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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