Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kani Doraku Shinjuku Honten かに道楽新宿本店 (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★★☆

One of the most exciting meals you will ever find in Japan is their "all-crab" dinner. There are a number of places serving a full-course meal of crab dishes in Tokyo but as any crab lover would tell you, Kani Doraku (かに道楽) is the place with the best crab centric menus and the most affordable prices.

Kani Doraku has a few branches across Tokyo but it's their Shinjuku Ekimae branch that has attracted most of the attention mainly due to the giant mechanical crab they have at the front. But for us shopaholics, the comfort of being close to most of the department stores (Isetan, 0101, Beams etc.) speaks volume and that's when the Kani Doraku Shinjuku Honten (かに道楽新宿本店) comes in.

The two-storey Kani Doraku Shinjuku Honten is "strategically" located next to Isetan and just a 5-minute walk to the Shinjuku Sanchome subway station.

The place is beautifully decorated in wood creating a nice sense of comfort and warmth. It was only 5:30pm so we were really more interested in getting something a little more light and we ended up ordering two of the shortest course dinner (4,700yen and 5,200yen respectively).

Both sets started us off with this poached queen crab served with Japanese sweet vinegar. The crab meat was sweet and delicious.

Next up was queen crab sashimi that was eaten with soy sauce and wasabi.

This was my favorite dish, crab leg tempura. The batter was very thin giving the crab legs a nice crispy texture but without tampering the bite. That was ohhh sooo good!

Crab paste isn't something for everyone as the flavors are often considered a bit rich for certain people. But it's one of my favorite too. This is very nice and fresh.

Who would shy away from some hot pot in the middle of fall, especially it's hot pot with in-season crab and vegetables?

Crab meat sushi was probably one dish that I could do without.

Finally steamed rice with some tiny crab legs. 

I honestly think they should have some crab flavored ice-cream for dessert but here's a traditional green tea with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream as my sweet treat tonight. The green tea was prepared right on the spot for me.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: ¥¥¥¥
Address: 〒160-0022 3-14-20, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo Theatre Building 7-8/F
Closest Metro Station: Shinjuku Sanchome
Tel: +81 3-3352-0096


Pierre Hermé (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★★☆

I never thought I could resist the temptation of coming back to Pierre Hermé in Tokyo and at the end, I couldn't. After purposely walking past the picasso of pastry's flagship store in Aoyama in the morning, here I am running into their Shinjuku boutique this afternoon.

Infinitely vanilla, that was just too much for me to resist. Why didn't they carry this in their Hong Kong boutiques?

It consists of a shortbread base filled with rich, dense filling of white chocolate vanilla ganache and vanilla-flavored mascarpone. For the finish touch, they sprinkled some ground vanilla on the side to make it look good.

This was perfect. Tasted perfect too. 

I dream one day that I don't have to fly all the way to Tokyo or Paris for this.

Food Rating: 8/10
Price: ¥¥¥¥
Address: Isetan Shinjuku B1F, 3-14-1 Shinjuku Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo 160-0022 〒160-0022 東京都新宿区新宿3-14-1 本館B1F
Closest Metro Station: Shinjuku Sanchome
Tel: +81 3-3352-1111


Dominique Ansel Bakery (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★★☆

New York based French pastry chef and owner Dominique Ansel, the man behind the cronut frenzy, has brought his gig to Tokyo this fall. The much anticipated opening of Chef Ansel's first overseas bakery has been well documented by the media over the past year and it has finally arrived behind the busy streets of Omotesando

We know we are in for a treat here but wait, where's the anticipated lineup for those famous cronuts?

As it turned out, they were already sold out before we arrived at 1:40pm. Why am I not surprised?

My partner in crime (yeah, my mom) wasn't all that crazy about French pastries. She told me she would rather have bread instead!

Say hello to Mr. Roboto, a Japan-only item from Chef Ansel. This is supposed to be the chef's contemporary take on the melon pan filled with a caramel black truffle custard.

Of course, I was a little gutted for missing out on the famed cronuts. Perhaps I will find time to visit the new home of the 2014 James Beard Award Winner for “Outstanding Pastry Chef” some time next year.

Note: The food rating given here is strictly based on what we've tasted which was just Mr. Roboto and nothing more. Cronuts and pastries were not part of the rating. 

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: 5-7-14, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Omotesando
Tel: +81 (0)3 3486-1329


Benoit Tokyo (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★★☆

Benoit is one of those restaurants that I have been eyeing a return visit for years. After a strong showing at our first visit in 2007, I already began planning this but there are just way too many good restaurants in Tokyo so it ended up waiting 8 years for its turn.

Located on the 10th floor of La Porte Aoyama, Benoit Tokyo is a true French bistro from highly acclaimed Chef Alain Ducasse. The "Benoit" brand has a very long history dating back over a century ago. The original Benoit in Paris first opened its doors in 1912 but it wasn't until 2005 that they all became an Alain Ducasse establishment. At Benoit Tokyo, guests can enjoy a warm and authentic experience and a seasonal menu filled with classic French bistro dishes. 

When they talked about an authentic experience, they were certainly not joking. The classic decoration here is a perfect reflection of the distinctive style of Paris.

Through the glass windows, we can see a very nice view of Shinjuku on one side and Shibuya on the other.

The dining room is located on a separate floor (connected by a staircase). This is my second time visiting and I am still amazed with the beautiful setting which evokes a modern French brasserie feeling with the high ceiling and traditional chandeliers.

There's a separate dining area at the corner that offers a bit more privacy, and it's slightly more casual with nice patterned wallpaper and classic framed pictures. 

First a little something from the chef - some savory cheese puffs while we were checking out the menu. Speaking of Benoit's food menu, it's one of the best bargains in Tokyo. A 3-course lunch (starter + main + dessert) set only starts at 3,800 yen while a 4-course lunch set (2 starters + main + dessert) sets you back for 4,800 yen.

My first course was soft-boiled farm egg, codfish brandade and toasted bread stick.

The soft-boiled egg was very nice but the codfish brandade could have been a bit more fluffy.

A little more successful was the delicate pumpkin soup with ewe's milk cheese.

They turned it up a notch with our main course starting with these seared scallops. The scallops were seared to perfection and the artichokes did well to balance out the sweetness from the scallops.

I had the chicken and mushrooms fricassée in a light cream sauce. That was another beautiful dish.

Dessert for me was traditional vanilla mille feuille. It was very flaky, perhaps a little too flaky.

We are seeing chestnut desserts everywhere on the streets so why not have a chestnut cream with some homemade sorbets for dessert? I thought the blueberry sorbet (red one) carried a little too much acidity in there (forgot the second one) which was a bit of an odd combination with the sweet chestnut to begin with.

Mom was really overjoyed following this meal and I certainly don't blame her after seeing the final damage on that bill. 

(1/12/2015: Congratulations to the team at Benoit for re-capturing the Michelin star they lost in the previous year. Keep up the good work guys!) 

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: La Porte Aoyama 10F, 5-51-8 Jingumae Shibuya-ku Tokyo, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Omotesando
Tel: +81 (0)3 6419-418

Friday, October 30, 2015

Restaurant Ryuzu (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★☆☆

Mom's crash course on French dining officially starts tonight at two-star Michelin Restaurant Ryuzu. Owner-chef Ryuta Iizuka (飯塚隆太) has previously trained under Joël Robuchon before starting his own restaurant in 2011. He led Restaurant Ryuzu to its first star in 2012 and soon captured its second star in the following year. Chef Iizuka owns a pretty impressive resume that includes experience working for Michelin starred restaurants in France and also spent time at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Roppongi (Tokyo). He's best known for his emphasis on the harmony between fragrance and texture.

We had a choice between 3 set menus tonight (8,000yen, 13,000yen and 19,000yen) but honestly, our minds were already made up way before we arrived. Like most high-end restaurants in Japan, their reservation staff would request us to choose between the 3 menus when we re-confirmed our booking a week in advance so they already knew we were heading for the shortest set.

There were two nibbles in our amuse bouche, first a small cookie with homemade minced pork and also a madeleine with olive and tomato.

A further amuse bouche came in the form of a pumpkin soup with fresh ricotta cheese. It was very creamy and refreshing.

For my starter, I went with their patented roasted beef. This was done like a carpaccio, with beef consommé jelly, vegetable salad and goat cheese on top. So I guess this was what they meant by the harmony between fragrance and texture. Pretty nice.

Mom didn't want any raw meat so she had the shiitake mushrooms with foie gras and garden green instead. I stole a slice of shiitake from her and it was very tasty. A little better than my roasted beef I might add.


Next up was sautéed seabass, served with cabbage and bamboo shoot and rocket leaves. There was a bit of Asian style cooking in this one. The execution was nice but not the most exciting seabass one would ever find in a French restaurant.

My third and final savory dish was roasted pig belly from the chef's home province in Niigata prefecture. This was nicely complemented by some grilled seasonal vegetables including yam, turnip, pepper, potato, green beans and bamboo shoot. The quality of the meat was very nice with a unique flavor that resembled those from Iberico pork and the texture was almost perfect.

Dessert was a scoop of yogurt sitting on top of a goat cheese foam with sponge cake, apple, granata jelly and some red wine sauce. 

Concluding this meal was a lovely set of petite fours sending us home with happy stomach.

Despite Chef Iizuka's background in classical kaiseki (under Aoyagi's Hirohisa Koyama) and French cuisine (under Robuchon), this feels more like a hybrid between an eclectic modern cuisine and classical French. Chef Iizuka obviously has great respect for sourcing the ingredients for his seasonal menu locally and like some of the best restaurants in the city 
(Quintessence immediately came to mind.), quality Japanese produces are the focal point here. 

Food Rating: 6.5/10

Price: ¥¥¥
Address: Urban Style Roppongi B1, 4 Chome-2-35 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Roppongi
Tel: +81 (0)3 5770-4236

Pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI Paris (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★★☆

Tokyo is not only a city with the most number of Michelin stars, it's also a paradise for dessert lovers with some of the most exciting cake shops and dessert places on the face of the earth. Take Pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI Paris for example, it's just one of the many must-see destinations in case you want to have your sweet tooth fixed.

Immediately following our afternoon tea session at Toshi Yoroizuka, we decided to check out more sweet treats at Tokyo Midtown including Pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI Paris on the basement floor

Sadaharu Aoki (青木定治) is touted as one of the best Asian pâtissiers in the business and it's really not difficult to see why by looking at all his wonderful creations

For a limited time only, they are offering a special marron cake (830 yen) in celebration of their 10-year anniversary. 

This is a nice combination of red fruits, shortbread and chestnut cream. Mom loves it~

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: ¥¥¥¥
Address: Tokyo Midtown B1F, 9-7-4 Akasaka Minato-ku Tokyo, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Roppongi
Tel: +81(0)3 5293-2800

Pâtisserie Toshi Yoroizuka (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★★☆

I have decided to recruit a different partner in crime on this trip and mom gladly accepted my invitation. So, when was my last trip with mom? I think it had to go back to my university days on a trip to Eastern Canada. That just reminded me what a terrible son I have been.

Well, it's never too late to make amends so immediately following our touch-down in Narita, I brought mom to one of my favorite dessert bars in town and there's really not many of them.

No, this is NOT a re-post from my last trip. I am visiting Pâtisserie Toshi Yoroizuka again but this time it was mom sitting right beside me. I told her I must have gotten my sweet tooth from her.

A small corn soup to start things off.....

My mom has never been an adventurous person to begin with so soon after I told her about Pâtisserie Toshi Yoroizuka's signature creation, Ukishima ("The Floating Island" - 1,350yen), she decided to go with the house specialty.

I have always enjoyed having the front row seats to the open kitchen here and it just added a whole new dimension to this dessert experience. Mom seemed to agree as well.

Chestnut cream, whipped cream and red bean paste topped by a scoop of toasted tea ice-cream and they finished by showering the whole thing with a silky smooth green tea sauce. Lovely.

I noticed that they have tinkered with the menu a little bit and removed a number of the older items. As the more adventurous of the two, I decided to go with something new - Gratin aux Kakis (1,350yen).

This is kind of like a pudding with kaki (or Japanese persimmon 柿) and custard cream inside. Not a bad choice if you like persimmon.

We still got time to stroll around Roppongi before dinner at Restaurant Ryuzu (飯塚隆太).

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: 9 Chome−7−2, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 〒107-0052, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Roppongi
Tel: +81 (0)3 5413-3650