Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Cork, Tokyo

Tokyo is a city with many food options, all over the spectrum.  On my 2017 visit, I mostly stuck with very casual (think: uh, 7-Eleven, Lawson Station, and Family Mart) or super niche dining (like monja, which is only served on one street in Tokyo). I wasn't really there to do fine dining, but one night, I planned a dinner for 3 co-workers and myself, from different offices worldwide, and we wanted a nice space to be able to chat and catch up.

There are of course extensive options for lovely quiet spaces, Michelin starred and all, but, uh, we don't exactly have the expense accounts for most of them.  And the more affordable places were all booked up for our Friday night slot, even two months in advanced when I started looking.

My hotel concierge suggested a place called L'AS, which sounded great.  A french restaurant, serving only a tasting menu (9 courses), one of which is a signature foie gras crispy sandwich (!), and really, quite affordable.  I looked at reviews, everything looked great (particularly that foie dish!), and so I asked to have it booked.  Of course, it wasn't available either.  Sigh.

My own independent research however lead me to discover Cork, a spinoff from the chef of L'AS (and actually, adjacent).  While L'AS focuses on the food through a tasting menu, Cork focuses on another aspect of dining: the drinks.

The concept is quite different: for each course, they present 3 wines, describe them, and you select which wine you'd like.  That wine picks the food you will receive, and you do not have any insight into what you are ordering.  If you do not want alcohol, they will create non-alcoholic drinks that mimic the wine (which, we had one member do, and was very successful).

This was a fascinating concept, although slightly scary for me, since I like to do extensive research and premeditate my decisions.  I could research this all I wanted, but the wines, and thus the food pairings as well, change weekly, so, I had very little knowledge of what I'd be opting for.  The only thing I knew for sure: you could add on the foie gras to the menu, and that dish would be extraordinary.

Still, I wasn't entirely sold, particularly as I care more about the food than the wine, but, I ran out of time and energy to find something else, so, Cork it was.
Menu CORK. ¥7,400.
And so our party of 4 headed to CORK on Friday night, for a 6pm booking.

We enjoyed the 4 course menu, each one paired with wine, for a very reasonable ¥7,400 (about $65), es, for 4 courses and wine), although we added on the supplementary foie gras course as well.

It was indeed a unique experience, and the setting was what I was looking for.  The foie gras dish was as incredible as I hoped.  The plating was gorgeous, I really did like some of the wines.  Beyond that though, it wasn't quite for me ... I really just care about what dishes I order too much to leave it to chance like this, and, we were quite rushed by the pace of the meal (more soon).

It served our purpose, I'm not sad I went, but I wouldn't return.


Cork is actually set up as a wine bar, not a restaurant with traditional tables.
Wine Bar.
The interior of the room is large, gorgeous square wooden bar, with seating along 3 sides.  A stunning rock wall makes up the backside.

The server/bartender operates from the middle of the space, with his large assortment of wines ready to go.

From the service front, it was good, utensils were replaced between courses, water glasses refilled.

But the pacing.  It was just way. too. fast.  Too fast to enjoy our food and conversation, and way too fast to drink the pairings.  Which, is supposed to be the entire point!

To be fair, we were 10 minutes late arrive (I blame the pouring rain!), and we knew they only reserve a table for 2 hours.  But 2 hours and 4 courses shouldn't feel too fast.  Our first course actually arrived before its pairing, a mere 3 minutes after we picked our menu.  The next course was 9 minutes later, the one after that, 7 minutes later!  We had ot make our next wine choice within 2 minutes after that one.  It was just ... frantic, and didn't allow for us to actually appreciate the wine or food.  I asked to slow it down, and was told that our table had the 2 hour limit, so that wasn't possible.  That said, our final course hit the table at 7:12pm, 1 hour and 2 minutes after we sat, and with more than 45 minutes remaining in our table time.  I wasn't pleased.
"At Cork, we serve course meals to go with the wines of your choice.If you cannot drink alcohol,please let us know at the time of reservation;we are happy to offer non-alcoholic cocktails or adjust the amount of wine served depending on your preference."
There were actually two menu choices, the larger Menu Dégustation, consisting of 6 courses and 6 wines for ¥10,000, or the Menu CORK, 4 courses with 4 wines, for ¥7,400.

The format was slightly different for each, with the Menu CORK consisting of 1) Amuse Bouche 2)  Appetizer 3) Seasonal Dish 4) Main, and the Menu Dégustation which added on dessert and cheese courses.  To either you could opt to add the signature foie gras crispy sandwich from L'AS for an additional ¥1,000, which included another pairing.

No details on the contents of either menu were available however, since, well, you weren't supposed to know what you were ordering, you simply needed to select your wine, and let the rest happen.

We opted for the 4 course, plus the foie gras.

Food & Wine

Since we went for the shorter menu, our lineup was: 
  • Amuse Bouche (paired with champagne)
  • Optional extra course: Foie Gras Crispy Sandwich
  • Appetizer (individual, based on wine choice)
  • Seasonal Dish (fixed, no choice)
  • Main (in pairs, based on wine choice)
  • Optional dessert or cheese

Amuse Bouche & Blanc de Blanc

First up, served as soon as we ordered (literally, as fast as they could take away the menu), was the amuse bouche, paired with a sparkling wine.

The wine was a blanc de blancs, but I didn't catch the specifics, as, everything was happening quite rapidly.  I did like it though, it was light, refreshing, and better than most sparkling wines, which are never high on my list.

For our guest who wasn't drinking alcohol, they made an equally light and refreshing elderflower and sparkling water.  We were glad to see that his pairings weren't just going to be fruit juices.

During these moments, we were also rapid-fire presented the wine choices for our appetizer and main dishes, and needed to make our selections.  It was so ... rushed, I couldn't actually enjoy the amuse bouche, nor make thoughtful wine decisions.

Amuse Bouche: "Tortilla, Sushi, Hot Dog".
It consisted of 3 spoons, each one representing a different country.  A cute idea, nice presentation on the slate.

The top was "Mexico", a tiny filled flour tortilla wrap with a dot of hot sauce. Not my thing, but ok.

Next, an odd to "Japan", with "sushi", again tiny, a small log of rice, 3-4 roe, a thumble of raw tuna.  Again not my thing, but, this was really a fun way to eat a bite of sushi.

And finally, "USA", represented by ... a hot dog!  Oh yes.  The spoon consisted of tiny bits of hotdog-ish ham, chopped onion, grainy mustard, ketchup, and I think a touch of kraut?  I adore hotdogs (guilty pleasure) and I thought this was great.  All the flavors, somehow in one little bite, and the onion added great crunch.

Overall, this was really quite fun, the pairing better than I expected, and the hot dog made it all worth while.  The hot dog was my third favorite dish of the meal.

Optional Course: Foie Gras Crispy Sandwich

The extra course was the signature foie gras crispy sandwich from L'AS, and really, the reason we were there after all.
2015 Keermont Stellenbosch Fleurfontein.
As expected with foie gras, it came paired with a sweet wine.  And as expected, of course I liked the sweet wine, although, I had only consumed a couple sips of my sparkling when my glass of sweet wine was set in front of me.  It did pair beautifully.
Non-Alcoholic Sweet Pairing.
I didn't quite catch what our non-alcoholic pairing was, but it seemed to be apple juice based, but, highly concentrated and sweeter?  (And no, this wasn't his full pour, I just didn't get it soon enough).

We found it really interesting how well his drinks matched ours, in looks, and in what they brought out in the pairings.
In ... a bag?!
Our foie gras courses were each served ... in a bag (which I knew to expect, but the others certainly didn't).

The spoons were playful and fun, and this course was no different.
Foie Gras Crispy Sandwich.
And inside that bag was a thing of glory.

Yes, a foie gras ice cream sandwich!
Foie Gras Crispy Sandwich: Inside.

The "sandwich" was made up of crispy mille feuille on each edge, foie gras ice cream (!), caramel coating, and a seasonal marmalade.

It was ... everything I wanted it to be.

I loved the crunch from the sweet, crispy mille feuille.  The foie gras ice cream was smooth, creamy, and did indeed taste like foie gras.  The thin caramel layer that wrapped it complimented it perfectly.  Our marmalade was chamomile orange, which was actually wonderful.  I loved the burst of additional sweetness it provided, and the orange and foie was a nicer pairing than I expected.  The chamomile was very slight.

This was really delicious.  And not just because it was foie gras.  I loved the textures, the flavors, and, the experience of eating it.  My only criticism is that the marmalade really wasn't not well distributed, and I thought mine was lacking it entirely until I was more than halfway through mine.

Hands down, dish of the night, and made the experience worth it.

Appetizer & Wine Pairing (Choice of White, Rosé, Orange)

Next was our appetizers and a bread course.  We picked the wines before the foie gras, and the wine was poured at the same time as the foie gras pairing.  At this point, I had 3 glasses, all nearly full!

For this, we were presented with three wine choices, and we could each select a different one if we wanted (which we did, mostly because we just wanted to try everything).  The wine choices were quite varied: a white, a rosé, and an orange wine.  Our non-wine drinker was told to pick the wine with the flavor profile that matched his interests the best, and then they'd use that to dictate his course (and pairing).

We weren't familiar with any, but the rose was described as "smoky", which fascinated the other two wine drinkers, so they went with that.

I stuck with the white, hoping that would yield me a light seafood choice ... not because I really wanted boring white wine.  I wasn't good at this!

The non-wine drinker we all pressured to pick orange, just so we could see what that appetizer was.  He obliged (and we got to try the orange wine!).
For some reason, this course was served with a roll, which was placed in front of us 4 minutes after receiving our foie gras, and moments before our appetizers arrived.

It was ... just a cold roll.  Hearty wheat.  No butter or oil.  Not warm.  Major meh.
White Wine.
I didn't catch what my wine was.  It was a bit harsh though, and I was happy to let it go unfinished, and simply finish my sparkling alongside this course.
White Wine Pairing: Seafood & Tzatziki.
I quasi-succeeded with my choice. I ddi indeed pick seafood, and here I had 2 calamari rings and 1 tentacle, 2 scallops, and 3 chunks of celery root, all coated in a green powder (I think coriander?).  It was served with a spoonful of tzatziki.

The presentation was again nice, on a round slate.  I wished I had been able to get a real description though, particularly as I didn't choose it from a menu.  But things were too rushed, and our serve had no interest in telling us details.

The squid was ... ok, although chewy.  The celery root was pretty meh, just chunks of celery root.  The scallops, perhaps predictably, were my favorites, nice and meaty, and the only thing on the plate I enjoyed.

The coating wasn't really that successful, it was, well, green, and nicely salty, but it didn't stick to the pieces, and came sliding off.

I don't really care for yogurt, nor cucumbers, so I wasn't interested in the tzatziki, and wished I had some tartar sauce or something.

The scallop was probably my fourth favorite part of the meal though, and likely, this is the dish I would pick if given the choice between the other appetizers.
Orange Wine.
Since no one ordered the orange wine, the server actually nicely brought us a small pour to taste.

I liked it more, it was lighter than my selection.

The non-alcoholic selection was a green olive leaf tea.  Again, wow, not just juices!
Orange Wine Pairing: Salmon & Carrot.
The pairing for the orange wine was, well, an orange dish.

Tasmanian salmon, cooked mi cuit, served with a carrot salad, carrot sauce, and carrot sorbet.

As soon as the server said "mi cuit", I knew this dish was going to be nice.  Sous-vide salmon, half-cooked?  I've had it before elsewhere, and really enjoyed it.

I was pretty fascinated by the description of this dish, and luckily my dining companion let me have as much as I wanted.

The salmon was beautifully done, crazy tender, soft, delicate.  A preparation I always like, but he was less excited about.  Then again, I always wanted my salmon mid-rare, and he wants it fully cooked, so, this is to be expected.

The carrot components were ... a bit overwhelming. And, besides the color, I didn't think actually matched the salmon very well.  They were intensely carroty though, and I guess it was interesting to see carrot in sorbet, sauce, and salad?

The salmon itself was my 5th favorite bite, and I would have been happy enough with both this wine and course selection.
Rosé Pairing: Ratatouille with Tuna.
The rosé drinkers got the one I certainly didn't want: ratatouille, with tuna?, and smoky cheese, served on top of a slice of crusty bread.

The only thing there I would have liked is the cheese perhaps.  I didn't try it.

Seasonal Dish & Dry Riesling

The next dish was the "seasonal" dish, vegetable focused, and the same for all of us.  No choice in wine.
Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Dry Riesling, 2014.
The wine that came with this was a white, dry riesling.

It was ... well, a dry white wine.  Not high on my list.

The non-wine pairing was a drink with lemon, grapefruit, and chamomile.  Yes, some citrus juice, but not remotely like standard non-alcoholic cocktails.
Seasonal Dish.
This was pretty perhaps, but I did not like it.

I didn't catch exactly what everything was, but it was assorted seasonal vegetables in tomato water.

There was some white chinese yam (crunchy but bitter), edamame, okra (wrapped in a petal of some sort), beet jelly (meh, beets), and the very strong flavored tomato water.

I didn't like any aspect of this, but I'll give them more plating points.

Main Dish & Red Wine

For the main, we selected our wine way before any of the other courses, before the foie gras even.

For this, we weren't all allowed to pick different things.  If we were just a couple, we would need to agree on a single wine, but, since we were 4, we were allowed to select two (of 3).

Main Course Wine Choices.
For wines, we had 3 different options, all red:  David Reynaud Domaine les Bruyeres Crozes-Hermitage Georges Reynaud, a French Rhone, 2013 B-Qā de Marsyas, a Lebanese wine, and Hirakawa Second Vin Cuvée Gastronomique, a Japanese selection.

Myself (and the non-wine drinker), went for the rhone, the other two opted for the Labanese wine.  This allowed us to try two different main dishes, one of which was lamb, the other, duck.  Neither things I'd ever order, as I loathe lamb.  We weren't allowed to know what the third main would have been.
David Reynaud Domaine les Bruyeres Crozes-Hermitage Georges Reynaud.
I adored this wine, hands down the best of the night.

It was spicy and fragrant, and just really, really enjoyable.

The non-wine drink was red beverage, made from apple skin and hibiscus.  I know I keep saying it, but we were really impressed with how well done these non-wine pairings were.
Rhone Wine Pairing: Duck.
I may not generally really care for duck, but, I actually did love many elements of this dish.

The duck was actually incredibly tender, served as two slices.  Not gamey.  Really easy to cut with a not sharp knife.  Really, better than most duck I've had, although still not my protein of choice.

Everything else on the plate was absolutely delicious.

The sauce in the bottom was morello cherry (sour cherry).  There were plentiful additional cooked cherries on top, and I loved the pops of flavor they provided, sweet and yet sour.

And then ... spice.  Whole peppercorns!  Serious spice, and crunch.

There were also figs, again cooked down to a nice softness, and beautifully sweet.  I adore figs.

Under the duck was braised endive, always something I enjoy, quite bitter, soft, and a nice contrast to the sweetness of the other elements.

I loved everything about the accompaniments.  There was sweetness, bitterness, and spice.  It went oh so well with my spicy wine.  Without the duck, second only to the foie gras, and I truly enjoyed my sides.
Lebanese Wine Pairing: Red Wine Sauce?
The others were brought a rather funny plate.

It contained ... a pool of red wine sauce.  And two chunks of a roasted vegetable.

Was that ... their main?

This was confusing for a few moments, particularly as all the server said was, "red wine sauce", as he set theirs down.
Lebanese Wine Pairing: Lamb.
Things didn't necessary make sense right away, as they were then presented with a glass containing clearly non-edible spices, and two parchment rolls.

But inside those rolls was their braised lamb, wrapped in a crispy wrapper.  They were supposed to dunk these into the red wine sauce.

I almost wanted to try it, because I loved the sound of the crispy wrapper, but, alas, they both reported that it tasty very strongly of lamb.  I stayed away.  They loved it though.

Cheese / Dessert

At this point, we were offered the option to opt-in to a supplementary cheese course.  I wasn't really interested in cheese.  We could also opt to add dessert, but neither of the two selections (one chocolate) interested me.

Two others decided they did want the cheese course ... because it came with apple brandy, or, I suppose, apple brandy came with a cheese pairing?  And one other decided he wanted another foie gras crispy sandwich as dessert (which, if I wasn't full, and really pleased with the sweetness of my last dish, I totally would have done too, and I applauded his order).
Apple Brandy.
Their pairing was apple brandy.  I didn't try it.
Chevre Macaroons.
The cheese course turned out to be chevre, another item on my do not like list (gee, I didn't realize I didn't like so many things!)

It was a fun dish though, a macaroon stuffed with the chevre and jam.  Bite sized though, just one for each of them.  They seemed happy with it as the ending to their meal, but the foie gras diner clearly won (and of course, shared with me!)
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