Food without memory is just digestion

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Si - An Organic Way to say "Yes!" in Sekijuji-Dori

There comes a time in the course of dining events, Gentle Reader, when one has to suspend judgement about concept restaurants and just toddle along for a "try". Normally, it's an under-qualified and ill-experienced wunderkind chef who is trying to make a name for him/herself by doing things like putting unsuspecting ants from Nagano Prefecture on live shrimps. Or similar ...

How menacingly vain, and totally vainglorious. One needn't worry about such nonsense at Si, which (Japanese-only) website demonstrates considerable aesthetic prowess but delivers a quite minimalist level of information. Almost coy and subdued, in fact.

Your Humble Correspondent recently visited Si in the company of a former colleague who has a very pleasant habit of finding interesting restaurants. One wonders whether in fact she could do it for a living. Do please ignore Google Maps: it is on the main street in the Honda Building above the apothecary Chuo Yakkyoku. It is not in the back street in the parking lot.

Mine Host Watanabe-san takes purity and harmony very seriously. For Heaven's sake, one is asked whether the accompanying water should be served at room temperature, slighted chilled, or quite cold. The room is decorated in the aesthetic of wabi/sabi, which can often seem quite pinchpenny but in this case seems both comfortable and comforting.

Purity in this sense means organic, it means unprocessed, and it means so incredibly flavor-packed that his second guiding principle of harmony must surely be at some level of risk. Except it's not.

That's where Harmony comes in. Each flavor is weighed against the other and textures married together to produce remarkable visual and taste pictures. At the same time, it is not molecular in any way - meaning there are ample portions that invite rather than invade, and there is substance to each course. 

This Correspondent loves nothing more than a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and "unpacking" flavors is a party game often enjoyed by himself and his sainted bride. Si is a perfect place to play this little jeu, and enjoyment is magnified by the sheer incongruity of the matched ingredients. Your meal will be nearly French, but a French localized by Japanese sensitivity and attention to detail. Except for the dishes that are Japanese. 

This is a place where YHC shall take extraordinary pleasure in confusing his snobbiest and irritatingly pretentious wine chums - there is not a single bottle they will guess yet all delight and inform even the most jaded palate. There are also many options aside from alcohol.

Like M. Watanabe himself, the restaurant's operating model is a little eccentric, as eccentric in fact as the orbit of the I-still-call-it-a-planet Pluto. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are a set menu paired with even more beautifully eccentric beverages that include sake, cider, wine and bubbles. Thursday and Saturday are a la carte.

Please get along to Si with small crowds of foodies rather than tiresome colleagues. Honestly, Si is not going to appeal to everyone. Accept that, and invite only those people who agree with you, Gentle Reader. Tomahawk aficionados should look for higher ground.

And if you should want for such a companion, do drop me a line. It will be your pleasure, I'm sure...

Pip Pip!

Si4F Honda Bldg, Minami-Aoyama 7-14-6, Minato-Ku, 03-6451-1572
Rating: Food: 8/10; Organic-ness: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance:8/10; Price-Performance: 8/10.
Total: 40/50 (3 Forks)

Monday, 22 May 2017

Sublime - In a word...

For those in the "business", Gentle Reader, there are certain signs at a restaurant which invariably indicate that one should flee immediately. Carpet sufficiently thick to muffle the screams of the diners, mirrors that retchingly reflect back garish pinks and purples, or floor to ceiling windows that signal the patronage is more on display than the food. One should never have to dine cognitoOr names: Mama's Italian (because it's not), Fong's Sushi, or anything with Kimchi in the title. Or words like Bombay, Goulash, or European. Clear claxons signaling despair and disappointment.

Sublime in Shinbashi (soon to be Azabu Juban) is very much an exception. Owner 
Eiichi Yamada could have just as easily named it "Exquisite", "Spectacular", or "Magnificent", except this particular nomen is exactly descriptive and a promise delivered.

Glad to follow Jay Rayner's Ten (food) Commandments, Your Humble Correspondent recently visited 
Sublime with two tall and elegant gentlemen celebrating birthdays and a beautiful lady celebrating the company. 

At every turn, one finds oneself reaching for superlatives to describe the cuisine, the carte de vin, and the service. One knows one's in a foodie temple when all the staff exude sheer joy from just having a part to play, and when the menu is an invitation rather than an examination. There is only a single course offered, although allergies and dislikes are well catered for as well.

Chef Junichi Kato is a playful and entirely compleat genius, time shifted from Versailles to Tokyo yet also remarkably skilled at contemporary tastes and techniques that leave his fortunate patrons equally amazed yet anticipating what is coming next. The produce on display is allowed to both surprise and perform, and the plating is worthy of curation. His menu is determined daily, and reflects detailed seasonality (think 72 of them!) as well as exuberant freshness.

Your Humble Correspondent is in awe of a wine list that reflects excellence and informed eccentricity yet does not tip over into avarice in pricing. One's current fetish with Jura was adequately satisfied, as was a need for effervescent sustenance with rarer cuvees.

Service is simultaneously refined and informed, and we were thankfully spared the agony of knowing the servers' names and preferences. Chef himself journeyed several times table-wards, with tantalizing snippets of information that were brief yet sufficient. Every member of the service team was knowledgeable, efficient, and idiosyncratic in the best possible sense of the word.

Our time was far too brief (a mere 2.5 hours!) yet unrushed and remarkably satisfying. Your Humble Correspondent has not dined this well since - well, a few venues but still ... 
Sublime won its first Michelin star in 2016, but there is no doubt that it will continue to collect accolades in the same way a lissome maiden collects admirers.

One should rush to Sublime with close friends or lovers, as this is a consummation designed to delight and engage so there is little time for frivolous dalliance with "business". And should you see a golem gnashing outside, at least share the photographs!

Pip Pip!

SublimeB1F Roigent Bldg, Shimbashi 5-7-7, Minato-Ku, 03-3578-8831
Rating: Food: 9/10; Sublimity: 9/10; Service: 9/10; Ambiance:8/10; Price-Performance: 8/10.
Total: 43/50 (4 Forks)

Monday, 10 April 2017

The review you don't want to get ...

Many of you know, Gentle Reader, that Your Humble Correspondent refrains from posting negative reviews. Not so Jay Rayner at The Guardian. 

This one would dent the hardest ego:

Pip Pip!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Gaudichot - Izakaya Vin branches out!

You may have, Gentle Reader, read a previous post from many, many years ago about the extraordinary Izakaya Vin (IV) near Shibuya Station. Although the master has since passed away, it remains a wonderful and exquisite outpost in sarariman Dogenzaka that deserves your love and patronage. The son and heir is doing a splendid job and Madame still rules the roost with an iron hand.

Fast forward then to 2017, when on a whim Your Humble Correspondent searched for IV on Tabelog and discovered that said establishment had branched out to Ebisu - much to the relief of many wearied daily travellers no doubt! Egad! 

This fact alone was sufficient to have YHC eager to sally forth and try Gaudichot [Maptogether with some feisty food and wine patrons who were not likely to hold back in judgement or appetite. So he went ...

While the location is a little counter-intuitive for the first-time visitor, venture up the stairs to the former Bistro Escalier (so named for obvious reasons) and visit with the ebullient mine-host Ms. Enomoto. She is a well-trained and extremely knowledgeable sommelier - remember though that a somm's job is to sell wine and she's very good at it.

The menu regales you with a veritable landscape of French comfort foods from terrines and pates through to salads and lamb. Choosing only one would be a mistake, Gentle Reader, so best to toddle over there with at least one companion in order to stress-test the Chef. Each of these dishes has been well and truly road-tested at IV, and each comes with YHC's recommendation. Trust me, all are delicious and circumference-building.

The wine list is mainly ... French, but with items well within the reach of every purse except that of your impecunious correspondent. At the same time, each bottle or glass comes with a story fit for your ears and Mistress Enomoto is an excellent host with a smile and an eye-twinkle that would gladden even the saddest heart.

Visit Gaudichot with friends and rowdy characters, and settle in for a clear spell of wine fun. And should you spot a shady character offering to wash glasses, then do spot me a wink and nod, what-ho!

Pip Pip!

Gaudichot1-13-11 Ebisu-Minami, Minato-ku t: 03-6303-3910 
Rating: Food: 7/10; Commuter-Friendliness: 8/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance:7/10; Price-Performance: 8/10.
Total: 37/50 (3 Forks)

Monday, 11 July 2016

L'Alchimiste: A Beautiful Mind

The famous gastronome Brillat-Savarin apparently once said “A chef must be like an alchemist”. Apparently, he was also clairvoyant as he was obviously thinking of Chef Ken'ichi Yamamoto. Sometimes, Gentle Reader, it pays to choose what's behind the lavender door. 

Your Humble Correspondent (YHC) is an occasional visitor to this wonderful playground of a restaurant, run by a delightful husband and wife (chef and sommelier) team together with a sous. The formula for success is simple - he cooks, she serves and pours, you enjoy.

It has the added appeal of not allowing children under twelve, which seems to my feeble mind to significantly improve the dining environment as well as overall safety. It also does not take kashi-kiri bookings, preferring diversity and energy in its guest list rather than drab infections of bland sarariman and over-ebullient brokers.

L'Alchimiste is focused on quality, quality, and then quality. The food is inspired and playful, Gentle Reader, and a carefully considered and interesting wine flight / degustation turns a meal into a journey. Chef describes his food as "pop gastronomy" - which seems unfortunate to YHC - but serves to underline both the reflection of food trends (i.e. "pop"-ular) and the taste explosion in a diner's mouth (where a pop is certainly much to be preferred over a bang).

The illusion is sustained by a menu that only lists the ingredients (or at least did when YHC has dined) from which M. Yamamoto conjures whimsical courses which keep bringing one back to the relationship between the ingredients and the magic. The standard fare is a ten course degustation menu for Y12,000 or Y18,000 with 5 wines (Y20,000 with 7).

The wine list is broader than it is deep, and suffers slightly from a fashionable bias towards bio and organic wines. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, this trend is more about marketing than oeneology - the best Old World wines have been bio for centuries, and planting and pruning has long been linked to the lunar cycle.

At the risk of not being able to get a table in this 14 seat den of legerdemain for oneself, Gentle Reader, this is foodie heaven and deserves your patronage. It is a place to take fellow gastronomes like Brillat-Savarin or lovers, but never colleagues. Never.

And should you spy YHC in the corner, that means my lavender camouflage has failed and one needs to flee ...

Pip Pip!

L'Alchimiste1-25-26 Shirokane, Minato-ku t: 03-5422-7358 
Rating: Food: 9/10; Lavender-ness: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price-Performance: 8/10.
Total: 41/50 (4 Forks)