Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Omotesando Ukai-tei, Tokyo

If you've been following my blog, you know that I recently took a business trip to Tokyo.  During our free time, we were determined to fit in as many different dining experiences as possible, ideally involving Michelin stars.  And so we did, eating 9 Michelin stars in only 3 days, having our share of fine French cuisine and sushi, along with more humble ramen and okonomiyaki.

One day, we decided to go for teppanyaki, to experience something a bit traditional Japanese than all the fine French cuisine we'd been feasting on.  But of course, we wanted more Michelin starred food, so we picked Ukai-tei, in Omotesando, due to their single star.

We went for lunch, since dinner was far more pricey.  The lunch options were¥6,830, ¥9,450, and¥12,600 (compared to the dinner options that started at ¥12,600, and went up to ¥24,150!).  We went for the cheapest option, the "Tenderloin Steak Lunch Course", which was advertised as: Today's Starter, King Crab Fritter, Seasonal Vegetables Consommé Soup, Ukai Beef Tenderloin Sautéed, Dessert, Coffee or Tea with Baked Confectionery.  The next pricier choice not only upgraded the cut of beef, but had totally different courses preceding it, including marinated yellowtail, grilled lobster, and sautéed scallop.  And the highest priced option included jellied scallop and sea urchin, roasted foie gras, and sautéed tilefish.  OMG.  Had I not been splurging for so many days in a row, you know I would have gone for that last one, as it included some of my favorite ingredients!

The entire experience was fairly formal.  Once we checked in, we were brought to a formal waiting room for all of 30 seconds before then being lead to our table.  It reminded me of a parlor from Victorian times, or something I'd find in my grandmother's house.  It was a bit strange to have us go sit in the waiting room, and then immediately get back up.  We literally only had time to sit before immediately being led away.  We could have just waited at the check in area ...

Anyway, we were then led to our table, which was in a private room.  I didn't get to see the layout of the rest of the restaurant, so I'm not quite sure if it is just made up of many small rooms, or if there is a larger area somewhere.  Our room could have seated 6, but we were a group of 4.  The chairs in the room reminded me a bit of thrones, with ornate woodwork.  There were fresh flowers on the table.

The service was all fine, although not very present for the most part.  Since we were in our own room, the servers entered originally to determine which menu we wanted, and to bring us our courses as they were ready, but besides that, we were left alone (except for when a chef came to cook on the teppan of course).

Overall, it was good, and I understand their Michelin rating, but I am unlikely to return, as it just isn't the style of food that I generally would pick.  I'm glad I got to experience higher end teppanyaki.  The lunch course did indeed seem like a deal, and I don't think you could find anything equivalent in San Francisco.

I don't normally include a review of the bathrooms, but I found theirs to be worthy of a mention.  Once inside the doorway for the women's room, there was a cute little spiral staircase of a few stairs, leading to the washroom area.  It was stocked with everything you'd expect, but also toothpicks, and a very fascinating rose mouthwash.  It was floral, yet minty, at the same time.  I thought it was really refreshing and lovely, but my dining companions did not agree.
Plum Wine.
I started with a plum wine, while my companions all choose beer.  It was sweet yet not too sweet, and exactly what I was in the mood for.  Served on the rocks, with a giant round ice cube, like we saw in many bars on our visit.
Marinated Ocean Trout, Mousse, Greens. 
Our menu just said "Today's Starter", so we had no idea what the first dish would be.  I was delighted when this was set in front of me, as I expected just a small little amuse bouche, not a full on appetizer.

The trout was mild, not at all fishy, quality raw ocean trout.  On top was a relish or gremolata of sorts, with capers and onions, which added some crunch.  It also provided acidity.

The mousse on the side was also trout based and was really creamy.  The mousse was topped with trout roe.  I loved how the different parts of the trout carried through these elements, and the roe added a delightful pop to each bite.

On the side were simple greens, lightly dressed with lemon, salt, and olive oil.  They were fresh and crisp, and added a lightness and additional acidity to the dish.

It took a little work to figure out how to craft a perfect bite, since it wasn't totally clear which components would work together.

Overall, this was flavorful, light, and beautifully composed - fresh fish, creamy mousse, perfectly seasoned greens, crunch from the capers, pop from the roe ... an excellent dish!  A wonderful start to the meal, and my favorite dish.
French Bread and Butter.
Next came bread service.  The bread was fairly unremarkable to me, as I'm not usually much of a bread girl, but one of my dining companions proclaimed it the best French bread he'd had in a long time.  It was very crusty and was useful for lapping up sauce later, but besides that, I didn't really care for it.
King Crab Fritters.
I wasn't entirely sure what a King Crab fritter would be, but I think I expected a little ball, a small appetizer portion.  Instead, we each received two large pieces, which were filled with spinach, bits of crab, and cream, wrapped in a large wonton style wrapper.

They were insanely hot and fresh, perfectly executed.  I actually burnt myself on my first bite, it was that fresh out of the fryer.  Incredibly crispy skin, obviously fried but it still felt light, contrasting with the creamy inside.  The filling seemed to be more cream than crab however.

Also on the plate was broccoli to freshen the dish up a little, and two sauces: a cappuccino-like crab foam, and a oil drizzle.  Neither sauce really had much flavor, and I would have preferred something more to dip the fritters into.

My second favorite dish, and another one that was obviously well thought out and composed.
Seasonal Vegetables Consommé Soup.
Next up we had a soup.  I never care much for soups, but I really didn't like this.

The broth was a beef consommé, and it was way too rich for me, really oily.  The vegetables (onions, potatoes) were overcooked and mushy.  And, the chunk of beef cheek floating within was very fatty.

The others all liked this however, so I guess this was just my own dislikes.  My least favorite dish, by far.
The Chef's Station.
Now it was time for the real action.  Our chef entered the room, and set up his station with a few oils, spices, tools, and sauces.
Wagyu Tenderloin and Mushrooms, Raw.
He also came barring a platter of the raw ingredients that would make up our main dish: Wagyu tenderloin and assorted mushrooms.  Mmm, look at that beef!
Mushrooms Cooking on the Teppan.
The chef started with cooking the mushrooms, with just a little seasoning, right on the teppan.
Steak and Mushrooms Cooking.
After a few minutes, he transferred the mushrooms into a pan, generously filled with oil, and seasoned them further with garlic.  Then, it was time to get the meat sizzling.

Between all moves, he kept the cooking surface meticulously clean, and wiped it down the moment he finished cooking.
Final Product: Beef Tenderloin and Mushrooms.
The chef plated up each dish, making sure to give each of us a variety of the different types of mushrooms, and pouring plenty of sauce on top.

The steak was well seasoned, and a little more rare than we expected giving our ordering of medium-rare (chef's recommendation).  It was obviously a good steak, and the guys really loved it.  I however just wasn't into it.  I just wasn't feeling the red meat.  I'm not sure why.

But, I did love the mushrooms, super meaty themselves.  One of my dining companions doesn't like mushrooms, so I traded some of my steak for his mushrooms.  We both felt like winners.

I also really liked the sauce, a thin style beef gravy, very flavorful, full of garlic and other seasonings.  I gladly dunked the mushrooms, and extra table bread, into the sauce.  So good.

My third favorite dish.
Satisfied Diners.
Here you can see the private room, and our happy, satisfied crew.  The chef offered to take our photo, before leading us on to the next part of our adventure, dessert!

Dessert is served in a separate room.  This makes a lot of sense, since we shouldn't keep occupying the valuable space with the teppan while we enjoy leisurely desserts.  So, after we'd finished, we were asked to follow them to the dessert lounge.
Dessert Menu.
The lounge was really nice, open and airy, and a big change from the fairly dark private room we had been in before.  It was filled with patrons, all enjoying desserts and drinks.  On a sunny day, it would have been wonderful, sunny and bright, and the views overlooking Tokyo were impressive.  In summer, they even have a patio with seating on it, which I'm sure would be amazing.

You can actually come just for the dessert lounge.

Once seated in the dessert/tea lounge, we were presented with dessert menus.

There were 5 choices, none of us went for the ice cream, sorbet, or "Japanese Orange with Jelly", although I almost wish someone had because I'm curious what that really was.
Chiffon Cake with Strawberry.
One of my dining companions picked the chiffon cake, a fairly boring looking plain cake, with a few strawberries, and cream.  I didn't even bother asking for a bite.
Mont-Blanc.
The other two, at the recommendation of the water, went for the Mont-Blanc.

It was a fascinating creation, covered in what looked like spaghetti, but was actually chestnut puree, and surrounded by several sauces.  It was quite the surprise to cut into it and find cold ice cream and a roasted chestnut in the center.

This was certainly interesting, but not any of our favorites.
Classic Pudding.
I went for one that sounded incredibly simple: "classic pudding".  I asked for a description, and was just told, "pudding".  "Vanilla?" I enquired?  "Yes", I was told.

I could tell there was a language barrier, and didn't quite trust the answer, but, I love puddings, so I went for it.  It wasn't like any of the other options were jumping out at me anyway.

When I saw my dessert, I certainly wouldn't have called it a pudding, let alone a classic pudding.  I'd call it a crème caramel, or a flan.

It was pretty much exactly what it looked like.  A decent creamy custard, with a slightly caramelized sauce.  Pretty standard execution, not particularly good nor bad.
Decaf Coffee.
Like most restaurants we visited, coffee or tea was included in the meal.  No other drinks were offered, not even water, which bothered me, as I wanted water.

There was also an alcohol cart that I think would roll out were it evening rather than mid-day.

I failed to take notes about this coffee, as I was way too distracted by what was coming next ...
After-dessert Dessert Cart!
Yes, the dessert cart!  I knew it was coming.  Not only do you get your pick of main desserts, you also get unlimited selections from the dessert cart.

It seemed like forever before the extra dessert cart came rolling over.  The cart may or may not have been a primary motivation of mine for going to Ukai-Tei in the first place :)  You know me and my love of desserts!

The cart featured an assortment of items: tarts, cakes, cookies, brownies, meringues, hard candies, marshmallows, pâtes de fruits ...

And, they just asked, "what would you like?"

My dining companions all had restraint.  Or perhaps they just don't really have sweet tooths.  I think they all selected at most two items.  I was momentarily upset that I hadn't planned this better, telling each of them to order a few extra things and then just give them to me, so I could try everything.  And then, I decided, I had no shame.
One of my platters.
Yes, I got one of everything, except the brownie.  The server used a small plate for each of the others, but pulled out a much bigger one for me.  I didn't actually feel judged or rude with my order, and think this may be not entirely uncommon.  Or, so I like to think.

And I will admit, by the end of this, I was really, really sick of sweets.  For a few hours.

I'll try my best to remember these all, clockwise, starting top center:
  • Caramel - We had so many caramels on this trip, as every single restaurant included them in their mignardises, that I really couldn't distinguish this from any of the others.
  • Fruit Tart - The tart shell was really buttery, and even though it looked burnt, was quite good.  Filled with decent pastry cream, and topped with strawberry, a raspberry, and a blueberry.  This was one of my favorites, a great mix of crunch, cream, and fruit.
  • Chocolate and Strawberry Napoleon - Layers of a slightly chocolately, buttery, crispy wafer, chocolate cream, and strawberries.  This was very, very tasty, although a bit hard to eat, since cutting into it caused the cream to squish out.  This was my favorite, although the fruit tart was a very close second.
  • Ladyfinger Filled with Orange Marmalade: This was very sweet, and I don't really care for ladyfingers nor orange marmalade in the first place.  Wouldn't have ordered it if I knew what it was.  Not a favorite.
  • Grapefruit Pâtes de Fruits: Tart yet sweet, very flavorful, better than most pâtes de fruits.
  • Plum (?) Pâtes de Fruits: This had a very familiar flavor that I couldn't quite place, but I think it was plum.  Again, better than most, not too sweet, good chew.
  • Mexican Wedding Cookie: Pretty standard, almond powder and bits, powdered sugar coating.
  • Meringue: Filled with chunks of hazelnut that were a bit bitter, but this was pretty unremarkable and standard.
  • Mint Chocolate Chip Marshmallow:  Very, very light and fluffy.  Intense mint flavor, with little chocolate bits too. I've had a lot of fancy marshmallows over the past few years, but these were perhaps the best I've ever had.  Besides the pastries, these were my favorites on the platter.
  • Strawberry Marshmallow: Again, light and fluffy, super intense strawberry flavor. Another stellar marshmallow.
  • Hard Candies: Pretty standard, just hard candies.
  • Log (center): I have no idea what this was, but it was really dry, and had no real flavor.  My least favorite item.
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