Ginza Okuda (Tokyo, Japan)

Ginza Okuda
Carioca Building B1
5-4-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 11/3/12

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Japanese kaiseki meals are akin to Western high-end dining in that there are typically a large number of small courses. Plating is thoughtful and intricate, and the food is highly seasonal. Like a sushi bar, counter-dining is prevalent, allowing the diner a front-row seat into the action. There aren’t too many restaurants in Los Angeles that serve a meal like this; the first half of Urasawa and n\naka are the only ones that come to mind (but I am sure there are others). However, these are more modern interpretations of a kaiseki meal – in Tokyo I sought out some of the more traditional ones.

Chef Toru Okuda has two restaurants in the Ginza area of Tokyo (in the same building actually), both highly acclaimed. He established his reputation at his first restaurant (Kojyu opened in 2003) and opened up Ginza Okuda last year. I had read that he cooks at the Michelin two-star Ginza Okuda during lunch service and heads to three-star Kojyu for dinner service.

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I opted go to Ginza Okuda for lunch since I figured Okuda-san would be there, and it was a relatively more reasonable way to go price-wise. Three set menus were available at ¥10,000, ¥15,000 and ¥20,000 – I went for the middle one. Okuda-san was not around this afternoon but I was placed in the capable hands of Shun Miyahara for the duration of the meal. Coincidentally, his English was quite good.

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crab, seaweed, vinegar jelly

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The first dish featured a generous portion of cool, sweet crab bathed in a vinegar jelly. Luckily, the jelly wasn’t too tart or acidic, balancing out the sweetness of the shellfish. Seaweed and okra provided the greens.

fried matsutake mushroom, sudachi, sea salt

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Fried matsutake mushrooms arrived next. It was fried to a crisp, leaving a tender earthy mushroom; sudachi citrus was an ideal accompaniment to brighten things up.

fish dumpling, katsuo dashi, mushrooms

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Next was a katsuo dashi soup with a fish and shrimp ball swimming in it. The fish and shrimp were pretty tasty, and I liked that there was a bit of citrus in the broth. More mushrooms helped to balance the flavors.

The sashimi course came next.

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chutoro & akami (medium-fatty and lean tuna), tai (red snapper), ika (squid)

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All three of these were solid. I loved the tuna and its luscious, mildly-fatty bites. The tai had a fresh, clean flavor with a bit of chew while the squid was very tender though a bit on the slimy side.

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grilled barracuda and unagi, sweet potato, mushrooms

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Next up was a duo of fishes, freshly grilled. The unagi had moist flesh and a crispy skin, though I found the skin a little chewy at times (paled in comparison to the unagi at RyuGin). The barracuda was cooked through; I wouldn’t say it was overcooked but I thought it could’ve been more moist. The ginkgo nuts, sweet potatoes and mushrooms were fine, but the focus was clearly the grilled fish…a bit disappointing.

fried root with mushrooms

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The next course was some kind of fried root with mushrooms. The root had a very creamy interior but the fried batter quickly became soggy in the earthy gravy.

ginger beef donburi, matsutake mushrooms, soybean curd miso, pickles

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The last savory course was this beef donburi with miso soup. Tender pieces of marinated beef topped the rice bowl as well as slivers of matsutake. Frankly I found it rather boring and not really better than the average beef donburi. Compared to the unagi at RyuGin and red snapper rice bowls at Ginza Toyoda, this one paled in comparison.

azuki bean ice cream, azuki paste, mochi
grapes and pears in jelly

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Dessert was a two-parter – the azuki bean ice cream was nice, while the “cone” gave each bite a little bit of crunch. Sweet grapes and slices of pears sat suspended in a cool clear jelly, providing a light ending to the meal.

I found Ginza Okuda to be a bit of a disappointment. Nothing was wrong or bad per se, but given its 2-star rating and $200 price tag I was expecting more from my lunch. Nothing really stood out, and I thought the kitchen relied too heavily on matsutake mushrooms. I get that they’re in season, but the mushrooms became repetitive.

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