Friday, 27 February 2009

I Sentieri - A Collaboration

Some of you will recall the Tokyo Dining Group I started called "Tokyo Darkside" (post a comment if you'd like an invitation). The goals of the group, Gentle Reader, are to spend time with friends once a month, enjoy some good food and wine, and to do all of this for under Y10,000 each. Froth and bubble, I know, but we all wander around networking and/or high society events and rarely put aside an hour or two for friendship. Which is a sorely needed commodity in these troubled times.

Accompanied by The Child Bride and ten of our brave Darkside companions, we set off in search of the Holy Grail and a shrubbery ... no, in search of amusement and social intercourse ... to i Sentieri [Map] in Nishi Azabu. The map is directionally useless, Gentle Reader, so stroll in a sedate and gentile manner from Hobsons towards Shibuya, turn left at the first street (you're now heading towards Hiroo), walk approximately 50 paces and look for an illegible sign about the size of one of Their Majesty's Royal Mail stamps, and fix upon the concrete left-handed spiral staircase on your left going up to the 2nd floor with some imposing metallic doors. That is i Sentieri.

Mario Frittoli has enjoyed a frantic and peripatetic career in Japan and is a star of television and print. He is also a cook of some talent, so we were looking forward to great things in his Collaboration with Chef Yasuji Morizumi of Chabu-Ya and Mist. The affable Eric of Wine Prosperite had sent along some excellent wines (at a good price!), and all was in readiness for frivolity.

The menu was well considered: Sea Bream in Fish Broth, Handkerchief Noodles, Roasted Vegetables with Tuscany Oil, Quail Ragout Risotto, Coffee-scented Roast Lamb with Foie Gras, Lamb and Quail Chabuya Ramen, and dessert. Mario certainly shows great promise, and we all know that Morizumi is a ramen genius. The staff are excellent, and the atmosphere warm and welcoming. Layout and design are endowed with Mario's elegant sense of aesthetic. The map is, for those who may have missed Your Humble Correspondent's earlier vitriol, a navigational nightmare.

Unfortunately it didn't all come together exactly right; similar I imagine to Shakespeare's plays before rehearsals came into fashion. Serving that many, with seven courses, from a small kitchen, is no easy task. Perhaps a trial run with helpful friends (pick me, my Captain!) would assist.

That said, I'm actually prepared to recommend i Sentieri as a relaxing yet elegant venue for time with friends and lovers. There are nooks and crannies, as well as well-lit open spaces. Mario has always been an adventurous and skillful chef, and his innate Italian-ness means that you're treated almost as a family friend.

So wander along like a good chap and tell Mario I sent you. That should mean we both benefit. And if you see a tubby chubby sitting at the bar drinking Peroni, offer to pick up the account!

i Sentieri [Map]: Conforia Nishi Azabu 4-1-10 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku t: 03 6418 7072 e: info@mario-frittoli.com
Rating: Food: 6; Wine: 8; Service: 7; Ambiance: 8; Price: 7 ($$). Total 36/50

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

L'EMBELLIR - Perplexing Pleasure [Updated with Glenn's comment]

Deepest bowing and shrill embarrassment come with this missive, Gentle Reader. I have been engaged 'in trade', forced to cast my lot with those in the unmentionable corners of society as I adjust to "employment" as a fulltime lifestyle option. To be frank, I'm working. Oh, the shame!

However, much like Lord Lucan or Princess Margaret down on their luck, I can sometimes rely on the benevolence of friends to provide the briefest glimpse of what life used to be like before I was cast into penal servitude down in Yokohama. So it was that the Child Bride and I ventured to L'EMBELLIR (why must people shout?) at the kind invitation of the munificent Sir James and Lady Ina for a wine-makers dinner featuring Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Les Saint-Georges from Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair.

Young Master Liger-Belair is quite the new star of Nuits St-Georges, having burst onto the scene in 2002 and producing some spectacular wines that find their peak in the 2003, although I must admit to agreeing with Sir James that the 2005 is also quite toothsome with an interesting mineralization.

Chef Naoto Kishimoto opened this restaurant (which I believe is in the former Danish Embassy) in 2006, and was rewarded with a Michelin star in 2008 and 2009. There is no doubt he deserves this honour - the food is excellent, the service superb, the wine list thrilling, and the prices reasonable. This particular evening we had Galantine de gibiers Fondante d'Aubergine, Tarte Fine d'Anpo Kaki bien mur etc, Pied de porc farce de homard et Chevreuil saute au champignon, and Fraises et Fromage frais. Excellent, considering this was served a la russe to 40 diners at once.

Yet I retired from the table perplexed. I had dined here earlier with Charles and Nicole from super-trendy FivebyFifty in the week after the first Michelin star but had not posted. Why? Something is missing at L'Embellir, something almost spectral and ectoplasmic. Perhaps the ghosts of previous Danish ambassadors walk the halls, or even perhaps Danish princes.

For the life of me, Gentle Reader, I can not tell you what it is. But this restaurant somehow leaves you expecting more, but failing to deliver. Were this a more crass and tasteless blog, this would be the perfect place for some schoolboy sexual innuendo but your Humble Correspondent shall refrain. UPDATE: Glenn, who was also at the dinner, suggests that the room somehow lacks intimacy [See Comments] . I agree, and that could be it. Cuisine Classique served in a harsh post-modern Scandinavian room is pretty soulless.

I sincerely recommend you go to L'Embellir ... this is fine and elegant dining at its third-best, and I am sure you won't blame me if something is missing. But just in case, make sure you're dining on the company's sovereign and that you venture downstairs with ladies in the group. They'll love it. And maybe you can tell me what I'm missing.

L'EMBELLIR [Map]: 4-17-33 B1F Minami-Aoyama, Minato-Ku. t: 03-3423-0131
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 7 ($$). Total 35/50

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Le Jeu de l'assiette - No games here!


Dear Dominic is many things, Gentle Reader, but navigationally ept is not one of them. After reading his post on Le Jeu de l'assiette, I determined to venture forth with the Lordling into the wilds of Ebisu Nishi. According to the eminent Dom, the restaurant is "a few steps up the hill from the five-ways at Ebisu". Your Humble Correspondent begs to differ - it is actually quite a distance (239 metres) from the five ways. Pay no mind to either Dominic or your iPhone GPS, and be sure one's looking for establishments on the second floor!

I was exhausted, having explored vast new swathes of land for Japan and discovering at least one previously unknown tribe called the Fackarwi. These charming natives are known for their quaint habit of greeting visitors by jumping/dancing in a strange mau-mau sort of way and popping their heads above the vegetation to announce "We're the Fackarwi!". I enthusiastically joined in this ritual until I noticed the restaurant out of the corner of my eye.

I arrived to find the Lordling waiting somewhat impatiently. Odd really, because when God made time He made plenty of it. And His Lordship (sweet boy that he is) is not necessarily Mr Punctuality himself. Chef Shoehi Shimono was clattering away in the kitchen and Maitre D' Tsuyoshi Nakamura was being oddly omnipresent in a strange Norse god sort of way.

These chaps have disconcertingly linked lives - both were born outside Tokyo what seems a mere blink of time ago (1973 and 1979 respectively), both studied in a Tsuji establishment here in Japan, both toddled off to France for some study, and both were at Le Burguignon as chef and maitre d' when it opened. Chef Shimono has also worked at Troisgros in Roanne and at Taillevent in Paris - quite an impressive curriculum vitae in my book!

We chose the "White" menu which featured eight courses with such delights as Pissladiere Frites, Hagi mackarel, fois gras Poivre, a heavenly patridge and chesnut veloute, a sublime rose petal gratinee, Ezojika venison, a gorgeous warm Strawberry pieces with Vanilla bean ice cream, and the most wonderful and creative Tiramisu I've had in a long time.

Le jeu of course means "the game" and l'assiette is "plate". Chef puts a lot of emphasis on creativity and imagination, and it is easy to see that here is a restaurant where haut cuisine is the goal - a goal achieved magnificently! Each dish is a celebration of delicacy and endeavor, and is delivered with elan and alacrity by a well-trained and knowledgable floor staff. The wine list is impressive but affordable, and the service here is a treat. This venue manages to treat one like an honored friend from the moment one enters, and the meal is prepared as celebration rather than demonstration.

Le Jeu de l'assiette is a special place, perfect for friends and lovers rather than a place to impress visiting Americans. it is a foodies restaurant - best used for trysts and assignations, rather than assignments. Take my advice, Gentle Reader, and embark for deepest darkest Ebisu-Nishi at the first possible moment. But beware of the natives, and ignore Dominic's directions!

Le Jeu de l'assiette [Map]: 2-17-5 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-Ku. t: 03-6415-5100
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 8; Service: 8; Ambiance: 8; Price: 7 ($$). Total 39/50