Zurriola re-visited (スリオラ、銀座)

For Midori’s 30th birthday, it was a pretty easy decision where to celebrate.  Her answer for “If you were on death row, what would you request for your last meal” has been the caviar ravioli at Zurriola since we first had it in 2015.  Indeed, it was time for a 2nd round to this wonderful Spanish restaurant in the heart of glitzy Ginza.

Even though it has two Michelin stars, Zurriola still feels a bit under-the-radar.  It’s deceptively easy to snag a reservation, and the owner/chef Honda-san is so personable as he explains each and every dish to you.  Restaurants like Den and Florilege may hit the “World’s Best Restaurant” lists, but for my money, Zurriola is a no-brainer.  This is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit…twice.

Except the speciality caviar dish, every other dish was different from two years ago.  The menu in concept is still the same- two course menus to choose with the addition of the caviar marking the supplemental price.  Wine pairings available in 3, 4, or 5 glasses, or a long list of bottles available for the connoisseur.  It doesn’t come cheap (20,000 to 30,000 yen per person), but the simple-yet-innovative, artistic, and most importantly, delicious food paired with a welcoming atmosphere is well worth it for any celebratory evening.

Let’s eat Zurriola…again!

Mr. & Mrs. Bund, Shanghai

We spent an extended weekend in Shanghai last week and wanted to dine at one special restaurant.  Mr. & Mrs. Bund is a renowned restaurant that’s won all sorts of awards and been on all kinds of lists.  It unfortunately fell off of Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants in 2017, but I didn’t care- I had heard great things and I had to try it.

The owner, Paul Pairet, is a French guy who has become a household name amongst gourmets in Shanghai. His culinary empire consists of MMB, the avant-garde (and for me unaffordable) Ultraviolet, and the newly-opened gastropub Chop Chop Chop.

Mr. & Mrs. Bund is an absolutely beautiful restaurant.  Although the interior and service style is rather traditional French (chandeliers, huge white doors, table-side carving service, extensive changing of silverware), the food is innovative, exciting, and fresh.

The menu offers a whopping six different course options meant to cater to each person’s preferences (do you like heavy French ingredients like foie gras, or do you prefer the chef’s carefully selected tasting menu? Want caviar on those oysters?), or you can opt for the a la carte menu.  All the dishes are portioned very generously to be shared by the table, and you will leave feeling stuffed but not uncomfortable.

We chose the chef’s tasting menu which also happens to fall right in the middle of the pricing spectrum.  We left the wine choices to the sommelier and were very pleased with everything on offer.  If you know what you like, however, there’s a massive list of wine to choose from, creatively presented on an iPad.

It’s a splurge (around $500 for 2 people), but so, so worth it.

This is an absolutely amazing restaurant…and oh my god…those desserts.

Let’s eat Mr. & Mrs. Bund!

Hashimoto in Edogawabashi (はし本、江戸川橋)

If there’s one thing I learned from last month’s meal at Ryo, it’s that eel. is. good.  I needed more and decided to check out Hashimoto.  Located in a very quiet neighborhood somewhere between Nagatacho and Ikebukuro, Hashimoto was established in 1835 and is run by a sixth-generation owner and chef.

The scent of grilled unagi wafts outside and upon sliding the front door open, it feels like you are entering an old Japanese home.  It’s a very casual restaurant and only offers about 10 items on an a la carte menu.  Unlike most Michelin-starred restaurants, there is no course menu, no service charge, a concise, if not limited, selection of libations, and zero sense of pretentiousness or stuffiness.  Rather, the service is attentive and the eel is given its proper space to shine.  From the fact that almost every item contains eel in some form, to the “Unagi Washoku” posters on the walls, there is no doubt that this is a dining destination for the eel purist.

And it’s one of Japan’s cheapest Michelin restaurants, too.  The most expensive item, the unagi-ju jou, is only 3300 yen and most drinks are 700 or 800 yen.  With sake and all the food below, our bill came out to under 13,000 yen.  Not bad at all for expertly prepared eel with a history of almost 200 years.

Let’s eat Hashimoto!

Ryo in Naka-Meguro (翏、中目黒)

I’ve never been a big fan of unagi (eel) despite it’s popularity among Japanese and foreigners alike.  It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just something I’ve never gone out of my way to eat.  Still, my wife always credited my lack of unagi enthusiasm to the fact that I’ve never had really good eel.  With that in mind, I searched for some Michelin-starred eel and was happy to find Ryo, a restaurant new to the 2017 guide that serves only one course paired with sake.  It seemed like a good place to start my unagi journey, because even if the food was no good, I could at least get a good buzz.

Luckily, the food was awesome.  Let me ride the bandwagon- I am a fan, and would be happy to eat the slithery little water snake any time!

Ryo is in a quiet location, a good 10 minute walk from either Naka-Meguro or Ikejiri-Ohashi stations, and it’s 2nd floor location above a car repair shop makes it very easy to miss. Once you find it, it’s a cozy, 8-seat restaurant with just one table that wraps around an open kitchen.  The owner, a 38 year-old well-versed in music, mans the ship doing all the eel preparation, while his father works as a sous chef, and his wife manages the beverages.  It’s a fairly hip place with vinyl album covers like Neil Young and Coltrane adorning the walls, while similar music plays in the background.

The course is a great value, as well.  Two people can enjoy expertly prepared eel served in the kaiseki style and enough rare and unique sake to feel Ryo’s good vibes for well under 30,000 yen.

Let’s eat Ryo!

Sense at Mandarin Oriental Tokyo (センス、日本橋)

I love dim sum.  My wife loves dim sum.  Really, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love various meats, seafoods, or veggies wrapped into dumpling form and then steamed, baked or fried.   With that in mind, and after my epic weekend devouring gourmet dim sum in Hong Kong last year, I thought it was time to see what dim sum Tokyo had to offer.

Sense at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo Hotel offers gourmet Chinese courses and dishes at night, but it’s the weekend-only, all-you-can-eat dim sum course that piqued my interest. Choosing between two courses (8,054 yen or 10,739 yen for the more premium offering), you get an appetizer, a rice/noodle choice, a dessert option, and oh yes, an unlimited selection of delicious dumplings of love made to order.  Bring your appetite- this could be Tokyo’s most filling Michelin-starred lunch.

The restaurant is situated on the 37th floor and offers an amazing view of Tokyo while you eat yourself silly.  The service is attentive and accommodating.   Additionally, it’s rather easy to get a reservation at Sense through their website.  Indeed, a lunch at Sense is a great way to pass away an afternoon taking in a beautiful view, consuming dumplings to your heart’s content, and perhaps catching a nice little buzz with their expensive but delicious drink menu (pairings available at 7,000 yen for 3 wines or 10,000 yen for 5 wines. There’s more than meets the eye, though, as the wines are themselves paired with full servings of Chinese Huanjiu wine!).

Let’s eat Sense!

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Quite the spectacular view.

 

Locavore – Ubud, Bali

My wife and I went to Bali to spend our Christmas and New Year holiday in the hot weather by the beach.  After some research, I was pleased to find that Bali squeezed one of its restaurants, Locavore, into Asia’s 50 Best at #49.

Locavore is in Ubud, a part of Bali that is actually located away from the beach at a much higher altitude enveloped in lush jungle and picturesque mountains.  The restaurant takes advantage of its surrounding by featuring all sorts of ingredients this island has to offer, thus the “local” part in its name.  To be honest, there are so many different components used in each dish, including Indonesian ingredients I have never heard of, that there is no way I can remember them all.  Still, I have included a slideshow of every dish and cocktail included in the course.  Hopefully the beautiful pictures below speak for themselves, much louder than my lackluster descriptions.

There are 2 menus- locavore (featuring meats and other proteins) and herbivore (vegetarian).  You can choose between 5 or 7 courses, and a cocktail pairing is offered, as well.  We chose the full locavore course with pairing, and for about $125 a head, were treated to five appetizers, six main courses, one dessert, several more petit fours, and six sampler-size cocktails to accompany each main course.  For Bali, it’s expensive.  Were it located in any other major city, however, it would be a real bargain.

Locavore is set in the dead-center of Ubud amongst the heavy foot-traffic of backpackers, hippies, and drunk Australians.  Thus, while the dining is fine and expertly crafted, one can expect a fairly boisterous environment and a lackadaisical dress code (“no beer logo tank-tops”).

If you’re in the area, it’s a must-visit.

Let’s eat Locavore!

Regalo レガロ(代々木公園)

The 2017 Tokyo Michelin guide was published just two weeks ago with relatively minimal fanfare, few, if any, surprises, and no new 3-starred restaurants.  There were, however, several new one-star establishments, and Regalo, just outside of Sangubashi Station in the always-fashionable Yoyogi Koen area, is one of them.  Actually, Regalo was featured in last year’s Bib Gourmand section, a collection of restaurants of both quality and affordability, but not quite warranting the coveted star.  In the new red guide, Regalo has been promoted to one-star status, and it’s with good reason.  Regalo offers top-notch Italian cuisine that relies heavily on seasonal Japanese ingredients.  The result is a fusion cuisine that works well for a reasonable price.

It’s a fairly casual affair with pop music on the speakers, a counter/bar area facing the open kitchen, and enough seats set spaciously apart to fit around 30 people.  The staff is personable, the atmosphere is welcoming, and nothing feels stuffy or pretentious.

It’s also very affordable.  There is an a la carte menu, but I recommend putting yourself in the chef’s hands with any of the 3 course menus.  Even the most expensive menu only costs a mere 8000 yen, inclusive of tax and service charge.  One interesting point is that even in the course menu, you are given an a la carte choice for both dessert and after-dinner drink.  If you don’t have a sweet tooth, you can choose to drink your dessert as we did (see below).  Wine pairings are available as well for 3000, 4000, or 5000 yen (essentially 1000 yen per glass). Indeed Regalo is friendly on the wallet, and very delicious.

Let’s eat Regalo!

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Amuse Bouche- fried fugu served over a yurine (lily bulb) puree. The fugu (poisonous pufferfish) is prepared two ways- the regular meat and the minced skin.

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Hokkaido codfish shirako (smelt) wrapped in kadaif over an Italian herb sauce.  The best fish sperm I’ve ever tasted!

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The breadbasket- parmesan focaccia, onion focaccia, ciabatta, and milk bread.

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Spaghetti with handmade karasumi (bottarga).

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Orechiette over a whole oyster in a spicy tomato sauce.

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Higedara (armored cusk fish) meuniere served over a spinach puree with spinach.

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Charcoal-grilled Hokkaido beef with grilled radicchio and a salsa verde.  Divine!

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While the desserts sounded delicious, we opted for dessert cocktails.  On the right is kaki (apricot) amaretto and on the left is one of the best drinks ever- gorgonzola-infused Okuhida vodka.  Had never heard of cheese in a drink, but this was creamy, refreshing, and absolutely amazing.

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After-dinner drink- who needs coffee when you have herb and berry-infused grappa? Ok, I was drunk by this point.  Midori opted for the herb tea.

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Petit fours to finish.  Buono!

Bon Chemin ボンシュマン

One great thing about living in Tokyo, the most Michelin-starred city in the world, is that one can find high-quality cuisine in almost every neighborhood.  I found Bon Chemin by looking up restaurants that are close and on my commuter pass.  That means there is no cost for using any of the trains between my house and my office.  Super convenient, and I find some odd satisfaction in not spending a couple bucks to get to a restaurant, only to splurge on a fancy meal.

Bon Chemin is a French restaurant through and through, so it’s pretty clear what you’re getting into from the start- meticulously prepared proteins with rich sauces, and generally heavy ingredients throughout.  This restaurant does, however, provide respite from the notoriously high prices of most French restaurants.  This is especially true at lunch. You can get the full course for a mere 7000 yen and really get a feel for why this chef was awarded one Michelin star (cheaper, less extensive courses are available, as well).  Wine is a little on the pricey side, starting at 1200 yen per glass, but the selection is vast and the staff can accommodate whatever preference you have.

A great value in a charming setting, Bon Chemin is a perfect spot for any purveyor of fine French cuisine.  Even more recommended if you are a fan of foie gras (see below).

Let’s eat Bon Chemin!

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The course kicked off with a creamy, flaky quiche amuse bouche.

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Next, homemade bread was served warm with a devilishly good pork rilette.  They sell this rilette in the store, and it makes a wonderful gift or treat for yourself.  Only around 650 yen for 100 grams.

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The salad course featured a beat dressing and a mushroom sauce, winter vegetables, and a perfectly rare, meaty piece of sawara (Spanish mackerel) fish.

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If you love foie gras, this is the course for you.  A grilled foie gras, foie gras terrine, and fig jam.  Look at all that delicious oil on the left.  If your cholesterol is on the low side, this course should to the trick and bring you right up to those unhealthy levels.

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An amazing slice of namatagarei fish (slime flounder…interesting name for a fish) served in a beurre blanc sauce atop a seaweed risotto.  My favorite dish of the course.

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Wagyu from Shizuoka served with a kabocha (squash) gratin, onion, and burdock root.

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For dessert, an apple crumble served with caramel ice cream.  So sweet and so delicious.

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Mignardise – raspberry macarons and a chocolate sabré.

Ostu in Yoyogi (オストゥ 代々木公園)

Ostu, a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant located just across from Yoyogi Park on the Hachiman side, knows a thing or two about customer relationship management.  We had thoroughly enjoyed their very reasonably priced course menu two years ago, but for one reason or another (chalk it up to being spoiled for dining options in Tokyo), hadn’t been back since.  However, after receiving an email from Ostu outlining a campaign including 10% off the price of the meal AND a free glass of Franciacorta sparkling wine, we made a reservation right away.  Nice CRM indeed.

It was a great strategy on Ostu’s part, as they have seriously stepped up their game in the past two years.  Not that our first experience was negative (it was anything but), but this evening’s offerings seemed to tell us, “Look what you’ve been missing since you’ve been gone.”  To sweeten the deal even more, they were offering a supplement of white truffles at 2000 yen per 3 grams.  White truffles are only available for a month or two, so we obliged for 9 grams shaved over two dishes.

Hearty portions, simple, yet expertly prepared dishes that let the ingredients shine, delicious wines, perfectly attentive service, and extremely reasonable prices all make Ostu one of Tokyo’s best Italian options.  Given the deal mentioned above, we were able to fully enjoy everything Ostu has to offer and get out of there for well under 30,000 yen for the two of us.  It felt like we had found a real bargain.

Let’s eat Ostu!

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The first of two dishes featuring the prized white truffles- a simple scrambled egg with plenty of butter.

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Insalata di Autunno (Autumn salad) – Rabbit meat slowly cooked at 140 degrees C, autumn “grey” truffle, endive, fig, raising, and balsamic vinegar.

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Porcini pie with brown butter sauce.  The crust was so light and flaky, the dish like a luxurious lasagna.  Delightful.

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Bavettine pasta with crab and spicy tomato sauce.  It was so easy to pull all the crab meat out from the leg in one juicy piece.  I loved it.

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Pumpkin and potato gnocchi with prosciutto ham crumbs in a cream and Italian cheese sauce.  The gnocchi were so soft.  Hearty and delicious.

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The second white truffle dish- a very simple butter sauce pasta.  This came covered, and when the waiter lifted the lid, a deep, rich scent of the truffle wafted over the table.  So nice.

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Rack of Icelandic lamb flavored with thyme, vinegar, the meat’s natural juices, and the charcoal grill.

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Usually one must pick between dessert and cheese.  For 1000 yen extra, we got both.  L to R – garganzola, a hard sheep’s milk cheese, and a soft cow cheese, served with a fig crostini and a loquat flower jam.

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A crepe made of chestnut powder with a vanilla gelato, hazelnut and chocolate creme, and candied figs.  DIVINE!

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Petit fours with coffee/tea.  A corn cookie, a hozuki cherry dipped in chocolate, and fresh cream meringue.  A sweet, fantastic finish.

Hong Kong Dim Sum Battle! Lung King Heen vs. Yan Toh Heen(点心味比べin香港!龍景軒vs欣圖軒)

This past weekend was a three-day weekend, so we decided to make a quick getaway to Hong Kong.  The main purpose behind the trip? To eat, of course!

We really love dim sum and in Hong Kong, Lung King Heen and Yan Toh Heen are arguably the two biggest hitters in the field.  The former has three Michelin Stars and is listed at #10 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.  The latter, meanwhile, holds its own with two Michelin Stars.

There was no question that I had to visit Lung King Heen.  However, it seemed a waste not to visit Yan Toh Heen, too, since we were staying at the hotel in which it is located.  So we went big.  Saturday at LKH and Sunday at YTH.  It became a weekend battle of Hong Kong dim sum! Who would come out on top?

Both restaurants were absolutely delicious and both have stunning views of Victoria Harbor.  However, the answer was almost immediately clear, and Michelin got it right.  In almost all regards- taste, value, service, and interior- Lung King Heen was superior. However, Yan Toh Heen had more gourmet options like the Superior Dumplings seen below, and I enjoyed their dessert more.  Still, YTH lost major points with me for charging exorbitant amounts (~$12) for a small bottle of Evian water, while Lung King Heen’s water was free and clear.  I drink a ton of water any time I eat, so this was a big one for me.  We did not drink alcohol at either restaurant, but LKH’s pu erh tea was tastier, as well.  Both restaurants give you heaping pots of tea for very reasonable prices.  Perfect for dim summing.

If you are going to be in Hong Kong and want to have a special dim sum meal, Lung King Heen is as good as it gets.  If you can’t get a reservation there, though, or you just want more dim sum, Yan Toh Heen is delicious, as well.

Both meals were just under $150 for 2 people.  A great value either way!

First, let’s eat Lung King Heen!

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The meal starts with sauces.  L to R: Spicy rayu, oil with garlic, douchi beans, and mushrooms, and a ginger soya sauce.

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Steamed rice rolls with lobster and water chestnut in a fermented bean sauce.  One of the most memorable items, bursting with lobster and flavor.

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Weekend dim sum special- pork, pine nuts, and veggie dumplings

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Steamed lobster and scallop dumpling.

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One of my favorites- Baked barbecue pork buns with pine nuts.

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The inside of these delightfully sweet and savory buns.

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Luxury! Baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken.  I could eat 10 of these.

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Crispy shredded chicken spring rolls.

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Steamed rice rolls with barbecue pork and mushrooms.  The sauce is poured by the waiter table-side.

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Steamed shrimp and pork dumplings with crab roe.

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Pan-fried turnip pudding with conpoy and air-dried meat.

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Almond cream with egg white- this is a subtly sweet dessert served hot.  At first it seemed to lack flavor, but it really grows on you.

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Chilled mango and sago cream with pomelo.  Much sweeter dessert and also delicious.

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Petit fours were almond biscuits and a jelly with cherries and goji berries.

 

Next, let’s eat Yan Toh Heen!

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The meal starts with a welcome dish of candied almonds with sesame seeds.  Nice to snack on while waiting for the food to arrive.

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Six different sauces! The spiciest is seen at the bottom.  Top to bottom (as best as I can remember)- soya sauce with seafood, plum jelly, ginger red vinegar, rayu, local Hong Kong hot sauce, and yellow chili.

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Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings.  L to R- Steamed scallop with black truffles and vegetables, steamed lobster and bird’s nest dumpling with gold leaf, steamed king crab leg dumpling with green vegetable.  Quite the start!

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Wok-seared rice flour cannelloni and red cherry shrimp with soy sauce.  Served with a creamy sesame sauce and a hoisin sauce.

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Steamed barbecue pork buns.

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Steamed assorted mushroom and fungus dumplings.

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Steamed garoupa, prawn, and scallop dumplings. Pretty cute!

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Mango pudding.  I liked this better than Lung King Heen’s mango dessert.

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Jasmine tea (one box each) for us to take home.  A nice touch to finish the meal.