August 31, 2010

We like Tim... oh yes we did

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Tonight I had the pleasure of treating an old friend to dinner.  I got a little too busy and failed to show up at the Tolman Collection gallery in Tokyo last week, and this was after I had told Norman that I was coming to see him.  So what else should happen upon my return but the phone rings, with Norman at the other end of the line, feigning injury at my snub?  I apologized profusely, and promised to take him and his staff to dinner.

Norman has recently closed their Shanghai operation after 5 years and decided to set up shop in Hong Kong.  They've taken a spacious apartment in the Mid-Levels and converted it into a space to showcase their stock of paintings and prints by contemporary Japanese artists.  All of their major artists are showcased here.

I chose to take them to Tim's Kitchen (桃花源), wanting to show them a taste of good Cantonese cuisine.  It would be my first visit since the restaurant moved to its present location a couple of months ago, and the new space is downright huge.  Thanks to their Michelin stars, they seem to have no trouble filling it with customers.

We were presented with some century eggs (皮蛋) to start off the evening.  Norman would have none of it, but his Japanese boys partook despite the strong, acquired taste.

I ordered the usual greatest hits, so we began with stir-fried giant glass prawn (玻璃蝦球).  The prawns were pretty big and my guests seemed reasonably impressed.  I avoided the oyster sauce and prawn paste (蝦醬), choosing to go with the original flavors of the fish.  The pan-fried piece of ham was soooo yummy.

I brought a bottle of 2007 Kapcsándy Family Rosé State Lane Vineyard to try it out.  It drank reasonably well, with nose of strawberries and a little bit of smoke.  One of the better rosés I have had.

I ordered two preparations of the crab claw - crab claw poached with winter melon (冬瓜蟹拑) and steamed whole fresh crab claw with egg white (蛋白蒸蟹鉗).  I took the winter melon version.  Faultless execution here... the meat of the claw was tender with full flavors of the crab, and the big chunk of winter melon wasn't bad, either.  A nice summer dish.

Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - I know I always order this dish, but how could I not?!  The tripe was just so springy and a little crunchy on the bite...

Braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe (蝦子柚皮) - always a simple and wonderful dish.  The sauce looked a little lighter in color compared to the past, but no matter.  I'm bummed that I don't have any rice to go with the delicious, starchy shrimp roe sauce...

Winter melon soup (冬瓜盅) - just what I needed for this steamy, summer weather.  I was tempted to take more winter melon but wasn't sure I had the space for it...

Braised goose web and pork tendon in oyster sauce (豬腳筋扣鵝掌) - I asked my Japanese guests whether they ate tendon (すじ) before ordering the dish, as I think it's just really special.  The color of the pork tendon was so pale and the texture sooo soft... 

Compared to my past meals here, this was definitely on the light side... but no one left the table hungry.  I hope Norman and his boys liked the classic dishes I chose even though some of them may be out of their comfort zone a little.  Last but not least, I wish the Tolman Collection great success in their Hong Kong venture. 

Self-righteous Chowhound moderators

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For the last few years, I have developed a close connection to the Chowhound boards.  It's a pretty good venue for discussions about food and restaurants, and I've been both a user as well as contributor, wishing to share my experiences with the world at large.  I check the boards almost daily for new topics of discussions.

I've just returned from a fantastic eating trip in Tokyo, and eager to share my experience with my fellow Chowhounds.  Today I have chosen to post a couple of messages on the Japan board, and have provided links to my blogposts.  As my blogposts can be very detailed and long-winded, I did not wish to repost the text in its entirety on Chowhound.  Posting links together with some additional commentary seem like an efficient way to achieve my goal.

The self-righteous moderators have removed my posts, and sent me a message warning me not to post links to my blog, as they see it as promotion and self-promotion.  There are plenty of others who post links to blogposts, and yet they choose to remove my posts while  other posts remain.

Well, there are no ads you can click on my blog.  There are no sponsors.  I don't receive a penny from anyone when people come and read my blog.  The blog is my diary, which I started for my own benefit as I wish to preserve the memory of my great food, wine and travel experiences.  I've chosen to share it with the public because when you come across something good in this world, it needs to be shared.

I've decided to no longer share my experiences with the users of Chowhound, because my contribution is deemed unnecessary by the bozos who moderate the boards, who see something sinister in what I do.  The same moderators have repeatedly removed posts from some of my other friends, for completely different yet equally ludicrous reasons.  One other friend has already stopped contributing some time ago, and now I'm doing the same.

Those moderators can kiss my big, growing ass...

August 30, 2010

The intolerant and Islamophobic West

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I picked up the latest issue of TIME on my flight back from Tokyo yesterday, with "Is America Islamophobic?" as the cover article.  It's an issue that's been on my mind over the last couple of weeks, thanks to the brouhaha that's been generated regarding Park51, the proposed mosque to be built near the 9/11 WTC bombing site.

The French had already created a stir when they first contemplated banning the wearing of burqas for Muslim women, made worse with the passage of the law by the National Assembly in July.  There are a couple of more rounds of approvals needed before it becomes law, but the domestic popularity of the proposed law means that it is likely to pass.

For a country that gave us Lafayette's Déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen this is pretty outright shitty.  Of course, at the time they only contemplated right for men and not women, but I thought we'd come a long way since then.  For a country with an estimate Muslim population of 6 percent (actually lower than I expected), it's also pretty surprising that they're willing to alienate that segment of the population...never mind the international uproar it's causing.

Cross the Atlantic to the United States.  I've long been amazed at the ignorance and stupidity of Middle America, and when it comes to Islam it's downright outrageous.  18 percent of Americans surveyed by TIME believe their president is Muslim, thanks to a smear campaign from the Republicans.  A significant percentage of Americans feel that Islam encourages violence against non-believers.

Many Americans feel that Muslims aren't really fully Americans, that they can't be assimilated into America.  This ignorance and intolerance is perpetuated by right-wing leaders such as Newt Gingrich and Christian leaders like Franklin Graham.  Their poisonous words serve to deepen the chasm between Muslims in America and the rest of the population, and the perceived inability to assimilate soon becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The hypocrisy of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish organization which has fought prejudice against the Jewish community, is especially appalling.

Whatever happened to religious freedom granted under the First Amendment?!  Of course people should be allowed to build a place of worship two blocks away from the WTC site! Yes, a lot of people lost their lives in the attack on WTC, and the nation was deeply wounded by the act.  But that doesn't justify trampling on fellow citizens' rights to practice their religion.  Families of the victims - or the nation at large - are not justified in their prejudice against people of Islamic faith, just because the attacks were conducted in the name of Islam.  The good ol' crusaders of generations past also committed countless atrocities in the name of Christianity...or did the Christian majority in America simply choose to forget (or worse, were ignorant of) that little detail?

When Barack Obama was elected President, I was elated and thought that America had taken a giant step towards becoming a more tolerant, less prejudiced society.  I expected greater racial harmony.  Evidently I was dreaming, and the 61 percent of Americans surveyed by TIME who oppose the Park51 project show us that the reality is otherwise.

August 28, 2010

Tokyo 2010 day 9: lost and found

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Woke up with a slight hangover this morning, after a few hours of low-quality sleep.  My intentions of hitting Kamakura (鎌倉) in the morning were completely blown, and didn't end up leaving the house until 1ish...

I hopped on the Yokosuka Line (横須賀線) and about 50 minutes later found myself at Kamakura Station (鎌倉駅).  As I was heading for the exit, I realized to my horror that my wallet was no longer on me.  I double and triple checked.  No wallet.  Did I drop it on the train, or on the floor of Shinagawa Station (品川駅) as I ran to catch the train?

I informed the station staff of my plight, and was handed a help line for me to call and report the loss.  I gave them a description of the wallet, the travel route and the exact train I was traveling on...and hoped for the best.  The station staff allowed me to exit the station without payment even though I couldn't produce a ticket.

I moped around the station a little, and soon receive a text message from the Cow.  Apparently someone had picked up my wallet on the train, and deposited it at Hodogaya Station (保土ヶ谷駅).  I thanked my lucky stars.

Eventually I made my way the Big Buddha (大仏) by bus.  It was just hitting 4:30pm and I missed my chance to climb inside the bronze statue.  Oh well...  I stick around a little and take some pictures in the warm afternoon light, and decide it's time to go and meet some friends at a house on the coast nearby.  On my way out I see a sign for ice cream, which would have been nice on such a hot day.  One look at my coin purse, however, told me that I couldn't even afford the ¥300 needed for this little treat... I've never felt poorer in my life...

I hop into a taxi and head for Hayama (葉山), where my friends are attending the housewarming for their friend's weekend beach house.  My friends picked me up and paid for the cab fare, and we proceed to spend the next few hours hanging out at a nice little house with partial ocean views.  Our host owns several restaurants in Tokyo, and comes down during the weekends to surf.  We are treated to some snacks and sweets in addition to light drinks.  Apparently the gang's been gathered here since noon and have been indulging in food and alcohol for a while...

The sun sets and I ran out to the shore to catch the last bits of light.  Mount Fuji (富士山) can be seen to the west across Sagami Bay (相模湾), now silhouetted against the sun that has set.  It was a pretty beautiful sight, and took some of the stress out of a day like this.

I stopped at Hodogaya Station (保土ヶ谷駅) on the way back, and headed to the station office.  I informed the staff about my missing wallet, and within 2 minutes I had it back in my possession.  All the cards and money remained in the wallet - exactly the level of honesty I had come to expect from the Japanese people.  I was very, very grateful.

Finally, the time had come for me to pop open the two little cups of Pierre Hermé sorbet that had been in the fridge since Sunday - and what a way to end this miserable day!  The Ispahan was pretty much exactly the same as the sandwich I had last week, with the rose, lychee and raspberry flavors coming together in perfect symphony.  The Satine was also really good, as the passion fruit and orange provided tart and tropical flavors, while the cream cheese added a little more thickness to the texture.  Slurp...

August 27, 2010

Tokyo 2010 day 8: California screamin'

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The Michelin part of my trip is finally over, and I'm back to having simple food.  Lunch was at another ramen joint I've been wanting to try.  After lunch I discovered R Burger, which uses those white steamed buns like Chinese mantou (饅頭), making the burgers kinda similar to Taiwanese guabao (割包).  The plum and chicken burger (梅チキンバーガー) was pretty interesting, and they even have chopped bits of plum in the plum sauce.

Dinner was at home with Brian, Cow and H-man.  It's been 3 years since our last gathering in Tokyo - there was a dinner in Hong Kong last year - and it's long overdue.  H-man had wanted to open some Californian cult wines, since his wine circle only drinks French.  He was more than eager to open up his most prized assets in his collection, and I tried in vain to match his generosity.

1997 Marcassin Chardonnay Gauer Vineyard Upper Barn - I was hoping that the wine would not be overly oxidized and over the hill, as several mid-90s Californian Chards I've tasted recently have been.  I wasn't happy with the wine at first - nose of orange marmalade, white flowers and clearly oxidized.  Initially the finish was a little tart.  I decided to cool the wine further in the ice bucket, and the wine improved markedly.  The floral notes became more prominent, and that nice buttery nose I love about Chardonnays came out.

Prosciutto and melon - the Japanese melon was pretty ripe and sweet, and I prefer this combination to the usual rock melon.

Swordfish pasta in garlic white wine sauce - very yum.  Swordfish is a little unusual, but very welcome in my book.

1996 Dalla Valle Maya - I decanted the wine early and it had been in the decanter for about 2 hours before we starting drinking it.  Nose was alcoholic, with prunes and pine needles.  Still pretty concentrated and full-bodied.  Room temperature was definitely too warm, so I dunked the decanter into the ice bucket for a while.  The wine tasted much better at the new, cooler temperature.  Lots of spices like star anise came out, and it was even a little smoky.  Definitely a little funkier than your typical Cali Cab, thanks to the 45% Cabernet Franc in the blend.

The pan-fried chicken thigh was really nice, with perfect crispy skin and juicy, tender meat.  The assortment of boiled veggies - Japanese turnip, carrots, cabbage and zucchini - helped balance the meal.

1995 Bryant Family - the wine smelled incredible when I was decanting it, and the nose remained the most Californian throughout the night.  Lots of tropical fruits, coconut butter, sweet and a little bit of caramel.  Definitely alcoholic, but very smooth on the palate.  It's been a while since my last taste of Bryant Family, and I was the beneficiary of H-man's generosity.

Grilled lamb chops - Brian definitely makes really good lamb, and tonight it was no exception.  The thicker chops were a little more tender, and there was plenty of tasty fat full of the "lammy" flavors I love so much.  Couldn't resist having 3 of these...  Thanks, Bri, for dialing down the herbs...

1997 Screaming Eagle - this, of course, was the wine that we'd all been waiting for.  I couldn't believe my ears when H-man said last week that he wanted to open this up.  I'd drunk plenty of good wines, but I have only ever tasted one vintage of Screaming Eagle... and 1997 is THE Screagle!

Nose was smoky, fruity with coffee notes.  Like the other two reds, the alcohol was evident in the nose.  Surprisingly the nose didn't smell very Californian to me at all, but rather muted and subdued.  There is no doubt that this was a beautiful wine, as it was extremely well-balanced on the palate, and a little sweet.

The shu cream puff was purchased and not homemade.  Still very good with the uncommon flaky pastry.  My memory is a little hazy, but I kinda remember nice vanilla flavors...

1998 Mr. K Eiswein - this wine was made at Sine Qua Non by two wine personalities I respect, Manfred Krankl and Alois Kracher.  There was never any doubt that the duo would produce anything short of spectacular.  I was amazed at the viscosity of the wine, plainly evident as I was pouring it.  Nose of peach, pear, banana, apricot and botrytis.  The wine was slightly carbonated, which meant the wine was nicely balanced between the acidity and the sweetness.  So glad I brought this wine...

We'd definitely have had too much wine by this point, but I couldn't pass up taking a few more sips.  I received my shipment of Bijofu Yuzu Liqueur (美丈夫ゆずリキュール) today, and couldn't wait to let the others have a taste.  It was as refreshing and fragrant as I remembered from last week, and definitely blew away its siblings made with lemon and Chinese honey orange (ポンカン).

This was such a good evening... wonderful food, and spectacular Californian wines.  Let's see how long it takes for our next gathering...although I have no idea how we are going to top tonight's wine lineup!

Tokyo 2010: Ramen showdown

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When in Tokyo, I always make sure to get some of my favorite ramen (ラーメン).  As I'm staying for a while this trip, I had the chance to compare two places I haven't been to before.

Gogyo (五行) - I went to the Ginza (銀座) outlet on day 2 for lunch as it was just around the hotel.  My friend Susan had raved about this place so I came to check it out.  One is given a choice of 4 soup bases, plus a tossed cold noodle.  I came for the trademark burnt miso (焦がし味噌) so that's what I ordered.  I also added a soft-boiled egg (半熟味付け玉子), some nori (のり) and chopped green spring onions (青ねぎ).

Every once in a while, there'd be a huge burst of flames in the kitchen when the miso (味噌) is burnt.  What comes out in the bowl is a dark broth with fine, black powder.  It wasn't as salty as I expected, and there was definitely that added dimension of smoky flavors.  Pretty nice.  Interestingly there were small, rough meatballs in the bowl... something I didn't expect.  The slice of fatty pork belly (the Japanese call it チャーシュー) was yummy... lots of delicious, soft fat...

The big pitchers of cold buckwheat tea (麦茶) were great - really refreshing and exactly what I needed to cool me down after a hot bowl of noodles.

On day 8 I marched off to Roppongi (六本木) for my long-awaited dining experience at Ichiran (一蘭).  I use the words "dining experience" because it is a little different from your regular ramenya (ラーメン屋). The diners sit at individual booths in a straight line, facing the serving area.  A drape covers the top half of the window, describing the philosophy of the place.  After handing over the order sheet to the waiter, a bowl of noodle appears shortly in front of you, and the waiter lowers the bottom drape so that the diner no longer looks at anyone (or anything) except the bowl of noodle in front of him/her.  If you want to really focus on your food - for the ultimate solo dining experience - or just don't feel like talking to anyone, this is the place.  There's even a spout so you can get more water without asking the waiter.

Ichiran offers customization - not just with additional condiments like seaweed, spring onions and such - by allowing diners to choose the taste of the broth.  One is able to choose various aspects such as the concentration, amount of fat, amount of spiciness, amount of minced garlic and type of spring onion.  They even offer 5 different levels of noodle consistency.  That's impressive...

So I circled "stronger broth", "normal fattiness", "standard amount of garlic", "green spring onions", "fatty pork belly", "half spiciness" and "very hard noodles".  I also added some seaweed and a boiled egg.

When my bowl arrived, I realized that "stronger broth" basically meant "salty broth"... this isn't a bowl of broth where I can finish the entire bowl, like I sometimes do at Hakata Tenshin (博多天神).  I'm also surprised that spiciness comes standard for the broth, and even at 1/2 the normal level I found it a little spicy.  I did like my noodles...

My noodles disappeared in no time, but I left a good amount of soup in the bowl as it was a little salty and spicy.  Maybe I should have tried the lighter broth without spiciness...

I still like my old favorite Hakata Tenshin, although Gogyo was pretty good, too.  The jury is still out on Ichiran until I fine-tune the taste to suit my palate, but that will have to wait till my next trip...

August 26, 2010

Tokyo 2010 day 7: twinkle, twinkle, little (Michelin) stars

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Final day of the Michelin tour, and I'm back in Ginza yet again.  I've heard lots of about Sushi Kanesaka (鮨かねさか) so it was time to try a place other than Kyubey (久兵衛).

The place was pretty small, with space enough for 2 chefs serving less than 15 customers at two counters plus a small, private room.  They were less than half full today.  I'm making a conscious effort to cut back on the amount of food I take today, so I ordered the "middle" lunch set and don't go for omakase.

Righteye flounder (鰈) - this was actually very soft, without the slightly chewy bite typical of the fish.

Striped jack (嶋鯵) - just love those striations...

Tuna (マグロ)

Medium fatty tuna (中トロ)

Cuttlefish (イカ)

Tiger prawn (車海老) - interesting that this is cooked instead of raw/live.  Guess I'm too used to Kyubey...

Young gizzard shard (小鰭) - loooove this fish.  So tasty with the skin and the oil...

Horse mackerel (鯵) - one of my favorites and this was pretty tasty with a dab of seaweed on top.

Bonito (鰹) - really nice piece of bonito...

Clam (蛤) - very tasty thanks to the sweet sauce (たれ).

Salmon roe (イクラ)

Red miso soup with clams (蛤赤出汁)

Sea urchin (雲丹)

Sea eel (穴子) - very soft and moist...nicely done.

Egg (玉子) - a little more moist and mushy than what I'm used to... but I can definitely see the influence from Kyubey.

Tuna roll (鉄火巻) - pretty nice way to finish off.

I had fun chatting with the chef, who was wielding a wakizashi (脇差)-looking knife to cut the fish.  I remember seeing some sushi chefs using this type of blade, which is so much more beautiful of course.  I love Japanese swords and have always wanted my own.  The chef showed me his old knife, which progressively got shorter with the daily sharpening.

The quality here was undoubtedly high, and I really enjoyed my lunch.  I'll probably come back next time when I have more capacity...

I was late to dinner because I just couldn't find the place.  For the first time in Tokyo I found 2 adjacent buildings with identical addresses, and I was really confused.  I finally called the restaurant and told them I was lost, and the waitress came down to pick me up.

Yukimura (幸村) is one of 11 restaurants in Tokyo with the distinction of having 3 macarons from the tire people.  The restaurant is in a prime area, but it's upstairs in a building and there are no obvious signs outside to attract attention.  Everything about the restaurant is low-key.

I had known about the chef's objections to taking pictures, and I knew they had seen me carry my DSLR, so I asked for permission before proceeding.  While the response was "No", the chef agreed to let me take some pictures as long as I didn't take pictures of everything.  At a restaurant with no written menu, not having pictures of every dish makes the job of remembering them that much harder.

Sea urchin with lobster jelly (雲丹 伊勢海老出汁) - I asked the chef for permission to take 1 picture, and this was definitely worthy of that honor.  Fresh sea urchin, topped with jelly made from lobster.  While I expected the sea urchin to be fresh and sweet, the real surprise was the jelly - it actually had a slightly sweet aftertaste, especially after a bite of sea urchin.  The chef also put in some flying fish roe (とび子) to add some crunchy texture.

Hassun (八寸) :  abalone with taro stem (アワビ 芋茎); horse mackerel sushi (鯵すし) wrapped in kelp (昆布); edamame (枝豆); diced cucumber, jelly fish, tofu skin in sesame ponzu (ポン酢) - abalone was nice, and the taro stem made another appearance but slightly less crunchy today.  Kinda surprised that jelly fish was used but the use of sesame ponzu was nice.

Bottarga soba (カラスミそば) - this was wonderful.  I loooove bottarga and sometimes would make bottarga pasta at home, but this was clearly much better.  The shavings of bright orange bottarga on top of a pile of soba just looked awesome, and very tasty, too!  the plate was clean in no time.

The restaurant has no fixed wine list as the stock changes often, so I ask Yukimura-san for some sake recommendations.  I took 1 go (合) of Higan Daiginjo (鄙願 大吟醸).  The sake tasted very ripe, like Chinese fermented rice (酒釀).  It starts out sweet but becomes dry and alcoholic mid-palate, with a sharp and spicy finish.  Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.

Poached pike conger (鱧) with thin tofu skin (湯葉) and grilled matsutake mushroom (松茸) - very surprised that the chef actually invited me to take a picture of this... I guess he must be very proud of it.  The dipping sauce in the small dish was plum sauce a bit of wasabi, which the chef encouraged us to mix together.  Pretty interesting, I must say.  The conger was very nice, and the tofu skin was so thin and fine...  Matsutake is always nice, and I enjoyed chewing on it and feeling the bouncy texture.

Deep-fried sweetfish with grilled sweet potato and myoga ginger (鮎揚げ 薩摩芋焼 茗荷) - this was really good.  Instead of grilling the sweetfish, they were deep-fried and crispy on the outside.  I like the fish done this way.  The thick sauce that was poured over the dish was made with bonito, sake, and soy sauce.  A little acidic and very good.

Grilled pike conger (鱧焼) - this was grilled with charcoal in front of us, and seasoned by applying sauce during the grilling process.  Chopped young sansho leaves (木の芽) complete the dish.

A little cup with cold chawanmushi (冷やし茶碗蒸し) was served on the side, with plum sauce and water shield (純菜).  Love these slippery little things...

The green peppers (唐辛子) were fried in a claypot.  Not bad.

Okra with string beans in sesame wasabi paste was good.  I guess the chef likes using wasabi...

Poached Kamo eggplant with white miso (加茂茄子 白味噌) - the eggplant was very tasty, and the white miso was slightly sweet with a sticky texture, almost like ground Chinese yam (とろろ).  A spinkle of yuzu rind on top made it perfect.

Ginger rice (生姜ご飯) - nicely flavored with brunoise of young ginger.

Eel rice (鰻ご飯) - this wasn't part of my meal, but my neighbors asked the chef for a bowl of my ginger rice, and the chef decided to "refund" me with a bowl of my neighbor's rice.  Very, very good.

Dessert was a combination of ripe white peaches, golden kiwis and lemon ice.  Pretty satisfying.

I couldn't finish the pot of rice, so the chef kneaded them into rice balls (おにぎり) and wrapped them up in leaves like a giant 粽子.  A very nice touch!

I was due to meet some friends at a bar, so I walked from Azabu Juban (麻布十番) to S'more in Shiba (芝).  It's a small neighborhood bar where all the customers know each other - kinda like Cheers, but smaller.  Very nice and relaxed environment... and good way to spend a little time after dinner.

August 25, 2010

Tokyo 2010 day 6: essence of the forest

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I was planning on having another ramen session for lunch today, but my host suggested that we go to Tofuya Ukai (とうふ屋 うかい), an oasis in the city which is part of the same group as Ukai-tei (うかい亭) - where I had teppanyaki (鉄板焼) 3 years ago.

We took a private room which overlooked part of the gardens, and got a good view of the birds, dragonflies, koi as they moved about.  A very relaxed way to enjoy lunch.  And to think that this beautiful place is right next to the monstrosity they call Tokyo Tower, and that it used to be a bowling alley...

We took the lunch set Matsu (松) as it included an extra course of grilled fish.  This place is famous for their tofu but this was by no means an all-tofu meal, which one could have in Kyoto.

Thin wheat noodles with boiled shrimp and shredded omelet (手延そうめん) - somen (そうめん) is a nice way to start a summer meal. The mushroom was nicely marinated, and of course the egg is one of my favorite things in Japanese cuisine...

Deep fried tofu with sweet miso sauce and Japanese pickles (あげ田楽) - this was so delicious... Thin patties made from tofu skin, deep-fried... Both the tofu itself and the sweet miso sauce are available at the shop on the premises.

Assorted sashimi (旬の魚) - tuna (マグロ) was pretty nice, and the righteye flounder (カレイ) had that nice, slightly bouncy texture.

Simmered: herring and eggplant (煮物: にしん なす) - I love the way Japanese marinate herring so that's it's both sweet and savory.  Mustard here has a real kick so I always use it sparingly.  The eggplant was good, as was the winter melon.

Hassun :  sesame tofu, sweetfish, gourd & horse mackerel sushi (八寸: 黒胡麻とうふ あゆ煮浸し 系瓜白和え 鯵すし) - the black sesame tofu had nice, solid flavors.  The sweetfish (あゆ) was so nice... but the highlight was actually the corn fritter as it was so sweet.  The shredded gourd was crunchy and refreshing.

Tofu in seasoned soy milk (豆水とうふ) - another one of the signature dishes.  The soy milk was lightly seasoned and nice, and of course the tofu itself was soft and full of soy bean flavor.  The water used to make the tofu comes from Hachioji (八王子).

Grilled yellow-striped butterfish (たかべ塩焼) - the grilled fish was soooo nice... done perfectly.  Soft and moist, but not mushy.  I was so happy...

Boiled rice with ginger (しょうがご飯) 

Plum and kudzu starch in sugar syrup (青梅くずきり) - the chewy kudzu noodles are nice, and of course the plum is just very summery...

A very nice and relaxing lunch, and nice to walk around the garden, too.

Pineapple had recommended Les Créations de Narisawa very highly, so I made sure to give it a try on this trip.  I'd figured it would be creative French cuisine, but I got a lot more than I expected.

I was presented with a menu, but was told that the courses would be served out of order.

I didn't want to drink too much, and ordered a half bottle of Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition.  Nose with a bit of caramel, minerals, toast... Oxidized nose was a little strong on the metallic side, and the acidity was apparently on the finish.  Also nose of pear and apple cider.

The first thing that showed up on the table was a glass tube with some foam inside, and the tube itself was sitting in a water bath.  I joking thought to myself that this is probably our bread, and sure enough, that was exactly what it was!  The yeast was fermenting in front of us, and the dough gradually rose above the rim of the tube.  More later...

Onion from Kyoto - a precursor of things to come.  The chef chargrilled leeks until they were black, then ground into black powder and made into a dough shell around the slice of onion.  The chef called this "ash" and I would find this to be a running theme.  Pretty tasty and none of the carbon taste I was expecting...

"Ash 2009" Wind of Basque - the squid was covered in "ash", which was made from burnt red peppers, olive oil and lemon juice and frozen with liquid nitrogen.  There was a strip of red coulis that had been made from red peppers from the Basque region of France.  Kinda interesting, although the dish looked far more attractive before the ash was spinkled on top...

The bread dough was put into a hot stone pot to bake and left for 12 minutes.  It is now ready, and the "Forest 2010 Evolve with the Forest" is now complete.

Bread was served with a margarine-type spread, with a layer of black olive powder on top.  The mini flower pot looks pretty...

Foie gras from Saint-Sever; France and strawberry - the foie was pan-fried nicely, and still soft inside.  It was drizzled with braised balsamic vinegar on top.  There was a variety of  leaves and flowers like basil and anise...

Langoustine from Odawara - a tribute to the chef's former place of business.  The langoustine was pan-fried very lightly in the shell, so that only one side was slightly cooked while the rest remained raw and sweet.  There were some pieces of winter melon, and the waiter poured consommé made with chicken and Chinese ham (金華火腿).  Ham and winter melon?  Nah... we're not familiar with that combination...

Today's fish - Tilefish (甘鯛) pan-fried with the scales.  The fish itself was really nice and delicious, and the scales were so crispy and fragrant... but they did end up cutting my tongue a little... Served with a piece of deep-fried sesame tofu, sudachi (酢橘) foam, green scallion sauce and braised sherry sauce, a dipping sauce made with white miso, scallop and lemon. The interesting green veggie is taro stem (芋茎), which revealed its porous structure for transporting liquids as I pulled it open.

When I asked the waiter about the taro stem, he gave me the name in Japanese and informed me that there was no direct English translation, as he had already looked it up on Wikipedia.  I was impressed.  How many waiters would go the extra mile to satisfy the curiosities of their clients?

"Sumi 2009" Hida beef - one more thing made with ash... the rump of Hida beef (飛騨牛) was cooked with the traditional French method of arroser, or basting the meat continuously with olive oil for an hour, with the oil at 80 degrees Celsius while maintaining the inside temperature at 55 degrees.  Once again we find the blackened leek powder, coating the beef and creating the look of a piece of charcoal.

Served with girolles, onion, green pepper and Bordelaise sauce.  The beef itself was very tender, but kinda chewy thanks to the cut of the meat.  Very interesting that the chef chose this particular cut...

We were encouraged to cleansed our palate with sake granité, frozen with liquid nitrogen.

Melon - very ripe and sweet Japanese melon, with white port jelly underneath and topped with white port foam.

White peach - Japanese white peach is in season, so this was very yummy.  The thin slices of peach were arranged over a layer of crème fraiche and sponge cake soaked in liqueur.  A splash of Jacquesson No. 733 completes the dessert.

The dessert cart that came in front of me had tons of tasty little treats, and it was hard to decide which ones to pick instead of yelling "I'll take everything!"

This was a great meal.  Very creative for sure, and I don't mind the molecular side one bit.  The chef is also very passionate about being environmentally sustainable and using ingredients from the forest, and I can appreciate people with real passion for the gifts of nature.


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