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.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Bravo Bolice!

Most Italian restaurants in Tokyo focus on the better known regional cuisines - Tuscan, Venetian, Milanese and the like. Few, if any, understand or prepare Roman food. Enter Bolice, introduced to me by the erudite and urbane James Ashley. Funny, then, that Bolice doesn't seem to have a website ...

Italian food is done marvellously well here in Tokyo, and competition is tough. Bolice stands up to the broiling crowd, and shines likes a chic and comfortable beacon in Minami-Aoyama down at the tawdry end of Nisseki-dori where it abuts Roppongi-dori (Route 246). One senses a refuge as soon as one enters, and the gentle staff make the experience painless and pleasant all at the same time.

It was not difficult for James to convince me to take the o-makase option and we leapt into a Moretti beer (me) and a gin and tonic (James). See what I mean about urbanity? It must be something with these English people - at a bar with an English lordling recently, I found myself reduced to a quivering mass of masculine jelly when forced to order a Pimms for a fellow male.

Chef delighted us with a succession of pastas, with the gnocchi and the nero di seppia standing out. We chose a pleasant pinot nero to accompany the meal, but in a completely senior moment I neglected to take a note of the label. Fawning apologies, Gentle Reader, but you needs forgive your Humble Correspondent occasional slips of memory if you wish to continue on this food adventure here in Tokyo.

Our pork followed (it was for this that I had ordered the Pinot Nero). Oh dear ... this was sublime, light and "truffulent" (think truculent and truffle), with little in the way of vegetable matter to get in the way of two committed carnivores. There is much to be said, Gentle Reader, for the theory that Italians invented pigs although little in way of convincing evidence except their extraordinary facility in dealing with the meat of that blessed beast.

The dessert menu looked remarkably tempting, but seriously glycemic so we opted for a little cheese to put the remainder of our wine to rest.

Oh brave Bolice, oh bellisimo Bolice! Il cibo era buonissimo. I think I love you... Keep Bolice for very personal moments with little regard for the company. I shall be bringing the denizens of the Darkside here for our July baccanale, so if you see 16 glazed-eyed diners sitting inside it may be a good time to avoid Bolice. Otherwise, it's closed on Mondays.

Bolice [Map]: 7-10-9 Minami-Aoyama, Minami-Aoyama Rapp? (ラップ) Bldg. Tel: 03-6659-4924
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambience: 8; Price: 7 ($$). Total 36/50

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

A Tale of Two Pities

Things have been a bit tropical lately, and many people out on "summer break" - I think that means holidays - I've not been as active as normal. Sort of like a dining reptile, I imagine. Sated and sunned. Mad dogs and expatriates, methinks.

Some of my more perspicacious readers will know that I also run an occasional blog called Rude about Food, reserved for less than complimentary comments. But on this occasion, Gentle Reader, I am truly torn between two extremes for not one but two fine establishments here in the food capital of the world. And in that oscillatory frenzy ...

Have you tried the magnificent Peter restaurant at the new Peninsula Tokyo? Or, for that matter, the Hei Fung Terrace in the same temple of luxury? Oh my very goodness! We did a day-long corporate garbouil at The Tokyo Peninsula recently (it was actually the very rare exception in this sort of thing in being both useful and entertaining), and the momento oltimo was a celebratory dinner in the private dining room at Peter. Chef Patrice Martineau presented us with a truly magnificent meal that included a French Foie Gras Terrine with Biwa-Fennel Marmalade, a fish masterpiece of Roasted Amadai, his signature Sendai Beef Brisket Confit in Red Wine with Crushed Smoked Purple Potatoes and Caramelized White Turnips, and a selection of stunning desserts which included an honestly stunning Rhubarb-Cherry Vacherin with Tasmanian Peppercorn and Minted Meringue.

The pity here was that once left with the dubious task of choosing the wine (how do you satisfy four different approaches to wine among seven high-powered people?), your Humble Correspondent failed miserably to match the quality of the food or excite the interest of the sommelier. Too worried about cost, and not enough concern about the substance. Oh, the shame!

My problem at Le Petit Tonneau in Azabu Juban was exactly the opposite. I had blithely invited my Innovation Team to dinner after drinks at chez moi, and arrived with 5 highly expectant punters ready to test Chef Phillipe Baton. The buzz on the street was good. I started by choosing some wine from the excellent regional French selection - nothing too pretentious, most unusual enough to attract attention, and some bargains among an otherwise overly mercenary wine list. So far, so good.

The pity with Le Petit Tonneau is the food - most of what I ate was ordinary and bland, and it would have nice to actually receive what I ordered rather than the random dishes they served to me. It bore no resemblance to what I asked for, but I wanted to avoid embarrassing my team so I failed to ask the waiter to return the dish to the kitchen. I glumly suffered through it - oh, the shame!

The idea of "tapas" size servings is excellent, and should be adopted by more establishments. The thought and originality that has gone into the bill of fare is also very commendable - where else in Tokyo could one sample an eggplant and mozzerella mille feuille or the wonderful Provencal dish pissaladiere [btw, the Wikipedia explanation is completely wrong - it is not a pizza, but a flat open-face tart garnished with onions, olives, anchovies and sometimes tomato. The etymology of the word is from Old French pescion from the Latin piscis. It just looks like a pizza, like a doughnut looks like a truck tire].

But I think Phillippe should spend more time in the kitchen himself. The wine was excellent, but the cook at Azabu Juban is letting down the Petit Tonneau brand just like my wine selection let down the wonderful food at Peter.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Pretending you're smart about wine ...

One of the pitfalls, Gentle Reader, of being in the role of your Humble Correspondent is that I need to sound sensible about wine as well as food. While I worked as a sommelier in a previous life, keeping up with the staggering array of offerings from around the world is quite a health-threatening task!

That's where it helps to have good friends like Richard Cohen and Eric Dahler. Richard and Yoshiko have run Village Cellars for more than 20 years as well as a number of wine clubs for other firms. Their excellent tasting notes and the superlative advice available at the end of the telephone have seen me in excellent stead, from a guzzler for a BBQ to fine wines to serve at a Prime Ministerial dinner on Kangaroo Knoll. There is plenty of the best Southern Hemisphere wine, but also a growing selection of delectables from other places. [Full Disclosure: Richard and Yoshiko are regular participants in the Old Bastards]

Eric Dahler has recently branched out on his own after sterling service at Alcotrust. His Home Wine Tasting service is a real boon for those of us out here on the gin and tonic front lines. Eric comes to your house or apartment with wines, and pours these with good cheer and elegant professionalism for your guests! No obligation, although he obviously hopes you and your friends will be persuaded to buy some. He is remarkably well-informed about his selections, and I think he makes a casual Sunday gathering of friends into a sophisticated 'salon'. [Full Disclosure: I am a customer of Eric's]

Apart from these two eminent gentlemen, I'm afraid I only have myself to blame. Come to think of it, I need to cultivate an Italian wine connection. Hmmm, ....

So if you're at dinner with me, and I start spouting off on a particular wine please make sure you ask who recommended it in the first place. Otherwise I might suffer an ego blip ...

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Blown away by Bon Pinard!

A sterling gentleman of my acquaintance, the sugoi Eric Dahler, mentioned some time ago that I might enjoy Bon Pinard in Moto-Azabu [Map]. A chef from Manoir D'Hastings, and a sommelier from Joel Robuchon ... Eric supplying some of his fine wines ... hmm, a consumation devoutly to be wished methinks!

So it was that I toddled off with my Stern friend to try out Bon Pinard. Be warned that the sign on the door is a trap - that door is actually permanently locked, and one approaches by entering the YS building foyer and careening downstairs to B1.

Be further warned, Gentle Reader, that this is not a restaurant for those less passionate about victuals than Arthur and I. This place is for foodies. And winos. The service and the attention to detail is superb - and one could easily imagine spending far too much money here. Or wearing out a welcome by appearing on the doorstep once too often.

The wine list is a charming journey through the best terroirs of France, and your Humble Correspondent is delighted to advise that it is very, very reasonably priced - to the point of being close to retail! We started with a 2002 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, which was light and served as a delightful conversation starter. A word on the staff - these people are warm and friendly, with calm professionalism the mark of a well-run ship.

I must admit to more than a little trepidation when dining with Arthur, as he is quite the urban sophisticate and has far more experience at fine dining than I. To the point, Gentle Reader, that he once passed on Troisgros in Roanne because he felt a little full one morning. But to my great relief, he pronounced himself well satisfied with the choice and gracefully allowed me to feel somewhat smug.

The Amuse was a delicate piece of Tasmanian salmon, which as always has a subtle yet impressive flavor, and is a wonderful chaperone to classic French. Well done, brave Bon Pinard, and onto the first course!

Oh my goodness - my Boudin wrapped in a light blanket of heavenly pastry with apple jam served on the side will hereforth serve as the standard by which I judge blood sausages. This is seriously good food, and a worthy guide to the craft that Chef brings to Bon Pinard. Arthur matched me with a demure Iwagaki (rock oyster) a la naturelle all the way from Fukui Prefecture. He has a thing about oysters, yet announced himself properly done by.

On we pressed, moving to a 1998 Chambolle-Musigny Les Sentiers VV designed to complement my duck breast and his Eel and Fois gras en croute. This is an excellent wine, again reasonably priced below Y10,000 and supple (subtle?) enough to hold hands with the main courses we had chosen. Gentle Reader, my duck was sublime and presented skillfully without a cacophony of vegetables or similar nondescript plate fillers. My companion's verdict - without doubt, the best eel he had ever eaten in nearly 60 years of a multi-continental life.

Call me predictable, but we rounded out an excellent meal with some Comte, Camembert, and Roquefort.

Bon Pinard is a restaurant you should visit soon - the food, wine and service are the full 9 yards and I promise you will pronounce the experience memorable. This is a gem, and located convenient to Roppongi, Azabu Juban, and Hiroo. Not to mention a veritable hop, step and jump from my new Hell Hole in Moto-Azabu. But some advice - take a flopsy because this is serious dining, not to be wasted on male friends!

Bon Pinard [Map]: 2-1-21 Moto-Azabu, YS Building B1F. Tel: 03-5856-4151
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 8; Service: 8; Ambience: 8; Price: 8 ($$). Total 40/50