Niseko's amazing powder snow falls softly on Momiji St in early December
On March 29th, we closed the doors once again, bringing to an end Ezo Seafood's fifth season. It was our best season yet, marked by strong trade, generally smoother service and improvements to the variety and freshness of our seafood. Not to mention lots of big fun nights. I would like to sincerely thank our staff and customers for their ongoing support.
A lot of guests ask me "How was the season"? Here's a few things that spring to mind as well as a couple of gripes.
THE YEAR THAI'S DISCOVERED NISEKO
This year Niseko truly started to feel like an international ski resort, with a marked increase in Americans, Europeans and new Asian customers. Ironically, we also welcomed more Japanese guests this season. But the really big surprise was the arrival of so many Thai guests during late February. On several nights, more than 70% of our guests were Thai's! They tended to gravitate to high end, premium seafoods and would arrive with their own homemade seafood sauces. I often requested a taste which they always happily obliged me with. I was amazed at the powerful chilli kick but also subtle sweetness. I will be experiementing with a few new chilli sauces ahead of next season to hopefully impress our new Thai customers!
UPPING THE ANTE WITH FRESH LIVE SEAFOOD
This season we installed a live seafood tank which enabled us to stock live Abalone and Crab and for the first time. Fresh and local, we served the Hairy Crab steamed with a ponzu sauce and prepared a crab miso soup with the head. Selecting and serving live crab definitely added an element of drama to the Ezo Seafoods dining room. As for the Abalone, we offered it as sashimi or sauteed. Encouragingly, I noticed repeat customers of all stripes ordering, or reordering, the sauteed Abalone.
WHAT'S THE MAGIC WORD??
As a restauranteur in Niseko, you come into contact with a lot of people, from all backgrounds - well I suppose you could say there are a lot of affluent people in the mix. But certainly young people, old people and people of various colors and nationalities. Its surprising -- and OK I admit -- a bit irritating how many people across the whole spectrum don't say 'please' or 'thankyou'. It's especially common when guests ask for something that they expect they should have in the first place e.g. "Could I have some water..." or "Could I have some more wasabi". But people will also omit the magic word when asking for the menu, or the check at the end of the night. I thought it was common courtesy to add a please or thank you to any request, regardless. I'm in two minds as to whether I should just ditch the obsequitious role of always deferring to the customer and start insisting gently on 'the magic word' or simply putting a sign up on the front door to the effect of "BYM - Bring Your Manners". Surprisingly, a lot of children are better mannered than adults!
TAMING THE RESERVATIONS BEAST
Keeping on top of reservations during the season is a huge issue for us and other Niseko restaurants. We regularly field up to 20 new reservation enquiries daily, either though email, phone or walk in customers. After several embarassing mix ups in the 2012/13 season, we adopted a new online reservations system, SEATME that allows us to offer guests the ability to check availability and book online at any time of day. It reduced the email back and forth and the mistakes inherent in that process. Ezo Seafoods was the first restaurant in the area to adopt the system and we expect many will follow suit. We will open the reservations book for the 2014/2015 season from August 1, 2014.
TRIP ADVISOR -- 'ONLY THE PARANOID SURVIVE'
Trip Advisor is both a barometer of our performance and a way of eliciting candid comments and insights that we can use to improve. We were lucky to retain the No. 1 spot on Trip Advisor in Niseko this season which was a great credit to our team. Many of the comments focused on the freshness of our product, but also on the friendly service and relaxed atmosphere. It was always a source of pride when "the friendly staff" or the "James and his team" were mentioned. I was also happy that one of our guests described the experience as 'joyful'. My paranoia surrounding bad reviews finally became a reality late last month when we also had our first "bad review" - or a one-star rating. I was so proud that we didn't score less than 4 stars all season so the review came as a shock, but we have to reflect on the comments as a genuine expression of that customer's experience.
MOUTHWATERING FOOD SHOTS
These photos are intended for the people who don't bother reading the blah blah blah from the owner (and who would blame them), but are interested to see some food pics. Enjoy.
Crisp fried ROCKFISH - a popular choice at Ezo Seafoods for 5 years!
Scallop and Tuna Sashimi plate
Oyster and King Crab selection
FIVE YEAR MILESTONE
This season marked our 5th year in operation. Its a small anniversary but a milestone nonetheless and one that we are proud of. People often say to us that we have the best seafood in Niseko. While I take that as a compliment, I am also at the same time slightly disappointed. We are aiming for a much higher standard than "best local". We aim to become recognized as a truly world-class seafood restaurant in the same league as "Cal Pep" in Barcelona, "Mamas Fish House" in Maui, or "The Codfather" in Capetown. This season, we hosted many seafood restauranteurs from around the globe. We were encouraged with their feedback and patronage - but at the same time wondering why they were taking so many photos!!
KANPAI! Staff raise their glasses (and bottles) at our end of season staff party at an Onsen Hotel in Jozankei Hot Spring.
NEW RESTAURANT OPENING
As mentioned in a previous news announcement, Keiko and I are undertaking a new seafood restaurant in Japan's Izu Peninsula. We have started the renovation and expect it to be completed by May 2015. Unlike NIseko, the quality of the seafood, especially sashimi, in Izu is outstanding and very good value. In Niseko, you can stand out by offering high quality fresh seafood (which is no simple task given the distance to the fish markets is a 5 hour round trip). In Izu the market is only a 20-minute drive away and there would be at least a dozen local seafood restaurants offering exquisitly fresh seafood. Rather than go head to head with well-established local restaurants, we will aim to establish a niche in the area for "world seafood", and offer a menu that includes seafood pastas, seafood paella and possibly even a seafood pizza. We are also interested in "steamed seafood banquets" and may experiement with that approach in Niseko this season.
Lots to look forward to. Hope you are all well.
James & Keiko