Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mizutani, Tokyo

May 10, 2014, Mizutani, JPY 20,000 (lunch), Japanese

Mizutani is located between Ginza station and Shinbashi station. But, the Google map that I got indicated to use Shinbashi station exit #3. When I was trying to get out of Shinbashi I found out exit # 3 was closed, therefore, I got out from exit #4. That immediately threw me out of balance. I asked a woman for help. She could not figure out which direction to pursue because she is not a local resident and in turned asked another woman for help. This 2nd woman, a local resident of Ginza, called the restaurant for direction and was able to figure out. She was kind enough to escort me to the restaurant taking a 10-minute walk. After I got out of the restaurant I decided to do window shopping in Ginza and found out it was more convenient to use Ginza station exit 8 (under the famous Mitsucoshi Dept. Store) than to use Shinbashi station. Tokyo beats any other cities in the world in terms of the difficulty and confusion incurred in finding a specific location. 

Mizutani is located on the 9th floor of Juno building in Ginza. There are a max of 10 seats around an L-shaped counter. I was seated at the far end of the long-sided counter right in front of Chef Mizutani’s assistant-chef. Chef Mizutani is a bit friendlier than Chef Jiro although with the same level of un-communicable English proficiency. He made it clear right at the beginning that no photo was allowed on food. Among the customers, there were two Asian women (from Singapore), two Japanese women, and a party of 3 Japanese (two men and one woman), a single Japanese man and me. One Japanese man in the 3-party group could speak English fluently and was able to serve as a translator. This kind act helped to make the atmosphere lighter than the tense atmosphere that I had experienced at Jiro Sushi Roppongi.

Chef Mizutani was a long time disciple of old Chef Jiro before that he set up his own sushi bar. He followed the similar pattern of old Jiro’s legendary soft-handed two-finger technique that pairs fresh nigiri cuts from the Tsukiji fish market with warm and delicate rice. At Mizutani, I noticed the room temperature was a bit higher than the setting at Jiro Sushi Roppongi. I ordered the 17-course tasting menu.

1st Course – Fluke (Hirame)
2nd Course – Gizzard shark (Kohada)
3rd Course – Squid (Ika)
4th Course – Tuna (Maguro)
5th Course – Middle fat tuna (Chu-toro)
6th Course – Fat tuna (Oo-toro)
7th Course – Large scallop (Tairagai)
8th Course – Small bay scallop (Kobashiya)
I truly appreciated the arrangements of two different kinds of scallop served sequentially to let the customer enjoy the similarity and difference.
9th Course - Mantis crab/shrimp
Although it is called mantis crab becaseu if has got crab's strong claws, it actually looks more like shrimp with a long body. Therefore, sometimes it is called mantis shrimp. There are ample amount of eggs (like crab eggs) ensconced in the middle of body running from neck to tail. The texture is a cross-breed between crab and shrimp. I got a photo of baby mantis crab when I visited the Tsukiji  market.

10th Course – Geoduck clam (Mirugai)
11th Course – Needle fish (Sayori)
12th Course – Shrimp (Kuruma-ebi)
Cooked shrimp was tenderer than what I ate at Jiro (son) Sushi Roppongi.
13rd Course – Horse Mackeral (Aji)
14th Course – Abalone (Awabi)
15th Course – Sea urchin (Uni)
16th Course – Sea eel (Anago)
17th Course – Egg Omelet (Tamago)
Mizutani’s tamago was noticeable better than Jiro’s. It had slightly softer and smoother texture than Jiro’s.

During our conversation, I asked my translator of the comparison between Jiro and Mizutani. My translator informed me that he has been a regular customer at Mizutani and prefers Mizutani to Jiro because Mizutani has further refined Jiro’s technique. Although I have never been to old Jiro’s sushi bar to say that I agreed with my translator’s finding, I could at least say that Mizutani (Michelin 3-star) is definitely more refined than Jiro (son) Sushi (Michelin 2-star) Roppongi. Overall, the quality and taste were excellent at Mizutani and I also had the luxury of a more relaxed atmosphere at a more reasonable price. Mizutani doesn't accept any credit card becasue they believe in saving costs and pass along the savings to customers.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo

May 9, 2014, Nihonryori RyuGin, JPY 29,700, Japanese

RyuGin was the 2nd of the three appointments that I was able to secure through Amex’s Concierge. It is located in Roppongi Hills, the very same metro station that I got off at when I went to Jiro. It is located right across the street from the chic Roppongi Hills complex. I followed the Google map provided by a very kind friend and was able to find it easily. I arrived a bit early, but the receptionist let me in right away. The max capacity is for 14 people and the place is decorated with theme color of black rendering a very soothing atmosphere. “Nihonryori” means Japanese cuisine and “RyuGin” means dragon’s hymn, probably referring to dragon’s happiness from enjoying the restaurant’s cuisine. To be consistent with its name, RyuGin had one side of wall decorated with a wall-to-wall painting of dragon. The background music also provided with a very relaxing atmosphere.

I ordered the 8-course tasting menu. RyuGin serves Kaiseki style cuisine which emphasized enjoying your meal with moderate pace (no rush). On the menu, above the description of each course, there was a phrase indicated to reflect the spirit of the course.

Beginning with a variety of Sensations … Seasonality, Aroma, Temperature, Texture and Assemblage
1st Course – Appetizer

1) Assorted Spring Vegetables with Shellfish and a sip of Clam Clear Soup

Clam clear soup was very fresh and delicious, not spicy at all. Raw Horse Clam was topped with many fancy spring vegetables such as: Ostrich Fern (a light minty fern), bamboo shoots, spinach, fresh fried water chestnut, murame (red color), urui (light green), and tempura coated fukinoto, grilled little green broccoli. The tall green color vegetable which stood out in the picture was kogomi, it was something that I have never had before. It had a unique taste, sort of a combination of spinach, broccoli and sweet peas. I loved all these vegetables; each was prepared to perfection according to its texture and flavor.

Horseshoe clam was raw, but it was not sliced like sashimi. It was in chunk and was tender and succulent.

2) Grilled Firefly Squids and Young Peas on Egg Custard

Firefly Squids live in deep sea and make light like lightning bugs. Spring time is the most ideal season to eat them because the flavor is the best during the spring time. They were tenderer than the ordinary squids and with a bit milder flavor. Egg Custard is RyuGin’s house specialty; it was made from steamed eggs and flavored with caramel. Young peas were so young and tender that even if you are not a vegetable lover would fall in love with them.

Philosophy on the Ichiban Dashi-Taste of the Wind that Captures a Moment
2nd Course – Kuruma Prawn Dumpling and Simmered Abalone in Luxurious Presentation

These prawns were from Kyushu Island in Southern Japan. Prawns were covered with rice cake and steamed abalone (from Hokkaido in Northern Japan) served in dashi soup (made with kumbu and benito). Shrimp dumpling appeared in orange color because paste had egg yolk in the mixture. Both abalone and prawns were outstanding with flavor and freshness. It also reflected chef’s efforts to balance the natural taste of the quality seafood with limited spices.

A Message from the Coast of Japan – Richness of the Sea, Tidal Current 
3rd Course - Ocean’s Delicacy Array of 7 plates RyuGin style

They were 7 items of sashimi. In the 1st picture, upper right item was Stone fish served with ponzu sauce and scallion, lower right picture was smoke bonito with mustard sauce, lower left item was custard of abalone liver topped with hairy crab meat, and upper left was Botan shrimp from Hokkaido served with ginger sauce and freshly chopped cucumber. In the 2nd picture, on the right hand was Monk fish liver (in light orange color) served with kinomi (pepper & lime) sauce, bottom picture was butter fish with vinegar and soy sauce jelly, and left hand side was squid served with salt and citrus and nori seaweed. Each of these items was super fresh, refreshing, tasty, and unique. Abalone liver custard and monk fish liver were especially prepared with great creativity.

Exquisiteness – Power of the Ingredients
4th Course - Fresh Sea Urchins in Lace wrapping flash Fried

Fresh sea urchin wrapped in nori seaweed and rice pepper, then, quickly fried. It was served with edamame paste at the bottom and kinomi leaves on the top. The texture of sea urchin was still semi-raw after fried process; imagine the equipment used must be so special to produce the ideal end product. This was the 1st time that I ever tasted fried sea urchin.

Binchotan – A Powerful Scent of Charcoal Grill . . .
5th Course - Cherry Salmon and Vegetables with Pine Nuts Dressing

Cherry Salmon from Hokkaido = white salmon. A few years ago, I had it when I was in Buenos Aires. Later, I had it in NYC twice. White salmon tastes less fishy than the ordinary salmon and has a paler color. This dish was grilled medium-rare and covered by cherry blossom leave with chopped onion in between. Chopped daikon was served on one side and spring vegetables (baby corn, and celery) were served on another side with pine nuts sauce. On this trip, I learned that cherry blossom is for visual enjoyment as well as gastronomical pleasure.

Palate Cleanser – Apple pickled with ginger

Diverse History of Wagyu – Grass fed free range Akage Beef from Aso
6th Course - Akage Beef filet Charcoal Sukiyaki style with Crispy Poached Egg

Wagyu beef was grilled rare-medium with Sukiyaki sauce. It was the top quality beef and perfectly aged. On top of beef, there were smoked and grilled white asparagus from Saga, sautéed julienned onion and chrysanthemum leaves. On the very top was a boiled and fried egg with egg yolk still running inside. I was suggested to break the egg first and let the yolk dripped on to beef before I started eating beef. I dearly loved this smoked and grilled white asparagus; it was as good as my favorite at Mathias Dahlgren in Stockholm. This Crispy egg was really a fun thing to do as well as to eat.

The land of Rice Plants – Pleasure of eating of the same trencher, Niigata rice
7th Course - Simmered rice flavored with Cherry Blossom tea and Sakura shrimp from Surugawan Bay Pickles and Red Miso Soup

It was a trio - rice was cooked with Sakura tea, baby shrimp fried and miso soup was cooked with shrimp shell and green seaweed on top. This bowl of miso soup was the best miso soup that I have ever had. Sitting on the side of the rice bowl was a roll of colorful pickled vegetables (daikon, plum, white asparagus, koniyaku, yellow daikon and Chinese mustard green) wrapped in baby cabbage leave. All pickled vegetables were delicious. I was asked whether I would like to have another bowl of rice when I finished everything. This time I remembered to ask my server whether the offer was complimentary or not. I am not a big rice eater; in this occasion I happened to prefer miso soup and pickled vegetables. My server went along with my person preference and brought additional serving of miso soup and pickled vegetables.

Lusciousness – Coolness, Warmth, Playful Spirits, Nostalgia and Temptation
8th Course – Deserts
1)One Piece of Strawberry

A candy-shell strawberry filled with nitrogen-frozen strawberry essence and powdered sugar. The strawberry looked absolutely adorable. When I broke it open, I saw what was inside. It was served with strawberry stew. It was definitely a very creative light desert.

2)Hot Sake and Cold Sake Sweet Flavors

They were Sake ice cream and Sake souflée. This serving of Sake ice cream was the best that I have ever had and Sake souflée had a firmer texture (It did not tank when you started eating it) and enough Sake flavor. I was very contented with these cold and hot twin deserts.


Frothy matcha tea was served near the end of meal.

My dinner at Ryugin was the best meal I had during this trip of Tokyo. I made three reservations at Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi, RyuGin and Sushi Mizutani. Throughout the entire meal, the dishes displayed creativity, artistic presentation and exceptional skill across a wide variety of techniques. Many individual items were the best that I have had in their categories. Service was attentive, impeccable and friendly. Atmosphere was resting and relaxing. At the end of the meal I met Chef Yamamoto who was such a friendly and cordial person in his forty. I praised him for the sumptuous meal served, he was very pleased. As I walked out of the restaurant, he made a bow to say good bye. If you would like to have one truly enjoyable fine Japanese meal, this is the place.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sukiyabashi Jiro Sushi, Tokyo

May 8, 2014, Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi, JPY 25,900, Japanese Sushi

Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi was operated by the old Jiro’s (the same Jiro from Jiro Dreams of Sushi) son. Jiro in Japanese means the 2nd son. The name plate by the front door indicates this location is a branch of Jiro Sushi. It is located in the ultra-chic section of Roppongi Hills in Tokyo. The listed price is for sushi only. If you like sashimi, you have to order it ahead of time and it will cost you JPY 31,000. I ordered a tasting menu of sushi only. There were a total of 19 courses, including the last course for desert (egg omelet).

 I did some research on Google and found out the station that I should get off at was Roppongi Hills, exit #3. When I got out of the station, I could see that I was inside a complex that was huge and I had no clue in which direction to go. I, therefore, approached two persons who looked like office workers there. Although they have never been to Jiro, they were kind enough to coach me towards the exact location.

I have read some online clamor that the folks at Jiro are wary of non-Japanese and service was rude sometimes. I totally agree. I arrived earlier for fear that I would miss the reservation, resulting in a stiff cancellation penalty. But I was told to come back later. When I went back at the appointment time, I was the last guest to get seated by the counter closest to the kitchen. There were 7 guests for the 1st seating vs. the max capacity of 8 guests. There was a couple from Philadelphia, a couple from Florence (an American man and an Italian woman), a Japanese couple and me. The Italian woman probably was not a sushi fanatic because sometimes she did not eat the sushi in the serving plate. Unfortunately, she sat right in front of Chef Jiro and she often received a verbal admonition as well as a gestural intimidation to eat it. Her companion ended up eating the pieces that she ignored. The Japanese couple was not able to facilitate the translation and Chef Jiro did not have English proficiency, all of which created a tense atmosphere. Who would enjoy seeing a guest in the same dining room getting harassed or intimated while dining out in a Michelin starred restaurant?

Throughout the meal, I noticed the temperature at Jiro was higher than the setting in sushi eateries in the US. The quality of fish was excellent, but the temperature of these sushi pieces was higher than what we have in the US. I later consulted with some Japanese and found out that Japanese believe in serving sushi in a warmer temperature enabling the fish fat to be in a better “melt in your mouth” condition, therefore, rendering a smoother taste. In addition, at warm temperature, rice carried a more distinct flavor of rice vinegar complementing the stronger flavor of the fish.

At Jiro, there are two levels at the counter, the upper one with an individual serving plate in front of each guest and the lower one with a plate for sauce. The server place some pickled ginger in the left hand side of each guest’s individual serving plate on the upper counter and Chef Jiro and his assistant-chef would place each course of sushi in the right hand side of each guest’s individual serving plate. Each guest would then pick it up with fingers or chopsticks and send the sushi to sauce and mouth. Each guest’s individual serving plate was not changed through the whole meal. Since each course had slightly different flavor and some dripping from moving sushi back and forth to the sauce plate, one server occasionally used a piece of white cloth to clean up each guest’s individual serving plate. I notice all these details because I was closest to the kitchen and always was the 1st one to get cleaned up. However, for each round of cleaning the server continued to use the same rag to clean up other guest’s serving plate. I was truly surprised that a Michelin 2-star restaurant practices such an unhygienic act to cut corners and save costs, especially considering the price these Tokyo sushi bars charge. I consider Jiro being the most unhygienic fine dining restaurant that I have ever visited. To start with, I had a tasting menu of 19 courses (18 pieces of sushi + egg omelet).

1st Course – Flounder
A light, flat fish, the flounder offered a dose of fishiness without overpowering the taste buds.

2nd Course – Squid (Sumi-ika)
Its slightly rubbery texture required chewing a bit more in order to spread the flavor around the mouth.

3rd Course – Large scallop
It was the largest sea scallop that I have ever seen. I was very impressed by the quality; it was juicy, sweet and tender. 

4th Course – Lean tuna ((Maguro)
Start the progression of tuna nigiri.

5th Course – Medium fat tuna (Chu-toro)
It was the lightly marbleized medium fatty tuna from upper belly, paired with a bit of wasabi. It simply melted in my mouth. 

6th Course – Most fat tuna (Oo-toro)
With the increasing fat content, the color of fish filet gradually turned lighter. It offered a bit richer taste in the mouth.
7th Course – Kohada (Gizzard shad)
It is a member of the herring family and it has this cute looking of shiny silver and blue-spotted skin. It tasted less fishy than some other types of herring.

 8th Course – Bloody clam (Akagai)
It was a bit chewy, but the taste was pleasant.

 9th Course – Mackerel (Aji)
It was Horse Mackerel, very fresh and tasty.

10th Course – Salmon roe 

11th Course – Cooked shrimp (Kuruma-ebi)
Kuruma is a hearty and meaty prawn, although it was a bit overcooked. It was neatly cut into two pieces - one head, one tail. Chef Jiro’s assistant instructed to eat tail first because head part offered stronger flavor.

12th Course – Geoduck clam (Mirugai)

13th Course – Sea urchin (Uni)
Uni was so fresh and juicy.
 14th Course – Smoked bonito
Chef Jiro made excellent smoked bonito, the flavor was almost as intense as what the Nordic countries’ smoked products. 

15th Course – Hard shell clam
This was another type of clam. It was less chewy than Bloody clam.

16th Course – Mackerel (Saba)
Skinless mackerel was fresh, fishy, moist and succulent.

 17th Course – Sea eel (Anago)
18th Course – Octopus (Tako)
Chef Jiro indicated that the octopus was massaged by his prentice for at least 15 minutes prior to serving. The tako was chewing, refreshing and tasted with a light salt rub (from the massage). Chef Jiro made it clear “no soy sauce”.  

19th Course – Large scallop
I liked this large scallop a lot.

20th Course – Uni
I liked to enjoy this quality uni again.
 21st Course – Fat tuna

22nd Course – Smoked bonito

23rd Course – Hardshell clam 

24th Course – Egg omelet (Tamago)
Its texture is somewhere between sponge cake and omelet.

At the end of 18th course, Chef Jiro’s assistant announced that Chef Jiro would like to make more sushi if any guest felt like to have more. I and the American man requested more. We both forgot to clarify whether this was complimentary or included in the pricing. It turned out the addition 5 pieces (from 19th to 23rd in blue color) were calculated with a la carte price that meant the total tab for the meal was JPY 34,550 not JPY 25,900. Without question, the quality of seafood was excellent and there were some varieties that I have never had anywhere else in the past. However, Jiro Sushi was a sushi bar which doesn’t offer diversified food categories. When you calculate the (satisfaction + value) / dollar spent, Jiro Sushi is the most overvalued Michelin starred restaurant and the most unhygienic one. If you consider the ambiance as one of the elements for evaluating fine dining, it scored even worse. Who would enjoy hearing the other guest being intimidated in the same dining room?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Enoteca, Barcelona

Enoteca, 4-9-14, 145 Euros/9 Courses, French-Mediterranean

Enoteca is the only Michelin 2-star restaurant located within the city boundary of Barcelona. Since I had to catch the trans-Atlantic flight from Barcelona to NY, I decided to have dinner at Enoteca. It is inside the Hotel Arts located in the marina section of Barcelona. The theme color in the restaurant is white, with simple and classic decoration and fabulous ocean view. I ordered the tasting menu with a special request for their signature dish “fresh sea cucumber”.

Amuse Bouche

I. 1st course
1) Waldorf Salad – pineapple gelatin, apple cullies, diced onion and vinegar foam.

2) Pine Nut (slightly roasted) in wulato paper. Pine needles are for decoration only.

3) Foie Gras in dunkin donut shape covered by raspberry coating. Raspberry’s sweet-sour taste
complemented with Foie Gras’s richness. It was also chef’s creative work.

II. 2nd course
1) Coco Thai – coconut mousse, marinated langoustine and dyed red color onion.

2) Chili Crab – Northern Catalan Cap de Creus crab in chili sauce.

3) Niguiri - Tuna tartar with rice meringue cover.

III. 3rd course
1) Shrimp with suckling pig – sautéed shrimp on a piece of crispy sucking pig skin.

2) Andalucía shrimp in rice paper, mayo and olive oil.

VI. 4th course – Viva Mexico
1) Taco with guacamole mousse, avocado and couscous.

2) Macaroon with guacamole.

3) Hot pepper covered with Chibodre chili paste.

The Amuse Bouche served in Enoteca, like what served in El Celler de Can Roca, were with a “world” view, offering varieties from different countries.

1st Course – Almond cream, almond ice cream and caviar

This course served as a palate cleanser to clear the Mexican scented Amuse Bouches. Caviar, very good quality, was from Caspian Sea.

2nd Course – Braised oyster, white radish air and its soup

Oyster was braised in its soup and sea water, decorated with gold piece. I have heard that some Mediterranean dishes were cooked with sea water. Incorporating sea water in the cooking process did produce a very strong sea water taste. It was too overwhelming.

3rd Course – Sea cucumber, morrel, fava beans and cherry tomato

During this trip to the Northeastern Spain, I have had fresh sea cucumber three times at El Celler de Can Roca, Sant Pau and Enoteca. Sea cucumber was considered good food, the type of food which strengthens your health, in Chinese herbal medicine. Out of these three servings, Enoteca’s was the best. Later, I was informed by the Executive Chef that it was stir-fried in high heat quickly. It was very tender and tasty, tasted almost like scallop but firmer than scallop and less chewy than squid. Baby fava beans were also tender and yummy.

4th Course – The garden and foie gras

Seared foie gras served with gelatin of almond, carrot cream, asparagus, cream, artichoke heart, onion, potato cream, beet root and beet root sauce. The combination of almond gelatin and beet root sauce made this dish stand out.

5th Course – Creamy rice with sea urchin and melanosporum black truffle

It was risotto with sea urchin and topped with shaved black truffles. All the top notch ingredients cooked with the right technique produced a perfect dish of risotto.

6th Course – Sole with winter vegetables and meuniére of fennel

Poached filet of sole served with shrimp gamba, parsley foam, artichoke, purée of vegetables, muniére of fennel, and baby radish (at lower left corner in green color). Fish was well prepared, not over-cooked and sauce was delicious.

7th Course – Wagyu, beef, its braised juice and contrasts

Wagyu beef served rare-medium with sweet potato gnocchi, carrot, chestnut, and beet pumpkin butter. All the vegetables were well-prepared and beef was top quality. Beet pumpkin butter was something unusual, delicious but not greasy.

8th Course – Palate cleanser

After Eight – chocolate-mint ice cream was served before the desert was served.

9th Course – By Tarantino

I have never had any desert with this kind of texture. It was made with white chocolate with a texture firmer than mousse but lighter than cheese cake. There were tiny pieces of strawberry gelatins inside the cake and the cake was served with strawberry sauce. It was sumptuous and visually very pleasing.

Petit Four

Starting from left, they are: Caramel meringue with mint, vanilla macaroon, chocolate hazelnut truffle, and fennel liquor with coffee bonbon. My favorite was chocolate hazelnut truffle.

At the end of meal, the Executive Chef came out to the dining room to greet every guest. It was at this occasion that he told me the proper way of cooking fresh sea cucumber. Enoteca offered finely prepared food with high creativity and beautiful presentation. The signature dish “Sea cucumber, morrels and fava beans” definitely is the best and should be in the “do not miss” list (for the foodie) when travelling in Northeastern Spain-Catalan.