February 6, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour day 2: Stony River

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Day 2 in Tokyo takes me to my first kaiseki dinner, and the first of four meals at a restaurant with three Michelin stars.  Ishikawa (石かわ) is hidden behind a temple just off Kagurazaka (神楽坂), and we managed to secure a late seating for dinner.  Just a day after catching up with him over dinner, I have the pleasure of H-man's company again tonight.  I'm also happy that the Great One has been able to clear her schedule and join us in Tokyo for a few days, although she did have a little trouble getting here...

We were seated in one of the private rooms, and had pre-chosen to take the more expensive of the two set menus.  I was really looking forward to this, because it's been a long time since I've had the pleasure of having kaiseki at a restaurant with 3 stars.  I was also curious to see what being number 16 on Asia's 50 Best means...

Appetizer: snow crab topped with crab innards covered with broth jelly (先付:津合蟹 菜の花 土佐酢掛け) - a great start with snow crab (ずわい蟹) from Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県), which I just learned tonight was a type of Matsuba crab (松葉蟹). The crab meat was wonderfully sweet and came with the flavors of the sea. That it was topped with crab tomalley (蟹味噌) just made it even better, and the Tosazu (土佐酢) gelée brought along a nice bit of acidity to help whet the appetite. Served with rapeseed flowers (菜の花) and a dab of sweet, white miso.

Deep-fried: horsehead snapper, monkfish liver and oba herb, lotus root, butterbur bud (揚物:甘鯛と鮟肝の蓮根挟み揚げ) - deep-fried “sandwich” with layered flavors from premium ingredients like amadai (甘鯛) and monkfish liver - both of which are beautiful and tender.  A wrapping of perilla leaves (大葉) provides additional fragrance. There was also a deep-fried butterbur bud (蕗の薹) with its mild bitter flavors, signifying that Spring is approaching.

A closer look at the cross-section of the "sandwich"...  We were meant to dip these into the ponzu (ポン酢), but I was happy to enjoy them as is.

Soup: hard clam and 'Shogoin' turnip from Kyoto (椀物:地蛤 かぶら) - I looooove the soup course in kaiseki meals, because they often come with a clean and simple broth which warms the stomach and instantly relaxes the body – pure comfort food. Tonight we’ve got a simple hard clam (地蛤) from Chiba Prefecture (千葉県) whose meat was sweet and pure. A piece of turnip (蕪菁) from Shogoin (聖護院) in Kyoto, together with a few sprigs of coriander and fine shreds of leek. I could drink 5 bowls of this and not get tired of it.

Sashimi: sea bream and sea urchin garnished with fresh seaweed and Japanese herbs (造り:鯛 雲丹) - the first part of our sashimi course arrives, and I take in the simple and clean flavors of the sea bream (鯛) from Kyushu (九州玄海) first, with a wonderfully chewy texture that can only come from the freshest catch. Then the rich and smooth sea urchin, like a sweet milkshake with a touch of the ocean. The beautiful pile of seaweed (若布) in the back was delicious, as was the mountain of finely-diced leeks next to it.

Seared Ise lobster with 'ponzu' sauce (伊勢海老の焼霜) - the second part arrives in a hollowed half of gourd, bearing Japanese lobster (伊勢海老) together with its tomalley. The lobster’s been lightly torched and comes with a beautifully delicate smokiness. The tomalley? I’d spoon whole jars of it if given the chance.

Charcoal-grilled: conger eel and freshly harvested bamboo shoot (焼物:早掘り筍 穴子酒盜焼) - the conger eel came grilled shuto (酒盜焼)-style – bringing out the natural flavors of the ingredient – with lovely smoky flavors from charring. The young bamboo shoot from Kagoshima Prefecture (鹿児島県) was incredibly tender and sweet. I peeled a couple of the inner layers off since I was by no means satiated with just the core.

Delicacy: Spanish mackerel, broad beans and mashed taro (中皿:鰆 蚕豆 里芋) - the small piece of grilled Spanish mackerel (鰆) came with a broad bean (蚕豆) that was almost as big and some taro mash. Three bites. Delicate indeed.

Hot pot: thinly sliced Japanese beef with seasonal vegetables (煮物:牛鍋 椎茸 筍) - gyu-nabe (牛鍋) is very traditional and hearty, but this is the dainty version. The little clay pot came with a very hot soup, and thin slices of raw beef from Kumamoto Prefecture (熊本県) was simply placed on top so that it gets cooked by the residual heat. Garnished with sansho leaves (木の芽).

I’m generally pretty quick with taking pictures of my food, but this must have been one of the few instances when I took too long… as the beef was a little overcooked when I started eating. Underneath the beef was a mix of onions, leeks, bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms.

When the pickles come, you know that rice is about to be served. Tonight we’ve got marinated mountain yam (山芋), cucumber, and seaweed (若布).

Steamed rice: steamed rice with black-throat sea perch, miso soup and pickled vegetables (食事:のど黒の釜炊きご飯 味噌椀 香の物) - Ishikawa-san comes in with the big clay pot of rice, which was topped with black-throat sea perch (のど黒). For the second tonight I asked Ishikawa-san to clarify something for me, and he confirmed that のど黒 is indeed the same as 赤むつ, and that the different nomenclature simply depends on where the fish is caught.

Anyway, the rice was delicious, with shredded fish meat mixed in with finely diced ginger. Ishikawa-san insisted on giving me a big bowl, despite my protests.

Naturally we couldn’t possibly finish the entire bowl, so they made the leftovers into little rice balls (おにぎり) for us to take away.

I thought even the miso soup was outstanding, with a good amount of seasonal nameko (なめこ) mushrooms and tofu puffs.

Dessert: sweet red beans, caramel mousse, yuzu citrus ager and green tea sherbet (デザート:小豆 柚子寒天 焦がし砂糖のムース 抹茶のシャーベット) - this was an interesting dessert, as it combines a number of classic Japanese flavors. The green tea ice cream was unlike any I have ever tasted. The deep green color was an indication of the depth of flavors there, as well. The yuzu (柚子) gelée was naturally light and refreshing, while the caramel mousse was as delicious as I could hope for.

Despite the fact that both H-man and I had consumed a decent amount of wine last night – and I was perfectly fine with not having to drink tonight – my friends decided to order a bottle of sake anyway.

Kokuryu Daiginjo Ryu (黒龍 大吟醸 龍) – with a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 40%. Kokuryu is one of my absolute favorites, and one can never go wrong with this particular offering. Classic nose of banana and tropical fruits. Full-bodied on the palate – or as the Japanese would say, コクが有る – with a long finish.

This was a delicious dinner. Just about every single dish was a hit with me, and we've got a couple of pretty jaded palates tonight. This is much more on the classical side of things, and very, very well executed.  I'm so glad I made it here.

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