Tag Archives: japan 2013

Asagi | Tokyo | Jun ’13 | “Michelin-starred tempura”

25 Dec

Address: Asagi Building 1F, 6-4-13, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0061

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One more from the vaults. As I’m writing this in December 2013, the big news of the Michelin-starred tempura world is that 3-star 7chome Kyoboshi has been downgraded to 2-stars for the 2014 Guide. 

After two great meals at RyuGin and Tapas Molecular Bar, I decided to try a good tempura place. I had first walked into Asagi the day before, but the counter was completely full with businessmen during the lunch service, and Asagi-san told me to come back the next day. Asagi, his name-sake restaurant, is located in a narrow alley behind Ginza that I would have had a hard time finding without Google Maps. Asagi-san has been frying tempura for more than 40-years, and evidently the restaurant has flourished, because Asagi-san owns the entire building in which his restaurant is located. The small counter seats 8, and Asagi-san’s amiable wife serves as waitress.

When I arrived on Thursday, in stark contrast to the day before, I was the only diner there for lunch service. Throughout the meal, Asagi-san prepared all the ingredients in front of me, and he explained that since I was visiting in summer, it was a uniquely difficult time for tempura. Summer’s high humidity makes it difficult for the batter to stick, therefore he changes the batter composition with each season. When my spoken Japanglish failed, I used Google translate on my phone to translate my queries. For a very reasonable price (around 8,000 yen), I could pick the mind of the tempura master for the duration of my entire meal.

While it was a very high quality tempura meal, I learnt gradually through the meal that tempura as a category of food leaves me cold. I did not react to the food viscerally, nor did the virtuosity of frying Asagi-san demonstrated translate into something that I would crave and remember long in the memory. I’m not entirely sure I could differentiate properly between the high-end tempura of Asagi-san, and some of the cookie-cutter tempura I’ve enjoyed in Singapore and the States. Asagi-san’s was notably not greasy, but the rest of the differences were so subtle I might be imagining them.

Notable write-ups:

Rating: 15/20

Memory: Tendon with Rice, a simple cold Dessert

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The narrow Ginza alleyway in which Asagi is found

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Asagi’s nondescript entrance

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Lunch service

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Interior

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Asagi-san prepares the batter. (tempura starts with a cold batter)

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… and the oil

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Prawn (4/5)

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Ika (Squid) (3.75/5)

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Whitefish (4/5)

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“Mise-en-scene”

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Prawn heads (5/5)

The previous dishes had lacked a savory element, the prawn heads here tasted like the South-east Asian anchovies, ikan bilis.

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Ayu (4.5/5)

The slightly-bitter melon taste of the ayu head was again evident. I first had ayu at RyuGin a couple of days ago.

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Beans (3.5/5)

To stick the two beans together, Asagi-san used a toothpick, and laconically swirled them around in his tempura vat of oil for about 20-30 seconds.

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Virtuosity comes from sticking two discrete objects together

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Eggplant (3.5/5)

Young and green

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Sweet potato (4/5)

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Underside of sweet potato

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Asparagus (3.5/5)

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In preparation for the anago, I had a sour-salty prawn paste, and salt.

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Anago (4.5/5)

Very good, with prawn paste and salt. Anago became my favorite seafood in Tokyo, having had a revelatory sweet-sauce on it at Sushi Bun at Tsukiji.

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Tendon with Rice (5/5)

One of perhaps two dishes which stuck with me in the memory. This tendon was fried as a single agglomerate, which takes a lot of skill on the chef’s part. Drizzled with a sweet-savory sauce, this was absolutely addictive. I could have had three to five bowls of this without question.

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Miso

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Dessert (5/5)

A most perfect and composed ending to a fried meal. A delicious single scoop of matcha ice cream, with red beans, brown sugar, and jelly.

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The remains of the day

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Me and Asagi-san

 

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Suntory Distillery | Yamazaki | Jun ’13 | “the glorious Hibiki 30”

14 Sep

Address: 5-2-1, Yamazaki, Shimamoto-cho, Mishima-gun, Osaka

During my 10 day trip to Japan, I had travel from Kyoto to Osaka (a ~1 hour journey, close enough that Kyoto is served by Osaka’s 2 airports), and decided to take a daytrip to Yamazaki. Anyone who knows my tastes in alcohol knows that I hold the Hibiki blended whisky, produced right here in the Yamazaki distillery, in very high regard. The 12 year old “standard expression” is a drinkable floral blend, recipient of multiple awards from the whisky industry, and the 21 year old premium expression is even more delicate. It being impossible to taste the top-of-the-range 30 year old blend anywhere else, I decided to hoof it to Suntory’s distillery.

[A XX-year standard expression is defined as a blend of whiskies from _allowed casks_ that are all at least XX years old. For a single-malt, the only allowed casks must come from ONE distillery itself; for a blended whisky, the allowed casks can range from all over Scotland (Johnny Walker Blue) to a certain hand-picked set of distilleries (Hibiki)]

The Hibiki is a blended mix of the Yamazaki and Hakushu whiskies, both of which are wholly owned by Suntory. Now, the Japanese blended whisky industry differs quite substantially from the Scottish blended whisky industry. In Scotland, most distilleries are owned by the conglomerates – e.g. Diageo (owner of the Johnny Walker brand), and Pernod Ricard, among others. They are quite laissez-faire about inter-conglomerate trading. Often, if a master blender in the Diageo stable believes that a Pernod Ricard (PR) owned distillery produces a good set of casks to maintain the Johnny Walker taste for this year, they can buy the casks from PR. This is emphatically not the case in Japan, where whisky conglomerate lines indicate no-man’s lands of commercial trading.

What this means is that much of the variation required to blend an interesting whisky must be produced in house in a Suntory distillery.

Japanese whiskies are made exactly the same way as Scottish single malt is made. The only difference is that one is not legally able to call these whiskies “scotch” (that label is reserved for 100% made in Scotland whisky). This is not a coincidence. Japanese whisky started as conscientious imitators of Scottish whisky.

A brief history of Suntory: In 1923, Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory and the father of Japanese whisky, built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery in the Vale of Yamazaki.

The distillery’s location on the outskirts of Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto offered pure waters, diversity of climate and high humidity—the ideal environment for the maturation of good whisky.

Wikipedia

Tips. Don’t actually buy the standard to premium whiskies here: It can be found for much cheaper (40% cheaper) when you fly out of Tokyo/Osaka, due to high domestic taxes I believe. The only whiskies you want to buy at the distillery are the limited edition ones, like the Yamazaki 25 (very expensive) or the Hibiki 30 (individually labelled bottles, each costing USD1000).

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Distillery Tour

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Mash tun for fermenting germinated barley.

(Not pictured) Fermentation vats.

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The stills: For reflux. It is often claimed the shape of the stills affects the taste of the whisky. I am skeptical.

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The run-off, where the distillery master tastes the alcohol.

Traditionally (Scottish tradition) kept under lock-and-key, who historically wanted to prevent unauthorised drinking by their employees. 

The purest part of the run-off is the middle third of a distillation cycle, the first third and end third are usually re-refluxed.

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Cask Storage

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The pristine waters outside Kyoto, which we all drink when we toast a Yamazaki.

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highball (hai-boru)

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The Bar at Suntory HQ

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Review

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Hibiki 30年 (5/5)

Yamazaki 25年 (3/5)

Yamazaki 25年: The Yamazaki series takes its best probably at its 12-17 year mark, and rapidly declines through bitterness after that.  The Yamazaki 25 I had was over-oaked (spending too much time in the oak casket). This is a common complaint about old whiskies, which is probably why we haven’t heard any sterling reviews of the gimmicky Mortlach 70 years old, the oldest whisky in the world released in 2008, designed for completionist tycoons and showroom display cases.

  1. First taste: Expanding vanilla, smooth caramel, like the Glenturret 16
  2. After taste: Bitter oak

It is a conundrum: on the one hand, do you want to keep the smooth caramel that comes with the oak? How do you balance that with the inevitable seep of tannins into your whisky? Your tolerance for tannins may vary, but I see the Yamazaki 25 as stuck in the no man’s land between taste and tannins. I have heard that the oak breaks down after a few years, so I would be curious to try a Yamazaki 35 or 40. But for now, if I had to choose a Yamazaki, I would go with the younger ones.

Hibiki 30年: The Hibiki 30 is truly the best blended whisky I have ever tasted. This was intensely fruity in a way that surprised me, being more used to the floral notes of the Hibiki 12 and 21. It was as if the flowers in the younger Hibikis had finally bloomed by the 30 year mark.

  1. First taste: A great concentrated front nose of raisin.
  2. Mid taste: Strong orange and fruit.
  3. After taste: Fading into small bitterness

The only reason I didn’t get a bottle this trip was due to its very high prices. It certainly is not an everyday whisky, but is a special occasion whisky. It occupies the very top of my top 3 whiskies, which, as of this moment, are:

  1. Hibiki 30
  2. Glenturret 16, Distillery Edition
  3. Bruichladdich 36, Legacy Series 1

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To me, this trip to Yamazaki was special, as many of my great whisky memories have involved the Hibiki.

  1. I discover the Hibiki 12 at Jazz@Southbridge in Singapore 2009, with a highly interesting fellow.
  2. I rediscover the Hibiki 12 in Providence 2011, sitting dusty behind the counter of a small shop Spiritus Fermenti.
  3. I take a week’s tour in Scotland’s major whisky producing regions, to explore the range of Scotch whisky. I taste incredible single malts, but none of the blends were as drinkable as the Hibiki.
  4. I get the Hibiki 21 in Singapore (2012) and it becomes my travelling companion in the Northeast US.

Memory: Hibiki 30年

Tapas Molecular Bar | Tokyo | Jun ’13 | “pure whimsy and fun”

8 Sep

Address: 2-1-1, Nihonbashimuromachi | 38F, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture 103-8328, Japan

Telephone: +81 3-3270-8188

Back in June, when I was traveling for 2 weeks in Japan, I had a very pleasant tour through some of Tokyo’s finer restaurants. The previous night played host to a traditional yet arch-modern meal in RyuGin, and now I was swinging  to the other end of the spectrum with pure molecular wizardry on display at Tapas Molecular Bar. I found out about Tapas Molecular Bar thanks to Adam Goldberg, who highlighted this as one of his favorite places in the city.

The restaurant: My understanding is that Tapas Molecular Bar (TMB) was set up by Jeff Ramsey, originally sous-chef under Jose Andres at Washington DC molecular restaurant Minibar. However, as of 2012, Jeff Ramsey has left the kitchen, and it is now being helmed by Chef Koichi Hashimoto. Hashimoto-san was in the kitchen when I was there, and there was nothing but a glass box, containing the ingredients to be used in our dinner (dramatic foreshadowing) separating us 7 diners and Hashimoto and his British assistant chef Aaron Cardwell. The mise-en-scene (prior preparation) had already been assembled before our arrival.

Pre-meal, I was treated to a fantastic view over Tokyo in the bar area.

TMB is not an original act. It was highlighted in Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine as one of the prime offenders in copying ideas wholesale. Many of the dishes from reports in 2010 seem to have been copied from Minibar by Jose Andres in Washington DC, and I counted at least one dish on the night that was recognisably another restaurant’s (Mugaritz’s stone potato). My impression thus is that the chefs are skilled executors rather than creative forces in their own right.

The people: Two international East Asian yuppie bankers to my left, and a well-heeled Houston family of 4 to my right.

The environs: Nihombashi is a very upscale area, with swanky hotels and glitz restaurants, right north of the Ginza district. Right on the ground floor is the Tokyo HQ of fine-fruit purveyors Sembikiya. In Japan, fruit is considered a gift item. I have heard it speculated that it is because in Europe, the hard water led to fruit becoming a necessity as a vessel for clean water content, and Japan’s soft water made fruit unnecessary as a water vessel, and thus fruit acquired a luxury position. This reasoning sounds like fruitcake to me (luxury fruit in Japan is an at most two centuries old phenomenon, see this BBC article on Sembikiya, which traces back its history only to the 19th century, and soft water would be a fact of Japanese agriculture for millennia.)

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“dear me, if that isn’t a gold durian…”
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Spectacular views over Tokyo

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the menu

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Cherry Bonbon

Cherry with a bonbon liquid bomb of liqueur inside, coated with jello on the outside.

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Stone Potato (5/5)

Four stones, but only one is a potato. Chorizo sauce in a industrial-looking tube, and salt on a rock plate.

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I picked the right one!

This is a very labour-intensive carnival piece. Each potato is baked with flour water brushed on top, 3-4 times each to get the desired stoney effect. For pure whimsy this dish was a home-run. This dish is the infamous stone potato of Mugaritz restaurant in Spain.

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Chefs and their alginate.

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The alginate beads are used to form a pea risotto, with a bit of ham mixed in. It was a decent combination, and the value of the dish lay primarily in its theatrical creation. Green-pea with sodium(?) alginate  is dropped into calcium chloride(?),  which causes spherification to happen. I was expecting a skin to form on the pea, but the alginate forms the beads without any membrane whatsover.

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Fromage Blanc, Flower and Butterfly (4.25/5)

A very pretty plating, but somewhat lacking in cohesion of tastes: the butterflies were made of sugar, the vinaigrette made of raspberry, and the foam a honey rosewater concoction, on top of some fromage blanc.

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Spring Landscape (4.75/5)

Lightly tempura-battered veggies, made to look like an enchanted forest, crumble of black garlic (which has a natural taste of wolfsberry, as I later found out) and onion, naturally fermented. A delicious combination

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Green Laver, Razor Clam, and Yuzu (3.75/5)

I did not have a strong impression of this dish; the yuzu was in the foam.

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foreshadowing with a syringe2013-06-05 05.45.00

Smoked Egg (4.5/5)

Liquid smoke piped into a jar, with an onsen cooked egg (low temperatures). This dish was quite nice, and smoked eggs was something I would later have in two forms in Singapore, at Jaan (the best onsen-style smoked confection, Julien Royer’s 62 degree, 55 minutes smoked egg), and David Pynt’s smoked quail eggs. This dish was naked and unadorned, and I felt it missed something that would make it perfect [I would later be enlightened by Julien Royer that what was missing was charred Jamon Iberico and potatoes]. The biscotti spoon to eat with added a touch of whimsy, but little tastewise.

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(off-menu) Prawn Bisque (4.5/5)

Blowtorched bisque (made of crab shell), and prawn. A sherry jelly for palate cleansing. An interesting take on the skin that forms on thick soups like bisques, I have never had a blowtorched soup before!

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Baby Pork Hazelnut (5/5)

This was an inverted xiaolongbao (soup dumpling). Here the pork (topped with shaved hazelnut), would form the outer covering for a soup within. How did they do it? I asked Aaron, the assistant chef. It turns out that they bake the chop, after they stuff a gelatin cube into the pork, and then cover it up with meat glue. The pork tasted superb, and the mechanics of the dish were sublime.

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the magic levitating spoons with their ingredients foreshadowing the different courses

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Warm Sizzling Beef (5/5)

Wagyu, already tender, is tenderised above and beyond, by being cooped up in a pressurised container with nitrous oxide for 6 hours. This also gives it a sizzling effect on the plate. It is not because it is red hot, but because of the gaseous behaviour of nitrous oxide.

The Edible Art on my plate is silkscreen printed mayonnaise, coloured with bamboo charcoal. Superb execution, bravo, bravo, bravo!

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(off-menu) Vegetable Soup

A rather-forgettable bland vegetable combination, but perhaps a good palate cleanser after the excitement of Warm, Sizzling Beef.

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Osuimono (4.75/5)

Osuimono is the other basic Japanese soup: the main alternative to miso soup when you’re making 1 soup-1 dish. At its best, osuimono is a very light broth: it should never be weighed down with too many ingredients, too much salt or – and this is a common mistake – too much soy sauce.

The basic ingredients are water, dashi, soy sauce and sake, but there’s a lot of room for variation with what you put into it. Dropping a beaten egg in it, for instance, works wonderfully. For this recipe, however, I used a filet of sole, some spring onion and lime rinds.

Kanoko’s Kitchen.

The threads of the meal come back to weave a narrative. Earlier, Chef Hashimoto syringed green stuff into an alginated soup. We now find out that the soup is osuimono, a classic Japanese clear fish-soup, with syringed kombu inside. This round spoonful of osuimono, perhaps best captures what is classic and modern about Tokyo cooking in one picture.

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Green Tea Puff (5/5)

Our friend liquid nitrogen makes its first appearance on the Tapas stage. But why is this little green tea macaron-shaped pastry, doused in liquid nitrogen for about 5-10 seconds, called a “puff”?

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the answer: because you keep it in your mouth and it starts puffing out of your nose!

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Egg (5/5)

Mango gelatin, and sweet white stuff in a white chocolate egg. A nest made of pastry. An incredibly plated dessert, it well-satisfied my sweet tooth.

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The array

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Japanese Paper (4/5)

Flattened candy floss, with flowers in between.

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Strawberry Milk (3.75/5)

The photo smells (faintly) of milk, and the crumpled paper display is made of strawberry. Taken together, this dish smells like strawberries & cream. The smell was a bit too faint on the photo to really make that association, however.

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Choco-banana (4/5)

Now with pop-rocks inside! Everyone is doing pop-rocks now, it seems to be an in-thing. I’ve had it variously, besides in Tokyo, in Singapore’s Jaan, Singapore’s Andre, and Singapore’s Saveur.

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Cherry Blossom

Can’t really remember what this tasted like. Underneath the cherry-blossom….

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The real Choco-Banana? (3.5/5)

Banana-“rice” krispies, bound with chocolate. Quite ordinary.

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Fruits (5/5)

Miracle Fruit, on the right, contains miraculin, which makes sour things taste sweet for 2 hours. We were promptly given lemons and limes.

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Tapas Molecular Bar is an incredibly fun restaurant (some would say amusement park). I would not hesitate to go back when I am next in Tokyo. It was deeply impressive that the pair of Chef Hashimoto and Aaron Cardwell were able to create all the dishes for 7 people without any help during the 2+ hours I was there, which speaks to a very disciplined mise-en-scene preparation process that preceded us diners coming in.

Memory: Stone Potato, Baby Pork Hazelnut (inverted xiaolongbao), Warm Sizzling Beef (Nitrous Oxide), spherified Osuimono, Green Tea Puff (the magic dragon), Egg (white chocolate and mango gelatin), Miracle Berry and Fruits.

Verdict: 18/20

Other great write-ups of Tapas:

  1. http://tomostyle.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/tapas-molecular-bar-tokyo-japan/
  2. http://www.alifewortheating.com/tokyo/tapas-molecular-bar-revisited
  3. http://www.alifewortheating.com/tokyo/tapas-molecular-bar

Nihonryori Ryugin | Tokyo | 04/06/13 | “molecular kaiseki”

19 Aug
  • Address: Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032
  • Number: +81-3-3423-8006
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $260
  • Courses: (12 main/14 total) 10 savory / 2 palate cleanser / 2 dessert /
  • Price/Main Course: $22
  • Rating: 20/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 133 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 9.5 minutes
  • Chef: Seiji Yamamoto (Aoyagi, Tokushima)
  • Style: Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 3

Reservation available time : 11:30am-6:00pm

Ryugin popped on my radar when Chef Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Los Angeles) mailed me a DVD of Yamamoto performing cooking tricks that resembled a hybrid of Homaro Cantu’s (Moto, Chicago) high-tech-ery and Adoni Aduriz’s (Mugartiz, a favorite of mine) more organic approach. Indeed, as I did more research, I learned that Yamamoto and Aduriz were great friends, citing each other as influences and inspiration. The food at Mugaritz has an underlying Asian twist and it is possible to see how the two could find common ground to push each other further.3 A few inquiries found that, while experimental, Ryugin still had the Japanese attention to ingredient quality. The restaurant seemed to be at the forefront of an Eastern response to the largely Spanish molecular gastronomy “movement.” – ChuckEats on Ryugin.

Recently, I was staying in Tokyo for 6 days, and came in without a single booking for any restaurant. On a lazy Tuesday night, I managed to get a same-night table at the kaiseki (Japanese multi-course) specialists Ryugin. Weeknight tables are easier to get, since a great deal of fine dining is consumed by the professional class, which makes Friday-Sunday the busy days.

Ryugin is the brainchild of chef Seiji Yamamoto, who specialises in updating the traditional Japanese set-meal “kaiseki” with the latest molecular techniques, in what might be dubbed “molecular kaiseki”. Chef Yamamoto has been known to make burdock root corks for faux-wine, and his famous 196 degree series of fruit desserts involve some molecular trickery. The restaurant is located in gaijin work-and-play area, Roppongi Hills, and Chef Yamamoto has in the mean-time opened a branch serving the same innovative “molecular kaiseki” cuisine in Hong Kong.

Fiercely colourful crockery line the tables, in an intimate 26-seater restaurant, which is done is an classic black Japanese style, (similar to the l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon colour-scheme.)  It is ranked #2 in Asia for 2013 by San Pellegrino, just behind The Creations of Narisawa.

(In spite of the tongue-in-cheek title, liquid nitrogen was only used once, for one of the desserts. The meal was still focused on (and achievable with) traditional cooking techniques, with premium ingredients)

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Summer Menu 2013

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(cold) Grilled Corn Small Egg Custard with Fresh Sea Urchin and Fragrance of 3 varieties of Onions (5/5)

A simple pairing of egg custard and uni (sweet). 3 types of onions refer to green onion flowers (pictured), fried onion (brown bits pictured), diced onion (the white cubes). Showcased delicate raw sweet smell of spring onions without the bitterness.

2013-06-04 08.25.212013-06-04 08.25.00 (hot) Seasonal Vegetables with Pine Nuts dressing. Array of Flavors and Textures in one plate. (4.75/5)

“30 kinds of vegetables”. The salad, with crunchy vinegared bamboo shoots, pine-nuts, cucumber, savory green paste, mushrooms, was an upscale of an form of Asian vegetable medley. The salad tasted intensely of mushrooms and bamboo, and clearly labour-intensive. (as with Michel Bras’s gargouillou, and Alain Passard’s one-leaf-at-a-time approach to salads)

In Singapore, a similar dish called  盆菜 “pen cai” is made with tons of fungus and beehoon.

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(cold) Simmered Summer Vegetables and Cold Shabu-Shabu Beef with Kinome flavor (5/5)

The shabu-shabu tasted delicate and beefy, and falling-off tender. The jelly is made from boiling bonito fish, and lended a umami flavor to the dish. Blue Eggplant underneath the shabu-shabu, was from the Yokohama region. The star of the dish was kinome, leaves of the Japanese Ash (AKA Szechuan Peppercorn). Imagine lemongrass, but without the acrid lime taste. If lemongrass’s sourness can be a sawtooth wave, kinome resembles more a gentle sine wave. This was one of my favourite courses. Harmoniously composed.

(By comparison, the next night, at Tapas Molecular Bar, the beef was tender by virtue of pounding into submission wagyu beef with nitrous oxide for 6 hours.)

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(hot) Ichiban Dashi Soup. Pike Eel with Egg Plant stuffed inside in Summer Presentation (3.5/5)

The eggplant is folded within the pike eel. The pike eel was largely tasteless and flaky (so I guess I was to focus on its texture), the eggplant sweet; together they went well. I was told to eat before it disintegrates, since the geometric folding would not last long in the soup.

Alas! Given my inexpert chopstick handling, as well as the size of the morsel (two normal chopsticks full), they went together for 2 bites at most. This is a cutlery conundrum, calling for a new variant – gentle spatula tongs.

But a more experienced epicure educates:

There is no ingredient that tests the knife skills of a chef more than hamo, pike conger eel, which has rows of tiny coarse bones that are impossible to remove. Only an experienced chef with superior knife skills can perform honegiri (which means ‘bone cutting’ in Japanese), a process of making precise incisions into the bones without cutting through the skin or destroying the flesh. When a properly incised piece of hamo is blanched in hot water, it should blossom like a chrysanthemum flower with perfectly even sections, and create a light and fluffy texture. The hamo by Chef Yamamoto at Ryugin was the most perfect demonstration of hamo workmanship that I have seen to date. It was stuffed with sweet caramelized kamo-nasu eggplant and served in a wonderful bonito ichiban dashi. – Tomostyle

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The revelation of the dish was the water shield, or mugwortfrom the soup. This gelatinous herb is called “gin sai” or water shield. It’s crunchy inside and jello outside, like a natural red ruby (Thai dessert), which has a crunchy chestnut core surrounded by flour.2013-06-04 08.54.322013-06-04 08.54.48

(cold) Today’s Array of Ocean’s Delicacy. RyuGin style (5/5)

Clockwise from 8 o’clock:
1. Squid and prawn in Japanese soy sauce.
2. Lightly smoked bonito with Japanese mustard.
3. Flatfish with lemon juice.
4. Roasted potato stems with seaweed [texture of bai cai, seaweed umami]
5. Squid and seaweed.

Center:
6. Abalone and Crab Salad

Excellent.

2013-06-04 09.05.34 2013-06-04 09.06.442013-06-04 09.07.29 2013-06-04 09.09.18

(hot) RyuGin’s famous Summer Dish: Swimming Ayu fish Grilled over Charcoal with Bamboo Aroma (5/5)

Ayu is a Japanese river fish; they were grilled in swimming position. Sauce is watermelon-pepper. (Ayu has a bittersweet part in its head, which I am told is the source of a watermelon flavour in the head). Advised to eat from crunchy head (w/o sauce) to crunchy tail (w/ sauce). Fantastic in conception and the fish were expertly grilled. The watermelon flavour in the ayu is a sort of bitter-sweet.

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Cherry pickled with ginger

Palate refresher. I am quite full at this point.

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Simmered preparation in Luxurious presentation – Soft Simmered Octopus – Simmered Abalone – Shrimp Ball and Green Peas (4.75/5)

Technically expert simmering with a winter melon piece draped over it.

The deviation from Chinese simmering technique came from the green peas! Crunchy like slightly simmered water chestnut. (“wakamame” peas?)

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Pork Neck Grilled on Charcoal and Straw Smoked with Wild Honey Soy Sauce and Mustard (5/5)

Pork neck was fatty and delicious.
Young corn had its thinking cap on.

2013-06-04 09.46.44

(hot) Pike Eel Scramble Eggs over the Rice Cooked from the Pike Eel Broth. Miso Soup and Pickles. (3.5/5)

Rice was unspectacular, but the pickled sardines were very good.

2013-06-04 09.47.12Refresher

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(off-menu) Chicken Rice Ball

Very fragrant. You can see the many herbs that went into it.

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Refresher2013-06-04 10.10.29

hmm…

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I broke it with a tap of my spoon… (on instructions) 2013-06-04 10.10.56

(cold) (hot) Roppongi’s special. Small piece of Ripe Mango. (5/5) !!!

oh!

A delicate bijou (of mild-tasting sugar?) coloured and shaped to look like a mango, containing freeze-dried mango powder, is broken by the diner and afterwards mixed with warm mango poured into the diner’s plate. This is the signature minus-196 degree dessert from RyuGin, which has been used for apples and peaches too, among others. (minus 196 is the boiling point of liquid nitrogen).

spectacular.

EDIT: here’s a video that goes into the complicated process of making one of these: http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/07/05/watch-how-to-make-one-of-japans-elite-restaurants-desserts/

2013-06-04 10.16.28

(hot) (cold) Baked Ginjou Sake Oyuki Souffle, and Feathery Soft Served Ice Cream (5/5)

The premium sake souffle tasted like premium sake, which is the highest compliment I can give this dish. (and it goes all the way down into the base of the box).

Ryugin keeps getting better and better, living up to its promotion to 3 Michelin stars. Chef Seiji Yamamoto runs a tight ship at his Roppongi restaurant where the service and the courses seem to flow effortlessly. A recent revisit was right up there as one of the best meals of my life, and the highlight for me was their autumn harvest sake dessert. I went back and forth with my spoon, enjoying both the silkiness of the cold amazake soft serve and the warm fluffiness (and such enticing aromas!) of the sake soufflé. The juxtaposition of temperatures and textures was both pure genius and pure pleasure. – Tomostyle

2013-06-04 10.23.31

Matcha

Very bitter Japanese green tea, palate cleansing and bracing. The sequence of dishes is brought full circle; I am again ejected into the starry Tokyo night.

____________

My general thoughts on Ryugin:

  • Very theatrical. Most theatrical being the roasted swimming Ayu (river fish), and the Minus-196 Mango.
  • Their eggplants are very good.
  • Water shield, and kinome are herbs that should be used more often.
  • Bonito, which formed the base of the shabu-shabu jelly, is very versatile (dried bonito flakes are often used in Japanese home-cooking).

What I was impressed with was the high standard of imagination in every dish. Seiji Yamamoto has a perfectionist streak, and it shows in the plating and presentation of every dish. A beautiful dinner.

Verdict: 20/20

Memory: Uni Custard, Shabu-Shabu in Bonito Jelly, Swimming Ayu, Grilled Pork Neck, Minus-196 Mango, and Sake Souffle.