Tuesday, July 29, 2014

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Tokyo

On my recent business trip to Tokyo, I had only three free days, and I was determined to take full advantage of all of the amazing cuisine Tokyo has to offer - more Michelin stars than anywhere else, France included!

On Saturday, we started with a fairly formal lunch at Tateru Yoshino, 2 Michelin stars, French.  As you read last week, it was good, but, didn't seem worthy of 2 stars.  That night, we moved on to dinner at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, another 2 Michelin stars, also French (don't worry, we did mix it up later on, and experienced fine Japanese cuisine too!).

Joël Robuchon has several other restaurants in Tokyo, including his 3 Michelin star flagship and La Table de Joël Robuchon (also 2 stars), which we visited the next night.  But we began our journey into his cuisine with the Tokyo outpost of his L'Atelier line, the most casual of all of his establishments.  There are 8 worldwide, including Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Paris, Singapore, Taipei, and obviously, Tokyo.  All of the L'Ateliers are a similar style and decor.

The Tokyo L'Atelier was located in the same complex as the hotel I was staying at, thus it was quite convenient.  The restaurant is an upscale brasserie, and the ambiance was unbeatable.  I loved being able to get fantastic food in such a comfortable environment, without breaking the bank. The food was delicious, certainly worthy of at least one star.  It wasn't earth shattering, not super innovative, but the execution of pretty much every element was perfect.  This is clearly why they have their Michelin stars.  I feel confident that I can recommend this restaurant, and you will be guaranteed a fabulous meal.

Service was good, but not super formal.  There were little missteps, like things not being cleared from the table promptly, and not having any wine when the main dish arrived, but overall, quite good, polite, friendly.
Outside View, such large windows!
I absolutely loved the style and decor of the restaurant.  It felt casual yet elegant at the same time.  The color scheme was a dramatic red and black.

The decor was largely made up of food as artwork: beautiful jars of pickled vegetables, spice racks, pasta in vases.
Serious work pursuing the menu.
Although it has 2 Michelin stars, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is amazingly affordable, even for dinner.  Sure, there was the option of a ¥14,800 degustation menu available, but most diners seemed to pick one of the set menus.  The smallest set was only ¥4,800, and consisted of a amuse, main dish, dessert, coffee/tea and petit fours.  For ¥2,400 more you could add a soup course, for ¥4,000 a soup and appetizer, or for ¥8,000 you could add soup, appetizer, a second main dish, and cheese.

And there were several options to pick from for each course, so there was certainly something for everyone.  I loved how flexible the menu was, both in terms of the different set options and the numerous choices for each course, and they also offered an a la carte menu as well, although pricing definitely was in the favor of the fixed menus.  And, even more amazingly, not everyone in the group had to pick the same option, so I selected the smallest set, since after our multi-course meal earlier that day, three courses seemed like enough to me, but several others in our group opted up to the ¥8,800, and then supplemented on top of that too.
Large open kitchen, with jamón ibérico.
The huge open kitchen takes up most of the restaurant, with counter seating running down the length of it.  When I say huge, I mean huge.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of it, but it was an incredibly impressive working kitchen, with plenty of different stations, all operating at high efficiency, amazingly calm.  No Gordon Ramsey-esque folks in sight.  Above you can see the jamón ibérico that was occasionally carved to order.  There was a rotisserie spinning in the background with a full chicken on it.

Most diners were singles or couples seated at the counter, able to watch over everything, but since we were a large group of 6, we occupied one of the very few tables, a bit further away from the main action.
Bread Basket.
The first item we received were bread baskets, one for each end of the table, 3 different types of bread each.  No butter nor oil was provided, which bothered some of the group.  The restaurant is attached to a patisserie, and has a full bakery, and it was very obvious from the moment I took my first bite of bread.  This was quality table bread, not just filler! (Stay tuned for a review of the patisserie, which of course I had to visit too!)

I absolutely loved the fluffy roll, almost croissant-like, very buttery, perfect salt level.  It certainly did not need butter or oil added to it, and I could have easily eaten several of these.

The petit baguettes were ok, but it seemed sorta sourdough, which I never care for, although one member of the group was really impressed with these.  They were available at the bakery for ¥105 each.

The final offering was the petit pan a l'âme erre, a hard roll, with a really great crust, but again, sourdough, so not my thing.  Available at the bakery for ¥136.

Overall, a nice selection, and I liked that they provided one of each for everyone, I always hate it when an assortment is provided, but not enough to go around, and there is awkwardness in selecting who gets which piece.
Amuse Bouche: Pork Rillettes.
Next up, we all received an amuse bouche, pork rillettes.  Doh.  I don't generally like pork, and this was very porky.  And very oily.  Certainly not my thing, but the others all liked it, and when I offered mine up for the taking, everyone reached for it.
Appetizer: LES NOIX DE SAINT-JACQUES en coquilles au beurre d’algues acidulé. +¥630.
Those who ordered the larger menu all selected the scallops as their appetizer, "pan-fried scallops cooked with seaweed butter."

The presentation was lovely, served on the shells.  Because he is awesome, Emil let me have one of his three precious scallops, as he knows how much I love scallops.  They were well executed, still translucent in the center, good sear on the outside.  The seaweed butter was fascinating, and there was lots of it.  Somehow light yet decadent at the same time, and a good start to the meal, but probably my least favorite dish.

In addition to the higher base price set meal that including a appetizer, the scallops also had a ¥630 supplement.
Soup: LES RAVIOLES de foie gras dans un bouillon de poule avec une fleurette pimentée.
Next, the folks with the larger menus moved on to their soup course.  Now, "soup" doesn't sound very exciting.  But this wasn't just soup, it was "duck liver ravioli in a warm chicken broth, with herbs and spicy cream."  The cream was dolloped on tableside.

Again, because he is awesome, Emil let me have one of the three raviolis floating in the soup.  This was a treat for both of us, since foie gras is still illegal in California.  I am so glad he did, as this was, hands down, the highlight of the meal.

The broth was light and flavorful, but the star was obviously the ravioli.  Hands down, the best ravioli I've ever had in my life.  The pasta was perfectly executed, slightly al dente, great chew.  And inside, foie gras.  Swoon.  When you bit into it, it just burst into your mouth.  The flavors, the textures, everything about this was incredible.

I almost went back several nights later, just to order this dish.  Best ravioli ever.  Best soup ever.  Best dish of the night.  Get this.
The other person who ordered soup went for the one that sounded far, far less exciting: "lettuce cream soup served on hot onion custard flavored with nutmeg".

Why anyone would pick lettuce soup when foie gras soup was an option, I don't understand.  But he did.  And he liked it.  I was far too distracted by the amazing foie soup to pay any attention to this, but it looked as interesting as soup possibly could, super frothy and foamy on top.

It turns out that you can make this at home, as he published the recipe, if you are into lettuce soups ... 
Main: LE FOIE GRAS DE CANARD à la plancha en risotto au parmesan. 
Now, for my main course.  This dish was why we were there that night.  A signature Joël Robuchon dish, seared foie gras served over parmesan cheese risotto.

My heart skipped a beat when the dish was brought out, even though I knew what to expect.  Yes, that is a giant hunk of foie on top!

It was pretty much everything you'd expect.  Creamy, cheesy risotto, perfectly executed, not mushy, not too al dente, but with a good bite, topped with slivers of very flavorful parmesan.

The foie on top was well seared, creamy, good foie.  It went very well with the risotto.  I'm not sure I've ever had foie and risotto before, but this is a great pairing.

Side note: this restaurant really has execution nailed down.  Every single dish was perfectly prepared, but this one really exemplifies it.  I think consistency like this is the difference 2 Michelin stars makes.  Perfection.

Overall, it was a really nice dish, comforting, rich, creamy, very, very satisfying.  My second favorite dish of the night, and no supplement required!
Main: L’ENTRECÔTE DE BŒUF poivrée puis légèrement laquée servie avec une purée de pomme de terre et des légumes croustillants au jus. +¥1,890.
Somehow, not everyone was excited about the foie, as only Emil and I ordered it.  The others did have foie earlier that day at lunch, and seemed satisfied with just one serving of foie in a day.  Two others opted for the beef, "peppered and caramelized Wagyu rib eye with mashed potatoes and crispy vegetables".

I'm not a huge beef eater, but I know Wagyu in Japan is obviously high quality, so I traded a bite of mine for a bite of this.  The beef was amazingly well seasoned, and the crust on it was incredible.  I did find it a bit chewy however.

The waguy had a +¥1,890 supplement.
Main: LES NOISETTES D’AGNEAU avec une compotée d’aubergine au cumin et citron confit.
The remaining diners opted for the lamb, "roasted lamb served with a cumin flavored eggplant compote and preserved lemon".  Since I don't like lamb, I didn't try it.
Hard at work scribbling down all the details.
Since we were rapid-fire eating so many great meals, I tried to take down as many notes as possible, so the individual meals wouldn't blur together.  Such hard work being a food blogger!
Cheese Platter.
The set menu included 3 dessert options, none of which were cheese.  But since Emil doesn't eat dessert, he asked to see the cheese platter.  This was some seriously impressive cheese.  Emil decided to get cheese, as did a few others.
3 cheese selections.
Emil's cheeses were served with some token raisins and crackers on the side.  One of his cheeses, plus one others ordered, were so runny, that they were served in spoons!  I tried the crackers, which were actually interesting, very flavorful with grapes and chestnuts inside.

I don't generally have cheese envy, as I'm a total dessert girl, but these were serious cheeses.
Dessert: LA MANDARINE et en sorbet avec un blanc-manger à la noix de coco.
Dessert is usually a highlight of a meal for me, but the dessert menu didn't have a single option I was really excited about.  I picked La Mandarine rather half-heartedly.

It was described as "mandarin and sorbet served with a delicate coconut custard."

The sorbet was orange-y, tangy, but just icy sorbet.  Meh.

The mandarin was just that, segments of mandarin.  Meh.

And finally, the only part that sounded appealing to me, the coconut custard, which was a bit like a pudding, but not very flavorful or remarkable.

On top was a coconut sable, which added a nice crunch.

Overall, I just really didn't care for this, although all of the components were fine.
Dessert: LA TENDANCE CHOCOLAT onctueux au chocolat araguani, sorbet cacao au biscuit pulvérisé.
And the guys all ordered the chocolate dessert: "araguani chocolate ganache served with a cocoa sherbet covered with bitter biscuit powder."

For some reason, they couldn't all finish theirs, so I gladly cleaned up.  I loved the play of textures here, creamy ganache, cold sherbet, crunchy biscuit powder.  Better than mine, but still, desserts were not a strong point.
All set meals in Tokyo seemed to come with coffee or tea service, which was really nice.  My decaf coffee was fine, but not remarkable.  At least they had decaf, which is virtually unknown in Tokyo.
Migs: Shortbread cookies, chocolate covered candied citrus, caramels.
Set meals also all include mignardises.  Our selection at L'Atelier included shortbread cookies (pretty mediocre, a bit buttery, but not all that great), chocolate covered candied citrus with some zing to it, and caramels.  Everywhere seemed to give us caramels, which always paired well with the coffee.
Still, hard at work!
As everyone enjoyed their final treats, I was still hard at working, capturing all the details.  It is amazing how many photos I have just of me taking notes.  I promise, I'm not always totally boring!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Scones from Munchery

You've heard me rave about Munchery many times by now, so often that I have a label on this blog devoted to it.  But a quick recap: meal delivery service, curated group of chefs, well designed web site, delivery tracking, etc, etc.

Munchery is open only for dinner, so I mainly use it to order entrees, like my absolute favorite meal so far, the stuffed shells from Chef Bridget Batson.  But, they often have breakfast items on the menu.  I was pretty skeptical about ordering a baked good the night before, as I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to baked goods, and generally consider muffins or scones that are even just 2 hours old to be not worth eating.  But a few months ago, I threw a blueberry bran muffin on to my order, and ended up loving it.

So when I saw scones by Chef Jennifer Bratko on the menu, I decided to give it another go.  I thought scones were even risker than muffins, so I did write the chef a note using Munchery's "Ask the Chef" feature checking if they really would be good the next day, and she assured me they would be.  Given my success with the muffin before, I decided to trust her, and added one to my next order. (Side note: I love that you can write questions to the chefs on Munchery.  I've done it a few times, and the chef always replies quickly!)

Chef Bratko is the owner and self-taught pastry chef of Beyond Buttercream, which caters mostly cakes for weddings and other special occasions.  They have no physical storefront.  However, Munchery often features her scones and cakes.

This wasn't my first encounter with her treats, which is another reason I was willing to risk it and order a scone.  I knew she makes amazing things, as she was the one who made the insanely delicious pumpkin pie cheesecake we had to go along with our full Thanksgiving dinner from Munchery in November.

If you are interested in Munchery, for a full meal, desserts, or even just baked goods, use my invite link, you'll even get $10 off your first order!
Lemon Poppy Scone. $2.95.
"This is proper traditional UK style scone that is moist, delicious and perfect for breakfast. It has organic poppy seeds and pure lemon oil imported from France, a light and sweet tangy glaze."

I was intending my scone to be for breakfast that next morning, but to give it a fair evaluation, I obviously had to try a few bites the evening I received it.  I was very skeptical that it would be better the next day, as the chef claimed, so I wanted the comparison point.

The first thing I noticed as I took a bite is that it was truly a lemon scone.  Seriously lemon-y.  If you do not like strong lemon flavor, or tang, or zing, then this is really not the scone for you.  The lemon is infused in the scone itself, and is very strong in the glaze as well.  I don't actually really like lemon flavor, and would have chosen any other variety if available, so this was a turn off for me, but I clearly can't fault the chef for the scone being too lemony, when it was indeed advertised as a lemon scone.  I do wish the glaze was just sweet instead of tangy, but again, only because I don't care for strong lemon flavor, I actually think it is awesome that she amped the flavor up that much.

The glaze was applied in just the right amount, enough to accent the scone and make adding jam or cream unnecessary (although, I did still add jam the next day), but not so much that it felt like frosting.  As I mentioned, it was very lemony and tangy, but also very sweet at the same time.  Overall, the scone itself was also fairly sweet, which pushed it a bit into the realm of dessert rather than breakfast for me.

The scone was loaded with poppy seeds, evenly distributed throughout.  They added a bit of crunch, and obviously, lemon poppy seed is a common pairing.  The base flavor had a bit of tang to it, which I originally thought must be buttermilk, but I actually think was just the lemon.  It was very moist, as advertised, but reminded me more of a cake than a scone.  I guess I'm just used to the more American style of scone that is drier?  Again, it pushed a bit in the dessert direction, due to the more cake-like texture.

The next morning, I pulled out my scone, very skeptical.  I ate half of it at room temperature, and warmed the other half up in the toaster oven, since I always like warm baked goods.  It had changed overnight.  I wouldn't say it was better the next day, but it was a bit drier, as you would expect.  I prefer a drier style scone, so I somewhat thought that aspect was better, but it still wasn't a crumb style scone.  I found that adding some of my mom's strawberry jam helped tame the strong lemon flavor, and did compliment it well.

Overall, this was a fine scone, and it did hold up overnight far better than I expected.  It was nice to have a breakfast treat waiting for me in my kitchen.  If you like lemon, I recommend it.  It wasn't my ideal scone, but my experience just makes me want to try some of Chef Bratko's other baked goods.

The $2.95 price tag is a bit high for a scone, since most bakeries or coffee shops have them more in the $2.25 - $2.50 range, and once you add on delivery fees it is a very pricy scone, but just like the muffin, it is a reasonable add-on if you are already ordering dinner from Munchery.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Righteously Raw Chocolates

Righteously Raw is a chocolate maker, that, as you would expect given the company name, makes all raw products.  The website is filled with buzzwords galore: certified organic, vegan, gluten-free, no refined sugar, low glycemic, anti-oxident rich, etc.  They use coconut sugar, agave, coconut nectar, dates, figs, and raisins as sweeteners, rather than cane sugar.

I tried all three of their original varieties of their chocolate, which come as individual little squares rather than large bars.  They also make chocolate covered macaroons and a chocolate drink, which I did not try.  Overall, I wouldn't rush out to purchase the chocolates again, but, they were much better than I expected.
Pure Dark.
I started with the most basic: the "Pure Dark", an 83%.

After making fun of all the buzz words, I wasn't really expecting much from this bar.  But ... it was really, really good.  Very complex, fruity chocolate.  Smooth and rich.  I'd gladly get another.

Update: I did get another.  I was again very impressed by the quality of the chocolate.  Perhaps a bit chalky in texture, but the flavor was really incredible, particularly the fruit that seemed to come forward.
Divine Mint
Next, dropping down to an 82% dark, with peppermint, for the "Divine Mint".

The aroma coming off of this was unmistakable: mint, mint, mint.  And the mint came through in the chocolate, tasting like real mint leaves, not a mint "flavor".

The chocolate was quite dark, not very sweet, although a bit chalky again.  I was impressed with how bitter it was however.  My least favorite flavor I tried, but if you like dark chocolate, and real mint, I could see this being a winner.
Synergy Spice.
Finally, the most interesting: Synergy Spice.  80% dark chocolate, seriously kicked up with cayenne and aji panca.

As I opened the package, I could smell the spice.  Still, nothing prepared me for the actual spice level.  This thing was crazy spicy!  The chocolate was smooth, dark chocolate, that I enjoyed, but it was actually a bit too spicy for me.  I shared it with a friend, who declared, “I’ve never had chocolate that is legitimately spicy before!  I like this!”

Friday, July 25, 2014

Snacks from Snikiddy

I like to try many different snack foodschips in particular.  Snikiddy makes snack foods that are geared to be a bit healthier.  Their product lines include baked fries, cheese puffs, and chips, although all take a healthier slant.  All of the offerings are gluten-free, non-GMO, contain no corn syrup or preservatives, etc.

Baked Fries

The "fries" are really puffed potato and corn snacks.  And they are baked, not fried.  Don't go into these expecting anything remotely fry-like, the only part the lives up to the name is the fact that they are shaped like fries, and I guess, they do contain some potato.  Available in six flavors, of which I tried three.
Hot & Spicy Baked Fries.
I started with the intimidating sounding "Hot & Spicy" variety.

They had a really strange consistency, like a cheese puff, but crispier.  The sorta reminded me of eating air.  But the flavor was good, spicy for sure.

I still wouldn't get them again.
Cheddar Baked Fries.
Next, I went for the cheddar version.

Just like the hot and spicy version, they had a really strange consistency, something like what I imagine a packing peanut would be like.

The texture just threw me off too much to enjoy them, and I didn't really taste any cheddar either.  I liked the hot and spicy version more, but I wouldn't get either again.

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Southwest Cheddar Baked Fries.

These were my favorite.  They still had the same strange consistency, but were crazy zesty and totally addicting.

Eat Your Vegetables Chips

Snikiddy makes chips, but they are a bit different, stuffed full of 3 types of beans (navy, red, and black), and eight different vegetables (sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, broccoli, tomato, mushrooms).  They come in five different flavors, but I only tried two.

Sea Salt: these had a really hearty flavor from the veggies, and were pretty good.  The salt level was good, but otherwise I did find them a bit lacking in flavor to just eat plain.  I wanted something to dip them in.  The next time I wound up with a bag of them, I decided to try dipping them in eggplant dip, and that turned out to be a great combination.  Who needs regular chips and dip when you can dip veggie chips in more vegetables?  It really did work, and I'd gladly do it again.

Sour Cream and Onion:  Since the sea salt seemed a bit plain, I also tried the sour cream and onion.  The hearty veggie flavor was too strong though, and I didn't really taste sour cream or onion, and they seemed a bit strange to dip into other things.  I preferred the plain sea salt over these.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Brigadeiro are apparently Brazilian confections, made from sweetened condensed milk, butter, and chocolate, served at special occasions in Brazil.  Almost like truffles or bonbons, but not quite.  The name comes from the fact that they were originally made for Brigadier Eduardo Gomes.  I hadn't ever encountered them before, until Brigadeiro.me came to visit our office.
The line up!
Brigadeiro.me is a local company, and they produce exactly one thing: brigadeiro, in an assortment of flavors.  I got to try many of them.  I enjoyed some of the flavors more than others, but in general, brigadeiro did appeal to me.  Why haven't they infiltrated the US?
Milk Chocolate.
I started with what I think is the most classic.  A soft caramel like ball, with crunchy chocolate on the outside.  Sweet, creamy, good texture, but not particularly remarkable.
70% Dark Chocolate.
Then I moved on to the dark chocolate, described as "a version with 70% Chocolate Belgian cocoa, condensed milk, butter and 70% cocoa chocolate sprinkles. It’s the perfect balance between the strong taste of cocoa and the sweet and smooth flavour of condensed milk."

This one was a bit bitter, but not in a good way.  I'm not sure what it was about it, but I didn't like the deeper caramel flavor.  As with all varieties I tried, I liked the crunchy things on the outside, but this was my least favorite.
White Crunchy.
So I moved in the other direction, to white chocolate: "Belgian chocolate rice crispy sprinkles make our white chocolate brigadeiro version (Belgian white chocolate + condensed milk + butter) even more irresistible"
This one didn't have a very complex flavor.  The inside was just sweet, not caramely.  The white crunchy balls on the outside overwhelmed.  I like those little balls, and add them to ice cream all the time, but the ratio of little balls to the actual brigadeiro wasn't right, so all I could taste was the balls.
Next, I went for a nutty version, "made with hazelnut cream, condensed milk, Belgian chocolate and it’s topped off with delicious hazelnut chunks"
It was the same basic soft chocolate caramel ball, this time rolled in hazelnuts.  The nuts were nicely broken down into tiny bits, and added a nice crunch, but I did find them a bit bitter, particularly with the sweet filling.
And next, something a bit different: coffee: "made with the finest ground Brazilian coffee beans, Belgian chocolate, condensed milk, butter and it’s topped off with Belgian chocolate sprinkles. "

The coffee in here was very subtle, but it complimented the sweetness well.  It made me really think these would pair excellently with a cup of coffee.  A nice black cup of coffee, sweet rich condensed milk ... mmm!  This one was my favorite.

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Passion Fruit.

I didn't expect to like this at all.  I love passion fruit, the real fruit, but I tend to dislike treats that are made to be passion fruit flavor.  Described as: "the most exotic of the brigadeiros, with a juicy taste that will brighten up even the rainiest of the days. It’s not too sweet, it’s super moreish, so make sure you add more than one to your box. It’s made with Belgian white chocolate, passion fruit juice, condensed milk, butter and white chocolate sprinkles"

It tasted like white chocolate, but with subtle passion fruit, not too much at all.  I liked the crunch from the chocolate sprinkles outside.  It turned out to be my second favorite. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Glaze Teriyaki Grill

One day, I was walking through Pacific Heights, and saw a sign that struck my interest: "Seattle-Style Teriyaki", it advertised.  Not that I wanted teriyaki, but I was intrigued.  What is Seattle-style teriyaki?  This is an unknown phenomenon to me.

I poked my head inside to see more.  The menu isn't large, focused entirely on teriyaki plates: your choice of chicken, beef, pork, salmon, tofu, or veggies, served with rice and salad, and a sauce of your choice.  A few side dishes round out the savory menu.  The sole dessert offering is cookies from a nearby bakery (that looked ridiculously good!)

Other than the cookies, the menu wasn't really my thing, but I read the rest of their signs to learn more, and decided to try a few side dishes anyway.

It turns out, Glaze is actually a mini-chain, with three locations in New York, and this single one in San Francisco.  It was started by a Seattle native who missed teriyaki when he moved to New York.  The website claims that teriyaki is to Seattle as pizza is to New York.  I've only been to Seattle once or twice, and I guess I just didn't notice this?

Anyway, even for a fast-casual place, Glaze cares about quality.  The meat is all-natural, antibiotic-free.  The salmon is never frozen.  Salad dressings and sauces are all made in house daily.
Open, tiny kitchen.
Every dish is made to order, which you can see in the small open kitchen taking up most of the store.  There is counter seating with high wooden stools all along the kitchen area.
Additional Window Counter Seating.
There a second counter, again with stools, overlooking Fillmore Street, perfect for people watching, which is where I set up shop.
If you go with a group, or don't like to sit at counters, there are also a few wooden tables for 2-4 people.  But the majority of the seating is counter-style.

Since Glaze is a casual place, you order at the register, and seat yourself.  Next to the register is a station to get whatever cutlery and napkins you desire.  Food is brought to the tables when ready.  Afterwards, you bus the table yourself in the provided bins.

I didn't love my selections, but I really appreciated that everything was made fresh to order.  I'll likely return to try some other items, as I like everything about the place, and if I ever want teriyaki, this does sound like a winner.
Crispy Vegetable Gyoza, homemade dipping sauce.  $4.
Since I didn't want teriyaki, I went for the gyoza, a side dish.  Not something I normally would order, but Yelpers all rave about the gyoza.  I had the choice of chicken, pork, or vegetable, and I picked vegetable, because I hate chicken, and generally dislike pork.

It took about 10 minutes for my gyoza to be prepared.  They arrived piping hot and fresh out of the fryer, served in a cute glass bowl.  They were absolutely dripping in oil.  Pools of oil were visible in the folds of the individual gyoza and the bottom of the dish they were served in was like a little pond.  All I could smell was oil.

Undeterred, I drained them on napkins myself, and took my first bite.  They were ridiculously hot and fresh.  I had to wait a few minutes before jumping back in.  Inside the veggies were kinda just a pile of mush, including carrots and cabbage, but I didn't taste the vegetables.  The oil overtook all the flavor.

The dipping sauce came in a plastic container, a bit strange for dine-in, and was also fairly flavorless.  It seemed like just a very mild, light, soy sauce.

Overall, not very good, but I did really like how crispy they were.  Super, super crispy. But they really needed to be drained before serving.

$4 for an order of 5 as a side dish was fine, but I wouldn't get them again.
Cold Soba Noodle Salad.  $4.
I also decided to get a side dish to go, to bring home to eat later that night.  I went for the cold soba noodle salad: "buckwheat soba noodles and vegetables tossed in house-made sesame dressing, topped with sesame seeds".

I recently had a soba noodle salad that I really liked, so I've been craving another one since, a bit random for me.  I was excited to see this on the menu.

The soba noodles were decently cooked, although a bit mushy for my taste.  I really liked the veggies: carrots, red peppers, and zucchini, all thinly sliced and long, mimicking the noodles.  But, I didn't care for the sesame dressing.  It was sweet, and very oily.  The noodles were over-dressed, tet the flavor just wasn't there.  This same dressing is also offered on the teriyaki, so maybe it works better there?  I appreciated the sprinkle of sesame seeds on top for crunch.

Overall, I didn't care for the dish, but I appreciated the fact that even this side dish was made to order - noodles were tossed with the veggies, the dressing added, the top sprinkled with sesame seeds, when I ordered, rather than in advance.

$4 was a fine price for a made-to-order dish of this size, but I didn't like it, and wouldn't get it again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lunch @ Tateru Yoshino, Shiba

I recently went on a business trip to Tokyo.  While most of the time was devoted to work, I couldn't be in the city with more Michelin stars than anywhere else in the world, and NOT do some fine dining.  Luckily for me, I had three free days, and I was determined to cram in as many Michelin stars as I could (we managed 9, not bad!)

To start our Michelin experiences, we went to lunch at Tateru Yoshino, the Shiba location.  Chef Yoshino has 3 restaurants in Tokyo, all with Michelin stars, although the Ginza and Shidome locations only have 1 star each, thus, we went to Shiba, since it holds 2 stars.  The chef also has a Michelin starred restaurant in Paris, Stella Maris.

Given the pedigree, I had high hopes for this meal, but it turned out to be by far the most mediocre of our higher end meals.  I didn't understand why it had 2 Michelin stars, and would even question having a single star.  Granted, we went for lunch, not dinner, but I expected much more.  The food was all well presented, but execution and flavor just were not there.

The restaurant is located in the Shiba Park Hotel, making it quite easy to find, unlike most places in Tokyo.
Semi-Private Room.
Since we were a group of 6, they seated us along the back of the room, in a semi-private alcove.  While we still looked out into the main restaurant, it was nice to have this sorta private space.
Lunch Menu.
Our party of 6 was considered a large group, so we were asked to pick which set menu we'd like in advance, when we made the booking.  Our choices were either ¥3,637 for a menu consisting of several amuse bouches, our pick of appetizer, our choice between several fish or meat dishes, a choice of three desserts, plus coffee/tea, and migs, or, for ¥5,273 we could have both a fish and a meat entree.  We all had to pick the same number of courses, but could select whichever options within the category that we wanted.

Since we were going to another 2 Michelin star restaurant for dinner that night, we didn't want to overdo it, and decided that the 3 course, plus amuses/migs, was plenty.  As you'll see below, this was an incredible value, coming out at ~$40 per person, including all fees.  Can you imagine getting 2 Michelin stars, including foie gras, for that price elsewhere?  The price point was really incredible, but the food ... mediocre.
Formal Table Setting.
The restaurant was quite formal, from the place settings, to the roses on the table, to the very polite, stoic waiters who all wore bow ties and jackets.  It never felt quite comfortable.  Service was good, but never personal in any way.
Amuse Bouche: Cheese Puffs.
The first amuse arrived soon after we ordered, little cheese puffs, two each.  They were a bit cheesy, but not served hot, not remarkable, and no one took a second one.  They did make me remember the incredible gougeres we had at lunch at Cyrus, which were served warm, and were filled with liquid gruyere.
Bread Stick.
The first bread service began with bread sticks, served warm.  It had a nice crust, and was served with quality butter.  I always appreciate warm bread.
Amuse Bouche: Turnip mousse.
The second amuse bouche was described as a turnip mousse.  I wish I'd been able to ask for more clarification, since we couldn't really figure out the layers.

The main component was obviously the turnip mousse, very creamy, and well, very turnip-y.  On top was a green foam, with a very intense herb flavor that we all recognized, but couldn't identify.  I'm still mystified.  On the very bottom was something that seemed like a poached fruit, perhaps it was turnip, but again, none of us could identify it.

This was interesting, and had a lot of strong flavors going on, but it wasn't particularly good nor bad.
Appetizer: Foie gras coated with carrot, truffles, and pistachios.
When I saw the appetizer choices, there was obviously only one option: foie gras!  Most of us ordered it, as it was a special treat for us, since foie is illegal in California.

The foie was decent, creamy, mild flavor.  Truffles inside, and meticulously cut carrots surrounded it.  The carrots were crispy, perfectly cut, and certainly showed of some serious knife skills.  But ... why carrots and foie?  Not really a great pairing.  The carrots had some sweetness, which you want with foie, but a fruit component would have been far more successful.  There was a tiny bit of fig jam and a sweet syrup on the plate for some additional sweetness, but, it all felt a bit pedestrian, and not quite inspired.

Toasted brioche was on the side, a cute little thing, but it was over-toasted for my liking, too crispy.  I ended up using the baguette instead, as it was softer.

Overall, this was a bit disappointing.  It wasn't bad, but, for something I get to eat so rarely, I wanted better.
Appetizer: “Mille-feuilles” of tuna and eggplant tapenade sauce. +¥600. 
Those who did not get the foie opted for tuna.  The tuna looked pretty extraordinary, but I didn't get a bite of it.  It had a¥600 supplement, which was surprising to me, as I'm use to foie requiring supplements, not fish!
Main: Lightly cooked salmon, “Stella Maris” style.
For my main, I picked the salmon, a signature dish from Chef Yoshino's Paris restaurant.  In our group, all but one person choose it.

The salmon was indeed lightly cooked, sorta half cooked, not quite raw, not quite cooked, almost smoked?  It was very moist and tender, but not quite in a good way.  It had a slight smoky thing going on.  It wasn't bad, but the texture was a bit strange, and the quality didn't seem that high.  Topped with a tiny bit of cream and chives, served atop a broccoli sauce, with intense broccoli flavor.

The potato cakes on the side I really didn't care for, they were oily and rather cold.

I did like that the salmon and potato cakes were sorta a play on smoked salmon and blinis, but, neither component was great.

What was great however were the veggies on the side.  Broccolini, watermelon radish, peas, green beans, fava beans.  All perfectly cooked, a bit crispy, expertly seasoned, buttery, flavorful.  Definitely the best part of the meal, even over the foie gras.  Yeah, I said it.  I think Emil agreed as well.
Japanese Beef steak, with lightly brown sauce. +¥1,600.
The one who didn't order the salmon went for the beef.  I didn't get a taste of it, but the diner opposite me choose the steak,  so I got to admire it.  It looked quite good, and he cleared his plate faster than anyone else.  Pretty sure he made the right choice here, even with the ¥1,600 supplement.
Buttery Focaccia Stick.
After the main meal was brought out, more bread choices were presented, either a roll or focaccia.  Neither were served warm, and that bread basket sat on a table on the side of the room throughout the meal, brought back over when we ran out, but never refreshed or warmed up.  Sad, since the first bread was warm!

I am not normally one to fill up on bread, but for some reason I went for a focaccia stick.  It was a great decision, soft, buttery, salty, great flavor.  Quite good for bread, and I wish I'd had this to pair with my foie gras instead.
We all had our priorities ...
One of my dining companions was a bit busy with his phone.  Emil cared most about having a great glass of bubbles.  And me?  I needed to take notes!
Still very busy!
Since I was going to be rapid fire eating so many fancy meals over the course of a few days, I knew I had to take meticulous notes, else I'd forget all the details.  Hard work being a food blogger!
Dessert: Paris-Brest à ma façon.
For dessert, we had the choice of 3 items, one pastry, one fruit, one chocolate.  The dessert menu wasn't particularly inspiring, but I do love pastry and cream, so I went for the classic paris-brest.

It wasn't very good at all, which is surprising, because it is such a simple classic.

The choux pastry was burnt, stale, dry.  There were two creams inside, one was a praline cream, the other plain.  Both were ok, decent cream, but, you can only save a dessert so much with cream, and it wasn't enough here.

The brûléed banana was even less successful, super strange, as it was actually frozen, and cold.  I'm all for contrasts, but this didn't work.  It was just a icy, yet soggy, banana.

I liked the crunch from the crumbled hazelnut on the side.

Not a winner, I certainly wouldn't get it again.
Dessert: Beet jelly and ice cream with red fruit marine.
Since Emil doesn't like dessert, he went for the only fruity sounding one.  It was a beet jelly, with fresh fruit, and crème fraîche.  It looked pretty, and he actually ate a few bites of it, which is saying something for a dessert.
Dessert: Chocolate stick “FORÉT NOIRE” style cherry sauce and beer caramelized. 
Everyone else picked the chocolate dessert.

A chocolate layer bar, with vanilla sorbet.  I got one tiny taste, and it was good, but I did not have enough to really evaluate.  But given the fact that they all continued to rave about it for days, and compare every other dessert to it, it was the clear winner of not only the meal, but of the whole trip.
Decaf Coffee.
Coffee or tea were included, and I as usual went for decaf.  It really wasn't good.  Decaf isn't generally very good in the US, but it is downright horrible in Tokyo.  I didn't find anywhere where it was even remotely good.
Mignardises: canelés, macarons.
Slates of mignardises appeared soon after the coffee, a slate for each pair of us.  They contained a macaron and canelé each.

I'm incapable of having canelés and not thinking of the amazing ones from Keiko A Nob Hill.  Those will forever remain in my mind as the gold standard.  They were perfect.

These, like the ones I had a day prior, were not.  Yes, the outside was crispy and caramelized, the inside moist, but the whole thing just tasted burnt.  Not caramelized, but burnt.  It wasn't horrible, but certainly wasn't good.

The macarons were a mixed bag.  Each slate had two varieties, one each, and the different slates had different flavors.  Thus, the awkward who-gets-which-one game ensued.  Lucky for us, several people in our group didn't want any, so we got to try more than one each!

I didn't have the chocolate one, but it had a chocolate cookie, and the filling was both a chocolate ganache and a cream, a rather non-standard filling for a macaron.  I went for the raspberry, again, with with a duo of fillings, raspberry jelly and cream.  I also got the lemon one, rejected by everyone else, filled with lemon gelee and cream.  Both were sweet, flavorful, and pretty good.  I liked having both the sweet and creamy components inside.  The cookie part was well executed, with a good crust, yet light and airy.  Very decent macarons.