June 22, 2024

Closing day, part 2: per aspera ad astra

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For my "real" birthday meal, I chose to return to Ta Vie 旅 as it's one of my favorite restaurants in the world. I have followed Sato-san's career since the relatively early days at Tenku Ryugin (天空龍吟), during the previous Year of the Dragon. Since launching his "Pure, Simple, Seasonal" philosophy for his cuisine, I have been a very big fan - and rejoiced when the restaurant was promoted to the coveted Michelin 3-star status last year.

It was pure coincidence that we arrived on the last night before the restaurant is scheduled to close for renovations. They have been in this space since 2015, and I guess they are due for a makeover. I felt very privileged to be here tonight, as there has been many memories created here.

Nukazuke (糠漬け) bread - this beautiful bread has been the signature of the restaurant ever since my first visit, and I still love getting my hands on it while it's hot.

Homemade butter and ricotta - I like both, but still prefer butter.

Hokkaido fresh "bafun" uni tarte with brown butter confited carrot - this is a dish I have tasted once two years ago, and at the time it was made with an ingredient that I had provided to Sato-san. The tarte pastry tonight was even better than before, thinner and more crunchy, and also more buttery than I had remembered. The flavors of the fried shallot oil was more pronounced this time. The purée of confit carrots was very tasty, and there was a nice balance between that and the Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹). Oh, the sauce on the side made with white wine and scallop purée was nice, too.

House-made pasta with deep-fried "桜 sakura" shrimp, cabbage, fruits tomato, basil - another favorite dish of mine, jockeying for the position of being my favorite pasta here. We've got crunchy cabbage as well as tomatoes bringing a touch of nice fruity acidity. The crunchy, deep-fried sakura shrimp always makes me giddy, and a sprinkle of Japanese plum powder makes things a little more interesting. So happy.

Pain de rustique - nowadays this is my favorite of the trio of breads, thanks to its wafer-thin crust.

Sato-san brings us the broth to be served with our next dish, which was a combination of abalone jus, guinea bowl bouillon, and infused with morels.

"Ezo" abalone and guinea fowl, Yunnan wild morel mushroom farcis, with clear broth - we have the abalone and guinea fowl wrapped with Savoy cabbage, and served with a fresh morel on the side. The abalone had been pressure-cooked so it was really tender and springy, and surprisingly the guinea fowl was also very tender, so the two proteins worked well together. The broth was very elegant and lovely, and I'd love to drink that just as a course on its own.

The morel was actually stuffed with the minced thigh of the guinea fowl.

Poached oyster from 長崎 with soft shell, oscietra caviar butter sauce - apparently these Karen (華漣) oysters from Konagai-cho (小長井町) in Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県) are Sato-san's favorite, and this was a dish I had three years ago. The oyster was covered under a "soft shell" of sliced celeriac, with spinach and mushrooms in between. The beurre blanc sauce has oscietra caviar, with good acidity to go with the briny, mineral oyster.

Pain de campagne - I love this, too, but I couldn't finish it.

"赤貝" ark shell clam with shallot vinegar, cucumber, celery and seaweed terrine - the ark shell had been sliced up and came with shallot vinegar along with pickled jalapeños, then topped with a slice of terrine made with cucumber, celery, red radish, and seaweed. Two bites was the recommended way, although Sato-san did confirm that it would also be OK if I took the whole thing in one bite.

I am rarely a fan of ark shells due to that idione, medicinal taste I always find when I eat them, so it was a nice surprise when the sharp vinegar managed to neutralize those flavors for me. Meanwhile the shellfish was tender yet crunchy and springy. The vegetable terrine was really cold and refreshing, and I was really happy with this.

Oh, much to my own surprise, I chose to do this in two bites.

Sato-san brought us the grilled pigeon before going back to finish plating.

Charcoal grilled pigeon from Bresse, France with leek, black truffle, horseradish, sesame oil, lemon confit - the pigeon had been brushed with some sesame oil and garnished on top with some black truffle and horseradish shavings, some leeks, and very thin strips of confit lemon zest. I love the fragrance that the lemon zest brought, and there was a tiny little pickup thanks to the horseradish.

This was accompanied with spinach and deep-fried potato beans - known as アメリカホド in Japanese - underneath. These tubers actually taste more like peanuts but the texture was certainly like potatoes or sweet potatoes.

I love how the pigeon was done, with a wonderful texture to the skin as there was just a little crunch.

Roselle tea - always so, soooo refreshing and wonderfully fragrant thanks to the orange infusion. I think I had four little cups... and could have drunk the whole pot myself.

While I did not mention it was my birthday, Foursheets did let Sato-san know... so I got myself a "birthday cake". The spun sugar was decorated with plenty of gold foil because, as Takano-san explained, they felt that I hadn't been getting a lot of gold from chef friends recently.

I do love the peach dessert with the candy shell and peach sorbet inside.

Next came the fruits for our first dessert, which were Hyuganatsu (日向夏), Taiwanese guava, and local pink guava varietal named 胭脂紅.

Guava stuffed with Hyuganatsu "日向夏" Japanese citrus, with pink guava and Hyuganatsu sorbet, yogurt soda and meringue - we've got a citrus wedge where the "rind" was actually a slice of Taiwanese guava and the "flesh" was Hyuganatsu jelly. The sorbet was again a combination of Hyuganatsu and guava, but this time using the local pink varietal. There's also a piece of Hyuganatsu, along with something that reminds me a lot of Calpis - yogurt soda. So wonderfully refreshing.

Chocolate crêpe soufflé, served with banana-jasmine-merengue ice cream, with fermented rice jam - we've got a crispy chocolate crêpe folded over a chocolate soufflé topped with banana. The fragrant and refreshing ice cream was made with jasmine flowers, bananas, and jasmine-infused meringue. So, soooo good. And of course, need a little bit of gold as highlight.

I'll be honest and say that the coffee from Simple Kaffa is not my favorite after-dinner drink here. But nowadays I always order it, because if ya don't, then ya don't get that pudding which only comes with da cawwfee.

Chocolate pudding - YASSSS! This is my favorite chocolate pudding IN THE WORLD. It is so incredibly smooth, very rich in chocolate flavors, but that kaffir lime leaf fragrance just elevates it to something really special.

Takano-san very kindly offered us a glass of Champagne to start:

2015 Mumm RSRV Blanc de Blancs, dégorgée en Decembre 2022 - really floral nose that is also yeasty. Pretty elegant.

1970 Compañia Vinicola del Norte de España Imperial Gran Reserva - really nice and fragrant on the nose with cedar, mushroom, and sweet fruits. So nice and beautiful, very elegant, with a bit of leather and black cherries. Starting to show some floral notes but not quite like roses. Around 45 minutes after opening the palate went a little flat, but the nose improved, showing bigger woodsy notes. More than 1 hours after opening the nose was minty and resembled claret a little more.

I was really happy to be back, as I always feel special here. As we were leaving, Sato-san gave me a bag to take home. Turns out to be a big casserole of coq au vin. They really know how to put a smile on my face! ご馳走様です!ありがとうございました!

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