Ok, screw sports, it’s all about food.

Ryugin and Creation de Narisawa Tasting

It all started at Ryugin, a Michelin two-star devourery in Roppongi,

the home of Chef Seiji Yamamoto,

with a cool chawan mushi made of chilled egg custard, uni, scallions, diced cucumber and bread crumbs.

This was followed by smoked katsuo (bonito) served dramatically on a taro leaf covered in sparkling water drops, flavored with a vinegrette, pickles, scallions and bulgar.

Yamamoto is famous for his treatment of hamo, a boney river fish (Pike eel) from Kyoto with a tender meat of a unique consistency: To figure out how to best dispense with the numerous bones, he took a sample to a hospital to give it a CT scan.

Representatives of San Pelligrino, fully enjoying their culinary duties, were in attendance to present Yamamoto with the award for his first appearance on their list of the Top 50 restaurants in the world.

After Yamamoto made a speach, out from the kitchen came a smoking hibatchi with a pile of ayu (sweetfish; or, if that is not enough for you, Plecoglossus altivelis) over smoldering rice husks, one of Ryugin’s signature dishes. I ate two.

Yamamoto says he wants to bring out the best of Japanese cooking and introduce it to the world in a modern context. He’s doing well at achieving his aims — this tasting session was the first indicator that I had to start reconsidering the faddish love of all things Japanese-cooking that you read in the English-language press. But back to the food (and I don’t know if this one has anything to do with Japan in particular): Last was another signature dish, a miniature apple, frozen to minus 196 degrees, at which point the moisture disappears, and once you smack it with a spoon, the apple crumbles into a powdery custard of sweetness. Nice (But no photos of the post-smacked apple, I devoured it too quickly).

This being a fancy pants affair, they drove us to Aoyama in a Maserati. I asked the guy to go fast, but this is Tokyo, so good luck enjoying the speedy possibilities of your mean machine for more than a block at a time.

But never mind, we’re at Creation de Narisawa.

And the feast goes on.

But first the judges for Japan were introduced, including the guy in the wicked orange yukata.

The very amiable chef Yoshihiro Narisawa was given his award for not only placing 24th on the list, for also but being selected as the “Acqua Panna Best Restaurant in Asia”.

And the gustatory onslaught began, with a demonstration of doughy, woody flavored rolls that were served in a hot stone bowl that was covered with a wood plank to bake them at the table.

Great results.

This was accompanied by chilled, pine-flavored water,

Wasabi slime,

and soil soup.

Narisawa designed these unusual tastes to remind urban dwellers of the earth that they were once so connected to but is absent in the city. They were fresh, exciting to the senses, and experimental. After that, the dishes came fast and furious, but they were more usual edibles, though expertly prepared. I promised myself that between the photos and the great taste, I wouldn’t forget what any of them were. I did. What was on this spoon?

The kitchen was wide open, which made it apparent what a great chance this was to take photos of a restaurant and a meal you would usually consume without daring to interrupt to document.

The black objects on the table in the foreground were charcoal encrusted onions and squid, that had the crunchy flavor of classic onion rings without any harsh taste from the charcoal.

Another squid dish had a frozen vinaigrette drizzled on it for reasons I can’t remember; the food and wine was going to my head.

Pan-fried pate with strawberry and mixed greens.

Narisawa is encrusting beef in vegatable oil soot — the source for sumi ink — and leaving it out to age for several days, at least I think that is what Melinda Joe or Robbie Swinnerton, who had joined the tasting at Creation de Narisawa, told me.

A shrimp dish (perhaps the least interesting of the day).

Two pieces of unagi (or maybe it was anago) contrasted with one piece of pate …

And maybe, actually, the best dish at Narisawa, a succulent roast pork with a crispy skin. Waaah.

Both of these chefs, top rated in the world for a reason, put on quite a show. Not a dish went wrong, and each forced me have to rethink any mid-level izakaya that aspires to present itself as something more than your downtown salaryman haunt. If you are going to go upmarket, now you need to do it with intention and vision. I’ll still enjoy a meal on the shitamachi where office workers go at the end of the day for a beer and some hearty filling, but I’d be wary of any restaurant that is taking culinary risks without reason or imagination.

More please.


One response to “Chow

  1. Pingback: Ok, screw sports, it’s all food. « Contemporary Art in Japan

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