Food without memory is just digestion

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Ristorante Casina Canamilla - Moderna e Classica en Naka-Meguro

There are places, Gentle Reader, when genius sneaks up quietly and taps one on the shoulder. It is almost always precocious, and inevitably surprising. Often, it falls like the gentle rain from a particular individual who seems to set the tone for an entire establishment. But rarely has Your Humble Correspondent found a venue which boasts a double dealing of culinary creativity like Risorante Casina Canamilla [Map].

Casina Canamilla is no humble farmhouse, and is in fact a remarkably effective collaboration between Chefs Konishi and Iwatsubo perched fashionably above the Meguro River between Asahi-bashi and Yadoyama-bashi (?宿山橋) a few short steps from Naka-Meguro station. [Note to self: This spot will be phenomenal in Spring with the cherry blossoms!]. It is well-appointed and very comfortable, and each aspect of the dining experience seemingly mapped out so that the only task for the guest is to engage in pleasant and witty conversation and sip slowly on an apertif of Italian birra.

Casina Canamilla takes extreme care to only use the freshest ingredients to create two menus - Classica being (obviously) classical Italian cuisine and Moderna as a much more creative and contemporary treatment. Canamilla marches its regional inspiration up and down the Italian peninsula in step with the seasons, so that summer sees Sicilian and Calabrian influences on the menu. Lombardy and Piedmonte obviously star in winter.

The service at Casina Canamilla is both professional and knowledgeable, and the wine list verily bulging at the seams with well-chosen selections from all over Italy. One has the feeling that the floor team and the kitchen team are always engaged in a graceful and entertaining minuet that delivers on customer expectations but never intrudes.

To professional gluttons like Your Humble Correspondent, there is really no choice. Moderna throws down a challenge that only the faintest of hearts would resist (see the menu reproduced below). Both chefs contribute to the game, and their contributions are helpfully marked on the menu. Technique and imagination are both on display in every course, although preparations such as the ricci di mare stand out as both stunning ideas and successful demonstrations of the culinary art. This is probably the most-rounded, interesting, and delicious meal put before YHC in the last three months.

This is a very good restaurant, Gentle Reader. In fact, this is a restaurant that is best kept a secret just between us. And good friends ... Visit only with friends and lovers, and take care that they don't talk out loud about it. The walls have ears ....

Pip! Pip!

Risorante Casina Canamilla [Map]: 2F Towa Building, 1-23-3 Aobaidai, Meguro-Ku; t: 03-3715-4040
Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price-Performance: 7/10. Total: 37/50 (3 Forks)

Menu Moderna Buri marinato con porro, acciughe, ed olive nero
Ricci di mare e purea di finocchio
Trenette con Granchio
Tagliolini di farina de segale al ragu di cervo
Arrosto di maiale di YAMAGATA con ANNO-IMO e funghi tronbetta
Mousse di gianduja e polenta croccante, gelato di pistacchio al profumo di Yuzu

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Bistro Aida - Promise You won't Tell

So, Gentle Reader: can you be trusted with a secret?

If Your Humble Correspondent told you about a very good restaurant with a splendid chef, gracious floor staff, and a good wine list - that was also remarkably good value-for-money - would you be able to keep it to yourself? Would the greater good ... in this case, my being able to get a reservation on a whim ... mean that you would forfend all and any attacks on your confidentiality? At this juncture, it seems appropriate to provide a brief explanation of the dilemma with which Your Humble Correspondent is confronted.

The daily commute includes an ambulatory section (rest assured this is taken at a gentle pace!) from the Hellhole to Ebisu Station, and for weeks one's eyes were drawn to a rather nondescript eatery with the quaint name Bistro Aida [Map] (the aida piece being the Japanese for 'space'). An innocent quip like "What ho! I do believe I have found another little gem..." was enough for The Once and Future Blonde to determine that we should visit said establishment (together, apparently). So we went ... but a different "we" than she imagined. As it happened, there was the appointment with The Adjutant that needed some sort of suitable venue. And the rest is history, Gentle Reader.

Chef Seiji Omote has this place humming since its opening in February 2010, and it is a real "keeper". There is only one omakase offering with six courses including the amuse, for the princely sum of Y3,800 plus supplements for various choices in the Plat Principal and Dessert courses. But the food is heavenly ...

Your Humble Correspondent was quite taken with the Hors D'oeuvre of Fois Gros Pate and Wagyu Carpaccio in a Yuzu and Kabu foam, which was served with four ambrosial slices of Kyo-vegetables (white, black, and red turnips along with black daikon). Our excellent Bagna Cauda was served with two very interesting salts as an alternative with the vegetables: sumi-shio (charcoal salt) and smokii-shio (smoked salt) from Fukushima. Only in Japan, one imagines, but these are both real taste treats that are by themselves reason enough to visit Bistro Aida.

The main course meant duck of course, served with a fascinating sabayon (syllabub to some) of fois gros and puree of porcini mushrooms. It must have been the military testosterone, but we both showed typical reserve by plumping for cheese instead of dessert (which was a Sweet Potato and Apple Pie with cinnamon ice cream).

The wine list is good and well priced, and The Adjutant and I shared a very good Domaine Millet Sancerre 2008 and a 2006 Burgundy that escaped detection. In spite of this extravagance, our bill came to less than Y30,000.

Most of the people in the room were considerably younger than YHC, a sad occurrence that is becoming all too frequent in recent years. But if Bistro Aida is a date spot for sophisticated 30-somethings, it is a refined and all together elegant one which lives up to its mission statement as "a restaurant for adults."

Visit with friends and lovers rather than business colleagues, who would no doubt turn Bistro Aida to their own evil ends. And look for the more mature lurker in the corner - it would be nice to make your acquaintance!

Pip! Pip!

Bistro Aida [Map]: 1F No. 2 AS Bldg, 1-16-33 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku; t: 03-5422-9685
Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Maturity: 7/10; Price-Performance: 8/10. Total: 37/50 (3 Forks)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

EOIT rates the Michelin 2011 Tokyo 2-Stars

What is it, Gentle Reader, that makes the difference between a 3-Star and a 2-Star?

One could be tempted to suggest that at least for the Tokyo Michelin Guide 2011 that difference lies in some gourmandesque battle between Japanese and Western cuisines among the beknighted Inspecteurs Michelin. The proportion of non-Japanese venues among the 2-Stars "feels" higher than the 3-Star list, but reading between the lines of the commentary one can't help but get a feeling that there is some sort of jingoism at play.

And yet, if one assumes that the target audience for said Guide includes the Office Ladies and Gentlemen plus the faux-gourmands of the "international set" (kokusai-ha) of Japan then the preponderance of Japanese restaurants may indeed be a mathematical oddity as the good people at Michelin claim. Not likely, but certainly a possibility.

Still, it might be interesting to survey Guide buyers to determine how many of the starred restaurants which seat 11 or 15 people they are actually able to afford to visit. A less kind perspective would be that these are "wrapping paper" rankings and not meant to guide any sensible diner's selection. You will no doubt notice that Your Humble Correspondent has a slightly different set of ratings.

Aimee Vibert French Tel: 03-5216-8585; 14-1 Nibancho, Chiyoda-ku. EOIT Rating: 3 Forks
The setting is elegant, and the Ile de France cuisine gentle on the fork and perhaps the imagination. Chef Wakatsuki is hugely talented, yet one gets the impression that tradition and pomp are rather over-weighted to keep up with the "tone" of the neighbourhood. Think Knightsbridge, Belgravia and Chelsea. Think cuisine classique. Think JPY35K per person.

Ajiman Fugu Tel: 03-3408-2910; 3-8-8 Roppongi, Minato-ku. EOIT Rating: 3 Forks
There is a awful lot going on here at Ajiman, and it is perhaps a little unapproachable for fugu novices. At the same time, there is a warm sense of professionalism and the Matsubara clan make for a tight counter and "floor" team (there is actually no floor to speak of). Getting reservations can sometimes be a chore, and the JPY40K+ bill at the end can leave one shaking one's head at the profitability inherent in audacity.

Argento Aso Italian contemporary Tel: 03-5524-1270;9F, ZOE Ginza, 3-3-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku. EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
The wonders of alphabetical ordering make this the first of the Hiramatsu Group restaurants in the Guide, although it perhaps does not deserve such prominence within the HG's 24 venues (and counting!). The formality and precision of the operation is typical of a Hiramatsu venue, and this military style can sometimes carry over to the food. Still, a very feminine venue that is bound to impress first-time visitors. JPY30K.

Chugoku Hanten Fureika UP! Chinese Tel: 03-5561-7788; 3-7-5 Higashi Azabu, Minato-ku. EOIT Rating: 3 Forks
This is the jewel in the crown of the five restaurant Fureika group, and boasts an elegant setting to match the very high quality Chinese cuisine on offer. This is Japanese-style traditional Chinese fare, so don't expect any surprises in terms of contemporary cooking. The service style and high-end customer service strike some as a little hide-bound. Expect a bill of about JPY30K each.

Crescent French Tel: 03-3436-3211; 1-8-20 Shiba-Koen, Minato-ku.  EOIT Rating: Barely 3 Forks
Hmmm. The first impression here is faux Victorian - the splendid building was constructed seventy years too  late for the dumpy Dowager Queen in 1968. The cuisine follows the same basic trend: this is definitely cuisine classique with a heavy dose of fin de siecle trills and frippery. The business was originally an antique dealer, and based on the food likely still is. The addition will be about JPY30K each.

Cuisine Michel Troisgros French contemporary Tel: 03.5321.3915 Hyatt Regency Hotel 1F, 2-7-2 Nishi-Shinjyuku , Shinjuku-ku. EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
Good friends swear by this place, and this is one Michelin rating that Your Humble Correspondent can wholeheartedly support. The cuisine matches the very contemporary architecture of the Shinjuku area, and at times leans heavily towards a constructionist approach. Service is, of course, excellent. While the location is a little down-market, this restaurant certainly is not and well worth the JPY20K you'll pay.

Daigo Shonin Tel: 03-3431-0811 Forest Tower 2F, 2-3-1 Atago , Minato-ku EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
As far as we know, there are no other 2-star Buddhist temple cuisine restaurants in the world. While this alone is ample reason to visit, you will be amazed at the stunning food and the remarkably tranquil experience at Daigo. Although the overarching philosophy is ahisma or non-violence, "vegetarian" is an entirely adequate shortcut. This may be the most refreshing JPY20K you will spend in Tokyo.

Fugu Fukuji Fugu  Tel: 03-5148-2922; 3F Koda Bldg, 5-11-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku  EOIT Rating: 3 Forks
Here they go with the poisonous fish thing again. To be sure, EOIT rates this place above Usuki which somehow garnered a 3-star rating. There's a whole lot more originality at Fukiji for a start, and everyone seems frightfully busy although JPY30K seems a little steep. Perhaps the rent is high ...

Fukudaya Kaiseki Tel: 03-3261-8577 6-12 Kioicho, Chiyoda-ku. EOIT Rating: 5 Forks
An invitation to Fukudaya is a sure sign one has finally made the "Big Time". This kaiseki-ya has been serving refined food that pleases both eye and palate for 70 years, although there are those who see that tradition as a mere bagatelle compared to other venues (mostly un-Michelin-ed). Be invited rather than inviting, as JPY50K + per head can empty a bank account faster than YHC can drink a coupe de champagne.

Fukuju UP! Kaiseki Tel: 03-3571-8596 5F, 8-8-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku EOIT Rating: 2 Forks
Fukuju has lifted its rating from 1- to 2-stars. Heaven knows why! Perhaps the service and quality goes up as the inspectors become jourenkyaku at some of these venues. There are 8 counter seats and a private room for 8 - and the experience will cost a massive JPY60K per person. You're paying more for exclusiveness than excellence - this is one kaiseki where you won't bump into Your Humble Correspondent!

Harutaka UP! Sushi Tel: 03-3573-1144; Kawabata Building 3F, 8-5-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku. EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
If you ask sushi chefs and industry-insiders where they head for sushi, they will invariably tell you Harutaka. It may be an age thing, but there seems to be more energy and a greater sense of a shared journey of discovery with Harutaka Takahashi. An excellent thing, and a welcome change from the discipleship required at some venues ranked higher. Dinner will cost about JPY20K. Visitors: You should choose to go here!

Hatsunezushi Sushi Tel: 03-3731-2403; 5-20-2 Nishi-Kamata, Ota-ku. EOIT Rating: NOT YET!
One needs to be an explorer to find Hantsunezushi, way out in Ota Ward (Actually, it's only a little over 350m from JR Kamata Station). YHC refrains from restaurants where one needs sustenance en route, so we haven't ventured out this far into Tokyo's suburban jungle. On Tabelog, it only rates 3.62 out of 5, which suggests a little elitism on the part of the Guide. The rumor is that you'll need about JPY20K per person.

Hishinuma Kaiseki Tel:03-3568-6588 B1F, AXIS Bldg, 5-17-1 Roppongi, Minato-Ku EOIT Rating: 4 Forks
Gadzooks, Gentle Reader! Les Inspecteurs have snuck one in on us here. Probably the most approachable kaiseki in Tokyo, with a natty little wine list to go along with it. Very popular, and you should get the butler to make a reservation ahead of time. Easy to find (if you can get past the French Fries upstairs at Va Tout), and well worth the JPY20K per head.

Horikane Japanese Contemporary Tel: 03-3280-4629 ; 1F, Maison ITO, 5-10-13 Shirokanedai, Minato-Ku. EOIT Rating: NOT YET
That ravenously popular Japanese site Tabelog only rates Horikane at 3.37, although that probably reflects the expectations of the younger crowd who contribute to said site. The menu sounds sublime. Expect about JPY30K per person in "damage". YHC will toddle along shortly.

Come back regularly, there's MORE TO FOLLOW ...

EOIT rates the Michelin 2011 Tokyo 3-Stars

Tokyo is, apparently, the culinary capital of the world. So much so that it boasts 266 venues that rate at least one Michelin star. That number is even more impressive when one considers that there are only 7 inspectors (all Japanese) and they can only visit a small percentage of Tokyo's 200,000 eating establishments.

But methinks it is time for some kaizen, laddies. One gets the overwhelming impression from the 2011 edition that Tokyo is rather the capital of Japanese cuisine, which it absolutely should be. I'm all for celebrating washoku-arity, but something is amiss and the whiff of a synthesized Japo-Gallic arrogance is in the air.

At the same time, Tokyo is home to a stunning array of non-Japanese restaurants which I fear M. Michelin is ignoring in order to keep sales of the guide at 150K. A nice little earner, I'm sure, but in the view of Your Humble Correspondent sells the Edo dining experience considerably short. Perhaps, Sir, you might enlist even one non-Japanese reviewer so that we can see balance restored.

Here's the list of this year's Michelin 3-stars listed alphabetically:
Araki (Debut) Sushi Tel: 03-3545-0199 Sunlitte Ginza II 1F 5-14-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku
If any sushi restaurant deserves the express elevator straight to the top of the Michelin rankings, then it is surely Araki. In my particular and peculiar opinion, there is more show than sushi - but then again, see the "trencherman" comment to the right of the page!

Esaki Japanese Contemporary Tel: 03-3408-5056 Hills Aoyama B1F, 3-39-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
For a place hidden away in the residential part of Jingu-mae, Esaki gets a lot of well-deserved attention. This kaiseki restaurant focuses on food purity and "safety". Ask for the details of their organic vegetable supplier ... the produce is stunning!

Hamadaya (Rank Up) Japanese Tel: 03-3661-5940 Ningyocho, 3-13-5 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku
Hadayama is the real deal - a passion for great ingredients, delightful presentation, and an angelic balance of flavors and textures. If you're visiting - or living here and need to impress visitors - you can't go wrong at Hamadaya.

Ishikawa Japanese Tel: 03-5225-0173 3-4 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
Kagurazaka needs another fine restaurant in the same way that London needs another pub. But if you're in this part of Tokyo, and you're in the mood for both some exploration (it's hard to find) and high-brow kaiseki, then Ishikawa fits the bill. It all seems a little pretentious for Your Humble Correspondent, but there's no doubt the food is first-rate.

Joel Robuchon French Contemporary Tel: 03-5424-1338 Ebisu Garden Place, 1-13-1 Mita, Meguro-ku
One has to question Michelin's definition of "contemporary", but this restaurant would deserve three stars whatever city it chose to grace. Probably the best cheese board on the planet, and more varieties of bread than one can possibly comprehend without reaching for multi-dimensional mathematics. Excellent wine list that doesn't forget older whites (no pun intended). Unfortunately one needs to rob a bank to enjoy the full spectrum of what M. Robuchon has to offer, but it might be worth the gaol sentence if there is time off for good behavior.

Kanda Japanese Tel: 03-5786-0150 3-6-34 Moto-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Your Humble Correspondent's previous Hellhole was in Moto-Azabu, and Kanda was that place that one always wanted to visit but never got around to ... Lack-a-day friends who have visited (but failed to invite) say that the food here is remarkable even for a three-star.

Koju Japanese Tel: 03-6215-9544 8-5-25 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
If you were, God forbid, at a gastronomic short end in Ginza then Koju is restaurant enough to restore your faith in food. Exceptional seasonal produce, with the finesse and delicacy of Japanese cuisine on display here. Chef Toru Okuda is a proudly confident master of his trade.

Quintessence French Contemporary Tel: 03-5791-3715 5-4-7 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku
Not on your Nellie! There is way too much ego and energy on the table at Quintessence to deserve a three star rating. While Chef Shuzo Kishida is still only 36, there is no doubt he can cook. But he can't control an agressive floor team whose poor manners drag down a good restaurant.

7chome Kyoboshi (Rank Up) Tempura  Ozio Ginza Bldg 6F, 5-5-9 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Interesting choice by Michelin ... no doubt the best tempura in the world, but 3-stars? For sheer virtuosity and creativity, this is one restaurant you should try if visiting Tokyo. Save you pennies, because it is certainly not cheap. Sakakibara-san does amazing things with batter and bits, but after all it is just a fish-fry. This is one sign that the all-Japanese Michelin inspector team has got things a little out of whack. In Japanese, a little too マニアック (or, the dude's gone mono on us)!.

Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten Sushi Tel: 03-3535-3600 , Tsukamoto Bld. B1F, 2-15 Ginza 4-chome, Chuo-ku
Jiro Ono is 84 years old and he's not going to be hurried by anyone. He says he has one more year at the helm of the best sushi restaurant in the world. The thing to notice here is the quality of the rice, and the intensity of the food - to the eye, to the mouth, to the brain. English speakers are only entertained at the Roppongi venue, so if you don't speak Japanese you need to find a friend... quick. This is seriously the one sushi experience you don't want to miss.

Sushi Mizutani Sushi Tel: 03-3573-5258 Seiwa Silver Building B1F, 8-2-10 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Mizutani-san is very serious about sushi, and you had better be as well if you get along to this fabulous 10 seat temple to fish. The location near Shimbashi station is good, and the price is good value (actually, that's a relative statement because good sushi is never cheap). The art is in the selection of the fish, they say, and there is no better example than Sushi Mizutani.

Sushi Saito Sushi Tel: 03-3589-4412 Nihon Jitensha Kaikan 1F, 1-9-15 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Sigh! Why on earth one would take a superb sushi-ya and move it to outside the US Embassy well away from "sushi alley" in and around Tsukiji / Ginza is beyond me. I think the 2009 rating of 2-stars is probably closer to the mark. Sushi Saito is all about Saito-san, and he's always happy to lecture diners (in Japanese) about the art and cant of sushi. Perhaps it's that personal attention that has attracted the eye of Michelin inspectors. Calm down boys!

Usukifugu Yamadaya (Rank Up) Fugu Tel: 03-3499-5501 Fleg Nishi-Azabu, 4-11-14 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku
Nothing like a little poison to spice up your ranking! The Japanese passion for the poisonour puffer fish is well know, although it's all a little over the top if you ask me. If you're lucky to be one of the 23 people seated (22 if you go with me) here, you had better have about JPY30K in your pocket because this place is not cheap. Perhaps the fish fly first class on their daily journey from Usuki in Kyushu. But remember, several people die every year from Fugu poisoning in Japan ... although no-one can remember the last time it happened here.

Yukimura Japanese Tel: 03-5772-1610 3F, 1-5-5 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku
There is no doubt this place is the pick of the kaiseki 3-stars. You'd never know, as it is located on the 3rd floor in a nondescript building in the Azabu Juban. But the things he does with food ... oh be still my racing heart! Be warned: no tables, only 11 counter seats, and a prix fixe. You should be thinking JPY40K.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Restaurant J - Prithee, A Moment's Silence

Gentle Reader, it is with deep regret that we advise that master chef Masahito Ueki is soon (actually, today!) to leave Restaurant J for destinations as yet unknown. It seems that there is some considerable difference between Chef and his business partner in terms of direction and policy for Restaurant J going forward.

What an pity! While Your Humble Correspondent does not pretend to understand the gritty details of foul commerce, it is obvious even to him that some level of profit is essential to good financial health. At the same time, stand-out quality in a city that boasts a galaxy of Michelin stars is a must-have and Chef is within his rights to demand a free hand in the kitchen.

This outcome is sad for all of us who are fans of Ueki-san, although his commitment to delighting diners - and to opening again soon in a new venue - leave us with the hope that he will rise pheonix-like from the ashes of a spoiled relationship to even greater heights. Chef is a singular talent; and if greatness comes at least partially from passion and unwillingness to compromise in matters culinary, then we have a treat on our hands once he finds new digs.

One faint (feint?) glimmer of light from all of this is that spills and tumbles are always signs of an active and energetic gastronomic culture, and the rejection of "gaman" in favor of integrity augurs well for a bright future for diners in our fair city by the bay.

Your Humble Correspondent will no doubt wend his weary way to "The J" to document the fall of a good restaurant, and will race to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?) as soon as possible [although not this evening as I am off to Bistro Aida!].

Until then, then ...

Pip! Pip!