One has learnt to be very wary, Gentle Reader, of companies that choose to use initials only in their names. TGIF is apparently ancient Sumerian for "very bad food with too much grease", Kentucky Fried Chicken paled to a shadow of its former self when it became KFC, and FCUK appears to be an abbreviation for that company's intentions with one's wallet. Even the iconic Louis Vuitton seems to have been transformed into a Latin version of "lump(en)" with its metamorphosis into LVMH.
But all that is now a faint and distant memory after a recent foray into the back streets of Hiroo to dine with my Stern friend at Restaurant J [Map], perched happily above Enoteca in the Arisugawa West building. Reviews - see this by Robbie Swinnerton at the Japan Times, [or RS @ JT?] - have been blushingly gushing about Restaurant and Bar J (should that be RBJ? If so, I'm all the way ...). This is a very fine contemporary restaurant, and deserves every ounce of that praise.
Chef Masahito Ueki has been freed from the chains of the Sabatini group to return to his first love Restaurant J, after earlier fighting free of Global Dining (where he starred at Tableau and Stellato). The first Restaurant J was located off Omotesando, but closed when Chef flitted off for 4 years to Massa's in Karuizawa (whereby the Sabatini connection). But the time in Karuizawa certainly has not been wasted, with Chef returning to his roots - fresh, organic vegetables. Your Humble Correspondent feels it fey not to forgive him for the dalliance, given the splendid results it seems to have delivered.
We opted for the second course option (6 courses @ Y6,500) and the Wine Flight which features a Champagne, two whites, and three red wines. All were delicious, and carefully chosen. Strange to relate, our dinner conversation suffered resounding silences as each course was delivered. We were stunned by the superb Organic Vegetable Soup, left in awe by the Poisson Frites, and dazzled by the Chitogenton Pork. Indeed, I confess to briefly forgetting my Stern companion for an awkward lacuna of time rhapsodizing over the Bavarois of Winter Radish with Tasmanian Pepper Berry Sauce.
Chef Ueki's food is graced with both delicacy and firm flavor directions, and there is no doubt that Restaurant J will be pushing for Michelin consideration as the rating season picks up in ferocity through Spring. The floor staff are very attentive and highly skilled, although there is a tendency to serve courses a little quickly thus putting the kitchen's convenience ahead of the customer's. But one quiet word sufficed to put this to rights, and the rest of the evening was an elegant minuet through a broad palette of tastes and textures that reminded your Humble Correspondent why he first got into this food blogging game in the first place.
The "J" apparently refers to both jeu and joie, play and joy in the noble Frankish tongue. This seems to be a very apt description of the relationship between chef and diner at Restaurant J. Make a reservation to dine a deux with lovers, or with clients and colleagues you really want to impress.
And should you see a furtive figure peering in from the balcony, please ask me to come join your celebration. I won't eat much, I promise!
Restaurant J [Map]: Arisugawa West 2F, 5-14-15 Minami-Azabu, Minato Ward. t: 03-5798-9070
Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 8/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Vegetarianism: 8/10; Price: 7/10. Total: 38/50.