Birthday Dinner - A Meal for the (Japanese) Gods at The Hump

For my 29th birthday, I was lucky enough to be blessed with a dinner celebration at The Hump, a Japanese restaurant located right next to the airstrip at Santa Monica Airport.

We all ordered the Omakase - for those of you not familiar with Japanese food, an omakase literally means "chef's choice". The sushi chefs will make whatever they want for you, from appetizers all the way to dessert, and in a good Japanese restaurant, the Omakase can turn into one of the ultimate expressions of creativity in food. In the hands of excellent sushi chefs, like at the Hump, it can turn into an amazing culinary experience. But, don't order it unless you really want to try different and interesting foods....(additionally, it does get expensive, so those on a budget should take note).

Just FYI: "The Hump" is a reference to the airplane run over the Himalayas that WWII pilots made to China to provide war supplies.

Btw, in case you think these photos on this post look better than my other posts, it is because my sister, who took a photography class, took them.

A view of the outside of the restaurant - as you can see, it is right off the main airstrip of the airport.

A view of the inside of the restaurant - evidently, it used to be a pilot's lounge a couple of decades ago.

A view of the sushi bar, and the outside window - if you look closely, you can see a scene of the Himalaya Mountains in the frosted glass.

A view of the airstrip from our table during the sunset.

Now, on to the good stuff in this excellent Omakase dinner! I am not going to be describing the taste of this food for the most part, because it was all excellent - one of the best meals of my life, and my words would not serve the food its deserved justice.
First, (above) we were served bean curd in tempura sauce, with bafun uni (from Japan) and caviar.

Second, they served us chawanmushi with snapping turtle at the bottom (unseen in the photo). Chawanmushi is a steamed egg custard dish, and the one here had an excellent texture - extremely light and fluffy.

Third, we were served a Japanese appetizer platter - please look below for a description of each of the different elements on this plate. It is a gorgeous presentation!

A close-up of some Sawagani (baby crab), next to braised duck on top of some shishito peppers. You eat the crabs whole - they are mainly crunchy, as one would expect.

This appetizer consisted of foie gras and caviar on top of cherry tomatoes.

Inside the blue bowls were an assortment of Japanese vegetables - Okra, cherry tomato, turnip, eggplant, and shimeji mushrooms.

Next, we were served a plate of assorted sashimi - sorry the whole plate didn't come out, this photo isn't displaying correctly. But, the sashimi that they prepared for us included blue fin tuna, special salmon (from Japan), bafun uni (from Japan), seabass (from Japan), black throat perch (from Japan), bectfish (from Japan), butterfish (from Japan), and halibut (from Korba, in India). See if you can identify them all (I can't - I get confused distinguishing between all the light colored sashimi =P)

A close-up of the bluefin tuna and special salmon sashimi.

More closeups of the sashimi. As you might expect, this sashimi was almost all from fish caught in Japan, and was of the highest quality. Each piece was delicious, and of course, was cut very well by the sushi chefs to accentuate the natural flavor of the fish.

Another close-up photo of the sashimi. So good! *drool*.

Ok, enough slobbering over the sashimi. Next, they served us steamed hairy crab (from Japan - Hokkaido specifically - although I might be wrong about it being from Hokkaido). The flavor of this crab is amazing - it is delicate, with a subtle sweetness permeating throughout the meat.

The head of the hairy crab - it aint happy, but I am!

The chefs next served us a dish with (from upper left hand corner going clockwise): Baked conch in saikyo miso, Hamo (pike eel) tempura with uni, and live freshwater eel cooked with sansho herbs and lemon. This dish had the only item that most of the people at the table didn't like very much - the tempura - not because it was badly prepared, but I think because it was a bit more ordinary than the heavenly dishes prepared so far. I thought it was fine though, and ate everyone else's - more for me!

A close-up of the baked conch - it is sitting on a bed of salt, and is let up from below for dramatic effect, and to keep the conch heated up.

The sushi chefs next served us another plate of sashimi - specifically, kampachi sashimi with serrano peppers, garlic, and cilantro.

Next, we were served a plate of kobe beef, which we could sear lightly on the stone plates. This was real kobe beef from Japan - not that other stuff (the American Snake River kobe beef that some restaurants try to pass off as Japanese kobe beef). For real kobe beef - think cows that are massaged all day, and fed lots of high quality grains, etc. Only in Japan, but so delicious! If you look on the bottom of the plate, you can see the seasoning that they provided for the kobe beef - wasabi, fried garlic slices, sea salt, and also some pepper (not pictured).

Action shot of my mom cooking the beef - the stone plate was heated up to a very high temperature and the beef was sliced very thinly, so a delicate searing of each side was all it took for this excellent meat!

For the next plate, the sushi chefs prepared us some sushi. We were all getting really full at this point, but I kept forging on - so much delicious food cannot be wasted! =) From left to right, kohada, octopus, toro, jumbo clam, and sweet shrimp. The sweet shrimp was really, really fresh - the shrimp feelers suddenly started to twitch while it was sitting on the plate, and my sister and Jen both shrieked in surprise.

Take that, shrimp! They asked me if I wanted to try the shrimp head in some miso soup, and I gladly accepted. The soup was quite tasty, with the sweetness of the shrimp spreading throughout the soup.

Lastly, our dessert - a truffle sorbet made by the chefs, with sweet red bean on the bottom. This dish was not for everyone - my sister could not eat it. I have to admit, it was not a tradtional sweet dessert - the truffle flavor in the dessert reminded me of truffle oil. I found it interesting - I would say that it challenged my conception of what a dessert should be like - how I imagine the tasters of Iron Chef would feel like eating a dessert made with a strange ingredient. I found it good, though!

The end! What a great birthday, a meal fit for the Japanese food gods, and definitely one of the best meals of my life! =)

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