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.