Sunday, 17 August 2014

Tsushimi: A very stubborn guy from Hiroshima!

There are a number of restaurants, Gentle Reader, which one really doesn't want to publicize for fear of them getting so popular that Your Humble Correspondent might not be able to secure a reservation. Particularly 12 seat venues.
Or, heaven forbid, demand and supply comes into operation and said establishment gets beyond your Impecunious Correspondent's meagre budget. For although the sleeves are tattered and the elbow patches worn, YHC still seems to occasionally win the monthly battle to visit at least one fine establishment. And this time, triumph via Tsushimi, hiding in lowly Komaba.

Chef Seiji Tsushimi is, by any measure, an extremely experienced and wonderfully talented individual whose talent extends from kitchen to cave to interior design and tableware. He is also remarkably single-minded, occasionally veering all the way to stubborn or bloody-minded.
Very few people "hand back" (in his words!) a Michelin star by closing a restaurant on its 10th anniversary. Even less open a completely new concept venue on the same site. Fewer still insist on almost exclusively Japanese produce, with a very strong emphasis on vegetables and foraged plants. And only very, very few - can you say "Don Quixote" boys and girls? - have mainly only Japanese wines on the list.
The all-embracing theme at Tsushimi is hospitality. Hospitality born of intense passion for and pride in Japan, and expressed through some of the finest French technique one is likely to see in Tokyo. You have no doubt heard Your Humble Correspondent rattle on about technique before - the reason food is so uniformly excellent in Tokyo is the almost manic devotion to technique. Exacting technique can bring with it, though, a tendency to underplay creativity and experiment. This is not in prospect at Tsushimi.
Seiji Tsushimi is a genius, a rare solitary star in a firmament that more often feels more like a mega-galaxy. With a flair and a sense of theatre too often absent in Michelin-lauded establishments, he is a man of strong feelings and stronger passions, a man driven to realizing perfection through absolute attention to the smallest details. His professed hobby is “serendipping”, a consummation devoutly to be wished – and shared.
It would be pointless to write about the dishes with which he regaled The Professor and YHC that fine Spring afternoon. A meal with Tsushimi-san means 10 to 13 courses, each building on the last to the crescendo at the end (he also operates the very fine dessert concept venue Miravile Impact in Ginza). Each day is different, with a sharp – almost blistering – focus on “shun” or seasonality. He delights in the art of culinary ambush, springing surprises around almost every gastronomic corner. This is ambition, playfulness, and commitment at perhaps close to its best.
Chef Tsushimi advocates a self-generated style of “Cuisine Terreuse”, artfully blending “Heaven, Water and Earth” that celebrates terroir and provenance yet brings art to cuisine in a unique yet approachable manner. There is much of the “do not try this at home” in Tsushimi-san’s cooking, and a consequent awe and wonder that is sonorous and pervading.
A meal at Tsushimi engages all five senses, with a very keen eye given to the visual as well as the aural components of a meal to ensure a level equal to the olfactory, textural, and taste scintilla in the various dishes. Tsushimi-san is himself a gifted artist, yet also includes the work of a number of similarly talented individuals in the table ware, lighting and decorative elements of the restaurant.
Perhaps one waxes a little too much about Tsushimi, but you should visit it with fellow foodies and friends visiting from overseas. It is likely not a place for lovers, colleagues, or employers. There is just too much else on which to concentrate.
And should you hear a wailing and gnashing of teeth just outside the door, it is likely that this besotted gastronomic brigand has not been able to secure a seat. Be a nice chap and ask me in, won’t you?
Pip Pip!
Tsushimi:1Fl, Katagiri Bldg, 1-16-9 Komoba, Meguro-ku t: 03-6407-8024
Rating
: Food: 9/10; Stubborn-ness: 9/10; Service: 9/10; Ambiance: 9/10; Price-Performance: 9/10.
Total: 45/50 (4 Forks)

 


 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Chemins: The Road Less Travelled

One astute person recently noted, Gentle Reader, that there seemed to be somewhat of a more-than-metaphysical relationship between these feverish scribblings and the erudite and interesting coverage of the EATPIA.com site. Not in any biblical sense, and certainly not officially. But that lovely site (kudos on the design and bilinguality) has played the role of Muse for Your Humble Correspondent of late, suggesting any number of venues. You see, one of the challenges of a foodie blog is finding inspiration and new destinations without giving in to the desperate flailing of publicists and would-be restaurateurs. Enter EATPIA! It is a boon and a benison, and YHC for one is grateful for small mercies. And so it was that in the inexorable scheme of things, YHC found his way to Chemins in Akasaka.
What a delight! What a joy! A beautiful venue, marvellously managed by Owner/Sommelier Shibata-san, food that takes one's breath away, and sensitive and elegant decor that all adds up to sensational. The ensemble of Lobster and Melon Vichyssoise is quite honestly one of the most delicious things Your Humble Correspondent has ever had to pleasure to sample, and the amuse of bacon and sea salt served as a Madeleine was as remarkably flavorful as it was creative. The menu was packed with decision-ticklers, and left this besotted diner determined to return to try things like Coupe de mousse de carotte en gelée, Bavaroise de petit poix et crevette emulsion de oginon nouveau, or Vol-au-vent de rognon de veau et de ris de veau à la creme.
A number of things separate Chemins from other establishments in Akasaka: quality, class, atmosphere, street-presence, price ... the list goes on and on. But the stand-out for Your Humble Correspondent was an all-infusing sense of passion. The air crackles with an electricity generated by people all fully invested and committed to playing their role to the maximum extent possible, yet with a subtle, playful professionalism and team-work that makes the time pass in a surreal time-warpy sort of way, and always results in a surprising jolt when one consults ones wristwatch.
On the (Japanese) website, Chef Satoru Nobusada has a jolly time talking about the provenance of a dizzying array of ingredients in the Topics page. One certainly gets the sense that this is a kitchen that is devoted to consistently producing interesting and challenging - and exquisite - food. Chef even took the trouble to see me off once the meal was complete, although this may have been an added security measure to ensure this portly panjandrum actually left the premises.
Unfortunately it was lunch, so fully testing out the wine list was contra-indicated. That said, Shibata-san is an expert and accomplished somm and the list itself diverse and reasonably priced. One can do much worse than taking his advice, always delivered in an engaged and an involved manner - with just a hint of challenge and itazura-ness that this punter finds thoroughly enjoyable.
Chemins has a history of excellent chefs and some time ago Restaurant Hiromichi in Meguro (link here] served as a very suitable venue for a birthday dinner for The Once and Future Blonde. Also well worth a visit, IMHO.
You should visit Chemins with fellow-foodies rather than stolid work colleagues. It is not a place for a balance sheet discussion. It is not a place to discuss business strategy. It is a place to talk about sauces, and herbs, and seasons, and plating, and ...
And if there seems to be some almost demonic giggling from the corner table, it's highly likely the ensemble has been served to Yours Truly again...
Pip! Pip!
Chemins: Akasaka Tameike Tower Residence Annex 1F 2-17-7 Akasaka Minato-ku Tel/Fax: 03-3568-3344
Rating
: Food: 9/10; Delightfulness: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10;
Price-Performance: 8/10.
Total: 41/50 (4 Forks)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Kairada: Life's easy in Kibikicho...

A long long time ago, Gentle Reader, in a Shogunate far far away, the area around the Kabukiza was called Kibiki-cho. The place only changed into "Ginza" in the Meiji Period. In fact, the Kabukiza was built there because it was Kibiki-cho.
You see, kibiki means "sawyer" and Kibiki-cho was where the makers-of-stuff were concentrated during the early days of the Edo Shogunate. So were the Noh and Kabuki actors - in all, a ready-made audience and land was relatively easily had. As was timber apparently, with all the appropriate fixings. Kabuki is a working class theatre form, no doubt full of groundlings. Think Shakespeare's Globe ...
There were a lot of "za" back in the day. It literally means "seat" - lots of bureaucrats butt-polishing za-buton. The Gin-za had the license to mint silver coins for the Shogunate. A similar Kin-za for gold was in today's Nihonbashi, and there was a Shu-za for cinnabar and an Fundo-za for standard weights. A za was evidently an opportunity to make a lot of money, and the place was rife with bribery and corruption. Methinks nothing much has changed ...
All of which is fluff and flotsam, except that there is a wonderfully elegant French restaurant there today called Kairada. It is exactly in the middle of the former Kibiki-cho. Chef Kairada is a "graduate" of the very famous Apicius and is a remarkably skilled chef whose unending focus is the classic french sauces. And hunting.
There is no shortage of French restaurants in Ginza and surrounding areas,and Your Humble Correspondent has taken great pleasure over the years sacrificing himself at many of these, his only motivation being your culinary edification. Kairada stands out because of its chef of course, but even more so because it seems to be the place the Japanese Masters of the Uniberse go when they just want great food and wine without the tedious requirement to entertain guests. In other words, Gentle Reader, they keep it for themselves.
For good reason. There are three "courses" involving an increasing number of dishes priced from Y5,500 to Y11,000. The fun comes in choosing sauces - fun for the customer for sure, but for Kairada-san as well as he thereby can gauge the culinary "qualifications" of the diner. Time is of the essence, in the sense that each course takes as long as it takes - a good sauce simply can't be hurried!
Your Humble Correspondent was suitably impressed as well with the wine list. The selection is varied and interesting for sure, and so are the prices. Chef Kairada's simple yet persuasive explanation is that competition is fierce in the area,  and the market will only bear what the market will bear. Kairada is not an expensive night out - in fact, it is highly possible that perhaps the kibiki tooo would have found "l'additionne" within their humble means.
Kairada is at once a sophisticated yet approachable restaurant that will delight time after time after time. Consider following the example of the Masters and keeping this for friends and lovers.
And the ugly little restaurant troll in the corner? Pshaw, he's only a groundling there for the entertainment!
Pip! Pip!
Kairada: 2-14-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku Tel/Fax: 03-3248-3355
Rating: Food: 9/10; Kibiki-ness: 8/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price-Performance: 7/10.
Total: 39/50 (4 Forks)

Friday, 8 August 2014

Trois Quart: An Elegant Algorithm

There's a lot to be said, Gentle Reader, for dining in the suburbs. While Your Humble Correspondent is certainly a creature of both habit and convenience, there is a certain happy tension created when a meal requires a journey to become reality. Venues far from the glittering lights need to perform on a daily basis, and they need to be focused on "jo-ren" regular customers who can make or break the business. So while places listed in Michelin and other guides can rely on third-party publicity, those that are more "location-challenged" have to rely on word-of-mouth from their existing customers. In fact, while it's likely a little extreme, the Kyoto dialect of Japanese even goes to considerable lengths to distinguish between various classes of customers based on their value to the operation.
At Bistro Trois Quarts, this "jo-ren" philosophy has been woven into the very fabric of the business. You see, Gentle Reader, a reliable rule of thumb for aspiring restauranteurs is good food + good wine + good service + good customers = success! Algorithmically, a culinary 4G...
Here, the algorithm ripples even as far
as the restaurant's name, which is French(ish) for "three quarters". The assumption is that they provide the first three and you and I, Gentle Reader, are responsible for the fourth.
We (yours truly and The Once and Future Blonde) recently wound our way to Bistro Trois Quarts in Wakabayashi where one of Tokyo's two tramlines feverishly clatters its way through the Shouin-jinja-mae (a shrine named for the Edo Period educator Yoshida Shouin) Station. A station admittedly without ticket wickets, but still a station.
The restaurant is located immediately on the western end of the platform, on the second floor up a left-handed double flight of stairs. If you perhaps find yourself staring into an admittedly inviting boulangerie, you're on the wrong side of the tracks (... and we all know what that means).
Chef Kinoshita and his lovely wife run this happy little nook like a well-oiled machine, and there is a warm and generous bonhomie at play here that turns a crass commercial arrangement into a thoroughly enjoyable dinner with friends.
The menu is simple but diverse, and there are more than enough bistro favourites to satisfy even the most demanding customer. Actually, one imagine it is probably hard to be demanding in the face of such an accommodating and genuinely friendly mine-host team! The wine list is wonderfully interesting, and (this is becoming a habit!) very politely priced. We enjoyed a very more-ish Limoux white that grew more complex in the glass and was the perfect foil to deftly prepared food for which one would pay much more closer to the frenetic heart of the city. 
Bistro Trois Quarts certainly lives up to its part of the algorithmic bargain, and you should certainly plan to visit with friends and lovers. If you live in Setagaya, this should become a go-to for a pleasant meal-a-deux or mange-a-trois.
And that portly chap staring up from the platform? Well, don't mind me ... I'll likely join you for a pipe of port!
 
Pip! Pip!
Bistro Trois Quarts: 4-21-4 Wakabayashi, Setagaya-ku Tel/Fax: 03-5787-6362
Rating: Food: 7/10; Algorithm: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price-Performance: 8/10. Total: 38/50 (3 Forks)

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Au Coin du Feu - A reason to gather

"Au Coin du Feu" is, Gentle Reader, a quaint yet pretty French expression meaning something like fireplace or a pleasantly warm place to gather. "Coin" of course is corner, so Your Humble Correspondent rather would translate this as "a warm nook". 

Finding a quiet corner in the hustle and bustle of Naka-Meguro is never an easy thing, although it should be said that the culinary excellence of Daikanyama seems to be flowing downhill pushed no doubt by the over-development in that part of town. And the footpaths ....

A number of restaurants in this part of Tokyo have been on YHC's 'regulars' list for some time: including Sourire, Higashiyama, AW Kitchen, Ange d'Azur, Rue de Shuri ...... and Baird's bar, of course. As the demographics of the area change reflecting the younger people moving closer to town, we can expect this trend towards culinary concentration to continue.


Be that as it may, Au Coin du Feu ingratiates itself on you with excellent service, deft cooking, and a very pleasant focus on the customer experience. Somehow, it keeps finding places to push and nudge much like a small dragon wanting its belly scratched. Somehow - despite the onerous company of many "Ladies who Dine" OL's at surrounding tables - one feels a certain sort of "at-home"-ness and a casual yet warm acquaintance with Chef Jun Yamaguchi and his sommelier wife Sachiko.

The menu changes reasonably often, although the strong recommendation is to go with the set menus - that way, you can leave the intellectual heavy lifting to the Yamaguchi's and concentrate on flavors, favours, and friendship. There is both art and artifice in the food at Au Coin du Feu, as well as joy and playfulness.

While there is a certain bistro atmosphere - did you know, perchance, that the word 'bistro' is actually Russian for "Quick!" and that some believe its introduction as a description of a dining establishment came with the 1915 Russian occupation of Paris - there is also a strong sense of a restaurant's finer sense of place and purpose. Restaurant, on the other hand, was originally a type of wonderful (restoring) Parisian consomme soup first served in 1765 that was immediately popular and copied by everyone.

One hastens to add that the wine list is both interesting and very politely priced. Many of the better known French appellations are well represented, and the advice is always to the point and simple to understand.

All that said, Your Humble Correspondent recommends a detour to Au Coin au Feu at your next opportunity. Take along people you don't need to impress - that way you can delight in companionship rather than joust for attention.

And should you see a querulous face peering through the window, pray forgive me! I won't bite ....

Au Coin du Feu: 2-7-2 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku Tel/Fax: 03-6412-8212
Rating: Food: 7/10; Warmth: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10. Total: 37/50 (3 Forks)