Ginza Toyoda (Tokyo, Japan)

Ginza Toyoda
La Vialle Ginza Bldg 2F
7-5-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Dining date: 11/10/12

ginza toyoda

I made it a point to try a few kaiseki meals while in Japan – Ginza Toyoda would be my third experience of the trip. The restaurant came to my attention via the Tokyo Michelin Guide (2 stars) and the fact that it has an English version of its website…often a good indication that some English was spoken.

building

The restaurant is located on the second floor of the La Vialle Building on a small, narrow street in Ginza, It was walking distance from my apartment, making it an ideal spot for a lunch meal. Speaking of lunch,  three set menus were available at ¥5,000, ¥7,000 and ¥10,000. I went right in the middle.

Like Ginza Okuda (where I dined the previous week), Ginza Toyoda serves a pretty traditional, ever-changing kaiseki meal following a careful progression of dishes.

sea eel, sea urchin, greens, dashi jelly

sea eel, sea urchin, greens, dashi jelly

The first dish featured a tender, meaty piece of eel with a smooth and cold piece of uni. Slightly bitter greens contrasted the sweet seafood, while a cool dashi jelly added some tasty depth.

meatball, mochi, onion, dashi

meatball, mochi, onion, dashi

The texture of the meatball was interesting…kind of silky (fatty?) and soft in texture, but I liked the flavor. I think it was pork. I liked the sweetness of the onion to go along with it, but didn’t care for the chewy mochi.

red snapper, chutoro, mackerel sashimi

red snapper, chutoro, mackerel sashimi

A beautiful sashimi plate came next. The fish tasted as good as it looked, with the fatty chutoro being my favorite. The red snapper was dipped in ponzu, while the tuna and mackerel came with soy sauce.

baked cod with mayonnaise

baked cod with mayo

A meaty, dense cod was next – I thought it was cooked pretty well leaving pretty moist flesh. The baked on mayonnaise provided just a little more moisture and flavor.

bottarga

bottarga

While I was still working on the cod course, a random slice of cured fish roe found its way onto my plate. No complaints here with its sort of gelatinous texture and delicate salty, fishy flavor.

daikon, scallops, greens, dashi

daikon, scallops, greens, dashi

A tender chunk daikon and slices of scallops sat in a warm dashi broth. I thought one of the scallop pieces was overcooked (the other one was fine), and I’m not sure all of the flavors came together as hoped.

red snapper rice bowl; red miso

red snapper rice bowl

red snapper rice bowl

red miso

Next, a large pot of rice with red snapper was brought to the counter. After being displayed, the contents were mixed and scooped into individual (ended up being three) servings. I thought this was pretty tasty, with tender chunks of the snapper perfuming the rice and thinly sliced scallions providing a little sweetness. A hearty, earthy red miso was a traditional accompaniment.

grape jelly

grape jelly

Lastly, dessert was in the form of this in-season grape jelly. I really liked the texture – soft but yet almost chewy – and the grape was pretty tasty too.

I liked this kaiseki lunch moreso than the one at Ginza Okuda, especially considering it was half the price. However, similar to that meal, I wasn’t overly impressed here. We had some good dishes but nothing particularly memorable…and some just seemed overly simple (maybe I just didn’t understand them). While not quite as traditional, RyuGin remained a clear-cut favorite for kaiseki dining.

Some of the main streets in Ginza are closed to vehicular traffic on the weekend, making it an ideal place for an after-lunch stroll.

ginza

Pierre Gagnaire (Tokyo, Japan)

Pierre Gagnaire
ANA InterContinental Hotel Tokyo
1-12-33 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052
Dining date: 11/11/12

signage

My third main foray into Western cuisine in Japan was my first time to a Pierre Gagnaire restaurant. I’ve heard some mixed reviews about Gagnaire’s lone U.S. restaurant Twist in Las Vegas, but still felt like I had to try his food for myself. A lot Japanese restaurants close on Sundays, especially for lunch, so a number of my French meals filled this gap.

The Michelin two-star restaurant is Pierre Gagnaire’s lone restaurant in Japan, situated on the 36th floor of the ANA InterContinental Hotel. Of course, great views are offered…just not so much on this cloudy, rainy day.

view1

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I thought the lunch menu was reasonably-priced with a weekdays-only prix-fixe ¥4,500 menu and a longer ¥8,000 menu offered everyday. We ordered the “four-course” tasting menu, the only tasting offered on the weekend. A la carte was also available, but the pricing seemed to really favor the tasting. This menu was actually cheaper than dining at Gagnaire’s Twist in Las Vegas, which isn’t open for lunch.

The first thing out of the kitchen was the amuse bouche, a collection of 5 separate bites; the broad variety of just the amuse would foreshadow the courses to come.

(left to right)
Chestnut cream with truffle oil and hazelnut
Sesame chip
Dark beer glazed popcorn
Ginger cookie with almond
Cucumber with mascarpone cheese

amuse bouche

Overall, I thought these were fun bites to begin with. My favorite was the ginger cookie with almond; the texture and balance of ginger and almond tones won me over.

Country bread, milk bread, and a dried fruit bread were served with a very creamy butter imported from France.

bread

Just like the amuse bouche, the “first course” was a five-parter. Each one stood on its own with separate flavors so this really was kind of like five courses in one. The plates covered the table in a pretty impressive presentation.

Champagne sorbet with grapes

Champagne sorbet with grapes

The sorbet was cool and refreshing, while I thought the grapes provided a nice fresh, sweet flavor.

Chestnut soup, chantilly cream with rum and orange juice

Chestnut soup, chantilly cream with rum and orange juice

A warm and earthy chestnut soup was accompanied by a dollop of chantilly cream, which provided much of the richness. A hint of citrus balanced everything out.

Just sizzling sanma fish, red pepper pulp and mizuna leaves

Just sizzling sanma fish, red pepper pulp and mizuna leaves

The fish was warm and crisp, cooked quite well, while a red pepper puree provided a very nice sweetness. Lightly dressed mizuna leaves lended some acidity to my favorite of the first courses.

Slices of smoked quail, sour lotus with saffron, gingerbread powder

Slices of smoked quail, sour lotus with saffron, gingerbread powder

The quail was warm and smoky, countered by a crisp, tart lotus root. This dish didn’t have the same depth that I found in the others, though I really enjoyed the quail.

Sauerkraut salad, pig ears and seaweed flakes

Sauerkraut salad, pig ears and seaweed flakes

Tart sauerkraut and chewy pig ears were complemented by a bit of seaweed flavor. Not my favorite as the flavors didn’t really all come together for me.

Upon completion of the first course(s), the lone entree (appetizer) came next.

Taraba crab meat, wild mushrooms fricassee with autumn fruits, bouillon of sauternes

Taraba crab meat, wild mushrooms fricasse with autumn fruits, bouillon of sauternes

Taraba crab meat, wild mushrooms fricasse with autumn fruits, bouillon of sauternes

The mushrooms were sautéed until tender, exuding an umami-packed earthiness. I’m not really sure how the broth was prepared but it was delicious…showing off a ton of depth. The cool, sweet crab was delicious as well, completing the sea-earth flavor combination. Really an excellent dish.

Challans duck cube roasted with cumin, slice of foie gras pan-fried and marmalade of cabbage with black olive, amaranth leaves

Challans duck cube roasted with cumin, slice of foie gras pan-fried and marmalade of cabbage with black olive, amaranth leaves

For the main course, pieces of duck breast, leg and enlarged liver were all prepared pretty well with a strong cumin seasoning. I thought the duck was delicious, countered by the cabbage and greens. A rich pan sauce provided more savory depth to the dish.

For the first sweets course, we went back to the multi-component presentation.

(left to right) Egg white meringue and black bean lemon cake, banana apricot jelly, strawberry marshmallow, arugula cake, grapefruit almond tart, salted caramel ice cream (center)

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It was pretty simple, but I thought the salted caramel ice cream was pretty tasty. The arugula cake was another favorite, with a sweetness taking over the characteristic peppery notes.

The dessert “course” itself was a trio of dishes all presented at once:

Apple jelly with apple chocolate

Apple jelly with apple chocolate

Apple jelly with apple chocolate

I loved the presentation of this dish with its chocolate mousse and jelly shaped into a green apple. It was actually rather light, with crisp apples providing texture and tartness to balance the creamy chocolate.

Cinnamon ice cream, green tea ice cream, fresh fruit rice cake

Cinnamon ice cream, green tea ice cream, fresh fruit rice cake

The wrapper had an interesting sort of al dente texture with a fruit filling. Cinnamon ice cream went pretty well with the fruits inside, while a mini green tea ice cream cake was tasty though somewhat out of place.

Chocolate with berry sauce and hot chocolate

Chocolate with berry sauce and hot chocolate

A chocolate mousse was accompanied with tart berries and a rich warm chocolate sauce on top. The chocolate and berry flavors showcased in this dessert seemed kind of conservative given the previous desserts, though I can’t say there were any complaints with the execution of it.

As if we hadn’t reached a sugar-overload by this point in the meal, we were served brown sugar cookies and chocolate truffles to close out the meal.

brown sugar cookies and chocolate truffles

Not unlike Joel Robuchon and Paul Bocuse, Pierre Gagnaire also has his own bakery separate from his restaurant. I purchased breakfast for the next few days here.

bakery2

bakery

I thoroughly enjoyed this lunch. While presented as 4 courses on the menu, we had about 15 separately plated dishes outside of the mignardises. For less than half the price, I thought I got far more variety and depth of flavors here than at Beige Alain Ducasse. More importantly, I thought the creativity here was much stronger too…the most of all of the French meals I had in Tokyo. And that crab dish with the mushroom fricassee – that’ll be one of the dishes I remember most from all of the food I ate in Japan.

Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi (Tokyo, Japan)

Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi
6-12-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Dining date: 11/4/12

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Jiro Ono and his restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro have achieved a sort of legendary status. The documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi added to the attention and seemed to really put him onto the radar of Westerners (particularly Americans). Having seen the film, I can see why; Ono’s relentless pursuit of the perfect sushi (and countless shots of food porn) sounds like any sushi lover’s dream destination. I was sold; Sukiyabashi Jiro became my #1 restaurant destination in Tokyo.

My perception of the restaurant has changed dramatically during my stay here. First, the restaurant is not nearly as well-known as I thought it would be. Sure it’s known among the ‘foodie’ culture, but I’ve gotten countless blank stares from others. Second, from what I’ve gathered from those who have heard of it, my general impression is that it’s known to have good sushi but not the best; if anything, it’s more well-known for being one of the most expensive sushiyas around. On Yelp-like restaurant rating site Tabelog, the main Sukiyabashi Jiro scores a very pedestrian 3.54 stars out of 5. His son’s outpost in Roppongi rates an even lower 3.14. Having said all that, Sukiyabashi Jiro remained my #1 destination to try (albeit less enthused); I was not able to score a seat at the Ginza location, but did manage a seat at the son’s outpost in Roppongi.

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Located in the foreigner-friendly Roppongi Hills complex, Ono’s younger son Takashi opened this location since his elder brother is in-line to take over the main branch. It’s supposed to have the same flavors and techniques as the main (since Takashi did train under his father for decades), so I guess this is the closest to dining at the Ginza Sukiyabashi Jiro without actually doing so.

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ginkgo nuts

ginkgo nuts

Lightly salted, warm ginkgo nuts were the first thing served before a number of sashimi courses.

flounder fin sashimi

flounder fin sashimi

aji/horse mackerel sashimi

aji/horse mackerel sashimi

kurumaebi sashimi

kurumaebi sashimi

akagai/ark shell clam sashimi

akagai/ark shell clam sashimi

shrimp head

shrimp head

My favorite of the sashimi courses was probably the horse mackerel. Tender, yet fatty and rich in flavor, I really savored these bites. The sweet shrimp is usually one of my favorites too and this was no exception.

18 courses of sushi came next in quick succession.

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hirame/flounder

hirame

ika/squid

ika

akami

akami

chutoro

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chutoro

otoro

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otoro

kohada/gizzard shad

kohada

steamed abalone

abalone

ikura

ikura

kurumaebi

kurumaebi

uni

uni

smoked bonito

smoked bonito

hamaguri/clam

clam

saba/mackerel

saba

mirugai/geoduck

mirugai

shako/mantis shrimp

shako

scallops

scallops

anago/sea eel

anago

tamago

tamago

The fish quality was, as expected, excellent. I loved the progression of tuna from akami to otoro and I thought they were all some of the best examples I’d had on the trip. The uni sushi was fantastic too, overflowing with cool, sweet sea urchin. The smoked bonito had a great balance of smokiness and rich meatiness, while the anago was amazingly creamy with just the right amount of sweet eel sauce. There was only one that I didn’t like which was probably more of a personal preference – the shako shrimp had a sort of dense and mealy texture I wasn’t expecting…nor acquired.

In terms of the overall sushi, the rice was seasoned with more vinegar than I would’ve liked. I think this is another personal preference thing, but it really got in the way on some pieces (kohada, abalone, mirugai). The meal lasted about 50 minutes from start-to-finish, which seems a bit longer than the main branch. Service was good but not in a noteworthy way.

With one beer, this meal came out to ¥35,700, by far the most expensive of the trip. From everything else I’ve heard/read, I expected the meal to be around ¥26-27,000 without the beer so I think there was a big mistake or I was simply ripped off (sushi at the main branch is ¥31,500). The diner next to me ordered a bunch of extras so it’s possible it was the former. There was no menu or bill itemization, just a number written on a piece of paper at the end of the meal. Needless to say, this left a bitter impression and I still regret not inquiring deeper about it.

Aside from the billing issue I think I’d have to side with a lot of what I’ve heard here. It was a good sushi meal, sure, but far from the best (this was borderline top 3 sushi of the trip) and definitely overpriced.  And even if it was at the mid-¥20,000 price level, it’s still more expensive than most sushiyas.

Other Tokyo sushi:
Sushi Dai | Sushi Daiwa | Sushi Kanesaka | Sushi YoshitakeUmi

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

crab, seaweed, vinegar jelly

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

fried matsutake mushroom, sudachi, sea salt

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

fish dumpling, katsuo dashi, mushrooms

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)

sashimi

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.

grilled barracuda and unagi, sweet potato, mushroomsgrilled barracuda and unagi, sweet potato, mushrooms

grilled barracuda and unagi, sweet potato, mushrooms

grilled barracuda and unagi, sweet potato, mushrooms

grilled barracuda and unagi, sweet potato, mushrooms

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

fried root with mushrooms

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

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

dessert

azuki bean ice cream, azuki paste, mochigrapes and pears in jelly

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.

Umi (Tokyo, Japan)

Umi
3-2-8 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Dining date: 10/29/12

umi exterior

While I’ve had a fairly smooth experience dining by myself at various sushiyas around town, I’ve largely been missing out on a lot of the interaction and dialogue. It’s a key part of the experience, so I was excited to finally go to one with a Japanese-speaker (granted, I still didn’t understand most but at least got some translated).

My friend Tomo was in town for part of my stay and picked out a restaurant for us to try – Umi, a non-descript small Michelin two-star sushi spot in Aoyama. What separated Umi from other restaurants in the guide was the fact that it scored well on Tabelog, Japan’s Yelp-like user review site (which is supposedly more reliable).

The sushi chef hails from Hokkaido so, naturally, much of the fish he chooses comes from this seafood-centric region. Even in Los Angeles, the area is well-known for its shellfish, so there were no complaints here. Impressively, the chef recalled the exact weight and locale for many of the fish prepared on this evening. There were no stated prices or a menu, but the omakase was ¥21,000.

Real wasabi is much easier to come by in Japan.

wasabi

marinated ginger

marinated ginger

beltfish

beltfish

Cooked but served cold, this was a denser fish with an onion and dashi (I think?) complement.

chutoro

chutoro

Often one of my favorite cuts, this was expectantly very tender with a nice fatty content.

raw cod roe

cod roe

Soft and almost mushy in texture, I thought the roe had an interesting naturally subtle smoky flavor.

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sardine

sardine

aoyagi clam

aoyagi clam

This was the first of a bunch of shellfish on this night (particularly clams). Two different parts of the clam were served, one with sea salt and one dipped into soy. The first was very chewy while the second was much sweeter and tender.

kawahagi/filefish

kawahagi

liver with ponzu

This was an interesting one, served with a dip of its own liver and ponzu. The sauce was mixed together and the fish dipped in, yielding some very delicious bites.

tsubugai/whelk sea snail

tsubugai

Slightly chewy with a clean flavor, complemented by a choice of soy or sea salt.

I’m a sucker for green tea, especially when it’s iced. When I saw some some neighboring diners consuming it, I had to have it. Only…this was matcha green tea and shochu. Apparently, tea and shochu is a common thing here (oolong tea works SO well). Green tea and shochu? Not quite as well…the green tea wasn’t strong enough to balance out the alcohol.

matcha shochu

abalone

abalone

Just a little bit of a crunch, though still tender, with a nice sea flavor.

oyster with sudachi

oyster

This was a huge oyster – talk about a mouthful. From Hokkaido, it was cool, creamy and delicious. A little bit of citrusy sudachi made a perfect duo.

shiokara/squid in its internal organs

shiokara

Salty with just a little bit of heat – loved the texture.

ikura

ikura

Something else from Hokkaido, I thought this was excellent. Cool, refreshing and not at all salty, it was served atop some warm rice.

smoked bonito

bonito

This was one of the best bites of the night, a gently smoked bonito dipped in a sauce made of soy, ginger and onion. The fish was rich and fatty; the imbued smoke flavor just went so well with it.

shishamo/smelt (pregnant female)

shishamo

daikon with miso

daikon

Crisp and fresh with a bit of a bite; I thought the miso was a welcome savory accompaniment.

yellowtail heart

yellowtail heart

This was a unique one. Chewy and soft, it had a texture very similar to beef heart without as much of a meaty flavor. I liked it.

karei/flatfish

karei

Soft and tender with just a little bit of citrusy yuzu zest.

squid

squid

octopus

octopus

kisu/sillago

kisu

kohada/gizzard shad

kohada

Rich and full of fishy flavor, this was a nice kohada.

saba/mackerel

saba

Another one that was really flavorful and kind of fatty in a good way.

uni/sea urchin

uni

As expected, this uni was from Hokkaido and also excellent.

akagai/ark clam

akagai

This was another clam – not sure I’ve had it before. It was definitely chewy and less sweet than the previous ones, but with a richer sea flavor.

hokkigai/surf clam

hokkigai

Another variety of clam – less of a chew but sweeter.

botan ebi

botan ebi

ebi roe

Sweet and kind of spongy, I really enjoyed this. Loved that the roe was served too, displaying a nice texture and additional flavor dimension.

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otoro

otoro

Soft, silky and fatty – an excellent example.

akami

akami

We went leaner here and this was still excellent. It still had very tender flesh with good flavor.

anago

anago

Some yuzu zest was sprinkled to offset the richness and sweetness of the eel and sauce, respectively. Melt-in-mouth texture…another excellent one.

cucumber maki

cucumber maki

Beautifully cut, the cucumber was sliced so thinly to get a very nice crisp texture.

fried shrimp head

ebi head

The shrimp returned, fried. Crunchy.

miso soup

miso

This was supposed to be our last dish of the evening. However, while chatting the chef revealed he’d been curing some bottarga and showed it off. When the patrons inquired about it, he let us all have a piece of the rare treat!

bottarga

bottarga

bottarga full

I don’t think I’ve ever had bottarga in this way. It had a soft, yielding texture that was almost gelatinous. There was a lingering salinity and a subtle sea flavor, washed down with a bit of sake (the chef said bottarga had to be consumed with sake).

The atmosphere at Umi was lively and pretty chatty. It was probably the most easygoing of any of the sushiyas I’ve been to so far; I just wish I knew more Japanese. Food-wise I thought Umi had some of the best fish quality I’ve tasted on this trip, but what really separated this experience was the variety of fish, particularly shellfish. I counted about 30 different fish/cuts on this night, by far the most varied on this trip. Highlights for me were the filefish dipped in its own liver and ponzu, oyster, smoked bonito, uni, botan ebi, anago, and bottarga. This won’t be a meal I’ll soon forget.

Other sushi in Japan:
Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi | Sushi Dai | Sushi Daiwa | Sushi Kanesaka | Sushi Yoshitake

Beige Alain Ducasse (Tokyo, Japan)

Beige Alain Ducasse
Chanel Ginza Building 10F
3-5-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 10/28/12

beige exterior

In between bowls of soba and ramen and countless plates of curry rice, tonkatsu, yakitori, sushi and sashimi, I’ve scattered a few French meals into my itinerary. This was the second (after L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon). Beige Alain Ducasse is a collaborative effort between the chef and Chanel, located on the top floor of the Chanel building in Ginza. The Michelin two-star restaurant is Ducasse’s only upscale venture in the country.

beige interior

beige interior

Having been in Tokyo for just over three weeks now, I can confidently say it’s a fantastic food city (but we all knew that…).  While Japanese food is the obvious dominant player, French food plays a prominent role in the food scene from casual to high-end. Notable French restaurants and chefs have been coming to Japan for some time now (both to eat and to open restaurants); the legendary La Tour d’Argent opened a Tokyo outpost almost 30 years ago. Many notable French chefs have opened up outposts here including Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Michel Troisgros and even Paul Bocuse. I don’t think any city in America has matched that (Las Vegas may come the closest); when considering the multitude of Japanese that have studied French cooking in France (and returned home to cook), it’s easy to see why it has become a significant presence in terms of Western flavors.

I originally intended to dine at Beige during lunch and sit on the rooftop terrace overlooking Ginza. However, the dinner menu looked much more interesting to me, so I ended up making a dinner reservation. Unfortunately, it was a rainy evening so the view of Ginza wasn’t nearly as good as it could’ve been. Staff at the restaurant apologized for the rain at least a half-dozen times throughout the evening, reflecting the culture and service standards in Japan.

beige view

A tasting menu (¥22,000) was available, as well as 4- and 5-course prix fixe meals (¥12,000 and ¥17,000, respectively). I had my eye on some dishes in particular, so I went with the 5-course menu.

ham on focaccia

ham focaccia

The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this little bite. I suspect it was some kind of fancy European ham, but the type was lost in translation. Simply served atop a piece of soft focaccia, I found the overall bite to be on the dry side. The richness of the fatty ham did come through a bit, but the bite needed something more.

crab, celery, melon paste, consomme

crab, celery, melon paste, consomme

Progressing in portion size, the kitchen sent out another amuse bouche. Cool crab was paired with the textures of diced celery and carrot, topping what I think was a shellfish consomme gelee. Crisp flavors of the sea were complemented by the vegetables.

Bread service was fine, though it paled in comparison to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

bread

roasted hen pheasant, giblet crostini, baby salad leaves

roasted hen pheasant, giblet crostini, baby salad leaves

The first proper course was this roasted pheasant. The pheasant was cooked well, though I felt it was lacking a more flavorful sauce. It was kind of boring. However, the foie gras and giblet crostini was a highlight, with a delicious seared offal flavor coming through with the crispy toast. Excellent!

poached blue lobster, au gratin macaroni, cooking jus

poached blue lobster, au gratin macaroni, cooking jus

Next up was lobster, which I thought was perfectly cooked with tender, yielding flesh. The shellfish cooking sauce was pretty tasty too. I enjoyed the al dente macaroni gratin, while a little bit of spinach provided some balance. I thought the dish was everything it said it was going to be, but nothing more.

seared kyushu beef, oven-baked vegetables, bordelaise reduction

seared kyushu beef, oven-baked vegetables, bordelaise reduction

The last savory course of the evening was maybe the one I was most anticipating. Japan has some of the best beef anywhere, and I’d been craving a good chunk of it for some time. The beef was cooked to a nice medium rare, exceedingly tender and pretty juicy. A great piece of meat, especially with the rich bordelaise sauce. The vegetables (onions, carrots, snap peas, and I think daikon) were simply prepared and tasty.

petits fours: dark chocolate biscuit, lemon tart, caramel macarons

petits fours

Some sweets came to the table to introduce the dessert part of the meal. All were solid, but I thought the caramel macarons were fantastic. They had a perfect chewy consistency and a rich caramel filling – I wish I could’ve taken a bunch home.

chocolate-praline CHANEL square, hazelnut ice cream

chocolate-praline CHANEL square, hazelnut ice cream

Next was the main dessert and a signature item of the restaurant. Loved the presentation, with the golden-chocolate square at the bottom and sugar art rising up at least a foot into the air. Flavor-wise, it was a satisfying dessert with strong chocolate and nutty flavors; I thoroughly enjoyed the hazelnut ice cream with the chocolate.

CHANEL chocolates and madeleine

CHANEL chocolates

madeleine

Lastly, I was served a warm madeleine and some Chanel-branded chocolates (white and dark). It was almost sugar overload at this point, but I gobbled them down.

My meal at Beige Alain Ducasse was about as expected, though not as good as hoped. There was nothing wrong with anything; the meal was well-executed and delivered exactly what the menu stated. However, it was nothing more than that – I was hoping it would be more interesting, that the ingredients would be elevated more. It may have been due to what I ordered (reflecting what I was craving), but I’m not sure about that.

Restaurant service in Japan is better than America at every level. As expected, it was superb here. As for the Chanel side of the partnership, the soap in the bathroom was probably some of the best-smelling I’ve come across. Also, the seats were extremely comfortable with soft pillows to provide back support, fluffed every time someone got up to go to the bathroom.