December 2, 2018

Japan 2018 day 2: And the reason is you

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So after my early morning droning session and a pissy breakfast, it was time for the main event.  The whole reason we planned an 8-day trip to Japan is so that we can dine at Michel Bras Toya Japon.  Everything else before or after this lunch is ancillary.  Collateral damage.

Why did I suddenly get the urge to come here?  Earlier this year someone had mentioned the possibility that Michel Bras would not renew their contract with the Windsor Hotel Toya.  So I hatched this plan to come and try the cuisine before the end of the year.  Of course, I now know that Michel Bras will continue to be here at the hotel, while Arashiyama Kitcho (嵐山吉兆) was the restaurant which did not renew their contract.

We arrived at the restaurant and were led to a table by the window, with fantastic sweeping views of Lake Toya (洞爺湖) and the hills and mountains surrounding it.  This is why, for many, it is best to come to the restaurant for lunch instead of dinner - as there are few lights after sunset and the view would be mostly dark.

We take the Rencontre menu, which includes the iconic gargouillou.  We started with a series of snacks:

Tomato and sesame crackers

Coque-mouillettes - creamy scrambled eggs with roots from the garden, and today it was diced celery topped with herbs.  The "soldiers" made of buckwheat and sesame were used to dip into the egg.

Tarte aux ceps - very nice.

I knew that the restaurant always tries to be hospitable by baking the name of the guest onto the loaf of buckwheat bread.  Unfortunately, the Japanese at the hotel mixed up Hello Kitty's name, and ever since yesterday she has been addressed by the wrong surname... which, naturally, meant that My Birdbrain Cousin and I have been asking Hello Kitty why she's such a Ho.

The butter comes embossed with the Bras logo.

Bread and fennel soup - with tiny cubes of diced pickled cucumbers.  Lots of acidity in those pickles.

Sesame bread with Cinta Senese ham, pumpkin discs, and azuki paste - the azuki (あずき) paste seems to have been mixed with some liver, as both My Birdbrain Cousin and I tasted it.

Duck confit - below the large white bean and the layer of gelée, the confit was soooo smooth it almost seemed like a purée.  Lovely.

Cumin and paprika chips with zucchini cream

Today's classic; gargouillou of young vegetables, seeds and herbs, touch of reine des près oil - the Hoobastank song started playing in my head when the dish arrived.  A dish that has been copied by countless chefs worldwide, but of course no one else would dare call it gargouillou.

All the vegetables, herbs, and flowers come from the restaurant's own garden, and they inlcuded white turnip with purple edge, a green turnip with pink edge, bean sprouts, radish, kaffir lime leaves, nasturtium, ice plant, cooked tiny baby cabbage, cooked cabbage, cabbage purée, mint, radicchio, cooked cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, white sesame, black sesame, cooked shallots, carrots, cooked pumpkin, cooked romanesco, green turnip, fennel, perilla, frisée, grilled Jerusalem artichoke, and cooked ham... among others.

Back from a trip; squid grill marqued, maitake coated with chimichurri, choripàn seasoning - the locally-caught squid was scored with a criss-cross pattern before grilling, and came with a sprinkle inspired by Argentinian choripán featuring crunchy bits of bread crumbs and chorizo... along with some borage flowers.  The texture was beautiful.  Then we also had maitake (舞茸) on the side with some chimichurri.  A very, very delicious dish.

Hunted in Hokkaido; the piece of deer just roasted, wild roquette salad paste and Akane apple touch, sanded Jerusalem artichokes and civet sauce - I wasn't the least bit surprised to see Hokkaido deer on the menu.  The compote of Akane (あかね) apple was very, very delicious.

Deer is usually pretty lean with a firmer texture, so I thought this was pretty nicely done. 

Aligot - instead of the usual mashed potatoes, of course we would have aligot!  I honestly can't remember the last time I had this... maybe a few years ago at my friend's restaurant in Taipei.

Honestly, of all the things that I ate today, this was the one that almost brought tears to my eyes.

From here and far; cheeses from France and Hokkaido - I was initially a little surprised at the (relative to other top French restaurants I frequent) smallish selection of cheese, but quickly realized the reason behind this.

Young Hokkaido cow cheese - not exactly like Brie as had been described.  Texture was more solid and actually had some gamey flavors along with acidity.

Hokkaido goat cheese - even more dense than the cow cheese, and much more gamey, acidic, and salty.

Hokkaido blue cheese

Laguiole - of course they had to serve this one.  Very nice.

From the original idea of a coulant in 81; warm biscuit plums coulant, plums kernel ice cream and orange juniper niac - the other iconic dish which Michel Bras invented that has been copied by everyone and their dog is the coulant / warm-centered chocolate fondant.  It was created in 1981 and it only took me until 1994 to have my first bite in Paris.

I loved this.  The almond biscuit came with liquid plum inside, and came topped with a scoop of plum kernel ice cream.  Very yum.

Canailleries; cones filled as you desired - My Birdbrain Cousin had been eyeing the cart with all the cones, and she was so happy when it was finally wheeled in front of us so that we could choose from 5 different flavors

Buckwheat - with a sprinkle of buckwheat.

Polenta mousse - with a bit of cream and a popcorn on top.

Not sure what this was, but could have been made from balsa or balsam fir?  With a drizzle of caramel on top.

The shot glass contained a combination of aquavit, pineapple syrup, and milk foam.  It reminds me of the fruit milk (果汁牛奶) from Wei-chuan (味全) that I used to love as a kid growing up in Taiwan.

Whisky bon bons - with a little bit of whisky inside.  I should have dropped mine into my coffee...

2003 Georges Vernay Côte-Rôtie Maison Rouge - very ripe on the nose, almost over-ripe.  A little sharp and alcoholic, but opened up nicely after 15 minutes with a bit of leather on the nose.  Beautiful notes of violet after an hour. 

This was a very nice meal, certainly worthy of the two macarons given by the Rubberman.  We met Chef Simone Cantaflo in the kitchen, who was trying to sneak in a few touches from his native Italy.  We really enjoyed our experience here, especially as we had a fantastic view of Lake Toya while we dined. We were so, so happy to be here and I hope it showed.

P.S. This was the view from my bathroom stall...

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