L’Effervescence, Nishi-Azabu (レフェルヴェソンス、西麻布)

Shinobu Namae is a bit of a food critic’s darling in Tokyo’s competitive fine dining scene. With two Michelin stars, a ranking of #12 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and an entire CNN Culinary Journeys episode dedicated to him, the sky seems to be the limit for him and his restaurant, L’Effervescence.

Still, while the restaurant had always been on my own culinary radar, the effort required for a reservation and the hefty price tag had deterred me from visiting.  One fateful night in early June while casually perusing OpenTable, however, I found a rare Saturday table and decided to snag it.  For the most part, it was worth it.

When it comes to Tokyo dining, L’Effervescence stands toe-to-toe with the big hitters like Narisawa and Quintessence.  The food is creative, meticulously plated, and delicious. The service is attentive and rarely misses a beat.  The interior design is plush, if not a tad dark, with white table clothes but a “no jackets required, yet collared shirts preferred” kind of vibe.  Expect Radiohead, Rolling Stones, Beck, and The Doors providing background music.

Of course, this is Tokyo haute cuisine and the price tag is “haute” as well.  Only one menu available at dinner for 20,000 yen plus service and tax.  Lunch is 10,000.  Add a few glasses of wine (pairings and an extensive bottle list also available), and you’re looking at at least 32,000 yen per head.  Prepare accordingly.

Let’s eat L’Effervescence!

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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 has 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!

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.

Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Maybe it’s the romance of indulging one’s wonderlust and empty stomach in SE Asia. Perhaps it’s the location set in what feels like worlds away from the tourist-centric Pub Street. Or maybe it’s that slight uncertain feeling the tuk-tuk driver actually has no idea where he is going as you pass through streets covered in darkness (he does).  Whatever it is, a visit to Cuisine Wat Damnak feels like something special.

Ranked #43 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and the only restaurant in Cambodia to make the list, it can be stated with confidence that this is Cambodia’s best restaurant.  While this may not sound like such an accomplishment at first blush, this country has some seriously delicious food on both ends of the cuisine spectrum.

Founded by a French couple who decided to stay in Cambodia, Cuisine Wat Damnak serves technical, masterful cooking that takes full advantage of the many gastronomical wonders the country has to offer. Indeed, rather than just changing with the seasons, the menu changes every two weeks.

Given that kind of rapid menu turnover, one might think the food suffers.  Fear not, though, as every course was a gustatory hit. Moreover, the chef may be French, but there is no reliance on French ingredients like butter, cream, cheese, truffles, or fois gras.  This is high Cambodian cuisine that leaves you full, but never heavy.

The icing on the cake (durian?) is the jaw-dropping value offered here.

There are two course menus you can choose from, and the table need not order the same menu.  Each menu consists of six courses, there is no service charge or additional tax, and it only costs TWENTY EIGHT DOLLARS!

The four of us enjoyed the course, had plenty of bottled water, and two skillfully selected bottles of wine.  The damage (or lack thereof) was a good bit under $200.  Unbelievable.

I’m really not sure if there is another place in the world that can provide such an outstanding meal for such an unbelievable price.  If I lived in Siem Reap, I would visit every week to try each menu for sure.

If you’re in Cambodia, this is an absolute, 100%, no questions asked, MUST VISIT restaurant.

Let’s Eat Cuisine Wat Damnak!

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Amuse bouche – pickled turnip under a tofu foam.  Amazing start.

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Shredded duck confit in a stir fried “rice salad” of puffed and toasted rice.

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Grilled “sanday” fish in galangal leaves with a green mango salad.

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The perfectly-cooked, meaty white fish after unwrapping the leaf.

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Messed with the lighting here a bit.  Pork and young ginger sour soup with lime, green cabbage, and “crispy breast.”  Perhaps the most Cambodian dish on the menu. A bit of an acquired taste, but I loved it.  The crispy, juicy pork was outstanding.

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Mekong langoustine in crab coconut broth with lemon basil, pumpkin fruit, and shoot.

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Pandan brioche french toast, sesame nougatine, and dark chocolate ganache.

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The petit fours showcased different kinds of local, Cambodian fruit accompanied by a chili-infused salt.  I really loved this idea of using fruits instead of the standard macaroons, etc.

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The receipt was accompanied by homemade tamarind gummies.  Interesting flavor and a great way to finish the meal.

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A parting shot of the restaurant.  At night, it looks like a home set in the woods.  Very cozy.

Craftale in Naka-Meguro クラフタル、中目黒

Craftale, opened in September in 2015, has been creating quite a buzz in the Tokyo food and blog scene, so I thought I should check it out myself.  Located along the famous Naka-Meguro river, it’s perfect for enjoying before or after a stroll along one of Tokyo’s more scenic areas.

Firstly, Craftale has nothing to do with beer made in small batches.  The name is a portmanteau of “craft” and “tale,” as in the chef is weaving a story with his cooking technique and stylistic presentations.  Perhaps more confusingly, it’s actually pronounced “craf-tah-lu.”

Besides the name, there is nothing unclear or unfocused about the restaurant’s focus on high quality food, drink, and service.  This is beautiful food taking advantage of the ingredients’ natural colors and flavors, and at only 7560 yen for the course (there is no menu), it’s also extremely affordable.  Two wine pairings are available at 3240 yen for 4 glasses, or 5400 yen for 6.  The wine is mostly French, highlights each dish perfectly, and I would recommend paying just a bit for for the latter, more extensive pairing.  This standard of quality always goes better with a little buzz.

The restaurant itself is actually rather casual and jovial.  With it’s crisp white walls, open kitchen, and smartly procured tablewear and utensils, it almost feels like you are enjoying a meal inside a friend’s designer apartment in SoHo or the like.  Extra points for the owner’s selection of background music, which included both Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this in the 2017 Michelin guide.  We will find out at the end of the year, but until then…

Let’s eat Craftale!

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Mousse made entirely of fuki no tou (butterbur sprouts) on top of tanpopo (dandelion) salad.

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Udo (mountain asparagus) fritters with a fromage blanc and horseradish sauce, topped with slices of pickled udo.  The batter contains shirasu (whitebait).

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A beautiful dish! Horse tartare with a carrot mustard, powdered pickled egg yolk, carrots marinated in sherry vinegar.  The “tree” is pastry crust, rounding out this portrait of cherry blossoms falling in Spring.  The horse was outstanding!  Not pictured is the first of the “bread pairings,” a sakura baguette.  (Also, horse meat is referred to as “sakura meat” in Japanese, so there is a bit of a pun going on in this dish just for fun).

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Continuing with the fairly unique proteins, the white-ish meat peaking out from underneath is frog atop a white asparagus sauce.  Topped with sweet onions, Inca no Mezame potatos,  na no hana (rapeseed) and nasturtium flowers.

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The second “bread pairing” was a chiffon cake made with plenty of garlic and parsley.  Apparently in France, they eat frog with these two ingredients.

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Taking a Southeast Asian turn, the next dish was sakura masu (cherry trout) with a shrimp crisp topped with sakura ebi shrimp and lime.  The broth was a sakura ebi dashi infused with lemongrass.  A kind of fancy tom yum soup.

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The “bread” course here looks like a traditional Japanese sakura mochi, but is actually sakura rice stuffed with shrimp XO sauce.

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Detail of the inside of the rice.

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The meat dish was an amazingly juicy and tender chicken that was cooked for two hours.  Extra crispy skin, white meat, and dark meat atop two sauces- almond milk and clam.  Garnishied with okahijiki (salsola) and asparagus.  Divine!

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The last bread pairing was a seaweed bread stuffed with seaweed butter.

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The seaweed butter.

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The first dessert utilized the same “mousse-ing” technique as the first course.  Strawberry ice cream and candied strawberries topped with evaporated milk.  This dish was very reminiscent of Narisawa’s strawberry dessert, albeit a bit more one-dimensional than Narisawa.

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This second, more superior dessert featured a delicious ginger ice cream, meringue, lemon jelly, and a biscuit in the image of a honey comb.  A fantastic end to an amazing meal.

 

 

MARKT 二子玉川

Sometimes you come across a great restaurant in the strangest of ways.  I was searching restaurants in my neighborhood of Futako Tamagawa that participate in JAL’s 2X mileage program, and there I found MARKT.  If you use your JAL credit card here, you get double the frequent flier miles.  After checking the page’s website, it looked good, close, and affordable.  We had to check it out and I am really glad we did.

MARKT is about a five minute walk from the station, located on the spacious 1st floor of a stand-alone building.  The interior is bright, open, and rustic.  Think bread plates made out of finished tree bark, deer antler wall decor, Jack Johnson and Norah Jones background music.  Casual, comfortable, and attentive service.

Where MARKT really shines, though, is the food.  In terms of both taste and presentation, the food is skillfully cooked and artful in preparation.  We were impressed with every dish, and at 5300 yen for the full course, you get a big bang for your buck (or yen).  All the ingredients are organic, sourced in Japan, and selected based on what is currently in season.  Wine is 600-800 yen per glass and champagne at 1050 yen.  No more expensive than your average bar.

There were only a couple small issues with over-seasoning, but at this price and with this much food, they could be easily forgiven.  For the most part, the meal was entirely delicious and we will definitely visit again.  The course changes every month as the freshest ingredients hit their seasonal peak.

Let’s eat MARKT!

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Parmesan “chiffon cake.”  What looks like dessert is a cheesy, savory, fluffy way to start the meal.

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Sweet potato soup with a smoked milk foam.

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Homemade bread with a carrot puree spread.

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Niji masu (rainbow trout) served with a dill and cream cheese sauce and na no hana (rapeseed) sauce.  Brussel sprouts, orange, and carrot garnishes.

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Probably my favorite dish- soft and delicious potato gnocchi with maitake, brown mushrooms, crispy cheese, and egg.

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Matodai (John dory) fish with an asari clam dashi sauce that was so savory and delicious.  Garnished with a turnip sauce and yamaudo (mountain asparagus).

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Pork from Yamagata prefecture with black olive sauce, black cabbage, pickled mini onions.  Another amazing dish to finish the savory courses.

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Dessert was a work of art.  Strawberry gelato, herb sorbet (which started melting by the time we could take a picture), strawberries, meringue, beet sauce, and fromage blanc.  A lot of tastes and textures going on, but it all worked.

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Homemade “nama” (raw) caramel served with our coffee and herb tea.  The caramel melts in your mouth for a very sweet finish to an all around beautiful meal.

Abysse (アビス)

It’s already December, and that can only mean one thing – the release of the new Tokyo Michelin guide.  As usual, I was excited to see which new restaurants were added and which restaurants received a promoted number of stars.

One restaurant that stuck out was Abysse, a French fusion restaurant that opened only half a year ago or so.  They serve no meat dishes and instead showcase the wonderful seafood that Japan has to offer.

At around 9500 yen for the course menu, it is one of the more reasonable restaurants featured in the prestigious (pretentious?) guide.  I quickly made a reservation on their convenient online reservation system.  What followed was an artfully prepared and delicious 10 courses unfortunately marred by two glaring mistakes in service.  I have detailed these complaints below the photos of the delicious food.

 

Let’s eat Abysse!

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The amuse bouche was a sable cookie in the shape of Abysse’s fish logo, flavored with seaweed and served on a bed of poppy seeds.  Next to that is a hirame (flounder) carpaccio served in a passion fruit and olive oil mixture.  A nice refreshing start to the meal, and a rather large amuse at that.

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Next was an appetizer consisting of raw mushroom and scallops served on top of a flaky pie crust with creme fraiche.  Garnished with caviar and citrus fruits.  Another nicely portioned, refreshing, and absolutely delicious dish.

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Next was our favorite dish of the course.  Elegantly simple, but so very tasty.  This is sawara (Spanish mackerel) served in a sauce created by mixing together spinach and oysters.  Served oh-so gently cooked, almost raw, and just amazing.

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Foie gras flan served with uni in a Kyoto carrot sauce with micro-celery and rum raisin.  The only use of meat in the whole course.

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Abysse’s signature dish- a bisque made from 7 different fish, lobster, various spices, and an entire orange (peel and all).  Very deep ocean flavor that you can taste in three distinct movements: seafood, a spicy kick, orange citrus.

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The bisque is served with a very flavorful couple of bites- toast topped with potato aioli and parmesan cheese.

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The main dish was two different kinds of tai (snapper) fish- amadai and kinmedai served with an onion and white soy sauce.

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Next was the cheese course.  God I love cheese courses.  A blue goat cheese on the left and a fancy kind of brie style cheese.  I don’t remember the detail.  Oops.

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The first dessert was a rosemary and strawberry blancmange.  Creamy, tart, and very good.

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Aaaand I forgot to take a picture of the second dessert! Amateur error.  But here is a cropped photo of the 2nd dessert- vanilla ice cream atop a chocolate mousse with kinkan (a Japanese citrus fruit with edible skin) in the center.

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Coffee and petit-four of white chocolate with dried pineapple center atop white chocolate shavings.  Served to resemble pearls in its shell in keeping with the restaurant’s “deep sea” theme.

Allow me to vent a little bit regarding some mistakes with the restaurant’s service.

First, between two of the courses I needed to use the restroom. When I came back, I was surprised to find that the next course had already been served and, according to my wife, the staff had started explaining the dish to only her.  She had to kindly ask them to wait until I came back to the table to receive the explanation.

Next was a more unforgivable misstep.  The small restaurant can only hold around 20 people.  The last table is set in a private room where during our visit, 3 young men and 3 young women were having what sounded like a goukon (A Japanese style of date between two groups of strangers). The six people were obnoxiously loud, laughing and chatting loud enough so that the whole restaurant could hear.  While this is not the staff’s fault, it is most definitely the staff’s responsibility to tell the customers to speak more quietly out of respect for the other diners. Unfortunately, they didn’t and I had to ask the staff to please tell the group to be quiet. When you’re paying this kind of money for high quality food, it should be a given that all customers respect those around them. Unfortunately, the staff here did not realize it (although the other customers did, often looking around and shaking their heads in disbelief).

Blame it on growing pains at this young restaurant, owned by a 30 year old chef, but while the food was very good and the price is nice, it is difficult to highly recommend this restaurant.

Edition Koji Shimomura (エディション・コウジ シモムラ)

Passing some time on the online Michelin guide, I randomly stumbled upon what sounded like an interesting, two-starred Michelin establishment.  Edition Koji Shimomura may at first appear to be another French restaurant run by a Japanese chef who trained in France, came back to Japan, and established his own restaurant here.  However, the restaurant clearly sets itself apart by stating its mission to create delicious French-influenced cuisine without relying on the standard, almost stereotypical hallmarks of French cuisine- heavy ingredients like butter, cream, oil, and fat.  Indeed, Midori and I have cut back on visiting French restaurants because while delicious, we always end up with upset stomach a few hours later.  Eww.

Anyways, the deal was sealed when I found that Edition was running a promotion.  For first time visitors, they had a special, limited edition menu for a mere 10,000 yen per person.  It only lasts until October 17th, so I snagged a reservation as quickly as possible.  Wine comes in at 1500-2500 a glass, with pairings starting at 5500 for 3 glasses (including champagne to start).  Quite reasonable.

Edition is located about a 10 minute walk from Roppongi station and the main crossing.  It’s on the main street, but far removed from all the hustle, bustle, and unpleasantness of Roppongi.  You can also access it directly from Roppongi Icchome station.  It’s located inside an office building on the first floor.  We visited on a Saturday and it was very quiet and peaceful in the area.  The restaurant itself is quite small with only two 4-tops and six 2-tops.  The staff is very attentive and friendly, especially the head server whose name unfortunately escapes me.  He would sometimes chime in on our conversation, but was never intrusive.  He explained to us the challenges of importing fois gras from France, the reason the forks were placed face-down (a nod to Renaissance-era French dining), and many other details of our meal.  It all made for a very pleasant evening.

Let’s eat Edition Koji Shimomura!

IMG_4432First, the amuse bouche- a chip made from a cassava potato, a potato that contains no gluten, coated with parmesan cheese and tomato.  Crisp and flavorful.  This was served in beans, which are not edible.

IMG_4430The course got started with a huge bang.  An oyster atop a milk-based mousse containing seaweed and more oyster.  The jelly is made of seawater and lemon, topped with roasted seaweed.  Served cold, this was a wonderfully crafted, tart, and refreshing dish that artfully blended a variety of textures and flavors.

IMG_4431The freshly baked bread.  Carbs for me, please.  I had three.

IMG_4428The next appetizer (portioned more like a main, but I’m not complaining).  Foie gras, eggplant, smoked slivers of duck, and girolles, a rare French mushroom.  Sage oil and duck sauce.  An explosion of autumn colors and flavors, the foie gras almost sweet with absolutely no lingering bitterness.  Yum.

IMG_4427One of Edition’s specialities- sea bream fish wrapped in kanafeh (a flaky pastry of Turkish origin) dusted with parmesan cheese.  This was served with an interestingly presented broccoli, broccoli sauce, and a lemon jam for acidity.  A meaty fish prepared yet again with great balance in textures.

IMG_4426The meat course was a special Iberian pork shoulder.  The server explained that one pig only has around 400 grams of shoulder meat, making it quite a delicacy.  Served rare, it was buttery and juicy.  The vegetables highlighted the season, including hime ninjin carrot, bitamin daikon, eggplant, radish, and seiryuusai.

IMG_4424The cheese course really impressed us with its simplicity.  The chef mashes sweet bananas, places those on top of chestnut bread, and tops it all with roquefort cheese.  It’s so simple but so utterly delicious.  I had never had bananas with cheese but the sweetness of the fruit works so well with the strong, moldy flavor of roquefort cheese.  So, so good.  We will try this at home.

IMG_4437The first dessert appears simple in its sheer whiteness, but was actually quite technical.  An espuma of lychee next to coconut ice cream served atop fresh dates.

IMG_4423Next was a dessert “teaser,” a chocolate water.  We were told to take a small sip before the first dessert.

IMG_4422Another complicated dessert featuring chocolate sherbet powder at the top with a chocolate ganache topped with French salt, Majorcan olive oil, and an olive.  We were instructed to again drink the cocoa water, which now tasted like regular water.  I didn’t really get the point of this cocoa water “trick,” but the dessert was delicious anyways.

IMG_4421The petit fours served with our coffee and tea included this, an espresso and milk pudding served in a very cool holder…

IMG_4420And candied nuts served in a foldable leather nest-type thing.  They were tasty but a little bit forgettable.  Still, an amazing meal at a Tokyo bargain price.