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.

 

 

Da Olmo(ダ オルモ、神谷町)

I work in Kamiyacho, a business district in central Tokyo.  I was browsing through the Michelin guide to see if there were any restaurants in this area, and was happy to find Da Olmo, a one-star Italian restaurant featuring simple, yet beautifully prepared dishes from Northern Italy.  In 2015, Da Olmo was listed as a “Bib Gourmand” restaurant, but was promoted to one star in the 2016 guide.  I knew I had to go.

At 7000 yen for the dinner course, this is one of the best values for a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo.  Wine starts at 800 yen a glass, making it easy to enjoy a fantastic, authentic Italian meal for two with plenty of drinks for under 25,000 yen.  We let the staff choose the wine to pair with each dish.  All I told them was I don’t like anything too dry, and they were able to pick delicious wines that went perfectly with every dish, every time.

Attentive and friendly service, a knowledgeable sommelier, and a boisterous (but never obnoxious) atmosphere round out Da Olmo as a real winner.

Hidden on a side-street in an area of Tokyo that is somewhat deserted on the weekends, this restaurant feels like an undiscovered gem.  Highly recommended for any occasion.

Let’s eat Da Olmo!

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Bread was served warm with our glass of prosecco.

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Appetizer plate.  From the bottom, R to L – carpaccio, fried gori fish, mackerel, spicy anzu beans in a tomato sauce, smoked duck (amazing), and a “cake” made from soba flour, milk, and ham.

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Tai (red snapper) and fresh tomato pasta.

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The highlight of the meal- risotto with loads of parmesan topped with a generous portion of shaved black truffles. I’d go back for this dish alone.

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Main option one- duck served rare with seasonal vegetables, all expertly prepared and delicious.

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Main option two- Que fish (longtooth grouper) served with its scaled fried like a senbei cracker. Same vegetables as the duck. I preferred the fish, Midori preferred the duck.

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A cheese plate featuring Danish, French, and Belgian cheeses. Perfect with the bread.

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Rum raisin ice cream, panna cotta topped with kinkan (Japanese kumquat), and hazelnut cake. A great finish with my cappuccino.

Disfrutar – Barcelona, Spain

The second of two Michelin restaurants we visited in Spain was definitely the stronger of the two, and I would say this was my favorite meal of 2015.

Disfrutar was opened in 2015 by three head chefs of El Bulli, and unsurprisingly, gained a Michelin star in the guide’s next publication.  This was a truly epic dining experience, clocking in at just shy of 4 hours, and a highlight of our trip.

Again, I have to apologize because my descriptions of the food may be somewhat lacking. I chalk this up to three factors: 1) Sometimes it’s hard to completely understand the staff’s accents, 2) Sometimes it’s difficult to “get” all the descriptions of the food that is closely linked to Spanish culture, 3) We did the wine pairing, it was something like 12 wines, and by the end of this meal I was absolutely smashed.  Seriously, I’ve never been so hungover after a night of fine dining.  This just goes to show how truly FUN it is to eat at Disfrutar. There is no pretentiousness, and though the cuisine is arguably some of the best in the world, the restaurant is quite casual in the best way possible.  The vibe is jovial and the staff is very friendly.

There were three menus- a standard menu (~70 euros), a festival menu (100 euros), and the holiday menu (130 euros).  When eating at these kinds of restaurants, my theory is to always go big and really see what the restaurant has to offer.  However, the holiday menu featured a lot of game meat (primarily rabbit), of which I’m not a huge fan, so we took the festival menu.  The amount of food served for this price is outstanding, and the wine pairing is well worth the 55 euros.  It’s obvious the chefs and sommeliers put in great effort and meticulous detail to make sure the wines matched each and every dish or movement of dishes.

I can’t say enough about Disfrutar.  It may only have 1 Michelin star (perhaps it’s too casual to be considered for more), but it should be on every gourmet’s bucket list.  This is some of the most exciting food I’ve ever had, and in my opinion follows just behind Sagrada Familia on the list of Barcelona’s must-dos.

Let’s eat Disfrutar!

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“Welcoming cocktail” – Frozen passionfruit, rum, and shaved coffee that the waiter adds in front of you.

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“The beet that comes out of the land.” The waitress shook the dish and out of the soil came these two delicious bites of dehydrated “beets” flavored with yogurt.

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Texture detail of the “beet.”

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“Gin rose petal” – You just eat the little drops of gin. Like gin ikura.

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“Salty candy with walnuts” and mango on the right.

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A tomato “polvaron” – a play on a Spainsh Christmas sweet. The little drops are made from a rare olive oil.

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“Transparent pesto ravioli” served with a parmesan water. You dip the ravioli and put the whole thing in your mouth.

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Disfruta olives- brought over from El Bulli. These both look like normal olives but actually burst in your mouth. The left one is concentrated olive juice and the right tasted like citrus.

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The olives were served with this little spoon of citrus juice to accompany the second olive.

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Idiazabal smoked cheese on a biscuit…

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…Served with a glass of fancy apple juice.

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Amazing dish right here- “Crispy egg yolk over mushroom gelatin.”

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The inside of this perfectly cooked egg.

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The truffle gelatin underneath the egg.

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“Recuit de drap,” this was unwrapped and topped with the sauce and pine nuts in front of us. A kind of Spanish cheese made from almond milk and topped with a truffle sauce and fir tree honey.

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Detail of the anchovy served with the cheese.

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Langoustine cocktail sandwich. The toast dissolves away as soon as you touch it. Reminiscent of Gaggan and absolutely delicious.

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Salmon and mackerel sushi- the rice is actually cauliflower. Tasty, but a little random.

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Continuing the short Asian theme- delightful mushroom dumplings.

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Macaroni carbonara. The pasta is actually made from gelatin.

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Liquid salad- hiding at the bottom was another little explosion of juice for the mouth.

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Eel gelatin, soy milk, cream, and Ossietra caviar- you fold it up into a thin little empanada and eat in one bite. This was so good.

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Razor clam with two types of peas- the ones on the right were normal peas, while those on the left were concentrated drops of pea juice.

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Disfrutar’s take on ajillo- An entire langoustine with black garlic and parsley foam.

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Red mullet with pork jowls and aubergine “gnocci.”

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The final savory dish was “Thin sheets of veal” – served with a chunk of bone marrow and truffle sauce. Delicious, but a bit heavy after all the previous food.  We actually had to leave a few slices.

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Pineapple sorbet with coconut and licorice.

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“Cheesecake cornet” topped with strawberry gelato.

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The “tarta al whiskey” starts with them pouring nice whiskey on your hands…

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…Then you eat these with your hands- the deconstructed tart….

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…Served with a vanilla cream.

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Chocolate peppers with salt and oil. The inside of the peppers is actually chocolate.

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“Coffee profiterole” – The final dessert. By the time this was served, I was totally wasted, so the picture alone will have to do.

El Poblet – Valencia, Spain

So here we are at the 7th entry in this blog called “Let’s Eat Tokyo.”  Alas, it’s the 2nd entry featuring a restaurant located outside of Japan.  I like to travel and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to write about my delicious adventures.  Maybe I’ll rename the blog in the future. Whatever.

Anyways, the wife and I took a trip to Spain and visited Barcelona and Valencia.  While researching Valencia, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this delightful city has around 5 Michelin-starred restaurants.  After digging further into the restaurant scene, we decided to go for El Poblet.  Actually, we had booked Vertical, then they lost the star with the publication of the 2016 Michelin guide, so I cancelled the reservation there.  Sorry Vertical!

El Poblet is right in the middle of Valencia, a short 5 minute walk from the station and the major sightseeing spots.  Very convenient.  There’s 3 courses priced at around 45 euros, 77 euros, and 110 euros.  As this would probably be our only chance to eat here, we went big and were treated to 16 courses.  Drinks are very reasonable at 3 to 4 euros for a nice glass of wine, vermouth, or champagne.

It’s very obvious that the chef puts a large amount of effort into presentation.  This food is absolutely gorgeous.  Additionally, the furniture and interior decoration is very cute, as well, featuring colorful walls and pastel colored lighting fixtures.

This focus on presentation, however, sometimes comes at the expense of flavor.  This was especially apparent in the fish dish towards the end of the course.  Additionally, the chef uses A LOT of cream in his dishes.  You will leave this restaurant with a heavy stomach for sure.

El Poblet was good and reasonably priced, especially as I am used to Tokyo prices. Still, if I ever make it back to Valencia, I think I’d rather visit a restaurant like Riff instead of El Poblet again.

Finally, please forgive my vague descriptions of the food below.  The staff did not speak a lot of English.  Additionally, we were still jetlagged (damn Spanish people don’t eat dinner until 8:30pm at the earliest!) and I can’t remember all the ingredients that went into each dish.  Anyways, the pictures are pretty.

Let’s eat El Poblet!

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We were given a small bowl of rice crackers to snack on with our first drink. Not the most unique amuse bouche as I’m pretty sure these were poured out of a bag.

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The course kicked off with a big bang, both in taste and presentation. This is called “Coral” and the green chip is seaweed flavored, while the red is garlic. The colors were perfect for Christmas time. The dip was made from tofu and cream.

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Bread made with corn. Not cornbread. Very soft, hot, and delicious.

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“Petals of roses” – you eat only the petals with tweezers. They’re actually little slices of apple.

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Served with a very sweet apple “gin and tonic.” A very sweet appetizer, indeed. The small dish is a “cuba libre” consisting of cola flavored gelatin atop foie gras.

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“The living forest.” Under the “dirt” was a creamy concoction of porcini mushrooms.

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“Stones of Parmesan Cheese” – only two of these stones were actually edible. The coating was the consistency of chocolate and the inside was very creamy and cheesy.

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Detail of the “stone” after taking a bite.

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A grilled scallop in a ginger sauce. One of the meal highlights.

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“Tomato snow.” A creamy, cold tomato soup topped with shaved ice.

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“Sailor knot” – two different servings of razor clams.

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“Fried Oyster” featuring the same chip technique as “Coral.” An oyster tempura hides underneath the cream.

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The next dish was presented like this…

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Unwrapped, an entire shrimp is presented. Its only flavor is the saltwater in which it was boiled. Unfortunately, this tasted too much like seawater and was overbearingly salty.

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The shrimp was served with a side of soup made from shrimp head and swiss chard. It was served in a Japanese tea cup. Cute presentation and delicious umami flavor.

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A beautifully presented red mullet fish that is pleasing to the eye but a disappointment to the palette. Sadly under-seasoned and a big miss of a dish.

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The first of the two delicious rice dishes- a kind of green pea and squid paella. Closer to the over-seasonsed side, but I loved it.

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“Rice ashes” – this was tasty but I can’t remember what it consists of at all…sorry.

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The final savory dish was a delicious piece of iberico pork. The brown sliver is a piece of fried skin from a Spanish potato.

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“Citrus countryside” – Lots of different citrus fruits from around Spain with an orange cream in the middle.

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“Slates of chocolate” – the lighter pieces are a kind of chocolate meringue, while the darker ones are chocolate mousse coated in dark chocolate.

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Petit fours to end.

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.