August 28, 2007

Tokyo Trip: Pilgrimage to Kyubey

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For the last 8 years or so, each time I am in Tokyo, I have made it my mission to have lunch at Kyubey (久兵衛), my favorite sushi restaurant in the world. This trip was going to be no exception and I was headed for Ginza.

I had made the booking thru Quintessentially and they had managed to get me a counter seat in front of the third-generation owner, Imada-san. Unfortunately, due to a detour earlier in the day and the horrendous traffic in Tokyo on Friday, I was 40 mins late and missed him. Needless to say it was very disappointing. Instead, I was seated in front of the chef who served me on my last trip to Kyubey, 2 1/2 years ago. I remember that he had been to Taiwan a couple of times.

In any case, lunch started with some sashimi. Wonderful pieces of toro (トロ), of course, and nothing but the freshest. Then it's more of the old favorites :

odori kuruma ebi (踊り車海老) - live fresh shrimp

aburi toro (炙りトロ) - a very thin sliver of fatty tuna seared to perfection

Incredibly sweet uni (雲丹 ) - which was scooped out of a small Tupperware box containing what I can only guess as the natural juice, and even though the color was a few shades darker than what I had hoped for, it tasted incredibly sweet and better than any I've ever had

And of course the anago (穴子) two-ways - with the sauce and with salt + sprinkle of yuzu (柚子) rind.

In the middle of this, the chef had served up bits of tuna that were cooked yakitori-style, which was a signature dish of Imada-san. Apparently he left instructions for the chef to deliver this with his compliments.

After what seemed like endless servings, we finished with negi toro roll and the sweet egg that has almost the same texture as castera (カステラ) - the Japanese honey cake. 

Once again it was a wonderful dining experience, and one that topped my last visit. The damage was JPY 20,000 - more than I have ever paid at Kyubey before, but could be a result of my voracious appetite. Would I complain about the bill? NEVER! It was worth every yen. And I look forward to my next visit.

August 14, 2007

Tokyo Trip: Teppanyaki at Ukai-tei Ginza

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Went to dinner at Ukai-tei (銀座 うかい亭) in Ginza. I had wanted to try another restaurant for teppanyaki other than Akasaka (赤坂 )at the ANA Hotel, so I chose this place in Ginza for its quality beef. Apparently they source the beef from a specific ranch to ensure the quality. I chose the course with the "super top quality beef" as I wanted to see how much better it could be. I was not disappointed.

Started with beef sashimi, which was soft and buttery and tender. Worked really well with the oroshi.

Then there was the asparagus, which was steamed with Perrier because, apparently, the carbonation of Perrier brings out a little something extra.

The kamo (duck) eggplants from Kyoto followed, which was almost completely round. This was steamed and dripped with a reduction made from clams and thyme. The thyme really added something to the dish.

Then came the beef. The course gave me a combination of the fatty sirloin (which I so love) as well as the tenderloin. Both were done to perfection on the teppan and each piece just melted in my mouth. There were 4 sauces to choose from and each had its own distinctive charm. This is exactly why I came, and I knew that I had made the right choice to come here.

Now the meshi. Normally at teppanyaki restaurants this is either garlic fried rice, beef fried rice or simply rice. At Ukai-tei you not only have the choice of rice, but also a soupy risotto, as well as Japanese somen (素麺) with yuzu tsuyu (柚子つゆ). I chose the somen since I really love it, and it tasted delicious.

After dinner dessert and coffee was served in the sitting area, as usual. The sweet and ripe melon was served with melon jelly and garnished with wonderful peppermint. Mmmm....

I drank a half bottle of '98 Smith Haut Lafite with dinner, which was classically French and ready to drink.

All in all, a very good dinner. What made it more enjoyable was the creativity and care that went into the dishes, which differentiated Ukai-tei from the normal teppanyaki places. Look forward to going back.

Tokyo Trip: The best tempura I've ever had

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Went to lunch at Hayashi, a tiny tempura shop opposite Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi. It's a family-run business and only has a tiny counter to seat about 6-7 customers. It's almost too cute.

The tempura is deep fried in a bowl of oil over very low heat. The batter is soft and remains so due to the very low temperature of the oil, unlike most of the crispy/crunchy batter we find elsewhere. It tastes wonderfully tender.

We go through the usual list of ingredients...shrimp, eggplant, seaweed, green peppers, asparagus, different types of fish...the difference is that often a single ingredient was tasted two different ways - with the usual oroshi (おろし) and also simply with a dab of salt.  The sea eel (穴子) was especially juicy and tender.

The one ingredient which was really unique was the cuttlefish. It was cut into a block and wrapped with a single shiso (紫蘇) leaf. But it was the thickness of the flesh that amazed me. The flesh was about 2.5cm or 1 inch thick. It was a bit chewy as you'd expect, but at the same time very juicy and tender, unlike any cuttlefish I've tasted. You'd have to wonder how big the cuttlefish would have to be to have this kind of thickness in the flesh...

At the end of the meal was the customary bowl of rice with pickled veggies. The little twist was the a powder that you sprinkle over the rice, which was made from tofu and was meant to taste like mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐). Apparently this was invented by the owner's father and passed down to him.

The bill came to an amazing JPY 17,000. Is it excessive? It certainly was the best tempura I have ever had, and I'm glad I got to taste some of the offerings. But at this price, I would probably prefer sushi or teppanyaki.

Tokyo Trip : 1st dinner at Brian's

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After a 2 1/2 year absence, the old gang reconvened at Brian's for a wonderful dinner. As is customary, my friend Hinata and I brought the wines and Brian fed us multiple courses. Needless to say we were all drunk and full at the end...

As usual we started with some finger food like cheese, Spanish ham wrapped around mozzarella cheese balls...these were accompanied by the Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label NV.

Then we moved on to the wonderful vichyssoise that was perfect for summer, full of leek and potato flavor topped with a bit of cream. This was washed down with a bottle of '96 Peter Michael Belle Cote, which was now mature and a nose of sweet, buttery flavor.

Next was pan fried shredded bacalhau with onions, potatoes and eggs, which brought me back to Spain and Portugal in travel memories.

For main course, Brian cooked us duck breast which was wonderfully tender. We opened the '67 Marey-Monge's Romanee-Saint-Vivant, and initially found it a bit "cooked" since I smelled stewed prunes in the nose.

We decided to open the '93 Domaine d'Auvenay Bonnes Mares. Both wines opened up very nicely, and the '67 RSV was particularly amazing after a little more aeration.

I was very drunk by this time, but we finally opened up the half bottle of '99 Guigal Condrieu Luminescence, the first vintage of the wine that Guigal made in the traditional way. I smelled overripe melons, citrus and pears, and absolutely loved it.


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