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