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!


Belcanto – Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon’s only two Michelin-starred restaurant, Belcanto, is located in the heart of the city’s historic center, and is nothing less than a must-visit stop on any gourmet itinerary. Landing at #85 on this year’s World’s Best Restaurants list, Jose Avillez’s restaurant has been helping put Portugal on the culinary map.  Indeed, the country’s celebrity-chef has been featured on CNN’s Culinary Journey’s, No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, and plenty of other media, as well.

The restaurant is small, cozy, intimate, and very elegant.  Although their countries share a border, this is a whole world away from our experience at DiverXO.  And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to dine in a more traditional setting.  Still, as can be seen in the pictures below, the food is anything less than traditional.  It’s fairly experimental taking cues from Avillez’s time at El Bulli (explosive olives anyone?), but strikes a perfect balance between molecular and recognizable.  And oh my, it is absolutely delicious.

Belcanto offers three different course menus (from 125 euros to 165 euros), each with its own wine pairing.  There is also an A La Carte menu.  Whichever you choose, it will be incredible.  We chose the Evolution Menu with pairing, and it was a perfect amount of food but quite a bit of wine.  We left feeling, well, drunk.

There’s really nothing negative to say about Belcanto in Lisbon.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Let’s eat Belcanto!


The lovely Belcanto staff were kind enough to let us tour the kitchen. Unfortunately, Jose was not there as he was in Mexico enjoying Noma’s popup in Tulum.

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 and down-to-earth as he explains each and every dish before 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 those served 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!

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!


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


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


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


Steamed lobster and scallop dumpling.


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


The inside of these delightfully sweet and savory buns.


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


Crispy shredded chicken spring rolls.


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


Steamed shrimp and pork dumplings with crab roe.


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


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.


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


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


Next, let’s eat Yan Toh Heen!


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


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.


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!


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


Steamed barbecue pork buns.


Steamed assorted mushroom and fungus dumplings.


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


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


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

Narisawa (ナリサワ青山)

Narisawa needs no introduction.  It has two Michelin stars and has been named Asia’s 2nd best restaurant two years in a row.  It’s been blogged about hundreds of times, but now it’s my turn.

This was our third time visiting Narisawa, a wonderful restaurant in the heart of Aoyama, one of Tokyo’s ritziest areas, just past the Bentley dealer and just before Tokyo’s only Tesla dealership.  The third time is a charm, as this was the most impressive lineup of dishes yet.

It’s become apparent that since our last visit one year ago, Narisawa has focused his efforts on looking inward at Japan’s naturally growing ingredients and seafood to create a course that is not only delicious and masterfully presented, but sustainable and healthy. Two walls have been refurbished to display an impressive collection of Japanese sake, they have added a Japanese tea pairing option, and (for better or worse) have removed from the course almost all imported, non-Japanese items like the line of macarons featuring different grades of chocolate (chocolate isn’t produced in Japan, so it is no longer served).

Don’t call this “French/Japanese fusion,” or “innovative French cuisine.”  Narisawa is going for something completely unique, completely new, and completely delicious through and through. There are few, if any, misses during the almost 3 hour meal, and it seems that as times goes by, this restaurant only gets better and better as they perfect their craft in terms of both cuisine and service.

But it doesn’t come cheap.  Last year, they increased the price of both lunch and dinner, so be ready to spend at least 50,000 yen for two people before drinks.  The one salvation is that the amount of dishes and portion sizes are exactly the same at lunch and dinner, so you can find a better value here during the day time.  Either way, a visit to Narisawa is always worth it.

Let’s eat Narisawa!


We started with a citrus champagne cocktail.  Basically a mimosa.


The spring menu had just started, and today’s bread included kinkan (Japanese kumquat), walnet, and yurine (lily bulb root).  This is the fermented dough that later proofs in a hot stone bowl at your table.


“Essence of the Forest and Satoyama Scenery” – One of Narisawa’s specialities that is always served.  Start with the cedar-infused water on the left.  The “scenery” is fried gobo (burdock root), crushed soybean powder, and a fermented soybean yogurt underneath.


Supon Karaage from Saga Prefecture.  Fried balls of soft shell turtle.  Grab the bone with your hands and enjoy.  This was the best preparation of turtle I’ve ever had (though I’ve only had turtle a couple of times…).


This final starter appears to be coal, but is actually a slice of onion inside a carbonized leak.


An amazing new dish here, omi beef tartar “sushi,” lobster ceviche with caviar, and Okinawa sea snake dashi soup with winter melon and potato.  The two crackers were made out of kuzu (a traditional Japanese root starch), giving a soft, natural texture to support the raw meat and lobster.


I was really excited about this.  Not written on the menu, this is Narisawa’s famous (notorious?) soil soup.  There are only two ingredients- soil from Nagano and gobo (burdock root, a very common item in Japanese cooking).  There is no salt or seasoning otherwise, and it was absolutely delicious.  Somehow sweet and savory, smooth, and delicious with an earthy aftertaste.  I actually requested this dish last time to no avail.  I requested again and it was served just for us!  Thanks, Narisawa!


The finished bread served with Narisawa’s moss butter.  The moss is made of olive and spinach crumble.  Especially delicious after it gets soft and spreadable.


Akashi sea bream and botan ebi shrimp.  Served ceviche style with various herbal garnishes and a yuzu kosho sauce.  The shrimp was especially delicious, cooked in the kobujime style, where the shrimp is wrapped in kombu for several hours to allow the natural umami to penetrate and tenderize the raw shrimp.  Amazing.


Hamaguri clam from Mie Prefecture.  Served in the hamaguri essence with tomato and menegi green onions.  Another fantastic dish.


Langoustine shrimp with udo and fuki no to, bringing together the sea with naturally growing mountain vegetables in a scallop and fuki no to sauce.  Plenty of shrimp eggs and brains were included in this beautiful dish.


Tilefish (amadai) coated with a crispy, crumbled, colorful rice cracker mixture with horsehair crab (kegani) with a red daikon radish for garnish.  The broth had a strong, savory mitsuba (Japanese parsley) flavor.


“Luxury essence 2007” – a broth made from boiling a mixture of several meats for many hours.  It didn’t come through in the photo, but the soup is filled with abalone (awabi) and spring vegetables.  A hearty soup indeed!


Artfully prepared fugu and a tempura of shirako (fish semen!!).  The fugu was served in a shabu shabu style.


The final savory dish was duck (aikamo) that was prepared in the Peking Duck style.  Crispy, crackling skin with juicy, medium rare meat.  Served with beets and a fairly avant-garde sauce presentation consisting of black, fermented garlick, beets, and shungiku (Japanese chrysanthemum).


Our first dessert was a pleasant surprise not featured on the menu.  A tasty white chocolate and vanilla cake to celebrate White Day, a greeting card holiday when the men reciprocate for gifts they received from the women on Valentine’s Day.


“Matcha” A very Japanese dessert consisting of green tea gelato, shirotama mochi, azuki beans, and kanten (Japanese agar).  The garnish on top of the glass is a green tea meringue.


Magnolia gelato with strawberries, strawberry jam, and strawberry mochi topped with a hot magnolia broth for a hot-cold contrast.  My favorite part of this was the jam on the left that was so deeply infused with strawberry flavor and unlike any jam I’ve ever had.


And finally, the mignardise.  These are wheeled out on a beautifully arranged cart, and you can choose whatever you want.  I asked for one of each and loved it all.



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.

Zurriola (スリオラ)

Update- I re-visited Zurriola in April of 2017, and it was better than the first time.  Check it out here!

When Michelin announced its Tokyo guide in December 2014, I somehow missed the fact that only three restaurants were promoted from one coveted star to an even more impressive two stars.  Moreover, one of these restaurants serves Spanish cuisine, a rarity in Tokyo as only two other Spanish restaurants made Michelin’s list of 548 restaurants.

Upon researching Zurriola, I found that they use a simple Open Table reservation system, and quickly made a reservation just one week prior to visiting.  I must say, I love it when respected restaurants have a simple reservation system that allow you to view available seats online and quickly proceed with confirming your reservation.  It beats endlessly calling a restaurant during a limited time period only to get a busy signal.  Looking at you Sukiyabashi Jiro.  Or maybe I just need to make some connections.  Anyways…

Zurriola is right off the main strip in Ginza, very easy to find as it is atop Barney’s New York. It’s location is central, but being on the restaurant floor above Barney’s does give you the feeling that you are eating inside a mall or department store.  However, upon entering the restaurant you are warmly welcomed by the gracious staff and led to a table that feels intimate, quiet, and very comfortable.  Actually, when the staff called me to confirm my reservation, I was able to choose between a dining room seat or the open-kitchen style counter seat.  We chose the latter and had a great shot of all the cooking action. Additionally, our reservation was at 6pm (I like to eat dinner early-ish), so we were the only customers for most of our dinner.  We were lucky enough to be served and described every dish by the owner-chef Honda-san himself.  We also got to hear his stories about living and traveling through Spain.  Exciting, as we will be visiting Spain for the first time at the end of this year.

There are two courses to choose from at dinner.  One is around 15,000 yen and the other is around 20,000 yen (including tax and service charge).  The difference is due to the latter course featuring the absolutely divine caviar dish (see below) and different proteins depending on the day’s menu.  A restaurant like Zurriola is usually for a special occasion, so I would highly recommend the pricier course.  The caviar is so very worth it.  Standard draft beers are around 1000 yen a pop, and glasses of wine start from around 1500 yen each.

Let’s eat Zurriola!


The menu was opened at our table setting before we sat down.  It’s quite detailed.


The amuse bouche, not listed on the menu above.  The item that looks like bread is more like a cracker filled with a deeply rich olive oil that bursts in your mouth with flavor.  You must eat in one bite unless you want to wear the olive oil for the rest of the evening.  The other item is a rice cracker dusted with paprika powder.


The course starts with homemade chorizo sausage, because as the chef says, it is Spain’s quintessential food.  What appears to be one cracker is actually three very thinly prepared crackers made with flour and olives.  A tapas enjoyed by hand.


The next tapas is mackerel atop a cracker filled with parsley sauce that’s been made into a jelly.


One of the highlights of Zurriola- the foie gras.  This is served regardless of season and is an emulsified foie gras that has been mixed with sherry wine atop a pistachio sauce.  The small gelatinous cube is made with sherry vinegar and the bread has various Spanish spices in it for a hot kick.  You can mix and match all the ingredients, and every bite is guaranteed to be delicious.  The foie gras has the texture of creamy ice cream and had no bitter aftertaste as foie gras sometimes does.  Absolute perfection on a plate.


Tenaga ebi (shrimp) scampi with a celery, cilantro, and lime juice, atop a flan made from the shrimp heads for a deep umami flavor.  A little bit of kick from the juice.  Great presentation here.


Squid with raw mushrooms and small cubes of homemade pork innards sausage.  The chef pours the black sauce at your table, which consists of a squid ink dashi.  Creamy and buttery deliciousness.


And here we have the bright, shining star of the show- the caviar.  Just look at that.

The caviar is smoked in front of you using grape stems to infuse them with a heavy, smoky flavor.  The chef shows his creative technique by steaming the caviar above a moistened piece of konbu seaweed so that the caviar retains its own moisture after being smoked.  The caviar is placed on a ravioli topped with thinly sliced daikon radish and finished with a parsley foam.


When you cut through the ravioli, a delectable garlic cream sauce spews outward.  As I mentioned above, this dish alone makes it worth going for the more expensive course.  Do it.


Bread before the fish course.  On the left, red wine infused bread ordered directly from Spain.  On the right is homemade focaccia bread.  Served with salt and olive oil that has also been imported from Spain.


Grouper with a rhubarb garnish and a Spanish pepper sauce.  For an international twist, chingensai (bok choy) is served on the side and cooked with olives and pine nuts.


And the final protein.  Oh my.  This, my friends, is horse.  Even though I’ve had horse a few times in Japan (always served raw), I was a little apprehensive about eating horse as the final course tonight and considered asking for a substitute protein.  However, I’m so glad I didn’t.  This was simply amazing.  Lean, juicy, and bursting with flavor.  I am officially a fan of horse and will search it out when I’m in Spain.  On the left is charred zucchini, and much like the cracker under the chorizo from the first course, the zucchini is served cut very thinly and stacked in three.  This and the caviar dish really put Zurriola in a league of it’s own.  Bravo!


We were asked if we had room in our stomachs for a rice dish before the cheese platter.  I’m never one to say no to this kind of offer, and so we were brought a Spanish rice made with shiitake mushrooms and pigs feet.  A great way to finish the main course.


The cheese plate was both playful and beautiful.  From L to R, Sainte Moure de Touraine with a honey jelly, Abondance Fermiere with a red pepper jam (served in the shape of a pepper), La Peral with a carrot candy-enwrapped sweetened carrot.  They were all delicious combinations, but the pungency of the rightmost cheese was perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the carrot preparation.  There really is not much better than a delightful cheese platter to bridge the savory and sweet courses.


The first dessert was a pineapple sorbet served with pineapple jelly and chunks of real pineapple all topped with basil leaves.  This was a tropical and refreshing dish.


The chef described this as a simple dessert, but I would say it’s more deceptively simple than anything.  He grills figs over charcoal for quite a while and serves them atop a light and flaky pie crust.  This is all topped with rosemary ice cream.  My mom and sisters probably would have been angry if they were sitting with me, because after I finished this dessert, I was licking up the remains with my fingers.  Sorry.


Finally, petit fours and coffee.  Churros, caramel-coated strawberries, melted chocolate topped with olive oil and salt, lime-filled chocolate, and biscuits made with lard.  All the chocolate is made in house using imported chocolate beans.  A beautiful ending to what was by far my favorite meal of 2015 so far.