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!

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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.

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.

La Bombance in Nishi-Azabu (ラ・ボンバンス in 西麻布)

Well, it’s been a while since the last update.  We were itching for some fine dining, but had no real occasion to celebrate.  We decided to try La Bombance thanks to its ease of access (it’s near Roppongi station which is on my commuter ticket) and because it’s in Gurunavi’s Top 500 restaurants in Japan.  One Michelin star doesn’t hurt either!

Stated plainly, La Bombance is an amazing restaurant for any occasion (or in our case, non-occasion).  It’s a cozy affair with four tables, one long counter-top, and an interior only slightly fancier than your average izakaya.  Still, it’s clear from the very beginning that La Bombance is on top of its game in terms of both service and taste.  It’s fancy enough to celebrate a special event (like the classy family seated next to us enjoying the father’s birthday), but at a price that’s reasonable for a regular date night out.  The course comes out to around 12,500 a head, while the drink menu, extensive in shochu, sake, wine, and beer options, starts at just 800 yen.

The food is stellar through every course with beautiful presentation, flavors, and a sense of humor.  Several dishes feature different dashi, all of which are incredibly satisfying.  The humor is especially evident in the whimsical menu that plays with the Japanese language to create a kind of puzzle that keeps you guessing the whole evening.

This was a no-miss meal that I highly recommend.  The chef’s technique is similar to Jimbocho Den‘s Zaiyu Hasegawa-san, but I am going to give La Bombance the one-up here. The free bottle of limited edition Bombance sake the manager gave us on our way out was the unexpected icing on the cake.

Let’s eat La Bombace!

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The Japan menu, with its numbers, symbols, and odd characters create a great talking point throughout the evening.  The English menu, however, is more straightforward.

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The first course came covered by a lily pad topped with some of these ingredients.  I didn’t get a photo, but when you pick it up, a hole in the middle is revealed and the ingredients fall through.  This is a ginger gelee with junsai (water shield), abalone, shrimp, and summer vegetables.

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Next was a fairly simple corn served in the kaki-age style.  Juicy, salty, and perfect with alcohol.

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A nod to Spanish tapas- fig and sesame sauce, pon de queijo with shirasu (whitebait fish), and prosciutto-wrapped mango with popping sugar candy.

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Back to Japan, the next course was pike conger eel soup (hamo), togan (winter melon), and okra “surinagashi”  (pureed okra mixed with dashi).

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La Bombance’s signature featuring three luxurious ingredients- black truffle, fois gras, and shark fin soup atop a chawan mushi.  I hate the process of farming shark fins, and I also think it’s a bit of a cop-out to mix luxurious ingredients like this together, but this dish…this dish was absolutely incredible. One of the best dishes I’ve ever had.

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The hits kept coming.  This is a take on ocha-zuke (a very traditional Japanese dish of tea poured over rice), featuring sea urchin, amaebi shrimp, kazunoko (herring roe), and ginger.  So. Effing. Good.

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The presentation of this dish seems to be a nod to Italian cuisine, and features tachiuo  (hairtail fish) in a simple salted-and-grilled style, unagi eel sushi, okahijiki (salsola) and shiitake mushrooms served cold, and a fried “ebi shinjo” (shrimp dumpling) wrapped in Kyoto togarashi pepper served with a salsa.

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The meat course was thinly-sliced wagyu with matsutake mushrooms covered in an ankake sauce.

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Somen (cold noodles) with fried ayu sweetfish and a rayu (chili oil) and sudachi citrus infused tsuyu sauce.  Salty, sweet, spicy, smooth, crunch, slippery, and utterly delicious.  The best part? Free refills of noodles!

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Dessert was a matcha sorbet atop anko beans and mochi, a sesame sorbet consisting of only sesame, sugar, and icea (INCREDIBLE), and a “white coffee” blancmange.  Simple in presentation, masterful in its technique.  An amazing finish to a very memorable meal.

 

Casa Vinitalia in Azabu Juban (カーザ ヴィニタリア)

As an early birthday celebration to me, we wanted to go somewhere nice to eat.  We love Tokyo’s selection of fine Italian restaurants because they are delicious, fairly simply, usually do not rely on heavy butter or cream, and are some of the most affordable Michelin-starred options in the city.

On this occasion, we chose Casa Vinitalia, an establishment in Azabu Juban (or 15 minute walk from Hiro Station) that’s fairly easy to find thanks to its location near a major intersection.  Upon entering this elegantly simple restaurant, it is immediately apparent that they focus a great deal of attention on their wine selection.  Wine bottles adorn the staircase used to access the main dining room, are used as decoration all around the restaurant, and the wine bottle is a thick, binded book of sorts.  We are by no means wine experts, so the staff were very accommodating in serving us wine by the glass based on our amateurish preferences (“Not too dry,” “Something fruity,” etc.).

Casa Vinitalia’s interior is beautiful in it’s white and sea green simplicity.  Every table in the main dining room centers around an open patio with lots of greenery.  Though we visited on a sweltering summer day, there is plenty of air conditioning in the open room to feel comfortable, while still enjoying the view.  It feels as if you’ve stepped out of Tokyo and into a coastal Italian restaurant for a couple hours.

The food offers some of the best cost performance I’ve experienced in Tokyo’s fine dining options.  For 8100 yen INCLUDING tax and service charge, the course menu is long and very generously portioned.  The course menu is, however, not a set menu.  Every customer is given plenty of options to design the course that best suits their preferences.  Indeed, from a choice of sauces for the starting bagna cauda to the number of grams for the final,”simple” pasta before dessert (30, 60, or 100 grams), there are so many options that it actually gets kind of confusing.  Sometimes it’s nicer to just sit back and let the chef make these kinds of decisions.  Still, the warm staff is more than willing to help in choices.

After plenty of drinks, a supplement of bagna cauda sauce, and with very stuffed bellies, we walked out having paid far less than 25,000 yen.  Highly recommended.

Let’s eat Casa Vinitalia!

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I really loved the interior of the restaurant.  Here, you can see the open patio.

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Olives provided for munching while musing over the menu food and drink options.

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Various breads.  Enjoy them on their own or dip them in the amazing bagna cauda.

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All the course menus start with the specialty bagna cauda.  We chose the gorgonzola cheese sauce.  Accompanied with a bouquet of fresh, seasonal vegetables.

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Doing the dip.

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The first starter – tachiuo (scabbard fish) carpaccio with a caper olive oil and herb sauce.

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Starter 2 (before plating) – sumibiyaki iwashi, or sardine cooked over coal.

 

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The plated sardine. Perfectly cooked and so juicy.  Squeeze the sudachi over the fish for a nice citrus kick.

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We opted for a supplementary refill of bagna cauda sauce- here is the standard anchovy-based dip with olive oil and butter.

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Ayu risotto (sweetfish) featured a generous helping of dill, zucchini, and string beans.

 

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Kinka pork.  Rare, juicy, and delicious.  Served with its own fat and a mustard-based salsa verde.

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Potatoes served with the pork.  We loved how much this restaurant uses Staub cookware.

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The final savory dish is a “simple pasta.”  We chose 60 grams of spaghetti and the spicy tomato sauce.  It had a nice zing and the homemade noodles were cooked perfectly.

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My dessert was white peach with a white wine sorbet.

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Cassata- an Italian ice-cream cake with various fruits and a passion fruit sauce.  I preferred this dessert.

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Petit fours featured a lemon caramel with apricot, a whipped cream meringue, and a brandy-infused ganache.

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Shakerato- an espresso shaken with ice with grappa liquor.  I absolutely loved this both in terms of taste and the presentation.  Excuse the dirty table in this photo.  I spilled a bit of bagna cauda!

 

 

Den in Jimbocho (傳、神保町)

It’s already been one (amazing) year since I started this blog.  To celebrate (but really just because it’s one of our favorite restaurants), we booked a table at the always entertaining Den in Jimbocho.

This was our fourth visit, and you can see my first blog entry about Den here.

Though it’s been pretty famous for a while, Den has really taken off in the past year.  It won a spot on the prestigious Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, has consistently maintained its one Michelin star, and is a must-visit for any chef, blogger, or food lover in Tokyo.  Indeed, the walls of the entrance are a testament of Den’s worth, with heartfelt messages and signatures from the likes of local stars like Ivan Orkin to famed Noma super-chef Rene Redzpi.

While the food is always fun, innovative, and astoundingly delicious, what really makes Den is the interaction between staff and customer.  Head server Noriko, the owner-chef Zaiyu, and his support chefs always assure each and every customer is treated like a best friend.  Everyone in the intimate restaurant seems to love engaging in lively conversation about the food, the restaurant, and anything in general.  When I congratulated Zaiyu on making the Asia’s 50 Best, he was quick to explain that while Michelin stars are granted for the cuisine, the 50 Best award is granted to the entire restaurant, and that includes the customer.  Thus, he congratulated Midori and me, as well.  A truly humble, yet masterful chef making waves in Japan and around the world.

As usual, expect to pay around 20,000 yen per person including plenty of drinks.  No need to worry about menus for food or drinks, as there is one course only and Noriko will choose the right wine, sake, or beer to match your preferences.

Let’s eat Den!

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Thet humor starts from the first course with this angry face composed of aori ika (squid) with soramame beans, sudachi citrus, and home-made salt.  The salt is made of sea salt and konbu seaweed that is crushed by hand into a fine powder, and it is amazing.  Midori’s plate was a cute, smiley face.

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Junsai (brasenia, or water shield) with an onsen tamago egg served in a katsuo (bonito) broth.  The junsai has a soft, gelatinous texture that has a pleasant popping sensation.

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The always-amzuing Dentucky Fried Chicken box.

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Our two servings of chicken, garnished with momiji leaves.

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Today’s chicken was stuffed with black rice, kuko no mi (wolf berry), matsu no mi (pine nuts), and chosen ninjin carrot.  Finger lickin’ good, indeed.

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The sashimi course was Hatsugatsuo, the season’s first katsuo (bonito) served with a dash of salt and wasabi.

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A beautiful main course consisting of kinmedai (golden eye snapper) served with a fiddleneck fern miso and various fried mountain vegetables.  The roasted onions between were roasted to a sweet, soft-yet-still-crunchy perfection.  The fish was cooked on the outside and pink on the inside, having been cooked only with a hot dashi made from clams.

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Otsumami to go with our alcohol between courses- karasumi (salted and dried mullet roe).  Noriko explained that this is homemade, repeatedly brushed with sake and dried, over a period of 6 months.

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Den’s 2nd signature dish- a salad with over 20 natural ingredients.  There is no dressing, but instead gets its flavor from kombu seaweed and naturally-pressed sesame oil.

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Under the greens, one finds many individually prepared ingredients, such as these fun little carrots.

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A dashi made with sansho (Japanese pepper), myoga (Japanese ginger), and duck meat.  Savory, umami flavor that warms the soul.

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Today’s donabe rice was served with a hearty portion of hotaru ika (firefly squid).

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The rice as served with pickled vegetables and miso soup.  I asked for an omori (large) portion as seen above.

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Dessert was a refreshing and light finish- yogurt sherbet with a tomato jelly and dekopon (Japanese sweet mandarin).

 

 

 

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.