Food without memory is just digestion

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Australian Food: Come on Aussie!

Having ventured to the Great Southern Land, Gentle Reader, I was looking forward with considerable relish (no pun intended) to a veritable feast of fine food. And I'm desperately disappointed.

In Dominic's recent post about a certain restaurant in Canberra, he lamented at the poor quality of the offering. Your Humble Correspondent would feign call him mistaken, were it at all possible.

I must say that, like the United States, Australia boasts magnificent produce. Whether shopping for my humble home or considering what was on offer at the various eating establishments I have visited with the Child Bride, I have no doubt that the ingredients are of the highest quality. Magnificent seafood, extraordinary cuts of meat and poultry, superb vegetables, and some of the best delicatessens I have ever experienced. There is a passion for the providore that thrills me to the core. So what, I wonder, is the issue?

In your Humble Correspondent's opinion, the problem happens once the produce gets to the kitchen. Too many cooks spoiling broths, and not enough chefs focused on what hits the plate. Over-cooking such as Dominic suffered, or under-cooking like I experienced recently when the filling for a steak-and-kidney pastry was barely tepid, is a solid indication that some-one at the kitchen door is not paying attention. Wait staff make the simplest mistakes, and seem driven to have the diners in and out quickly. A cross-eyed view to the top-line, rather than customer satisfaction and growing a crowd of "regulars".

Perhaps we are all a little spoiled in Tokyo, but there where livelihoods are on the line chefs go that little further to make sure customers are delighted. Here in the Antipodes, it seems that people have jobs rather than passions and the competition is for employees rather than learning opportunities. It's almost as if the roles are reversed between kitchen and floor, and between diners and eateries. For goodness' sake, food is not fuel and dining excellence is not measured with a stopwatch.

It is all a rather large pity - the venues and locations are splendid and the ingredients (as noted) real quality. Why, oh why, don't people apply that finishing touch of the entertainment inherent in food? If all the world's a stage, where are the players?

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Top Food Blogs?

Christopher claims to be my friend. Note the "claims". Yet he has managed to cut me to the quick, wound my already damaged pride, and set the bar for success at an impossibly high level. How? By reminding me of my insignificance and pallor.

Now that he's moved on to academia - not just any ivory tower, but Tokyo University - he seems to be focused on deep and meaningful research. He took the trouble to forward me an article from some unknown journal that purports to be a listing of the world's best food blogs. Oh the shame! Oh perfidy! What craven scribe could ever compile said list without including Jon, Dominic, or your Humble Correspondent? Here's the list:
  1. Mexico Cooks!
  2. Eating Asia
  3. Silverbrow on Food
  4. Grab your fork
  5. Chocolate and Zucchini
  6. Wine Anorak
  7. The Boy Done Food
  8. Refined Palate
  9. Cheese and Biscuits
  10. Eat like a Girl

Actually, some of these are pretty good. A bit British, what-ho, but a solid effort. I would add: The Amateur Gourmet; David Lebovitz; Chez Pim; Michael Laiskonis.

And if you're getting a little "over-the-top" about this whole food blogging thing like some-one I know, see the Foodblog Blog. What's even more embarrassing is that none of the Three Musketeers is listed there either... how demeaning!

Yule be wondering ...

Regular Gentle Readers will be wondering what befell your Humble Correspondent. Unlike the effervescent Jon (Blog link here!) , travel to the wilds of Akita was not on the menu this year. Instead, I chose a much more sedate and familiar destination - Brisbane, Australia. While not yet feted as the point of origin for your Humble Correspondent, the City and I look forward to that happy day when foodies all over the world flock to its fair shores for ... um, food!

The point of my antipodean journey with the Child Bride and The Princess was of course to visit my ragged but treasured collection of parents, siblings, children, children-in-law, children-in-law-in-waiting, and grand-babies for a cacophonous convocation at Christmas. A bit of a tradition, you see, which your aging diarist both enjoys and quietly propagates.

Some say, Gentle Reader, that I sometimes tend to go over the top with regard to food and gatherings. Tee-hee to them, and pshaw! Going over the top happens to be a part of my core skill set, and in my (feeble) mind a consummation devoutly to be wished. How could people be so cruel as to suggest that importing a hand-made creche and Nativity Scene from Oberammergau by way of the blithe and generous George was over the top? My intention is to buy a new figurine every year, adding it to the display for the grand-babies to enjoy. [BTW: the figurines are 12cm high, so you can imagine how much space it takes up!]
But the food! Everything is lovingly hand-made by your Humble Correspondent each year. This year, for 20 people! Each year we add something to the mix that might be thought by ne'er-do-wells as "over the top". The Child Bride has long forsaken trying to curb these culinary passions - a good thing too, as covering my ears and poking out my tongue was lately feeling a little childish.

Here's what I prepared (and feel free to contact me for recipes):
Smoked Salmon Pate
Smoked Trout, Chive, and Chervil Terrine
Pressed Duck with Red Wine Vinegar in Aspic
Honey Mustard Glazed Ham
Slow Roasted Pork with Apple Cider Stuffing
Roast Turkey with Sage and Onion Stuffing
Forcemeat Stuffing Balls Wrapped in Pancetta
Roast Herbed Potatoes, Pumpkin, and Kumara
Steamed fresh-picked beans and Asparagus
Cherry and Macadamia Praline Cheesecake
Brandy and Citrus Peel Truffles
Over the top? Never ... just wait for next year! I'm already in planning mode.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Bevitrice - Backstreet Beauty

Ebisu has a rich and fascinating history of fallen men and women, bewitched by Eros, Bacchus and formidable Ebisu himself. How fitting therefore, Gentle Reader, that your Humble Correspondent found himself wandering its back streets in search of Bevitrice.

How might it be possible that this comely and captivating destination has escaped my attention for the last 13 years? I am told by my betters that bevitrice is Italian for a "woman who drinks a lot". My choice of companion on this happy evening, alas, was neither female, Italian, nor a dipsomaniac. Truth to tell, he was English (promise you won't tell anyone!) - a lordling, and gentile. Of all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ... your suffering Explorer-Gallant had failed to even negotiate the first hurdle. Why couldn't I have found a fallen woman, or at least a flopsy?

We opened with an Anselmi Capitel Croce 2006 which is a splendid wine, and my first experience of Garganega done well outside of Soave. The Lordling and I decided to trust ourselves to the Prix-Fixe @ Y6,300, but negotiated some slight deviations off the carta.

The charming floor staff offered an Amuse of some home-smoked ham served over a nut mix. Immediately, the Lordling and I knew we were on to something here. Attention to detail, fine balance of flavors, elegant delivery, and a touch of innovation!

Chef followed up with a Tuscan white bean soup. Oh, ♪ Swing Low Sweet Chariot ♪ ... carry me away to Lucca. A hint of lardo. A dreamy, creamy consistency. Mouth-ready, not too hot and not too tepid. For our next course, I had chosenthe antipasta mista and the Lordling was gnawing on a fulsome house Foie gras terrine. Excellent, excellent! The wine was working its magic, and I was beginning to see the flopsiness inherent in my companion.

On to primi - I had chosen the Fettecinitti and he the Porcini Risotto, both of which were outstanding dishes. It was time for some Italian red: we chose Vino nobile di Montepulciano poliziano 2004 as our Elysian poison, and noble indeed it was - so when the Lordling's Beef Cheeks and my Tuscan pork found their way to the table for a brief stay as secondo, your Humble Correspondent found it difficult to choose. My simple solution: alternate mouthfuls of pork, and wine until the porcine perfection was gone and I had received more than my fair entitlement of the beverage.

We rounded out the me with some cheese for me (parmigiana, wash, amaretto) and Zuppa di Iglese for him [which he wittily described as very English and not very zuppa!]. Delightful!

Visit Bevitrice with hordes of dipsomaniacal flopsies, or with good friends - you won't be disappointed with either the food, the pleasant service, or the wine. And if you hear a quiet giggling coming from the cellar, throw me a bone!

Bevitrice: 1-16-29 Ebisu, Shibuya Ward, tel: (03) 3443-2313
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 7; Service: 8; Ambiance: 8; Price: 7 ($). Total 38/50

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Dame Jeanne - A la Campagne!

Sensitive to the criticism, Gentle Reader, of being too much focused on the gaijin ghettos of Tokyo it became obvious that exploration of deepest, darkest Edo might form the basis of some sort of sensible reply. When a group of my Japanese friends and former colleagues suggested a soiree celebrating Year-End, I saw the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Or in this case, one demijohn.

For indeed, demijohn comes from the medieval French "Dame Jeanne". How embarrassing - imagine a lady being remembered for all posterity as "large and squat, usually covered with wicker". A curmudgeonly comment from the gossips of some quaint Burgundy village, and one's cursed for life!
Maruyamacho, I will admit, is not so far from civilization that one needs to mount a full expedition complete with porters, elephants and tentage. But navigating the jungle of love hotels and restaurants that flourish in this lush and steamier side of Tokyo is a task that only an acknowledged jungle killer can accomplish.
Dame Jeanne is very reminiscent of a quaint Burgundian village - indeed, its proprietors had this very much in mind when they decided 6 months ago to open a tabac style restaurant to replicate the feeling of a village gathering place in the French countryside. And they have very much achieved this goal in this delightful addition to the Tokyo eating landscape.
Maruyamacho [actually, the cho piece means village in Japanese. Egads!] is a difficult area to explore, and Dame Jeanne can be hard to find with only a very small sign and a demure entrance. Your Humble Correspondent happened on it only after bringing to bear years of experience as a professional Explorer-Gallant. Others less accomplished might aim for the Lawsons on the western side of Shinsen station on the Inokashira line. Dame Jeanne is one door closer to the station.
We shared Rillette de Lapin (bravo, Chef!), Liver Pate, Potatoes Dauphinoise (magnifique!), Shellfish in White Wine, a wonderful pork offal sausage, roast venison, and a delicious cassoulet that set new standards for expeditionary fare. Praise the Lord and pass the gibier [game] and l'abats [offal]!
The wine list is complete and reasonably priced (Dom 1999 at Y21,000?) and the service superb. One can expect to pay around Y5000 for food - a pleasant relief after the outrageous prices charged closer to the palace.
Dame Jeanne: 23-4 Maruyamacho, Shibuya Ward, tel: (03) 3496-2755
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 7 ($). Total 35/50

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Ristorante La Primula - I'm shattered!

My faith in my fellow man has been shattered, Gentle Reader. More precisely, my faith in the Michelin Man (Bibendum). We share a certain jollity and silhouette, you see, and your Humble Correspondent felt a deep and abiding belief in his infallibility. The name Bibendum actually comes from the first advertisement which has him offering a toast "Nunc est bibendum" ("It's time to drink" in Latin) to his skinny competitors with a glass full of road trash.

All is now dust, alas. I'm shattered, like Venetian glass crushed underfoot. I had invited a good friend and former colleague to dinner, and having lost the services of the redoubtable Ms Motonaga, flittered unchaperoned through the Michelin Guide and landed on Ristorante La Primula. The Primrose is a pretty enough herb, used for some medicinal purposes, but sadly not native to Japan.

La Primula specializes in the cuisine of north-eastern Italy, principally Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto. An admirable ambition, and one with every chance of being successful in Japan. But given the unending excellence one finds in Italian restaurants in Tokyo, it would require effort and dedication. Both of which failed to evidence at Ristorante La Primula. That said, the food was well-prepared and interesting but not outstanding.

The wine list has both the dangerous "E"s - eccentric and expensive. Too much concentration on the north-east, and the wine from other regions seems to be around 300% marked up over wholesale.

You may wonder why I ramble so - unfortunately, there is little else memorable about the restaurant. It is a little like the plant - pretty enough and potentially medicinal, but not at home in the Guide. Call me a peasant or a pissant, but if La Primula is indicative of those regions give me Tuscany or Milan any time.

And take away the star - Andre Michelin would be turning in his grave!

Ristorante La Primula: 2-8-10 Azabu Juban, Minato Ward, tel: (03) 5439-9470
Rating: Food: 6; Wine: 5; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 6 ($$$). Total 31/50

Monday, 8 December 2008

Cogito - I'm Game!

One wonders, Gentle Reader, what happens to Lost Boys when they grow up. Your Humble Correspondent often feels drawn to "Nibs" because he grew up to work in an office, although there are those who would plump for "Slightly".

Chef Jitsuhiro Yamada seems to me to be a Lost Boy, although he quite definitely seems to have all his marbles and so can not be "Tootles". There are times when he seems ever-so-grown-up, and times when one feels slightly being-toyed-with. But make no mistake, Gentle Reader! Cogito is a fine restaurant in a difficult market, and one that deserves its Michelin star if only for its magnificent wine list and common-sense. Game, or gibier, is a speciality ... and a delight!

I journeyed a-pied from The Hermitage to dine with The Ad Guy ... who actually seems to have undergone a transformation himself and grown up into a Tokyo University professor. What-ho! Seems standards are slipping in the towers of academia!

We were impressed with the ambiance of comfort and reassuring elegance, and decided to slip into something a little more comfortable by way of a Sancerre. The obvious choice was the o-makase course. Feeling remarkably intellectual in the presence of The Prof, Your Humble Correspondent was not about to sully that image with a silly and irreverential, if not to say poor form, wander through the menu. What followed was a delightful little journey through high-quality ingredients, including game shot by Chef himself, the highlight of which was the Duck and Foie Gras Pie served as the main course. The meal was marked by both quality and reasonable quantity, although I'd venture this is no place for a flapper or a banker in these troubled times.

Our Morey St Denis rounded out the meal superbly, and the selection of cheeses was ample for both The Prof and I.

Chef has travelled from his Marche aux Vins in Aoyama, via Harmonie in Nishi-Azabu, to this little gem in the shadow of The Grand-ish Hyatt. Cogito is pronounced with a soft "g" as in "codger"... which word describes well the two Lost Boys who dined this evening. Visit Cogito with old friends and ex-bankers, and soak up a pleasant evening's worth of subtle flavours.

Cogito [Map]: 3-2-15 Nishi-Azabu, Minato Ward, tel: (03) 3796-3838 [sorry, no website].
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 8; Service: 7; Ambiance: 8; Price: 7 ($$$). Total 38/50

Friday, 5 December 2008

Artichaut

You can imagine, Gentle Reader, the breathlessness with which I had anticipated the opportunity to dine with Jon (Eating Out in Tokyo with Jon). Your Humble Correspondent pales into insignificance when compared to this paladin of grace and virtue ... one feels like Edgar Linton to his Heathcliff, or like Boswell to his Dr Johnson. Jon, whose lofty vocation is masterminding strategy for a multinational financial house. [Brief pause for thought] On reflection, perhaps "masterminding" is a stretch given the uproar in that sector!

We settled on Artichaut, a little French venue hidden away in Ebisu. Chef Yamane has overseen this restaurant for some 2 years after 5 years in Paris most notably at the heavenly 3-star Pierre Gagnaire [note to self and Jon: get to the Tokyo edition in Minami-Aoyama asap]. At His Jon-ness's suggestion, we went for the Chef's special o-makase menu but asked for 2 dishes of game rather than game and fish.
In the view of this admittedly jaded interlocutor, Artichaut seemed to progressively lose the plot as the evening ran its course. Our dinner started well with Oyster au Natural, plump and sweet. The Sancerre worked well with this jewel of the sea, although your Humble Correspondent was so a-gush that Jon had finally arrived that I neglected to note which particular example it was.
We moved on to a Presse of Kamkura vegetables, from whence our downward spiral commenced. Perhaps I wasn't ready for the delicate flavors, but it disappointed. This was followed by an Artichoke, Unagi and Fois Gras terrine which was serviceable and workman-like, but which didn't stand for anything we could easily define.
At a little of a loss by now, I opted for the 1983 Malescot St Exupery from Margaux - not through any deep knowledge of the Chateau or terrior, but because I was intrigued by the connection to the famous French aviator and author Antoine de Saint Exupéry (The Little Prince and others). His great-grandfather Count Jean Baptiste St-Exupery bought the property in 1827, although his subsequent extravagant lifestyle forced his widow to auction the property in 1853. Tangential perhaps, but the wine was excellent.
The Venison (Ezojika) and Fois Gras Risotto was a much better effort, although my companion The Delphi seemed a little less impressed that I. The rice was "plump and sticky", and done to about one tick less than perfection. My Pigeon was well-prepared, without any of the chopped liver-ness that can afflict this dish. Jon will no doubt report that his Pheasant was better.
At Artichaut, one feels slightly let down by the experience, but it's hard to put one's finger on exactly what's missing. Your Humble Correspondent will be returning in the New Year to see if it was just the brilliance of the company that took the shine off the food. For the meantime, it's a place for friends rather than those you seek to impress.
Artichaut: 2-6-29 Ebisu, Shibuya Ward. t: 03-3446-9747
Rating: Food: 6; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 7 ($$). Total 35/50

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A fistful of stars - Joel Robuchon

Gentle Reader, this may sound like heresy but is the Michelin guide a reasonable standard by which to judge chefs?

With the release of the Hong Kong/Macau guide recently, Joel Robuchon has opened up a substantial lead on his erstwhile colleagues - with 24 stars around the world compared to Alain Ducasse on 16, dear old Gordon on 12, and Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se etc) on 7.

But if one works some alchemy with the math to derive my proprietary "star index", it very much looks like ubiquity (being everywhere) is not a substitute for quality (concentrating on the food). Keller, with 5 locations and 7 stars , tops the list. Robuchon (16 locations) stays in the black, but Ducasse (19) and Ramsay (21) seem more like businesses than chefs. While Zagat represents brutish democracy and should be shunned, one feels that Michelin needs to somehow get into the global village and provide we humble diners with a more "international" view.

It's a matter of some personal shame that I haven't eaten at one of Chef Keller's establishments, although I threatened to do so last year until - ever your intrepid aviator - I was shot down by the Red (Ink) Baron. We also stood a small chance of having him visit Tokyo last year, but that horse fell at the final jump. Still, I look forward to the day when we can see all of the top 4 chefs battling for wallet share in Japan.

M. Robuchon is an enigmatic character: he learned to love cooking while in boarding school. That strikes me as a rather rum piece of hagiography - when has boarding school food ever been known to excite passion? More than that, Gentle Reader ... having got his 3rd star in Paris he just up and closed his restaurant in 1996. All rather too much, he confessed.

Today, a mere handful of times around the sun later, he's the primus inter pares of the world's chefs with a much simpler approach to elegance and sophistication. His restaurants range from L'Atelier (workshop) to La Table (Table) to La Cuisine (Kitchen). And his empire extends even further than Alexander's or Octavian's - with locations in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, New York, Paris, London and perhaps Tel Aviv, he must have more frequent flyer miles than Condeleeza Rice.

Ramsay, or "Chef", is also busier than a ram on shearing day ... no, wait, I'm confusing work and play. But with the Gordon Ramsay Group extending into pubs and bars and even airline food, you've got to wonder how he fits it all in. Ducasse's dedication I respect, although the Benoit deal here in Tokyo was perhaps a bridge too far.

Note: Twenty One, closed down in unfortunate circumstances, has re-opened at the Shinjuku Hilton as La Pergolese Tokyo. Your Humble Correspondent will toddle along shortly, so stay tuned.

Restaurant List

Cicada (Hmmm) Tags: Fusion, Azabu, 2 forks
Monna Lisa (Ebisu) Tags: French, Ebisu, 4 forks
Argent Tags: French, Meguro, 3 forks
Alladin Tags: French, Hiroo, 4 forks
Bon Monsieur Tags: French, Roppongi, 4 forks
Izakaya Vin Tags: Wine, Shibuya, 3 forks
Sucre Sale Tags: French, Araki-Cho, 3 forks
Esperia Tags: Italian, Azabu, 3 forks
Epice Kaneko Tags: French, Azabu, 3 forks
La pitchoulie de Lou lou Tags: Basque, Hiroo, 3 forks
Cheers Tags: French, Shibuya, 3 forks
L'Amphore Tags: French, Kyobashi, 3 forks
Osteria Nakamura Tags: Italian, Roppongi, 3 forks
Felicita Tags: Italian, Aoyama, 3 forks
Casita Tags: Fusion, Aoyama, 3 forks
Esperia (again) Tags Italian, Azabu, 3 forks
La Bisboccia Tags: Italian, Hiroo, 2 forks
French Kitchen Tags: French, Roppongi, 3 forks
Angolo Tags: Italian, Hiroo, 3 forks
Cicada (again) Tags: Fusion, Hiroo, 2 forks
La Taperia Tags: Spanish, Yotsuya, 3 forks
Hainan Jeefan Shokudo
Hiroo 148
Salt
45
Le Marche aux Puces
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Le Marche aux Puces (again)
Le garcon de la vigne
Benoit
A ta guele
New York Grill
Goutte d'or Achiano
De Longhi
Bistro de La Cite
Chez Matsuo
Incanto
Sin Tong Kee
Gordon Ramsay
A Presto
Delhi
Le Recamier
Chinese Cafe 8
Epanoui
Grape Gumbo
Azabu Haus
Les Vinum
La Chasse
Glass
Bon Pinard
Peter
Bolice
Trattoria Tornavento
Don Ciccio
Burdigala
L'Estasi
Coucagno
Yamada Chikara
Piatto Suzuki
La Lune
Chez Pierre
Le Bourguignon

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Moony-Eyed at La Lune

It is rare indeed, Gentle Reader, that your Humble Correspondent feels perplexed. Or confused. But I was both when I visited La Lune. Hadn't I been here before? No ... but ... yes. I quickly e-mailed my good friend Richard Cohen at Village Cellars, who reminded me that we had visited these premises when it was called Oishi (大石) back in 2000(?). Dilemma resolved! [Update: Actually, Chef Nagata was the chef at Oishi back then. To my mind, he's got a lot better!]

La Lune is a small yet comfortable suburban restaurant, with no pretensions to anything more than serving good-to-great food to grateful customers. Of which NHK-7 and I are now 2. We settled on Menu Option B (2 entrees, 1 main, and dessert) and aside from a brief mention of how fond we were of meat, we left the rest up to Chef.

Our 2006 Sancerre la Croix du Roy (L. Crochet) arrived with appropriate speed at a reasonable price. My companion was presented with an uni and pumpkin sherbet in a consomme jelly to match my zuwai-gani salad. Both were excellent, and stood us in good stead for the next course. For her, this was a seasonal mushroom salad with duck "ham". I settled into a well-prepared Fois Gras terrine. By now we were convinced that we had happened onto a little "discovery" in our own backyard, and were eager to push on to the main course.

Oh dear! Suckling boar with a raspberry vinegar sauce for your Humble Correspondent, and roast partridge for NHK-7. We matched this with a 2003 Gevrey-Chambertin Champs-Chenys, again reasonably priced and good to the last drop. The food was delightful - simple, yet elegant and well-plated to satisfy the eye as well as the mouth.

Desserts are a high point at La Lune, and my Apple Creme Brulee with burnt caramel ice-cream was the star although well tussled with by Melanie's cheesecake souffle.

Visit La Lune with friends and lovers, for a relaxing and sophisticated meal at an excellent suburban restaurant. Which gives me pause to wonder if there's room for a guide book on these little gems. Suggestions?

La Lune: 2-26-16 Higashi Azabu, Minato Ward. t: 03-3589-2005
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 7 ($$). Total 35/50

Saturday, 22 November 2008

An Eater's View - Michelin Tokyo 2009

As you have probably noticed, Gentle Reader, I have been buried deep in the 2009 Guide. There are surprises, to be sure, as well as omissions and exaggerations. What can we humble diners learn from the "book"?

Suffer me to get the trivial out of the way early. Yes, the Tokyo guide is the only one in the world with a symbol to inform we namban that our shoes will need to be removed. And, yes, it is also the only one with a symbol indicating a "interesting sake list". For clarity's sake: the 2009 Guide ratings were compiled by a "home-grown" specialist team which is overwhelmingly Japanese. There is only 1 foreigner - so the shrieks of sarcastic pooh-poohing that accompanied last year's Guide (how could foreigners judge Japanese restaurants?) are no longer even worth noting.

Your Humble Correspondent was delighted to see more "new" restaurants than "classic" Tokyo fine dining establishments. Why? Above all, I believe that the classics have monopolized the Tokyo dining scene for far too long and have grown fat and lazy. Chez Matsuo is probably the only one that still excites and satisfies, but the others seem more focused on kata than cuisine.

But just as importantly, it signifies that the rating team is not overwhelmed by reputation and rightly focused on performance. Some observations:
  • Recognizing Monna Lisa in Ebisu is appropriate and measured.
  • Gordon Ramsay is probably relieved, and perhaps lucky.
  • Edition Koji Shimomura must have been having a good night (or series of nights actually) because it was only worth 1 star the night Your Humble Correspondent fell into good company there.
  • Joel Robuchon now has 7 stars in Tokyo, which may mean he is casting too bright a light.
  • La Bourguignon is destined for higher things, although I fear that may mean new premises.
  • Piatto Suzuki maintained its single star, which is good news for people looking for reservations ... another star, though thoroughly deserved, would have meant much more difficulty.
  • Twenty One at the Tokyo Shinjuku Hilton - closed under unfortunate circumstances and therefore losing its stars - has re-opened as La Pergolese inspired by Stefan Gaborieau. Look for a starry future.
  • The omission of Chikara Yamada is inexplicable.
  • Alain Ducasse must have been devastated when Benoit closed after a real estate debacle, but his other restaurants fared well.
  • Tatsuji Aso seems to be roaring ahead with 2 stars for Ristorante Aso and another 2 for Argento Aso. Pity it's all bound up in the 6 star Hiramatsu Group! Which, with everything from 2 stars to Cafe des pres, seems a little confused.
  • The Mandarin Oriental has 3 restaurants each with 1 star - Tapas Molecular Bar, Sense, and Signature. Guess where I'll be staying if I ever need a hotel!

Strange though it is to relate, I forbear from debate on the Japanese restaurants. That would bring out the more xenophobic comments (like the criticism of the 2008 Guide). But I would point out that Japanese restaurants make up about 60% of the stars, which is only fitting.

The surprise, Gentle Reader, is that the remaining 40% represents a western food tradition in Japan of only a little more than 100 years, and that so many contemporary western restaurants made the grade. All of which bodes well for we Tokyo (or Tokyo-bound) foodies.

Winners Michelin Guide Tokyo 2009

New ☆☆☆:
  • Ishikawa (5-37 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku) [Japanese] 2008: ☆☆
New ☆☆:
  • Argento Aso (ZOE Ginza 8F, 3-3-1 Ginza) [Italian Contemporary] 2008:
  • Crescent (1-8-20 Shiba-Koen) [French] 2008:
  • Edition Koji Shimomura (Roppongi T-Cube 1F, 3-1-1 Roppongi) [French Contemporary] NEW
  • Hatsunezushi (5-20-2 Nishi-Kamata) [Sushi] NEW
  • Horikane (5-10-13 Shirokanedai) NEW
  • Kadowaki (2-7-2 Azabu-Juban) NEW
  • Kodama (Nishi-Azabu 1106 2F, 1-10-6 Nishi-Azabu [Japanese Contemporary] NEW
  • Kondo (Sakaguchi Bldg 9F, 5-5-13 Ginza) 2008:
  • Le Table de Joel Robuchon (Yebisu Garden Place, 1-13-1 Mita, Meguro) [French Contemporary] 2008:
  • 7-Chome Kyoboshi (Ozio Ginza Bldg 6F, 5-5-9 Ginza) [Tempura] NEW
  • Sushi Saito (Nihon Jitensha Kaikan 1F, 1-9-15 Akasaka) [Sushi] 2008:
  • Tomura (1-11-14 Toranomon) [Japanese] 2008:
  • Umi (3-1-8 Minami-Aoyama) [Sushi] 2008:
  • Yamamoto (2-15-4 Tsukiji) [Fugu] NEW
  • Yukimura (Yuken Azabujuban Bldg 3F, 1-5-5 Azabu-Juban) [Japanese] NEW

New(All are NEW except where noted):

  • Ayumasa (4-17-5 Shimbashi) [Japanese]
  • Bice (Caretta Shiodome 47F, 1-8-1 Higashi-Shimbashi) [Italian]
  • Faro (Shiseido Bldg 10F, 8-8-3 Ginza) [Italian]
  • Fugu Fukuji (Koda Bldg 3F, 5-11-13 Ginza) [Fugu]
  • Gordon Ramsay (Conrad Hotel 28F, 1-9-1 Higashi-Shimbashi) [French]
  • Hei Fung Terrace (The Peninsula Hotel, 2F, 1-8-1 Yurakucho) [Chinese]
  • Kikuchi (Minatoya Shonten Bldg 2F, 2-17-17 Nishi-Azabu) [Japanese]
  • La Tour (Kojun Bldg 5F, 6-8-7 Ginza) [French]
  • L'Auberge de l'ill (1-6-4 Nishi-Azabu) [French]
  • La Bouguignon (3-3-1 Nishi-Azabu) [French]
  • Mitsuta (1-12-15 Tsukiji) [Tempura]
  • Monnalisa Ebisu (1-14-4 Ebisu-Nishi) [French]
  • Raku-tei (6-8-1 Akasaka) [Tempura]
  • Ristorante La Primula (Patio Azabu-Juban 3F, 2-8-10 Azabu-Juban) [Italian] NAME CORRECTED
  • Sense (Mandarin Oriental Hotel 37F, 2-1-1 Nihonbashi-Muromachi [Chinese]
  • Sushi Aoki Ginza (Ginza Takahashi Bldg 2F, 6-7-4 Ginza) [Sushi]
  • Sushi Aoki Nishiazabu (3-23-7 Nishi-Azabu) [Sushi]
  • Sushi Fukumoto (Hanabu Bldg B1F, Daizawa) [Sushi]
  • Sushi Isshin Asakusa (4-11-3 Asakusa) [Sushi]
  • Sushi Iwa (6-3-17 Ginza) [Sushi]
  • Sushiko Honten (6-3-8 Ginza) [Sushi]
  • Sushi Musashi (Adessoems B1F, 5-18-10 Minami-Aoyama) [Sushi]
  • Tamao (Sanrakukan 301, 3-3-7 Azabu-Juban) [Japanese]
  • Tapas Molecular Bar (Mandarin Oriental Hotel 38F, 2-1-1 Nihonbashi-Muromachi) [Fusion]
  • Tateru Yoshino Shiba (Shiba Park Hotel Annex 1F, 1-5-10 Shiba-Koen) [French Contemporary] NAME CHANGED FROM Tateru Yoshino
  • Tateru Yoshino Shiodome (Park Hotel Shiodome Media Tower 25F, 1-7-1 Higashi-Shimbashi) [French Contemporary] NAME CHANGED FROM Gastronomie Francaise Tateru Yoshino
  • Tensei (4-1-3 Minami-Aoyama) [Tempura]
  • Tetsuan (1-5-26 Azabu-Juban) [Japanese]
  • Tofuya Ukai Shiba (4-4-13 Shiba-Koen) [Japanese] NAME CHANGED FROM Tofuya Ukai
  • Totoya Uoshin (5-1-34 Akasaka) [Japanese]
  • Tsujitome (Toraya Daini Bldg B1F, 1-5-8 Moto-Akasaka) [Japanese]
  • Uemura Honten (1-13-10 Tsukiji) [Japanese] NAME CHANGED FROM Tsukiji Uemura
  • Ukai-Tei Ginza (Jiji-Tsushin Bldg, 5-15-8 Ginza) [Teppanyaki] NAME CHANGED FROM Ukai-Tei
  • Ukai-Tei Omotesando (Omotesando Gyre 5F, 5-10-1 Jingumae) [Teppanyaki]
  • Yamaji (Ginza 7 Bldg B1F, 7-14-14 Ginza) [Japanese]
  • Yamanochaya (2-10-6 Nagato-Cho) [Unagi]
  • Yokoyama (2-7-10 Kotobashi) [Tempura]
  • Yoshihashi (1-5-25 Moto-Akasaka) [Sukiyaki]
  • Yotsuha (2-20-7 Kamiogi) [Japanese]

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Michelin 3 stars for 2009

Ishikawa (石かわ) New: 3-4 Kagurazaka,Shinjuku
Kanda (かんだ): 3-6-34 Moto-Azabu, Minato
Quintessence (カンテサンス): Barbizon 25 Building, 5-4-7 Shirokanedai, Minato
Koju (小十): 8-5-25 Ginza, Chuo
Joel Robuchon (ジョエル・ロブション): Yebisu Garden Place, 1-13-1 Mita, Meguro
Sukiyabashi Sushi (すきやばし次郎鮨 ): Tsukamoto Sogyo Building B1, 4-2-15 Ginza, Chuo
Sushi Mizutani (水谷): Seiwa Silver Building B1, 8-2-10 Ginza, Chuo
Hamadaya (濱田家): 3-13-5 Nihonbashi-Ningyoucho, Chuo
L'Osier (ロオジエ): Shiseido Building, 7-5-5 Ginza, Chuo

Can you believe, Gentle Reader, that I've only been to Joel Robuchon and Hamadaya? Oh, the shame ...

Michelin Guide 2009

Gentle Reader, I am quivering with nervous excitement ... a mass of quaking jelly. The 2009 Michelin Guide launches today, and goes on sale on Friday.

Headlines:
  • There is a new 3-star - Ishikawa in Shinjuku.
  • 14 restaurants have got 2 stars for the first time, and there are 35 new 1-stars.
  • 173 restaurants are rated this year.
  • 5 more Tokyo wards have been covered for a total of 13.
  • The total number of stars has increased to 227 - Tokyo is still the world's star-iest city.
  • About 60% of the restaurants reviewed serve Japanese cuisine.
  • Only one reviewer this year is a foreigner (can you guess who?)

Stand by for more details as various little birds whisper in my ear, Gentle Reader!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Chez Pierre, avec Eric

Ever up for a challenge, Gentle Reader, I sallied forth on a recent evening to a wine tasting at Chez Pierre for a wine tasting organized by my friend Eric Dahler. We were to be treated to some wine not seen in Japan before - Chateau d'Estoubon from Vallée des Baux in Provence.

Truth be told, I had interviewed Chef Pierre Prigent a few days earlier for a new web site launching soon in Tokyo (stay tuned). The man is an amazing dynamo, and has such a passion for food and ingredients that your Humble Correspondent felt completely in awe of this icon of Tokyo fine dining.

Pierre has been in Japan for 40 years, and while he didn't open the first French restaurant in Japan (my guess is that Au Cheval Blanc can claim this honour, opening in Mita way back in the early Meiji era), he has been the father - nay, grandfather - of the genre almost ever since he first arrived.

The menu (for 28!) was elegant and underlines Pierre's preference for "la cuisine traditionnelle". We started with a very pleasant assortment of entree, of which the stand-out for me was the terrine de lapin. Oh, what a delight, Gentle Reader! If you respect only the courage that it takes to prepare this dish, I urge you to get along to Chez Pierre at the earliest opportunity.

Our fish dish was a saddle of monkfish, delicately wrapped in jambon, and cooked to firm perfection. The texture was superb, and the flavor sublime. On then to a saddle of lamb with herbs, which filled the mouth with complex hints of herbs, garlic, and sea salt that left this mere earthling making a mental note to return, avec diligence, with the Child Bride to Chez Pierre as soon as possible.

A note then on the wine - I do not profess to be any sort of authority on Provence wines, and the glasses did the wines no justice at all. At first I was taken somewhat aback by the brashness of Chateau d'Estoubon, and I was preparing to be harsh. But somehow, the wines seemed to grow on me - while I think that even the Cuvee will benefit from some time in the bottle, I'm tempted to purchase some from the cheerful M. Dahler and try them with the ingredients and cuisine of the Provence area. Somehow, I know I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Pierre's standard wine list is an adventure, with wonderful examples of all the great appellations without the outrageous prices charged by some. Pierre works hard to keep the wines under Y10,000 (there are some exceptions, but the mark-up is still only a mere 100%).

Repair to Chez Pierre with all speed accompanied by friends and foodies, but please note my rating below is "temporary" pending a return visit. My guess is we'll go to 4 forks. However, fear not - Pierre and his restaurant is definitely a Tokyo dining experience you don't want to miss. Look for the portly boy devouring wild boar in the corner, and I'll raise a glass!

Chez Pierre: 1-23-10 Minami Aoyama, Minato Ward. t/f: 03-3475-1400
Temporary Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 8; Service: 7; Ambiance: 9; Price: 7 ($$). Total 39/50

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Le Bourguignon - No cause for Spiflication

Gentle Reader - winter approaches. Winter, with its hoary frosts and stiffening winds. Winter, when darkness rules the land and we walk around like the Michelin Man in several layers of clothing. Winter... the season for game in Tokyo!

Although my fellow gourmand, the inestimable Dominic, saw fit to "spiflicate" at La Bourguignon in October: he was there for luncheon, and the weather was slightly unpredictable. Your Humble Correspondent is delighted to report that La Bourguignon is neither stuffy nor slow at a more reasonable hour of the day when the office ladies have been chased home.

I sallied forth with my Stern Friend on a recent evening to indulge my Neanderthal need for the meat of wild animals, and to see why Chef Kikuchi is getting so much attention from the restaurant guides. Oh my! We were seated at a pleasantly round table to admit my girth, and showered with attention. I feared my secret identity had been betrayed, but we determined to bravely soldier on with our foray into the intracies of gibier [game] and l'abats [offal].

We started with a Carrot Mousse in Consomme gel, garnished with uni. With this simple yet dramatic flourish, Le Bourguignon established itself as a definite candidate for a Michelin star. Delicate and more-ish, yet set off by the salty wild-harvested sea urchin. And then, Gentle Reader, something to amaze and amuse - a warm eel and fois gras terrine served en croute with wild leaf salad. We enjoyed an excellent Georges Burrier 2004 Sancerre, reasonably priced and pleasantly sharp with mineral overtones.

On then to the fish - ainame (Hexagrammos otakii) for which the English name of Fat Greenling seems a little absurd. Typically a game fish, it is commercially farmed in Japan. To my great shame, your Humble Correspondent forgot to ask the efficient and friendly floor staff whether this particular example was wild or weaned. However, on a happier note, it was perfectly paired with komatsuba (a bitter green leaf similar to spinach but more astringent) and pleurote - it vanished quickly from the plates of your intrepid hunters.

For mains, you can guess that my choice was the Andouillette, which was magnificent. My dining partner chose the rarely seen fromage de tête. Rarely, if ever, do I normally regret my choice but I freely admit that my Stern Friend won this round hands down. Our red wine was a 2005 Morey St Denis Georges Lignier et Fils, which was again reasonably priced and an excellent match for our game and offal adventures.

Choose Le Burguignon for a quiet conversation with a friend or lover who knows their food. You won't be disappointed.

La Bourguignon: 3-3-1 Nishi-Azabu, Minato Ward. t: 03-5772-6244. Closed Wednesday. (Sorry, no website!)
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 8; Service: 8; Ambiance: 8; Price: 8 ($$$). Total 40/50

Friday, 7 November 2008

Rude about Food Post

Please go to my Rude about Food blog for my latest rant!

Terry

A special evening at Chez Pierre!

Gentle Reader: I do not often assail your eyes with blatant advertising for particular venues or events. That would be curmudgeonry at its basest, and far beneath you and your Humble Correspondent.

However, it would also be remiss of me if I did not avail myself of this opportunity to let you know there are a small number of seats (4) available at an extraordinary wine tasting evening at Chez Pierre on Wednesday 12 November. Chef Pierre (my review will be posted next Monday) is an icon of the fine dining community in Tokyo, and the restaurant is a favorite retreat for many francophiles including your Humble Correspondent.

The event will feature the wines of Chateau d'Estoublon, a superb and cresselated estate purchased in 1999 by the Schneider family (of Breitling watches). They immediately set about restoring the imposing 18th Century Chateau and surrounding vineyards and olive groves. The result is the re-emergence of an elegant chateau willing to inspire the Baux de Provence Appellation on to even greater things.

The winemaker at this Ecocert organic chateau is Remy Reboul - apprenticed to Eloi Dürrbach who is without a doubt one of the greatest vintners of our time. The greatest, if you believe the survey conducted by the Le Point magazine which named him "vintner of the century".

On November 12th my favorite wine consultant Eric Dahler will introduce four of the Chateau's wines - the flagship Cuvee Mogador 2005 (only 3000 bottles produced), the white 2006 vin de Pays, the Jeunes Vignes 2005 red ( young vines), and the Chateau d'Estoublon red 2005.

All of this, with Pierre's food matched to these unique wines to be tasted for the first time in Japan. Gentle Reader, this is a consumption devoutly to be wished (apologies to the Bard) and I encourage you all to e-mail Eric to pick up a seat. Who knows, you may even see me there!

Contact Eric: Eric@ericswinehometasting.com ; order@japanwp.com; t: 047-493-9401; f: 047-493-9402.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Bella, Suzuki!

It's been some time I admit, Gentle Reader, since I've intruded on your presence with a post on Eating Out. While my regimental background forbids an excuse, I can say I've been spending a lot of time on a social media blog. And searching for relevance in a world that is rapidly melting down around me. Time to polish up the CV silver, methinks!

But I can report that a recent visit to Piatto Suzuki rekindled the passion, with a passion. This delightful little Michelin 1-Star is a little difficult to find, but well worth the effort for the patient diner. My dinner companion, the effervescent NHK-7, was late for our 7:00 pm reservation so your Humble Correspondent took the opportunity to savour the atmosphere and learn more about this gem of a restaurant. With only 5 tables, and a counter that sits about four chubby foreigners, I recommend a reservation.

What stands out here is Chef's passion - passion for ingredients, passion for presentation, passion for an elegant dining experience. All of the produce is of the highest possible quality - Agu pork from Okinawa stands out - and vegetables come direct from the finest growers. With this sort of starting point, even your Humble Correspondent could turn out a reasonable plate. However, our Chef brings a touch of brilliance and genius to each dish so that the menu stands out as a unique collection of great Italian cooking with scintillating flairs of inspiration.

My more dedicated readers will know that I am a sucker for a good Cottoletto Milanese - this is the best I have eaten in Tokyo. The asparagus risotto was heavenly, and the gorgonzola gnocchi was motive for murder.

A complete wine list invites exploration, although some bottles seemed a little on the expensive side.The Rondinaia Castello del Terriccio 2006 we enjoyed was good, not great and the Venica jesera Pinot Grigio of unknown age vanished in the blink of an observant eye.

Visit Piatto Suzuki with friends and lovers, in small groups. Keep your work acquaintances away from this little pot of pleasure!

Piatto Suzuki: 1-7-7 Azabu Juban, 4th Floor, Hasebeya Bldg, Minato Ward. t: 03-5414-2116. Closed Sundays.
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 8 ($$$). Total 37/50

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog Action Day

You may find it surprising, Gentle Reader, that I should be posting on the issue of poverty in support of Blog Action Day. After all, Eating Out is about the enjoyment of fine food and wine - a topic far removed from the concept of poverty.

At the same time, those of us fortunate to be here in the world's culinary capital get reminded every day that poverty is all around. Even in Japan, many people struggle to make ends meet and homelessness is a chronic problem. Consumer finance is often used as a solution to want, and indebtedness rises in a sickening spiral. Single mothers often go without food to have enough for the children. The attitude of government and passers-by to these issues constantly surprises me.

Poverty is not a disease, nor is it a terminal affliction of humanity. It requires action - action by people like you and me. Buying an extra "bento" at the conbini is a simple yet effective first step. Give it to someone. Don't present it; quietly give it and walk humbly away. There but by the grace of God goes each one of us. Just do something... anything other than ignore or bemoan.

Because poverty won't go away until it's driven.

Time for full disclosure: I used to organize, and still participate in, a rice-cake delivery program in Shibuya. And I can assure you that the targets of this food program relish every bite and flavour just as much as we diners at our posh restaurants.


Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The wise Ben Franklin said ...

Gentle Reader, we have the witty Mr Peters to thank for this:

As Ben Franklin said: "In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria."

In a number of carefully controlled trials, scientists have demonstrated that if we drink 1 liter of water each day, at the end of the year we would have absorbed more than 1 kilo of Escherichia coli, (E. coli) - bacteria found in feces. In other words, we are consuming 1 kilo of poop.

However, we do NOT run that risk when drinking wine & beer (or tequila, rum, whiskey or other liquor) because alcohol has to go through a purification process of boiling, filtering and/or fermenting.

Remember: Water = Poop, Wine = Health

Therefore, it's better to drink wine and talk stupid, than to drink water and be full of s#*t.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

A Star is Born - Yamada Chikara

Astro-physicists tell us, Gentle Reader, that it is a rare privilege indeed to witness the birth of a new star. More often than not, they say, an enterprising observer notices a shining light where none existed before. So it was with your Humble Correspondent when he stumbled upon the amazing Yamada Chikara [Map] in the hitherto dining desert of Minami Azabu 1-Chome.

This is the first time I've been so deeply impressed as to award 5 Forks to a restaurant in Tokyo, but this was - in the words of my companion-in-ecstacy The Musician - "simply the most exquisite meal I have ever enjoyed". Exquisite indeed, and unforgettable! Roll me in some foodie version of tar and feather if this place does not rate at least one star in the 2009 Michelin Guide. Actually... in any global guide!

Chef Yamada worked under Ferran Adria at the famous El Bulli as one of the amazing 42 chefs in that temple to gastronomy. Some scoff at molecular gastronomy, as practised at El Bulli or Fat Duck or French Laundry. They are welcome to those (old-fashioned?) views, but Yamada Chikara demonstrates a cuisine not built on smoke and mirrors, but offering substantial portions across 10 or more courses which celebrate the wonderful traditions of Japanese food culture. This is not your oji-san's washoku, but a truly new and playfully inventive take on outstanding ingredients and a sublime setting.

You simply have to try the Kinoa - a sloping bowl holds powdered, freeze-dried foie gras above a rich beef consommé. You eat the powder with a spoon of soup - and are absolutely bewildered by the sheer simplicity of the flavours and the creativity being expressed here.

Actually, some of the food is built on smoke - a cherry blossom-smoked anago (sea eel) wrapped around renkon (lotus root) causes cries of wonder and pleasure when one lifts the lid - a cloud of the said smoke escapes from the bowl. Amazing!

The dessert was mind-stopping - a spoonful of caramel glace that carried with it the koge (slight "burntness") of the kitchen with deep-sea salt hidden inside, and the world's most perfect Creme Brulee alongside.

The wine list features many delights from Spain as well as the standard "plus" French offerings. Service, by the delightful Mrs Yamada, is extraordinary and one feels cast back to the refined elegance of Heian Japan. Her years of training in the traditions of the Tea Ceremony come to the fore.

Yamada Chikara is the sort of restaurant that takes relentless courage and outrageous vision to pull off, and this wonderful husband and wife team have both qualities in boundless quantities. Some will tell you, Gentle Reader, that this is not "traditional" Japanese food. Very perceptive of them - it's not! But it is the future of Japanese food, and I for one feel privileged to have been here in Tokyo when it began to emerge. If Chef Yamada can keep up with the intensity of the spotlight, we are witnessing the birth of a star.

Yamada Chikara [Map]: 1-15-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato Ward. t: 03-5492-5817
Rating: Food: 9; Wine: 8; Service: 9; Ambiance: 9 Price: 8 ($$$$). Total 43/50

Saturday, 6 September 2008

a la Provencale: Coucagno

With a new edition of the Michelin Guide set to cause some more waves in Tokyo's dining landscape, I felt it was time to remedy the fact that I hadn't written up Coucgano on the top of Shibuya's Cerulean Hotel. The 1-star kitchen focuses on Provencale cuisine (although they need to work with the wait-staff who didn't know what pistou was), and the location and atmosphere are - in a word - fantastic.

I visited with a first-time acquaintance and both of us were looking for a lighter meal than any of the three set menus promised (Chef's Special [7 courses] @ Y15,000, Degustation [8 courses] @ Y18,000, and Prix Fixe [4 courses] @ Y10,000. The Gentleman chose a Salade Nicoise followed by Market-fresh grilled Fish of the Day. The fish was described as itoyori, formally itoyoridai, which has the exotic English name of Golden Threadfin Bream. Classicists among you recognize it as the Latin Nemipterus virgatus.

I felt impelled to follow the brave salad lead of The Gentleman with the Simple Seasonal Salad, but could not resist Chef's brave Low Temperature Iberico Pork with Pigs Trotters Accent. Oh my very word! As a trotter fan from many a year ago, this dish sent me into trills of delight. In this day of environmental fervour, Your Humble Correspondent is an earnest proponent of using all parts of the pig and indeed make a point to do so in my daily life. I urge the same course of action for you, Gentle Reader.

The Gentleman has, unfortunately, taken the pledge and so I was "forced" to enjoy the excellent selection of wines by the glass and indulged in a 2003 Chablis. Whoosh!

This is a restaurant that obviously deserves its single star. Service was attentive, food well crafted, the table high in the sky memorable. Two stars, however, will require much closer supervision of the wait staff and more choreography in the performance of the front-of-house. But do get along, preferably with a friend or lover, when you have a hankering for Provence. In fact, call me.

Coucgano [Cerulean Hotel]: t: 03-5492-5817
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 9 Price: 8 ($$$). Total 39/50

Monday, 1 September 2008

Mystery a la Carte

Just a quick note, Gentle Reader, to remind that the Tyler Foundation event "Mystery a la Carte" is on 26 September at the Hilton Hotel, Shinjuku. This will be a wonderful combination of food, wine and entertainment for a great cause. Only the bubonic plague will stop your Humble Correspondent being there!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Trattoria Tornavento: Bene!

Oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-boy! Drop everything you're doing right now, Gentle Reader, and have some minion make a reservation for you at Trattoria Tornavento. Now ...

This is a splendid establishment [Map], hidden like its near neighbour Epice de Kaneko in the back streets of Roppongi. But it's well worth the hunt, and one feels a certain guilty almost voyeuristic sense of pleasure entering its secret depths. There's a love affair with Northern Italian food going on here, and your Humble Correspondent is happy to be part of it.

I travelled there with the Duchess to meet with the Trendies (all 3 of them) to discuss an upcoming project. In hindsight, it was best that we had most of that talk early on - as dish after scrumptious dish arrived the desire for witty conversation fell by the wayside, and people grew more and more protective of each morsel.

In short order we had a magnificent spread of appetizers including organic vegetable crudites with Bagna Cauda, green salad with Parma Prosciutto, Stewed Tripe, Italian Summer Porcini Tart, and some very sensible charcoal grilled vegetables. Oh dear, this was going to be some meal! Obviously we needed some vigorous wine to match this feast and we went for a Terre da Vino Gavi Masseria dei Carmelitani 2005. Terre da Vino is owned by 14 co-ops who choose the best grapes from vineyards around Piemonte. This is absolutely a typical Gavi, brusque but full of depth, piquant but fragrant, with a nutty palate. Much like your Humble Correspondent, methinks.

On then, to some pasta. What if I tempted you with Italian porcini and suumer truffle tarajin, Gentle Reader? What's "tajarin" ... Tajarin are the delectable fresh egg yolkpasta of Piedmont and take a certain culinary courage with up to 40 egg yolks per kilo of flour. There is no better accompaniment for Italian truffles! Or Gorganzola gnocchi? Cappellini (angel hair)? There is likely no better descent into over-eating than the temptations Tornavento offers, and each was prepared with a delicacy and pride that had your Humble Correspondent grinning maniacally.
The main courses included Beef Cheeks with corn gnocchi, Cotoletta alla Milanese (YHC), Sauted Pigs Trotters stuffed with Pork and Cheese, and charcoal-grilled fish delivered fresh from Numazu. Was the ecstacy ever to stop? How would I pull out of this freefall? When matched with Fratelli Cavallotto Barolo Briccho Boschis 1999, this was a meal quite out of the ordinary and not suited to a business discussion!
Tornavento is a small town in the province of Varese in Lombardy, right up in the north-west corner of Italy. I for one am delighted that a small part of it has been magically transported to Tokyo - the new Hell-Hole is located close nearby, so if you're thinking of going there (and you're paying!) drop by and pick up the fat boy. I'll be eternally grateful!
Trattoria Tornavento [Map]: 3-21-14 Nishi-Azabu, Minato Ward. t: 03-5775-2355
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 8 Price: 7 ($$). Total 37/50

Monday, 18 August 2008

Dicing with the Sicilian Don

"♪Summer, and the livin' is easy♪"... Gershwin, in the musical "Porgy and Bess". He is, of course, talking to us all. Especially me. Especially when one's hobby - nay, passion - is a food blog. Very little competition for seats, and joy and relief on the part of Maitres d' everywhere when you apologize for not making a reservation, but "might there be seats for two ... or four?"

So I was both delighted and bemused to arrive at Don Ciccio in Shibuya recently, and be whisked immediately to a booth near the kitchen. On a night which was obviously setting up to be very busy. With The Guru, The Duchess, and Lance Links.

I had been to this restaurant before in the delightful company of Sir James and Lady Ina, but confess with considerable shame that imbibing deeply of both the grape and the grappa left your Humble Correspondent so completely senseless that he was incapable of reviewing the establishment. And of walking ...

I now stand ready, Gentle Reader, of rectifying that fall into decrepitude. Don Ciccio is a fine restaurant, with a passion for the cuisine and wine of Sicily. The service is knowledgable, efficient and friendly. The food is interesting, and very well prepared. Think rustic, robust, and simple. In fact, prepare yourself for fuller flavours rather than subtlety. Explanations are detailed, and there's an admirable sense of discovery that seems part and parcel of the experience.

The wine is remarkably cost-efficient, although it is unlikely to bring Robert Parker much joy. We had some difficulty with one bottle which the sommelier agreed was only at 70% of its best (but which unfortunately still appeared on the bill).

I think the staff "make" the experience at Don Coccio - there seems to be an infectious atmosphere of fun and gusto in the air. It's easy to get caught up in it all, and with very reasonable prices, one can imagine making Don Ciccio a regular haunt. Well done to the redoubtable Ms Motonaga for finding this first time around, and to the Duchess for the second visit.

So take my advice and get around to Don Ciccio. You'll get an offer you can't refuse - good food and good wine in a happy and refreshing atmosphere.

Don Ciccio [Map]: 2-3-6 Shibuya, Shibuya Ward. t: 03-3498-1828
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 6; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 7 ($$). Total 34/50

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

No num-nums at Burdigala!

I must confess, Gentle Reader, to an almost childish delight in the humour of the Goons and in particular the special style of silliness that was Peter Sellers. In one famous outing, he plays an Indian actor who repeats the phrase "birdie num-nums" a number of highly inappropriate times in the movie "The Party". Apropos of nothing really, except it always came to mind when I saw Burdigala in Roppongi Hills. And gave rise to a giggle ... so I couldn't go there for fear of embarrassing myself!

I have no doubt, Gentle Reader, that you know that Burdigala is actually the Roman (Latin) name for the city of Bordeau in the Aquitaine region of Gaul or modern-day France. It was originally named by the Celtic Bituriges Vivisci tribe who settled the area in about 300 B.C. So it's a splendid and honorable name for a restaurant, and shouldn't give rise to mirth at all ... if not for that rascal Sellers.

With The Expat heading back to the United States for some undeserved vacation time, we decided to try Burdigala literally as we walked by. What a happy accident! From the honest and cheerful welcome we got on arrival through to the happy and restrained farewell on leaving, Burdigala makes sure the dining experience is thoroughly pleasant. This is a welcome change from many other places in Roppongi-Azabu, where one sometimes is an unwanted distraction rather than a guest.

The Menu Degustation came as a welcome relief - Burdigala has a wide-ranging menu and we were finding it somewhat difficult to make up our minds. It also offers excellent wines by glass at reasonable prices. We opted for a glass each of the 2005 Domaine Jean Claude Courtault Chablis, an excellent choice for the two hors d'oeuvres of Sea Bream Tartar au Vermouth and warmed Pate de Canard. The tight construction of this wine means it doesn't dominate food ... and the vermouth seemed to bring the flavours together into a neat package. Nice touch, Chef!

As we pressed on towards the fish and meat dishes, The Expat demanded red wine and I had little choice but to go for the big artillery. I ordered the 2004 Gevrey-Chambertin Geantet-Pansiot. Gevrey-Chambertin is often called the "King of Burgundy" and is one of the finest examples of the surprising intensity that Pinot Noir can achieve. Given that it was Napolean's favorite wine, it was likely to suit our little emperor as well.

The fish - isaki, much less attractive in English as Striped Grunter! - was whimsically served in a bouillabaisse broth. This was a well turned-out variation, deeply redolent of the traditional Provencal treatment and delightfully full of flavour.

Your Humble Correspondent has seen a bit of beef in his day, but few as delicious as the Wagyu and Fois Gras with Summer Truffle Sauce that Burdigala now presented. With the Chambertin, this created a taste sensation that was stunning. Ah le beau Burdigala ... your Celtic forebears would be proud of you!

Visit Burdigala with friends and visiting relatives you wish to impress. It's not quite Bordeau, but it's as close as you'll get in Tokyo. Look for the fat boy in the corner, and raise a glass to me!

Burdigala [Map]: Roppongi Hills Keyakizaka-dori, Roppongi 6-15-1; t: 03-5786-7708
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 8; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 7 ($$). Total 37/50
*** Interesting aside: Years and years ago (1,200 to be precise), the village of Gevrey followed the example of many of its counterparts throughout the Cote d'Or and took the name of its most famous vineyard - "Les Champs de Bertin" (the fields of Bertin). That was shortened - no doubt by thirsty drinkers - to Chambertin. The vineyards were eventually gifted to the Abbey de Beze.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Sprezzatura - L'Estasi

First things first - welcome to Jon, who has joined the ranks of the Eating Out bloggers with his Eating Out in Tokyo with Jon blog. He has a nice touch, and I'm sure you'll enjoy working with him to eat your way through Roppongi and Monzennaka-cho! Good call on Chartreuse, Jon!
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I am sure by now, Gentle Reader, that you will have come to appreciate the wildly elegant Italian notion of "sprezzatura" [See the Wikipedia definition]. There is a marvellous book called Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World by Peter D'Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish.

Suffice to say that your Humble Correspondent has now given up all worldly ambition in pursuit of this sainted ability to make difficult tasks seem effortless ... my brilliant but risky approach is to exert no effort at all on difficult tasks and hope that people assume a certain negligenza about all I do. I have every expectation of success, and hope to one day sprezzature for Australia on the world stage.

Certain restaurants seem to resonate with sprezzatura in the same way that cats seem to be audaciously indifferent, and L'Estasi [Map] is one of them. The renovation of the former Sadler Estasi - itself a brand extension for the famous Milan 2-star - has paved the way for a reasonably relaxed venue which begs for o-makase much like a sole begs for Meuniére (I am sure that people as obviously gifted as you, Gentle Reader, know that meuniére means "miller's wife" and refers to the way one dredges the sole with flour before gentling cooking it in salted butter).

Other reviews seem to be relatively neutral or negative to L'Estasi, and I wonder if this is a result of relying too much on the English menu rather than encouraging Chef to have at it with all his might. As explained below in the secondi piece, this restaurant simply excels when left to its own devices.

My recent visit with The Expat (who'd like to reassure you all that there is a delightful tinge of gold in the marble of the mens' rest-room) tossed two lonely summer-bachelors tired of decision-making into the maelstrom of menu meditation. None of it! - we immediately recognized that our waitress was much better equipped to make these decisions and grilled her in Japanese about ingredients, styles, and plating.

We started with the sauteed Fois Gras (T.E.) and Grilled Summer Vegetables (Your Humble Correspondent), which were both well above average. The vegetables were crisp and warm, yet redolent of the garden and full of good nutritional, eat-your-greens-Terry self-satisfaction. Our wine, the very excellent San Gimignano Verdacchia Riserva 2001, was tooting its very special horn. Bravo San Gimignano, and God bless all of your towers!

Our shared Primi was a Ricotta and Parma Ham Calzone - ah, Toscana breezes wafted through what remains of my brain cells. This dish, prepared in the traditional flat style rather than falsely lifted and gastro-gothic, was excellent. Simply, excellent.

On, then, to Secondi. The Expat went for the Veal Marsala straight off the menu. He had failed to appreciate that there was the option to choose the ingredients and style for a variety of main courses (silly boy!). Hmm, a challenge! YHC asked about the 120-day-old veal, was reassured that it was wagyu, and asked for it to be lightly crumbed and gently cooked in a bath of melted butter, and then finished with a lemon sauce. I was trying to replicate a dish I had tasted in a trattoria just outside the walls of the Vatican City which, as I recall, was called Scallopine di Limone.

Time to take a deep breath, Gentle Reader. This dish was the ultimate sprezzatura, turned out with sublime simplicity and almost distainful ease by a very skilled chef. It brought The Expat to his knees, and he claimed the sorry crown of Diners Remorse - the gut-wrenching disappointment one suffers when one realizes that the item on your companion's plate is seriously better than the nonsense in front of oneself.

While dessert was an excellent Mango and Passionfruit Meringue, I was still far too overcome by the Scallopine to really appreciate the luxuriant texture and flavours. But it, too, was excellent and I shall be finding an excuse to try it one more time in the very near future.

Visit L'Estasi with friends and gastronomes, but be sure to push the menu to its furthest edges and don't be afraid to give the excellent kitchen a chance to show just sprezzatura it is.

L'Estasi [Map]: 3rd Fl, Roppongi Hills Keyakizaka-dori Gate Tower, Roppongi 6-11-1; t: 03-5770-4565
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 7; Service: 8; Ambience: 8; Price: 7 ($$). Total 38/50

Monday, 28 July 2008

A galaxy of Michelin Stars

Gentle Reader, reserve the date - 26 September 2008 at the Hilton Tokyo. See below a recent press release brilliantly crafted for the Tyler Foundation:

WORLD-CLASS CHEFS ON STAGE FOR TOKYO CHILDRENS' CHARITY

The Tyler Foundation for Childhood Cancer (www.tylershineon.org/index.php/jpn_home) announced today that four chefs will star in its annual fundraising event, to be held at the Tokyo Hilton on 26 September 2008.

This marks a significant shift for the Foundation, which until now has relied on Japanese and international sports stars to headline its major annual fundraising event. "We wanted to reach out to as many people as possible" said Kim Forsythe, Chair of the Foundation and mother of Tyler Ferris in whose memory the foundation was created. "Our work focuses on children with cancer here in Japan and their families. Cancer doesn't recognize cultural boundaries, and neither should we."

"It's important that we concentrate on bringing people together - and we felt that a fabulous meal was the right metaphor for that. We only succeed when we touch other people's lives, regardless of race, culture or social status. So our 'Mystery a la carte' dinner with these famous chefs from many countries and cultures - and to do it here in the world's food capital of Tokyo - serves as a powerful symbol of inclusiveness".

The event features:
* Stephane Gaborieau of the famed Michelin-starred La Pergolese, recently awarded the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France (the highest honor in France for an artisan)
* Luke Mangan, the well-known Australian celebrity chef who operates the highly regarded Salt at the Shin-Marunouchi Building, Glass at the Sydney Hilton, and South Food + Wine in San Francisco
* Artorio Spicocchi from Michelin-starred La Stua di Michil, of the famous Hotel La Perla ski resort in the Italian Dolomites much loved by world celebrities (courtesy of De Longhi Japan)
* Sebastien Lefort of the Michelin 2-star Twenty One at the Tokyo Hilton

This is the first event of its type in Tokyo - showcasing four famous chefs, great food and wines, and entertainment yet clearly focused on helping others less fortunate. A donation of Y30,000 covers all food, drinks, and entertainment. Tables of ten, as well as individual seats, can be booked through the Foundation by contacting tomoko@tylershineon.org.

The event, which will also feature a specially-commissioned murder mystery guaranteed to spike interest, raises money for the Tyler Foundation for Childhood Cancer. A live auction, including air travel and accommodation packages for dinners at the featured restaurants as well as other spectacular prizes, is the main fund-raising activity.

Many international firms have already agreed to sponsor this year's event. For a list of sponsors, and sponsorship opportunities, please contact the Tyler Foundation.

Currently the Tyler Foundation supports the salary costs of a doctor and clinical psychologists at the National Center for Child Health and Development, as well as a number of other activities all designed to ease the burden for children diagnosed with cancer and their families. It hopes to soon begin construction of a "Shine On! House ", where families of patients at the National Center can stay close by their children without the worry and expense of expensive accommodation bills. Although the Tyler Foundation was established by long-term foreign residents of Tokyo, its mission focuses on Japanese children and their families.

For more information, as well as press kits, please contact tomoko@tylershineon.org at the Tyler Foundation for Childhood Cancer.