If you love to eat, one of the hardest questions to answer is “what is your favorite restaurant?” I often stumble when asked this, but it only takes a quick jogging of the brain to conclude that the place you return to time and time again, will most likely score very high on that list. One such restaurant is Ikko in Costa Mesa, CA. Of the countless times that we have dined at Ikko, very seldom did we leave any less than fully sated, with happy stomachs and content smiles on our faces. Amidst the various orders of sushi, appetizers and small plates, one dish we ask for almost every visit is their radish salad. It’s a very unassuming dish, comprised of batons of crisp, crunchy daikon, herbaceous rounds of red radishes, and bright, grassy radish sprouts. The vegetables are dressed in a lighter-than-air vinaigrette, with a delightful bouquet of floral yuzu juice. The dressing is neither cloying or over seasoned, but serves to perfectly accentuate the mild, cucumber-flavor of the radishes. And to top off, a mound of fried sweet potato ‘noodles’ adds nice color and texture.
When I’m craving a little Japanese at home, I like to make this salad to pair up with bites of sushi. It’s a great accompaniment and contrast to rich and decadent negi toro maki (tuna belly roll) and uni nigiri (sea urchin sushi), both which are also absolutely sublime at Ikko. It’s a fairly simple salad to make, if you can find the ingredients at your local Japanese market. The only semi time-consuming part is making the basil oil (and the fried sweet potato noodles, which I omit), but I do find that it’s just as good without it. So if you’re in a rush, feel free to totally skip this step.
In the U.S., yuzu juice is sold in bottled form in Japanese markets. If you can’t find it, use a combination of tangerine, grapefruit, and lemon juices. Radish sprouts are also available in Japanese and gourmet/health food markets. Serves 4.
Combine yuzu juice and grapeseed oil in a small bowl and whisk till emulsified. Add mirin slowly to taste, adjusting amount until the acidity of the yuzu is balanced out. Add a generous pinch of salt, and black pepper if desired. In a medium bowl, toss daikon batons with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat. Top with red radish rounds and radish sprouts. Serve with a drizzle of basil oil.
Adapted from Michael Chiarello. Grapeseed oil has a very subtle, light flavor, which allows the essence of the basil to shine through.
In a blender, puree the herbs and oil until completely smooth. Put the mixture in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over moderate heat. Simmer for 45 seconds, then pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl.
Immediately strain the oil again through a flat-bottomed or cone paper filter. If the filter clogs, you may need to change the filter partway through. It’s okay to pick the filter up and squeeze it gently to get the oil out faster, but be careful not to break the filter. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place or refrigerate.
I really thought I could make it. The dish seemed so simple; a plate of creamy polenta, layered with soft, savory taleggio and parmesan, the rich yolk oozed like a golden lava flow as I punctured the egg with my fork. It was sublime, and of course I kept thinking to myself, I could totally do this at home, nothing to it. Piece of cake.
Um yeah. In capable hands, maybe. My attempt at recreating the dish I had at the wonderful Tasting Kitchen in Venice weeks earlier was a total flop. To be honest, I’m not really sure where I went wrong. All I can remember was sitting down with a bowl of this stuff after wasted hours in the kitchen cooking and shooting and not even being able to finish even half of it. It was just blah. So bad, that the previous fond memories of the original were muddled and tainted by the failed copy. I had basically written off the idea until a few days later, while shopping for another dish, I had a light bulb moment. What if I replaced the polenta with risotto? And while I’m at it, add some bacon, because who doesn’t love bacon and eggs. And ditch the taleggio because the wet sock thing wasn’t doing it for me.
Ok, so I ended up with a completely different dish. Every bit as good as the inspiration, if not better. The poached egg goes so well with the cheesy risotto, and the texture of the rice is more comforting than polenta. It is a little more breakfast-themed, which is totally doable on a weekend morning, but if we can have breakfast 24 hours a day at Denny’s, why not this risotto for dinner? Just skip the coffee if you plan on sleeping after.
Mmm… farmers’ market eggs. Get the best ones you can, because it’s all about the eggs!
For cheese, I went with a Comté, or French Gruyere. Melts nicely and partners up well with Parmesan.
There’s that lava flow I was talking about.
I like my risotto cheesy, so add according to taste. Makes 2 servings.
Bring the stock to a boil; reduce to a simmer. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add the shallot and saute until translucent, about 1-2 minutes. Add the rice and toast in oil for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine to deglaze the pot. When almost all the liquid has disappeared, add enough stock to cover the rice. Add freshly ground pepper and a good pinch of salt. Lower the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer; stir occasionally. When the stock is almost gone, again add enough stock to cover rice. Continue this way until the rice is just al dente, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter, cheese, and stir. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil if desired. Serve immediately topped with bacon, eggs, and parsley.
Fry bacon in a large saucepan or dutch oven (helps prevent oil from splashing all over the place). Flip occasionally for even browning and cook to desired crispiness.
Poach eggs in simmering water for 4 minutes, either in a medium saucepan or a large shallow saute pan. Check out this video/discussion on the different methods of poaching eggs. I’m too lazy to rehash all that here.