Thursday, 13 September 2012

Lauburu: Go Ahead ... make a pig of yourself!

Many of those who scan these rabid scribblings will know, Gentle Reader, that Your Humble Correspondent (YHC) is an irrepressible fan of all things porky, and will often go out of his meandering way to dine on the flesh of the blessed beast.

So when invited recently to a farewell dinner with The Once and Future Blonde at Lauburu for some long-time partners in culinary crime (via Darkside, WineNutz, et al), there was literally milli-seconds 'twixt the offer and the acceptance. For Lauburu, you see, is both a temple to porcine gastronomy and located a short wobble from YHC's remarkably humble abode ... lovingly referred to as 'The Hellhole' by all and sundry.

Peruse the menu, Gentle Reader, and you will see what we're faced with here: a mega-challenge, a knightly quest, perhaps even a mission from God. One imagines that if a pig was to amble its way through the front door, not one skerrick of that animal would be left once Chef had had his delightfully wicked way with it. On the regular menu you will find Oreille (ears), Fromage de tête (head), Graisseron (scratchings, in this case a pate of throat meat and skin), and ventréches (lower abdomen) as well as - of course - pied (feet). The disappointing part is that there are no pig-based desserts (YHC has once dined at a duck restaurant in Osaka, where the only dessert [actually, a sorbet] was ... duck!).

Chef Sakurai Shinichiro has deservedly won a Michelin Star for his efforts here, and Cochonnailles (Fr.: pork products) hardly goes any distance in explaining the treats that are on offer. In the cobwebbed recesses of YHC's mind, andouillette and boudin are the measure of a chef's prowess with pig - both are featured on the menu here, and YHC guiltlessly (although perhaps not guilelessly) proclaims both to be worthy of an Elysian feast.

While ever-so-slightly disappointed that no-one has yet come up with a pig's milk cheese (egads, why is that?), YHC can further report that the warm goats cheese is also worthy of your highest consideration along with the Salade d'endives au roqueforts.

Mains required extraordinary stamina and courage on the part of YHC: the Confit d'échine de porc is stunningly good, as is the Côte de porc grillé. Other less focused individuals tried the fish (God's Blood! Why would one?) and the snails.

Lauburu is a place where one's darkest instincts come to the fore, where bone-gnawing is both permitted and encouraged. Your Humble correspondent has it on good authority that Lauburu has a very passable wine list, but having BYHCO (Brought Your Humble Correspondent's Own) on this particular evening one will leave it to a future visit to pass judgement.

Lauburu is a place to go with friends - good friends who have seen you at your worst before. Do make a reservation as this is quite a popular venue. And if you see a Gollum-like character pitifully wheezing "The Pig, the Pig..." - well, do toss me a bone!

Pip! Pip!


Lauburu: 6-8-18 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-Ku, Tokyo 107-0062
t:03-3498-1314
Rating: Food: 7/10; BYHCO: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 9/10; Price-Performance: 8/10. Total: 38/50 (3 Forks)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

FLATiRON: MOLgAS at TAC

As a long-time denizen of the Tokyo American Club, Gentle Reader, Your Humble Correspondent (YHC) has become rather inured to feeding rather than fine dining (with some notable exceptions).

The American Bar & Grill is pleasant but predictable and pedestrian, Cafe Med only shines with its Deep-Dish Chicago Pizza, and Traders Bar is basic pub food (although this obviously fills a YHC fat-boy weakness). The Rainbow Cafe is populated by mini-people, and YHC doesn't frequent such places. The Winter Garden Happy Hour space is an oasis, though, and deserves your custom.

But the 3rd Floor - where Brian Marcus and his wonderful team have a little more room to manoeuvre - is a joy. It's new, it's energized, and it's more fun than humble correspondents deserve. It's also open to the general public, which means that you, Gentle Reader, can get to sample its delights with relative ease.

Decanter is still finding its way while threatening to be quite good indeed. The novelty of the iPad menus wears off quickly, and for the technologically-challenged presents more of an obstacle than a gastronomic opportunity. The leather butcher aprons worn by the staff reveal a close-to-scandalous almost Lady Gaga-esque relationship with meat, and YHC for one would urge a little more perseverance with alternatives like vegetables and garnishings. 

The Cocktail space is elegant and contemporary, and the perfect place to entertain important friends and clients - this was an inspired re-purposing of the poorly considered and under-utilised Tokyo Dining Bridge. Bouquets to those involved!

However, FLATiRON (sigh! Why the linguistic bastardry?) is a revelation, a triumph, a moment of sprezzatura. It is a Molecular Gastronomy experience that in Your Humble Correspondent's even humbler view justifies a TAC membership and the monthly dues. And on first glance, quite possibly considerably beyond other members of the species like M.Tapas and similar venues. Chef Fujiwara is a pure yet playful genius, and makes excellent use of a difficult space.

A recent foray with The Once and Future Blonde led by the outstanding guide/server Sam had us giggling with delight and overcome with the creativity on show (Menu below). We chose the wine pairing option, which was adventurous and interesting but perhaps a little over-powering. YHC is a delicate little thing, don't you know!

It's likely a fey thing to say, but hindsight suggests that the menu is perhaps one dish (bridge?) too far, and the portions are a little over-generous. Some of the highlights include the imaginative and flavour-full 3 frozen peppers, the stunning flatbreads with burrata cheese (yuba to mozzerella's tofu), a magnificent tomato water, and Breakfast in America: a whimsical rice flour pancake, pancetta, and fois gras combination that is roundly superb. Smoke and Ice Disco is a splendid idea, but one feels it might be a little more balanced by using buri instead of majiki.

3@62 shows off the sous-vide to perfection, and by the time we got to Playing Doctors complete with syringes, we were both sated and dazzled. The dessert Help Me, I'm Melting is playful and supremely rich.

To quibble, as quibbling is such an engaging activity, one might suggest future menu iterations also celebrate regional sourcing and ingredients a tiny touch more. After all, a potato is a spud unless it's a Hokkaido Dan-shaku.

Repair to FLATiRON with friends and lovers, or perhaps that difficult client who needs a nudge into understanding your sensitive side. And if you need a fourth, look no further than YHC ... I promise to remain quiet except for little squeaks and squeals of pleasure!

Pip! Pip!

FLATiRON: 2-1-2 Azabudai Minato-ku Tokyo 106-8649 t: 03-4588-0675

E-mail: decanter@tac-club.org
Rating: Food: 9/10; Wine: 8/10; Service: 9/10; Ambiance: 9/10; Price-Performance: 9/10. Total: 44/50 (4 Forks)

Monday, 2 July 2012

L'Effervesence - Bubbling with Excitement

One often imagines, Gentle Reader, that once a chef has started down the slippery slope of trying to reflect food fashions he or she is destined for perdition. Such was my fear for Citabria, located just off Koto-dori in Nishi-Azabu.

The Once and Future Blonde was celebrating another un-birthday, and we determined that French was both suitable and desirable. Off we toddled then to L'Effervesence which name-plate had surreptiously assumed the mantle at the former Citibria. Your Humble Correspondent has been secretly been champing at the bit to get to this establishment since seeing a number of sensational reviews, and this was as good a chance as was going to present itself in the near-term.

Citabria was never on YHC's Love List ... it was more fused than fusion, and seemed to miss the target whenever it took aim. So?

Oh my goodness! What joy redemption brings! A fallen brother has stepped back from the dark side and chosen to return to the path of virtue and light! Luke 15-7!

Chef Shinobu Namae has created a wonderful temple to gastronomy, playful yet professional in absolutely every aspect. Namae-san comes to us via Michel Bras, darling Heston at The Fat Duck, and then Citabria (perhaps a backward step ...). All of that experience is on show at L'Effervesence, and more.

The evening repast is titled "Un souhait et la lumire", a prayer and the light.  It seems to YHC that this playfulness reflects the history of the change - Namae-san praying for salvation from Californian fusion, and then bathing in the warm and welcoming light of contemporary French.

Put aside the distraction of a menu, the tedium of choosing a la carte. Namae-san takes care of even the most minute details - obviously having taken care to ask about one's preferences and/or allergies.

Navigate to this link for the current menu. As seasons and offerings in the markets changes, so does the creativity in the kitchen.

Were one to prattle on a little about one dish, it would be the Apple Pie ... on the evening we were so royally treated, it was a foie gras delicacy which arrived at the table in a red cardboard envelope reminiscent of the saccarine item proferred at the Golden Arches. Namae-san explains that this was one of the first foods (really?) that ever impressed him in terms of presentation. It serves to demonstrate the attitude Namae-san brings to this venue - playful yet professional in every aspect.

The service at L'Effervesence is exemplary, and it boasts one of the better wine lists (click the Wine List Icon) in Tokyo. All of this for what seems a very reasonable price at Y15,750 per person.

So do find your way to L'Effervesence, and help welcome back our prodigal son. And drop a Ten-K in the collection plate a stout man will be proferring at the door ... that's the only way one finds the spare change to dine, y'know!

Pip! Pip!
L'Effervesence: 2-26-4 Nishi-azabu, Minato-ku Tokyo, 106-0031 t: 03-5766-9501
Rating: Food: 9/10; Wine: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 9/10; Price-Performance: 9/10. Total: 43/50 (4 Forks)

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Zurriola - Viva! Esencia de España

It has been some time, Gentle Reader, since Your Humble Correspondent (YHC) had the time to update this pitiful blog. And, more painfully, there have been regretfully very few memorable dining experiences to record.

But all that is mere history after a delightful lunch at Zurriola [Map in Japanese], an establishment born of a Japanese and European parents with a stunningly subtle Spanish essence. Along with my erstwhile business advisor, whom we shall refer to as "Scott" (because his name is "Scott"), YHC 'discovered' Zurriola gracing the back streets of Azabu-Juban ... an area hitherto notable only for convenience stores and dens of ill repute. A place for brothel creeper shoes and uphooded hoodies.

Chef Seiichi Honda (May his name be praised for generations!) comes to us via such esteemed venues as Restaurant Georges Blanc in Vonnas,  Pierre Orsi in Lyon, and San Pau in Nihonbashi. And what a cornucopia of experience he brings to - forgive the pun - to the table.

Zurriola is a splendid venue with much to recommend. The space is bright and elegant, and the layout shows a sensitivity and deft touch more often ignored than observed. In fact, it is quite obviously a life work for Chef Honda and his very professional team, and painstaking attention to detail is reflected in the cuisine, tableware, stemware, wine list and a myriad other tiny areas. Indeed, "professional" is the key to understanding this restaurant and is embedded deeply in its DNA.

Zurriola serves only a degustation menu, carefully crafted and constantly surprising in terms of its delicacy and subtlety. A meal here is more akin to a journey than anything else, with a wide variety of nooks and crannies that invite and sustain exploration. We enjoyed an amuse of octopus that deserves more prominence in the menu, an excellent high-finesse stuffed squid entree, a stunningly rich tomato chilled soup, as well as beef turned out with a loving touch as moist and flavorsome as one might ever want.

This is a foodies' establishment. Take YHC's advice and only venture here with those you know who will appreciate the finer side of the dining experience. Bring a moderate amount of funds, as one suspects that some of the treasures on the wine list may require a second mortgage or at least the sale of one child.

Visit Zurriola with lovers and dilletantes, and cast a fond glance at the fat boy in the corner with the loud voice. That would be YHC, singing the praises of this excellent addition to the Tokyo dining scene.

Pip! Pip!


Zurriola: 3-2-7 Azabu-Juban. Minato-ward. t: 03-5730-0240
Rating: Food: 8/10; Mineral Water: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price-Performance: 8/10. Total: 40/50 (4 Forks)