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!