Tuesday, 29 April 2014

World's Top 50 Restaurants

Another day, another high (or low) for gastronomic masturbation, Gentle Reader. http://www.theworlds50best.com/list/1-50-winners

Why so few Japanese restaurants, you ask, if Tokyo is the food capital of the world? The first step towards comprehension, Grasshopper, is to understand the rules the august judging committee(s) set for themselves, viz. http://www.theworlds50best.com/asia/en/our-manifesto.html. Apart from some fairly obvious things - must have eaten there, must not be an owner - there would appear to be little in the way of rules or standards except whimsy. Hats off to the marketing genius who came up with this little number!

With YHC's body mass, venturing out on to a limb usually results in a victory for gravity. But in the spirit of Baconian hypotheses, may one humbly suggest that two things remain:

- one gets the impression that the successful restaurants in this "ranking" actually go out of their way to stand out from the competition. Much in the same way that a nail sticks out of a floorboard. Which in Japan would be nailed down. Japanese temple de cuisine do everything they can to be low-profile.

- would it be a little presumptive to say that in Japan, technique is more highly valued than creativity? WB50 seems to celebrate said creativity and out-of-the-closet de-construction. Japan, especially Japanese cuisine, celebrates the 10,000 hours of experience needed for perfection. Which, as YHC recently said on LinkedIn, is why Jiro dreams of sushi...

All of that said, Your Humble Correspondent longs for that sweet happenstance where (1) he might be asked to participate; (2) he might be pecunious enough to eat in at least three famous overseas restaurants, let alone seven; and (3) he could spend long enough in Singapore to visit with Tetsuya at Waku Chin!

And yes, one has darkened the doors at Ryugin and Narisawa ...

Pip! Pip!

Monday, 28 April 2014

A useful summary ...

While most of this is still relatively supeficial and doesn't explore the "why", Your Humble Correspondent deems it worthy of your attention:


Friday, 25 April 2014

Nino - Nice!

While "Barack Dreams of Jiro" is the current topic of heated conversation in town, Gentle Reader, Your Humble Correspondent has been navigating around where Abe ain't in recent days. Remarkably inconvenient, and despite checking one's mailbox twice there was not even a hint of a chance of being asked to join that august group.

However, deep and dark disappointment was banished with an invitation from the Wa-est chap in town (Dominic) to waddle off to Ristorante da Nino in Nogizaka for a touch of Sicilian. Of course with all things Sicilian one has to be extremely careful not to attract attention, but despite there being a surfeit of similar establishments in Tokyo my advice is to put Nino's right at the top of your list. Quietly.

At a recent dinner at the horrid Hacienda in Daikanyama, a conversation about what makes for great food led YHC to blurt out to the unbelievers that it was actually all about technique. Chefs, cooks, and amateurs alike are generally all able to access the same ingredients and gadgets and we all cook with the same gas, but what separates the professional from the bumblers is "the Knowledge".

Technique, Gentle Reader, is what links saucing to sushi and lasagna to laksa. That's why Jiro dreams of sushi, and why an intending itamae might spend two or more years bustling before being allowed to touch a fish. It's also the reason why aspiring chefs should spend time in large noisy kitchens with five or more stations a la Brigade de cuisine before opening an epynomous eatery. And although it sometimes gets out of control, technique is what molecular gastronomy should be all about.

And technique is certainly on elegant display at Ristorante da Nino. Certainly one also sees imagination and informed ingredient sourcing, but the entire crew at Nino's from the kitchen to the floor staff carry off the ceremony of dining with panache and sprezzatura. The menu reflects a traditional and careful approach to cucina, with an artist's eye for plating and an excellent sense of balance.

Despite being located far too close to office workers, there is a pleasant deficit of OLs and oyajis, and two digits is the minimum age requirement (i.e. 10+). Ebullient Italian language skills would seem to be a plus. This is a busy and cheerful place, and attracts a consistent crowd of professional gastronomes. For good reason!

Best to dine at Nino's with friends and lovers, methinks, as the floor layout is a little cluttered and cornered. And try to avoid the banquettes. But make a reservation as soon as you can, Gentle Reader, because you will not be disappointed. And should you spy a portly slightly famished-looking scallywag through the window, pray toss a scrap cara mio!

Pip! Pip!

Ristorante da Nino: Minato-ku, Minami Aoyama 1-15-19 Grand Mezon Nogizaka 1F Tel/Fax: 03-3401-9466 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Rating: Food: 8/10; Technique: 9/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price-Performance: 8/10. Total: 38/50 (3 Forks)

Monday, 10 February 2014

Antichi Sapori - Puglia Transplanted!

It has been said, Gentle Reader, that the history of Puglia is written in its rocks: its prehistoric archeological sites, shattered historical sites once settled by the conquering Greeks and Romans, towering Norman castles with remarkable Islamic influences, and the remarkable architectural legacy left by Frederick II and the Swabian Kings.
Yet it suffered immensely under its (later) Arragonese rulers and for many years its inhabitants survived by living off the land, kept from starvation by their flocks, weeds, grano arso, and wild herbs.

Your Humble Correspondent would fain describe fair Puglia as a regnum comedentis, a place where simplicity and freshness and flavor reign supreme, and where food is seen as extremely important indeed. And there is an extraordinary restaurant there, literally miles from anywhere in a small village called Montegrosso di Andria with the captivating name of Antichi Sapori. In English, "ancient flavors" ...

This restaurant is a sort of Avalon for food writers - see this beautifully written piece by Emiko Davies. As she says, "Food is taken seriously. When they say “antipasto” they actually mean twenty portions of the most exquisite, yet simple, fresh ingredients ...". Or as Tom Kingston of The Observer said, it offers "a mind-blowing feast".

The good news for you, Gentle Reader, is that you no longer need brave the narrow mountain roads of the highlands of Puglia to enjoy Antichi Sapori. In some sort of wonderful combination of Merlock and a Star Trek Holodeck a version has appeared in Hiroo - replacing the artless Cicada on Gaien-Nishi. The re-vamped interior (left) is a pure pleasure, and the staff work tirelessly to create that effortless Italian bonarietà that makes a meal a celebration. 

Tempting as it is to waffle on endlessly about the cuisine and viticulture of Puglia, Your Humble Correspondent suggests your look here for a much more coherent and likely concise rendering.

My mission in these modest scribblings is to point rather than prod, to suggest rather than direct. That said Gentle Reader, this is a restaurant you should definitely spend time getting to know. There is ceremony and thousands of years of effort in each spoonful on offer here, and

My epicurean friend Dominic writes more, and better here. With photos [sigh] ...

Pip! Pip!

Antichi Sapori: 5-2-40 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo (t:03-6277-2073)
Rating: Food: 8/10; Puglia-rity: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price-Performance: 8/10. Total: 40/50 (4 Forks)

Friday, 7 February 2014

Quirky .. Cork-y!

You'll no doubt remember, Gentle Reader, this Humble Correspondent's ramblings about L'AS.
Pshaw! Who's kidding who? Methinks you likely never read it ... [pout]. Nevertheless, your intrepid reporter has continued in his muddled search for hostelries that might tickle your esteemed fancy, and stumbled upon L'AS's beauteous little sister

Tokyo's premier foodie Robbie Swinnerton writes a great review here.
L'AS moved late in 2013 to new premises in Minami-Aoyama, and used the storefront of the site to carve out a new space in the Tokyo dining experience via said Cork. For the simple-minded like Your Humble Correspondent, the switch here is that at Cork one orders the wines from that evening's list and the kitchen then matches the food to your choice. Novel, and quite luxurious in a sprezzatura sort of way. L'AS occupies the rear of the site, giving way to its younger sister in a charming and sophisticated way.
Well might you say "la-di-da", Gentle Reader, but the wines on offer are truly remarkable yet eclectic at the same time. On just one of a number of recent forays, we were able to choose a white from among a Silvaner from Southern Bavaria, a Gros Manseng - Petit Manseng blend from Jurancon, and a slightly flushed-pink Chateau Parodie from Provence. Similarly, the reds on offer were a Languedoc Syrah, a Spanish 100% Mencia, and a highly genki Barbella from Piedmonte. These are bracketed by Cork's bubbles-of-preference Guillaume and a perky Tokay.
The "paired" food avoids gimmick and dominant flavoring while retaining L'AS-esque delicacy and finesse. The teiban is a wonderful fois-gras pate served atop crunchy bruschetta, with a salty caramel waft of saucing. Each dish shows exquisite taste and sensibility, a consummation likely lost on Your Humble Correspondent!
Chef Kaneko and Sommelier Tanabe are still in command of both venues, and continue to do a remarkable job at an extraordinary price. Service is masterful yet subdued, and - given the depth to which the team explains each course - one imagines the pre-dinner briefings for the staff to be long, detailed, and incessant.
Cork is a retreat to visit with friends and impressionable lovers who will doubtless appreciate the slightly snuggly nature of the all-counter seating. As Robbie notes, the whole concept is beautifully executed. And in Your Humble Correspondent's even humbler opinion: wonderful fun!
Reservations (only by telephone, and only between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.) are highly recommended, Gentle Reader, as sadly Cork is remarkably popular. And should you see a florid fat-boy trying to sneak tastes of OPW (Other People's Wine), then pray refrain from smacking his wrist, what-ho?
Pip! Pip!

Cork: 4-16-3 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo (t: 090-6008-4069_the_skype__of_the_skype_highlig)
Rating: Food: 8/10; Ecletic-icity: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price-Performance: 8/10. Total: 40/50 (4 Forks)