At the New Otani Hotel and Garden in Los Angeles, displaced residents of Tokyo find the comforts of home in a breakfast of traditional Japanese foods selected as much for their variety, shape and color as for their taste. A menu of rice, pickles, fruit, tea and a source of protein--usually eggs, fish, chicken or tofu--is standard. Some restaurant variations include braised vegetables and baked eggs.
There are two main course choices on the Japanese breakfast menu at the hotel's A Thousand Cranes Restaurant. Here, either piping hot rice porridge ( asa-kayu ) or grilled salted fish are accompanied by a tofu square topped with finely sliced bonito, grated ginger and sliced green onion; vinegar-pickled vegetables, including purple pickles, daikon radish and Chinese cabbage; miso soup, made from a salty, fermented soy bean paste; mixed fresh fruit; a bowl of pearly steamed rice and green tea.
For the fish, coarse salt is sprinkled over a whole trout, mackerel, salmon or swordfish. The fish is skewered to retain its shape, then grilled over very hot charcoals or broiled. A dipping sauce brings out its subtle flavor. In some restaurants, cod marinated in a mixture of sake, soy sauce and mirin is served in place of the salted fish. Lemon wedges are served on the side. The porridge is surprisingly sweet, often made from leftover rice, occasionally mixed with red beans.
The Japanese interest in a perfect presentation is obvious in chef Nobuo Saga's garnishes: paper-thin slices of rolled bright-yellow omelet--an egg-and-green-onion mixture fried in rectangular skillets, then rolled with a bamboo mat and cut into slivers. A sprig of green, dried flakes of shaved bonito (dashi), orange slices or a mound of shredded vegetables are some other common garnishes for the Otani's morning meal.
To make the crepe-like omelet at home, use an ordinary omelet pan and trim the edges. Adding peas to the egg mixture, as in this recipe from "Step By Step Japanese Cooking" (Barron's, 1986) by Lesley Downer and Minoru Yoneda, lends color and extra flavor to the dish.
A Thousand Cranes Restaurant, New Otani Hotel & Garden, 120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, (213) 629-1200. Open daily for breakfast from 6:30 to 10 a.m.; dinner from 6 to 10 p.m. Lunch served Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Touch of Japan brunch served Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
ROLLED OMELET WITH PEAS
1 cup Dashi
1 tablespoon mirin
1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon peas
1 1/2 tablespoons grated daikon radish
Combine eggs, Dashi, mirin, light soy sauce and salt in bowl. Mix lightly with wire whisk. Stir in peas. Lightly brush omelet pan with oil and heat over moderately high heat. Pour in just enough egg mixture to coat pan, tilting pan so egg mixture forms even layer. When egg is set, tilt pan and roll top of omelet toward you to form roll at front of pan. Push roll toward back of pan.
Brush pan with oil and pour small amount egg mixture into pan, lifting roll to allow egg mixture to flow underneath. Allow egg mixture to set, then repeat tilting pan and rolling omelet toward you until all egg mixture is used and thick roll is produced at end of pan. Place bamboo rolling mat over omelet and remove omelet from pan. Or, use slotted spatula. Roll omelet in bamboo mat, press gently and let stand 1 minute.
Remove rolled omelet from mat and slice into 1-inch pieces. Arrange on small serving plates. Moisten daikon with small amount soy sauce and place small mound on each plate to garnish. Makes 4 servings.
1 (4-inch) piece kombu seaweed
2 tablespoons dried bonito flakes
Combine kombu and 4 1/2 cups cold water in large saucepan. Slowly bring to boil, removing kombu just before water comes to boil. Reserve kombu.
Add 1 tablespoon bonito flakes to liquid in saucepan and bring to full boil. Immediately remove from heat and allow flakes to settle. Strain bonito flakes through cheesecloth-lined sieve. Reserve flakes. Use broth for other recipes calling for mild Dashi stock.
Place reserved kombu and bonito flakes in large saucepan. Add 7 1/2 cups cold water and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes until stock is reduced by one-third. Add remaining 1 tablespoon dried bonito flakes and immediately remove from heat. Allow flakes to settle, then strain through cheesecloth-lined sieve.