On my first morning in Tokyo, I awoke to find the sky overcast. I put on my coat, left my sunglasses behind, and ventured downstairs where I asked the concierge if there was a chance it could get sunny at some point. “Oh, no,”she replied, straight-faced. “It won’t get sunny until January.”
So I headed out, coat on and sans sunglasses. Later that afternoon, when the sun DID come out, I was carrying my coat around and seriously wishing I’d brought those sunglasses along – just in case.
Well, last night, I awoke to another cool, overcast day. But this time, going on past experience, I left the coat at home and brought the sunglasses.
The sun never came out. I carried around my sunglasses all day and wished I’d brought along my coat – just in case.
Fortunately, the walk to my lunch destination was brisk in both senses of the word, a mere chilly ten minutes from Peninsula to Ginza La Tour.
The fifth floor restaurant is the epitome of French elegance.
I was escorted into a small, private dining room.
The flatware and tableware are clearly a source of pride.
As I waited for my dining companion to show, the door to my private room was sealed off.
To those of you suspiciously commenting on the fact that all of my dining companions have been young women, I introduce my lunch mate on this day, Stefan - a bigger foodie than yours truly.
How big a foodie is Stefan? Well, for one, he carries around his own salt.
And recommended this bottled water at about $20 a pop.
A former New Yorker presently eating his way around the world, Stefan is a connoisseur of everything from cheese to wines, salts to breads. I learned more in the few hours I spent with him than months spent viewing Food Network.
Assortment of seafood with caviar. The beautiful creations ranged from very good to utterly fantastic in the case of the one bite, about four o' clock, that was some sort of conch.
Sauteed foie gras with Japanese grapes and Kyohou sauce. I liked this dish a lot to which Stefan replied "Of course, it's foie gras.". The plump, sweet grapes were wonderful, but Stefan noted they would never do well in North America becase they weren't seedless.
A fine lobster souffle.
The fish of the day. The menu instructed us to ask our waiter. We did and, while he was able to explain what it was, neither of us knew the Japanese translation for black winter fish.
The palate cleanser and, if we heard correctly, carrot and orange sorbet. I say "if we heard correctly" because while we could taste the orange, there was no discernible "carotness" to the dish.
Grilled sirloin of Japanese Maesawa beef. Apparently, this presentation is a bit of a pet peeve for Stefan. He asks the restaurant world: "Why do you want to cut my beef?". He points out that, by cutting the meat, it loses heat and moisture faster. Why not leave the cutting to the customer? Well, cut or not, the beef was excellent.
The dessert. Stefan couldn't stop marveling over the spoon skills of whoever plated this dish.
Sophistication was the keyword at lunch today, evident in everything from the decor to the service, but nowhere was it more evident than in the artistic presentation of the meal. A very nice lunch, but I would love to see what they could do with dinner.
After our meal, we took a stroll through Ginza…
Monk - real or fake? How can you tell?
We eventually ended up in Harajuku where the strolling was a little more chaotic.
Nothing to see here but some guy waiting to cross. Yeah, that's right. Some guy.
I returned to my hotel room to recharge and upload an early blog entry, and then it was off to Pierre Marcolini where I chatted with the gals there – including Moro and Keiko, a couple of my previous dining companions – and met up with my dinner mate on this night, the lovely Akemi.
We caught a cab to Cuisine Michel Troisgros, located in Nishi-Shinjuku’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Akemi raises a glass in toast.
Amuse I: Tucked away within the cool, crispy sweetness of the exterior were some warm, acidulous tomatoes.
Amuse 2: And a second round of delightful little contrasts of tastes and textures. Right off the bat, I was served notice that this would not be your typical meal.
Scallops and porcini mushrooms "saltimbocca". The meatiness of the scallops and the mushrooms take center stage here with crisp accompaniments (yes, those are sage leaves) lending another delightful contrast.
Pan-seared foie gras, spices, endives, and passion fruit. Yes, it's foie and, yes, I love it - but there are some foie gras dishes that stand head and shoulders above the others. The Faro version served with chestnut chutney was one. This version is another.
"Autumn garden" langoustine. Okay, at this point, the pattern that started to develop early becomes very clear. Yes, the dishes are gorgeous and they do offer wonderful contrasts and compliments in tastes and textures, but underlying all that is the simplicity at work here.
Chef's surprise #1 and, again, a dish that is collectively creative AND simple.
Chef's surprise #2: And add fun to the mix. A black truffle tofu ravioli. When was the last time you had one of these? This one had us laughing out loud in delight.
Akemi prepares to dig in.
Venison with rucola butter, trompette mushrooms, and hazelnuts. What were we seeing about not cutting our meat? Here, it's presented tender, perfectly prepared, and gloriously un-cut.
Served with Chef's surprise #3: A chestnut gratinee. Divine.
Fourme d'Ambert cheese and pear. A dish that has been in the Troisgros family for generations.
Chef's surprise #4: Orange meingue pie and homemade ice cream. I've never been one for lemon meringue, but I AM a huge fan of THIS version.
And speaking of which - anyone will tell you I'm not a fan of mint. Especially served with chocolate. So, when this dessert was presented - the Mint Square (chocolate and mint base, topped with mint ice cream, and mint crystalized sugar square - those are tasty little edamame up front) - I was leery. But one bite and I was reliving that scene in Ratatouille where the critic takes the bite of the rataouille. Suddenly, I was transported back to my childhood and the house I grew up in, running my fingers through the patch of fragrant mint my parents used to grow in the backyard. The Japanese even have a word for it: Natsukashi!
Chef's surprise #5, is it? I've lost count. An assortment of fun little mignardises.
Once we'd moved on to tea, the man responsible for the memorable meal came out to say hello - Executive Chef and Director Lionel Beccat.
Chiba Tadashi, Chef de Rang
A spectacular meal, one of my favorites to date. Michel Troisgros makes the case that fine-dining can be fun with wonderfully creative but uncomplicated dishes. This one is going on my 2010 return-to list.
Akemi thanks me with some surprise gifts!