Nihonbashi Yukari 日本橋ゆかり – August Bento Lunch

My favorite restaurant in Tokyo is Nihonbashi Yukari. Third-generation chef Kimio Nonaga is the 2002 Iron Chef champion. The food is amazing and I most of all I appreciate chef Nonaga’s passion for sharing Japanese cuisine. He graciously answers all of our questions about the ingredients, where it was sourced, and preparation. He also shares with us current projects that he is working on.

On this hot August day we start off with a cold beer as we watch chef Nonaga preparing dishes.

Eggplant chawanmushi. Chilled Kyoto eggplant soup over chawanmushi. Topped with eggplant skin sauce, rice arare, and shiso no hana hojiso. Nonaga-san says that the skin which is often discarded has color and flavor. Lovely flavor of eggplants which are at the peak of their seasonality.

Yukari bento is much more than a bento. To me it’s like a mini kaiseki meal as it includes many different preparations incorporating seasonal ingredients that are artistically displayed. The lunch bento needs to be ordered ahead of time when making your reservation.

On the left: A tender pork kakuni  with a sauce of Hatcho miso and kurozato (brown sugar). Chef Nonaga said the whole process to make the pork takes three days to make and that one of his key points was to steam the pork. It is served with fresh awafu, sato imo, and okra.

On the right:  Katsuramuki daikon wrapped around smoked salmon, toriniku dango, shrimp and ikura, sweet potato, grilled chicken Nambanzuke, sawara Saikyo-yaki, Tokyo tamagoyaki, grated yamaimo topped with house-cured karasumi (bottarga).

On the left: Banno natto made with kuromame (black bean) natto from Hitachi, Ibaraki. Include link. Otsukuri (sashimi) of shima-aji, mizudako, and meji maguro. Garnish with daikon, kaiware, onions, shiso, benidate.

The banno natto is a dressing that chef Nonaga makes in house. He says that it is good with noodles, seafood, salad, or as a dressing as aemono.

On the right: Tempura eggplant, shishito, and kakiage melange of eggplant, shako, sayori, ika, kobashira, and sakura ebi. Chiayu fish rolled in rice arare then deep-fried. The colorful red is momiji oroshi for the dipping sauce.

On the left: Rice topped with yukari (dried, red, shiso). Today’s pickles include wasabi zuke made with shoyu kasu and katsuobushi.

In the middle: the dipping sauce for the tempura.

On the right: Akadashi miso soup with fu, mozuku sea vegetables, mitsuba, and a hint of kona zansho.

Chef Nonaga’s signature kinako ice cream studded with black beans. Topped with kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup) and puffed rice. Heaven in a cup.

The toothpicks are from a historic shop Saruya.

As we went to Nihonbashi Yukari during Obon holidays in August we were curious where he got his seafood as it was very fresh. He said that on days that Tsukiji Market is closed he procures his seafood from the Kyoto Market.

I’ve walked in front of Nihonbashi Yukari for years and this is the first time that I have seen these gorgeous chochin paper lanterns. It gives a festive ambience to the entrance.

Lunch was very busy, especially considering it was during Obon holidays. Diners were a mix of young and old, men and women. If you come with a large group you can request one of the private rooms in the basement. Nihonbashi Yukari is conveniently located just minutes from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu Exit and around the corner from Nihonbashi Takashimaya. If you go, tell him Yukari sent you.

Nihonbashi Yukari

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 3-2-14

Kozue at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Kozue at the Park Hyatt Tokyo under the helm of talented chef Kenichiro Ooe is a wonderful traditional Japanese restaurant with amazing views of Mount Fuji on a clear day. Lunch was a gorgeous affair filled with seasonal spring May seafood and vegetables.

First course - Yomogi (mugwort) tofu garnished with shirasu, umeboshi neriume, gomadare (sesame sauce), and wasabi – loved the lacquer spoon at the bottom of the photo.

First course close-up. The yomogi is an earthy green which was a nice contrast to the sesame dressing. The tart umeboshi brightened up the palate and the shirasu added a nice texture and contrast to the dish.

Second course - Ainame (greenling) with itawarabi (gelatin-like sheets made from bracken – this can only be made in the spring), and wakame soup with ki no me (tender leaves from Japanese prickly ash sansho).

One of the pleasures of Japanese cuisine is that even after years of experiencing the cuisine, I am constantly learning about new ingredients. Today’s surprise was the itawarabi. It had a delicate, jelly-like texture. I thought it was a thin sheet of konnyaku. Chef Oe explained that it was itawarabi and something that is only made in spring when warabi are harvested from the mountains.

Third course – Sashimi course of tairagai (pen shell), katsuo with pickled rakkyo over grated daikon oroshi, ika (squid), and namanori (fresh nori), and julienned daikon.

A famous chef from the US highly recommended Kozue to me. He said the cuisine was exquisite, but he was also taken with the presentation of the food and the serving vessels. I understood when this sashimi course was presented in this large ceramic filled with crushed ice. The kimono-clad waitress then plated the seafood and garnishes onto serving dishes. A feast for the eyes indeed. See for yourself the difference from the above photo to the one below.

Third course – after arranged by waitress. My favorite was the tairagai which I don’t see much outside of Japan, notably sashimi grade tairagai.

Fourth course – Again a beautiful presentation under fresh wasabi leaves.

Fourth course  uncovered - Spanish mackerel with eggs, hotaruika (firefly squid), kani  (crab) potato croquette.

Fifth course - Tai zushi under a sakura leaf

Sixth course - Takenoko (bamboo shoots) pork and cabbage (home-style rolled cabbage). This is a dish I will try to make at home. I love rolled cabbage but can’t be bothered with making the dish more than once a year. Here, chef Ooe stuffs the ground pork mixture into layers of cabbage that are then cooked. Brilliant idea. And, delicious.

Seventh course - Asari gohan with pickles and fuki (butterbur) miso soup. Asari clams cooked with the rice. A nice way to end the savory dishes with.

Eighth course - Yamabudo (mountain grapes) with ichigo strawberries and biwa (loquat) jelly and creme sauce and berry sauce. I love these large glass dishes. I have seen it used for both savory and sweet courses and it’s always a treat. This course was a nice, light finish to the many dishes.

We had tea with our meal and I feel as though we were served at least two if not three types of tea throughout the meal. Service was lovely. And even though I speak Japanese it was nice to hear the staff explain each dish in English. They could answer all my questions which was also very impressive.

While my eyes are mostly on the food, between courses looking over the room the high ceilings are impressive. The windows face West. So if the skies are clear Mount Fuji is just in front of you. On this weekday lunch the restaurant was very busy. A few tourists, several business lunches, and some ladies-who-lunch types.

One option at lunch is to take your dessert at the Peak Bar & Lounge which is a restaurant on a different floor, also with high ceilings and great views, including a wall that overlooks Mount Fuji. I will do this next time I eat at Kozue.

Chef Ooe came out and talked about the dishes, ingredients, and about Japanese food in general. He said that he is from Yamagata, which is also where my mother is from. Now that I see his photo, I think we could be long-lost relatives. We could be second or third cousins. He reminds me of some of my first cousins so you never know. :-)

Kozue at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

click on the link above and another link will appear for the menu

Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 3-7-1-2

03.5323.3460

Lunch: Daily – 11:30 am to 2:30 pm
Dinner: Daily – 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm

What and Where to Eat in Tokyo

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

I often am asked for restaurant suggestions in Tokyo. Wow. Where does one begin? The food is amazing, from the high end kaiseki restaurants and sushi counters to the neighborhood ramen shop or izakaya. Even on a budget it is very easy to eat well in Tokyo.

Let me put here just some of my recommendations of restaurants based on the types of food one should try when visiting. Also, one should consider location as the city is so big and there are so many great restaurants, it may not be necessary to traverse the metropolis.

Sushi – Ginza Harutaka or Kyubey for high end. Both are in Ginza.

Low end sushi – Tsukiji Market outer market. I like Nakaya for their donburi.

Tonkatsu – Maisen (Omotesando) or Katsukura (Shinjuku)

Soba – Yabu Soba (Kanda) NOTE Yabu Soba suffered from extensive fire damage on 2/19/2013 and is temporarily closed, Kanda Matsuya (Kanda), or Narutomi (Ginza)

Tempura – Kondo (Ginza), Zezankyo (Monzennakacho), or Tenko (Kagurazaka)

low end tempura – Tenmatsu (Nihonbashi)

Tofu – Tofuya Ukai (Shiba Koen)

Pickles – Kintame (Tokyo Station or Monzennakacho)

Meat – Ukaitei teppanyaki (Ginza or Omotesando) or New York Bar and Grill (Shinjuku)

Izakaya – Yamariki (Morishita) or Saiseisakaba (Shinjuku or Monzennakacho)

Kaiseki – Nihonbashi Yukari  (Nihonbashi) or Waketokuyama (Hiroo)

Ramen – Ivan Ramen or Ippudo (Ueno) or Kyushu Jangara (Nihonbashi or Harajuku)

Unagi – Nodaiwa (Higashi Azabu)

Monjayaki – Okame Hyottoko Ten (Tsukishima)

Yakitori – Birdland (Ginza) or Isehiro (Kyobashi)

Oden – Otafuku (Asakusa) or Ogura (Ginza)

My short list of where to drink in Tokyo.

A similar list of culinary highlights in Tokyo from Indagare.

And, now that Tokyo Sky Tree has opened up, here is my shortlist of shops in the Solamachi Mall at the base of the Sky Tree.

Japanese Pastry Chefs Worth Checking Out

Patissier Jun Honma

Patissier Jun Honma

The December 2011 issue of Cuisine Kingdom (料理王国) lists some Japanese patissiers and chocolatiers worth getting to know. I am listing them here. On a side note, it also includes a friend of ours, Shinji Oyama, who is in charge of all of the public relations for the Tsuji Chori Gakko.

Susumu Koyama 小山進

Patissier Es Koyama in Hyogo prefecture

Tadashi Yanagi 柳正司

Patisserie Tadashi Yanagi

Meguro-ku, Yakumo 2-8-11

03-5731-9477

Koji Tsuchiya 土屋公二

Theobroma

Shibuya-ku, Tomigaya 1-14-9, Green Core L Shibuya

03-5790-2181

www.grand-patissier.info/TadashiYanagi/index.html

Miya and Toshimi Fujimoto 藤本美弥 智美

Patisserie Etienne in Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa prefecture

Shinpei Asada 朝田晋平

Patisserie Aplanos in Saitama-shi, Saitama prefecture

Jun Honma 本間淳

Patissier Jun Honma

Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Honcho 3-4-11

0422-27-5444

Chika Tamehiro (Tillman)

Chikalicious NY Amarige

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-10-1, Gyre Bldg. 4F

03-6418-8015

Reiko Imou 芋生玲子

Atessouhaits

Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Higashi-cho 3-8-8, Kasa Kichijoji II

0422-29-0888

Kazuya Morita 森田一頼

Libertable

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-2-11, R2-A Blgd. B1

03-6427-3229

Fumiyuki Kanai 金井 史章

Benoit

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-51-8, La Porto Aoyama 10F

03-6419-4181

Naoki Miura 三浦直樹

Bulgari Il Cioccolato

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-10-1, Gyre Bldg. 2F

03-6362-0500

Autumn Lunch at Nihonbashi Yukari 日本橋ゆかり

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga

Nihonbashi Yukari is just a few minutes’ walk from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu exit. This third generation restaurant is one of my favorites in Japan for many reasons. For the quality of food it is a great bargain. The Yukari bento lunch here is about 3,675 JPY. A kaiseki multi-course dinner starts at 10,500 JPY. At this price it is amazing.

Second, the chef, 2002 Iron Chef champion, Kimio Nonaga, is very passionate about Japanese food and sharing it with anyone who is curious. No matter how many questions I ask about ingredients or preparation, he is always full of passion in teaching me.

Third, the atmosphere is very friendly. Some kaiseki or sushi restaurants feel like a temple and diners may feel awkward even if they sneeze. Here, diners are warmly welcomed and the whole dining experience is pleasant.

Finally, the location can not be beat. Very close to Tokyo station, and a good excuse to stop by Nihonbashi Takashimaya which is just a few blocks away.

Here is a recent Yukari bento lunch, featuring autumn seafood and vegetables. This has to be ordered in advance as only a limited amount are made daily.

If you do go here, please tell him that Yukari sent you. And, when making the reservation, request to sit at the counter so you can watch chef Nonaga at work.

Nihonbashi Yukari

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi  3-2-14

03-3271-3436

www.nihonbashi-yukari.com

Anago Chawan Mushi 穴子茶碗蒸し

Anago Chawan Mushi 穴子茶碗蒸し

It was a very cold and rainy day that we went so the first course was a warm, savory egg custard with tender anago. A great way to warm up and to start the meal.

Nihonbashi Yukari Bento 日本橋ゆかり弁当

Nihonbashi Yukari Bento 日本橋ゆかり弁当

While this is given the humble name of a bento, it is quite an elaborate meal as you can see. It is also a lot of food. If you are looking for a more simple meal, there is also an a la carte menu. Our neighbors had a nice simmered tai head with gobo that looked very appetizing. The a la carte menu for lunch starts at 2,100 JPY.

Autumn at Nihonbashi Yukari

Autumn at Nihonbashi Yukari

Inside of the bento are these four lovely dishes.

Otsukuri お造り

Otsukuri お造り

The sashimi course was katsuo, hotate, and tako tataki with oroshi ponzu. Over the sashimi was julienned vegetables of daikon, carrots, myoga, kaiware (daikon sprouts), kikuna (chrysanthemum flowers), and baby shiso leaves. What really makes this dish special is Nonaga-san’s unique oroshi ponzu. Typically this is grated daikon with a ponzu dressing but the Iron Chef takes 30 different vegetables, grates them, squeezes out the excess juice and then adds the ponzu. It really elevates the dish to a new level.

Tempura 天ぷら

Tempura 天ぷら

Everything at Nihonbashi Yukari is made from scratch, including the yuba in this tempura course. Today’s tempura was of wakasagi (smelt), shishitou, shiitake, and yuba surrounding a hotate shinjo served with a momiji oroshi (grated daikon with togarashi pepper) and a dipping sauce.

Simmered Pork 豚の角煮

Simmered Pork 豚の角煮

The pork was simmered with kurozato (brown sugar) and Mercian kouso wine. It is served with simmered daikon, snap peas and a lovely nama awafu that has a great mochi mochi texture.

Autumn 秋の旬

Autumn 秋の旬

Here is the artistry of an Iron Chef. Grilled kuri (chestnut), grilled ginnan (ginkgo nuts), shrimp stuffed with ikura (salmon roe), salmon wrapped in thin layers of daikon, ground duck meatball,  dashimaki tamago (Japanese omelet), grated yamaimo topped with karasumi, and grilled sawara (Japanese Spanish mackerel) marinated in Saikyo miso.

Kuri Gohan 栗ごはん

Kuri Gohan 栗ごはん

The rice course was one of Shinji’s favorite, kuri (chestnut) gohan served with nuka kabu pickles. Shinji got a second serving of the rice.

Mozuku Miso Soup

Mozuku Miso Soup

The miso soup had mozuku (a type of sea vegetable), mitsuba, and futama (wheat gluten).

Kinako Ice Cream きな粉アイス

Kinako Ice Cream きな粉アイス

Very rarely will you find a Western-style dessert at a kaiseki restaurant like Nihonbashi Yukari. Nonaga-san makes my favorite dessert in Japan. Kinako (roasted soybean powder) ice cream studded with Kyoto Tanba Kuromame (black beans), topped with kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup) and puffed rice. It is not too sweet and has great texture – mochi mochi beans and kari kari from the puffed rice. The perfect end to an amazing meal.

Ivan Ramen

Ivan Orkin

Ivan Orkin

Ivan Ramen

Ivan Ramen

Dreams can come true. In the cold winter months, perhaps the most satisfying dish to be had in Japan is ramen. With almost 9,000 ramen shops in Tokyo, it is not hard to find one, but rare is the one where the noodles are handmade from scratch and where the chef is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.

Ivan Orkin, a native New Yorker, honed his culinary skills with some of America’s top chefs, including Andre Soltner who founded Lutece and celebrity chef Bobby Flay of Bolo, both famed New York restaurants. With an impressive resume like this, one has high expectations and Ivan does not disappoint.

Before opening his ten-seat ramen shop Ivan ate his way through hundreds of bowls of ramen, taking careful note along the way. Ivan Ramen opened in 2007 and ramen junkies touted his shio (salt) ramen. Soon thereafter bloggers touted his shoyu (soy sauce) ramen. And, recently, after participating in a tsukemen event with the city’s top ramen chefs, diners are coming in asking for the noodles to be dipped in broth.

Ivan also serves a unique mazemen with a base of soy milk, slow-roasted vegetables including tomatoes and garlic with chicken soup that is served with whole wheat noodles.

His standard ramen noodles are made on the second floor of the shop along with some non-traditional flour, as well as whole-wheat, and rye noodles. Ivan’s basic stock in his restaurant is made from chicken stock and a rich, fish-based dashi made from kelp, bonito, and dried sardines.

Aside from the fact that Ivan is the first Westerner to break the ramen glass ceiling in Japan, his restaurant stands apart from the others as it is brightly-lit, family-friendly, and boasts some menu items that stray from your typical noodle shop. The slow-cooked pork and roasted tomatoes over rice will have you swooning and for those with a sweet tooth, Ivan makes ice cream.

Sunkus, the convenience store, has sold instant ramen made by Ivan, selling 600,000 bowls, as well as his original onigiri and pork bowls.

As of this writing, Ivan was serving up a limited edition Mexican mazemen of noodles topped with black bean chili, onions, guajillo chilis, dried tomatoes, lettuce, Monterey jack cheese, with a chipotle chili broth. A great combination of flavors found in his native America and his new home, Japan.

The ever-curious chef is constantly tweaking his art through reading cookbooks, and challenging himself with new gentei (limited edition) noodles.

A bowl of Ivan’s ramen will open your mind to the possibilities that exist with ramen. He brings a unique perspective and culinary skills to the world of ramen. We, the diners, reap the rewards of his creativity and constant honing of his art.

Ivan Ramen, 3-24-7 Minami Karasuyama, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, tel: 03-6750-5540, www.ivanramen.com 

This article first appeared in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal:

http://accjjournal.com/ivan-ramen/

Since then Ivan has opened his second ramen shop, Ivan Ramen Plus. Check out his website above for more deatils. Ivan also answered questions for us here.

Ivan’s newest shop is reviewed here by Robbie Swinnerton in The Japan Times.

Two Rooms

Two Rooms

Two Rooms

Two Rooms near Omotesando has one of Tokyo’s best dream teams at the helm of the restaurant. In the kitchen, chef Matthew Crabbe’s impressive resume includes the New York Bar and Grill at the Park Hyatt and Kyoto’s Hyatt Regency. Eddie Baffoe was the popular bar manager at the Oak Door at the Grand Hyatt. Rounding out the team, Nathan Smith’s most recent position was as the Food and Beverage Director at the Park Hyatt. The stellar trio bring to the table enough experience between them that expectations are high, and they do not disappoint.

Two Rooms consists of a dining room, complete with counter seats overlooking the open kitchen, communal tables and booths along one wall. The other room consists of a bar overlooking a well stocked wine cellar. One of the central highlights of the space is the open-air terrace. The ideal late afternoon cocktail can be enjoyed on the outdoor patio, and the evening brings a cool and lively vibe to the bar area.

There is a great list of cocktails including mojitos based on fresh fruit juice like passion fruit and mango. The 1,800 bottle wine list is one of the better ones to be found in Tokyo. Mostly filled with new world wines, regions like Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. are well represented. Classic wines from Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and a handful of Italians round out the line-up.

The Two Rooms Caesar salad is a well-seasoned delight and the fresh local fruit tomatoes are sweet and juicy, served with Italian buffalo mozzarella. Well-selected meats are simply seasoned and grilled. Options include pork from Iwate, Fukushima chicken, and marbled wagyu beef from the Hida Takayama area. If you prefer meatier steaks, you might want to lean towards the Australian cuts from Rangers Valley. Popular sides include the fried fat cut potatoes and the mushrooms sautéed with hazelnuts.

Two Rooms excels at using local ingredients, and this continues with the dessert menu. Amaou strawberries bursting with flavor and aroma are served as a bavrois with lemon meringue. The crème brulee is based on Shizuoka matcha green tea and is paired with kinako (roasted soybean powder) ice cream and Okinawa brown sugar.

The bar menu includes a popular Two Rooms burger as well as prime steak on ciabatta. Sunday brunch tempts diners with Kyoto carrot cake loaf, rum raisin banana French toast, and eggs Benedict.

The dining room is filled with a fair mix of locals and foreigners. Service is professional while maintaining a casual air that evokes the charm of a high-end Western concern. The best part of Two Rooms is the feeling that you are welcome and that this is somewhere one can easily call home. Regardless of the occasion or the time of day, Two Rooms is a great place for food or drinks.

Two Rooms, 5F AO Building 3-11-7 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, tel: 03-3498-0002

This first appeared in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal.

http://accjjournal.com/two-rooms/

Les Saisons in the Imperial Hotel

Les Saisons

Les Saisons

Tokyoites are generally spoiled by the wealth of so many outstanding French restaurants available. Many Michelin-starred chefs from France have outlets in Tokyo; Joel Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire, and Michel Troisgros, to name but a few. Included with this group is chef Thierry Voisin, who came to The Imperial Hotel to run the kitchen at Les Saisons. Chef Voisin had a successful career at the lauded Les Crayeres in Reims. He recently celebrated five years in Tokyo.

Les Saisons is up the grand staircase on the hotel’s mezzanine level and a warm welcome awaits guests as they are escorted to the peaceful sanctuary. The dining room, refurbished five years ago, is spacious, and comfortable. The legendary hotel, opened in 1890, has a history of first class service and this shines through in the restaurant as well. The staff all speak English (as well as French), and they’re attentive without hovering. Les Saisons’ clientele includes Japanese executives (often in a private salon), well-coiffed ladies who lunch, couples celebrating special occasions, as well as seasoned gourmands.

The menu is filled with French classics like Filet of Beef Rossini—Japanese beef filet topped with foie gras and black truffles, and sautéed sweet langoustines garnished with French morel mushrooms. Chef Voisin’s use of local ingredients are often showcased in his offerings which include trout from the pristine waters near Mount Fuji served with yuzu, Hamanako fresh water eel that is smoked and served with foie gras on a puree of celery and a fruit vinaigrette, and a confit of Japanese oxtail with beef tongue, marrow, and mushrooms.

Les Saisons has one of the best cheese carts in the city, so remember to save room for the cheese course. The wine cellar as well is very impressive with a vast collection of wines, including older vintages. The course menus offer the best value for price. Lunch starts at 6,800 yen for three courses or 8,000 yen for four courses and dinner starts at 16,800 yen for five courses. A la carte menus are available also.

Les Saisons, The Imperial Hotel, Uchisaiwaicho 1-1-1, Chiyoda-ku
Tel: 03-3539-8087
Web: www.imperialhotel.co.jp/e/

 

This first appeared in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal.

 

 

Chef Seiji Yamamoto of Ryugin

Chef Seiji Yamamoto

Chef Seiji Yamamoto

Ryugin Dessert

Ryugin Dessert

This article first appeared in The Japan Times in January of 2008. Since then I would have to say that chef Seiji Yamamoto’s cuisine has returned to more traditional Japanese techniques. But the article is still worth reading to understand chef Yamamoto’s background.

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fg20080111a1.html (text follows)

Nothing turns a woman on more than a room full of excited men. No, this was not the Super Bowl, but the International Chefs Congress, a “show and tell” held last September in New York City by some of the world’s most influential chefs. The display of techniques and trends was impressive, with a roster that included such stars as three-Michelin-star chef Joel Robuchon and Bruno Goussault, the pioneer of the sous-vide (under vacuum) technique, where food is wrapped in plastic and cooked at a low temperature, which is changing how food is cooked in many high-end kitchens around the world.

During chef Seiji Yamamoto’s presentation you could hear a pin drop. The audience of chefs gasped as he silk-screened a QR bar-code onto a plate (the secret is squid ink). Behind me, men were awe-struck as he rolled video of a super-refrigerator that makes “liquid ice.”

The titillation was too much to bear.

Back in Tokyo, Yamamoto’s restaurant Nihonryori Ryugin is turning heads with its molecular cuisine, an almost space-age application of food-science techniques, and this caliber of creative Japanese cuisine can only be experienced here. In fact, Michelin’s recent Tokyo restaurant guide awarded it two stars — prestigious acclaim indeed.

Yamamoto is trained in traditional Japanese cookery with 11 years at the renowned — and very traditional — Japanese restaurant Aoyagi, and a trained sommelier. He refers to his cuisine as “creative Japanese food” that is “technology-driven.” He is humble when talking about himself, which is a surprise after witnessing the public displays of affection showered on him by revered chefs from around the world.

Nihonryori Ryugin is a culinary temple. A beet-red wall greets diners at an entrance adorned with a small pile of salt and freshly sprinkled water in Japanese style. The walk down the narrow hallway reveals glossy food-porn photos of signature dishes. Inside the intimate Western-style dining room, with only 18 seats, it’s impossible to ignore the conversation at neighboring tables.

The evening begins with two bite-size courses presented on one spoon each — the TBS television show “One Spoon” has influenced many restaurants around the city with this quirky method of presentation. The first is a croquette of okra and truffle, a warm and earthy amuse bouche. The smoked shirako (fish sperm) and oyster is an ocean-full of flavor, as the citrus gelee cuts through the smokiness and the creamy texture.

A sweet and crunchy foie gras is presented with fresh fig, wasanbonsugar, cognac and a vintage port; the addition of myoga, in the ginger family, adds a contrasting heat to the sweetness that balances the dish. Other highlights for the evening include the owan (soup) course of hamo (sea eel), matsutake and cabbage in a hamo consomme.

The ever-curious Yamamoto has gone to great lengths to discover how best to tenderize hamo. The fish is infamous for its fine bones that are impossible to fully extricate, and Kyoto chefs have established a complex technique of cutting through these bones. Eschewing this received wisdom, Yamamoto and his team took a hamo to a research hospital, where scientists put it under a CT-scan so that they could get a microscopic look at this stubborn skeleton and determine for themselves how to deal with the bones. The resulting soup renders a tender hamo and is a delicate vehicle for the pine-scented matsutake.

The meal follows the traditional kaiseki course service, starting with a raw fish course and grilled, fried and simmered dishes of seasonal ingredients exquisitely presented. A favorite reinterpretation is theunagi-don (eel on rice). This is not the traditional delicate unagi; Ryugin’s has a sweet, toffeelike crunch to it — unexpected but very welcome.

Dessert is a playground of dishes from the CO² Grape, which explodes in your mouth, to the Minus-196° Candy Apple, an outer shell of toffee filled with nitrogen-frozen ice cream. But by this point in the course meal, it really does seem like too much food.

The dishes are complex and pair well with wine, shochu or sake — and of course champagne. The Bruno Paillard is elegant and well-balanced with a hint of hazelnuts that stands up to the rich layers of the food.

The restaurant’s service is attentive and any of the knowledgeable staff can answer questions regarding the composition of the dishes. Their pride in their establishment is obvious.

Innovation doesn’t come cheap, and a visit to Nihonryori Ryugin will set you back ¥15,750 for the short course or ¥21,000/¥26,250 for the two “Gastronomy” courses. For those who aren’t millionaires, an a-la-carte menu is presented after 8:30 p.m. — rare for this type of place.

Chefs and gourmands from around the world make pilgrimages to Nihonryori Ryugin to pay their respects to the shrine of molecular cuisine in Japan. Yamamoto is an integral member of a modern “Brat Pack,” alongside international jet-setters such as Ferran Adria of El Bulli, a restaurant in the Catalan resort of Roses in Spain; Wylie Dufresne of WD50 in New York City; and Jose Andres of Cafe Atlantico in Washington D.C. Perhaps he’s the samurai chef of these boys with toys.

Nihonryori Ryugin, 7-17-24 Roppongi Minato-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3423-8006; www.nihonryori-ryugin.com. Nearest station: Roppongi (Hibiya and Oedo lines). Open 6 p.m.-2 a.m.; closed Sundays and holidays

Chef Q&A with Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen

Ivan Ramen Plus

Ivan Ramen Plus

Ivan Orkin is the talented chef-owner of Ivan Ramen and the recently opened Ivan Ramen Plus. A Culinary Institute of America graduate who has worked with the best including Andre Soltner of Lutece and Bobby Flay. Ivan has been very busy with the opening of his second ramen shop as well as working on what will be the definitive book on ramen in English. His first book, in Japanese, tells the story of how his first shop came to be and is very interesting read. As a chef, he enjoys going out to eat in Tokyo and I always enjoy hearing about his favorite eats.

If you go to one of his restaurants, tell him that Yukari sent you! Ivan’s very down to earth and a great guy. Best of all, his ramen is amazing. The noodles are all made from scratch and the soups are clearly made by a top-class chef. Personally I always look forward to his gentei ramen, that are only on the menu for a short time. His creativity and palate is reflected in these dishes.

Cheese Mazemen

Cheese Mazemen

The Cheese Mazemen is the recommended dish at the Ivan Ramen Plus. Following is the description from his website.

“This the Ivan Ramen Plus take on cheese in ramen! Fish soup and shoyu base, (very little soup, just enough to facilitate slurping) with mozzarella, hokkaido white cheese, parmesan and edam cheeses. On top is Katsuo fish powder sprinkled with chive oil and pickled bean sprouts. It’s cheesy and gooey and great!”

Go hungry, better yet, go with a friend so you can order several dishes to share.

Ivan Ramen

Setagaya-ku, Minami Karasuyama 3-24-7

03-6750-5540

closest station is Rokakoen on the Keio line from Shinjuku station

Ivan Ramen Plus

Setagaya-ku, Kyodo 2-3-8, Tanbaya Building 1F

03-6413-1140

closest station is Kyodo on the Odakyu line from Shinjuku

http://www.ivanramen.com/ (in both English and Japanese)

Ivan Orkin

Ivan Orkin

Ivan in front of his first shop, Ivan Ramen, holding a bowl of instant Ivan Ramen.

1.     Tell us about your second shop, Ivan Ramen Plus, and why you opened it?

My second shop is bigger, brighter and in a more accessible location.  The shop is a continuation of what I started with the first shop.  This time I started with an all fish soup as well as a dish with tons of cheese and thick noodles (which has been a runaway hit.)  I’ve since added a more traditional meat soup in a soy and salt flavor, with toasted wheat noodles.  I even do a riff on a Italian meatball on rice with a dashi inflected tomato sauce!  I decided to open the shop because I thought it was time to expand.  More people have a chance to try my food and I have another opportunity to challenge myself and cook more.  It’s been tremendous fun.

2.     Is there a difference between the two shops?

The first shop is a little bit more traditional in a variety of ways.  The ramen is a little more classic in structure, the shop is a typical ten seat tiny Tokyo ramen shop and it’s located in a kind of funky off beat location.  The new shop is larger (well, 16 seats, larger by Tokyo standards) much more modern and offers food that pushes the envelope a little bit more.

3.     Any good ramen that you have eaten recently?

I had a great bowl of ramen the other day at a shop in Kanda called Kikanbo which means literally the club that an oni or devil carries.  It’s spicy miso with both chili pepper and Szechuan pepper corns both of which you can vary the level of heat.  They have a ramen shop and 100 yards away a tsukemen shop as well.  I also love 69-n- roll and one (69 is pronounce roku, like rock n- roll) a ramen shop in Machida pretty near the train station.  It’s a legendary shop specializing in light ramen with chickens solely from Akita Ken (a prefecture in northern Japan).  There’s no talking, reading or laughing allowed, so be prepared to concentrate on the ramen, but it’s worth it!

4.     Any restaurant recommendations other than ramen that you’ve had recently?

I always love Tateru Yoshino in Ginza a French restaurant run by a Japanese Chef with a restaurant in Paris.  Its always very good and lunch is steal at 4800 yen.  The space has soaring ceilings, four star food and service and a relaxing vibe.  I also love Florilege, a newish French place in Aoyama.  This is also a steal at 4200 yen for lunch and around 10,000 yen for dinner.  The chef uses molecular techniques as well as more traditional ones, and is known for fabulous offal dishes.  They only do one sitting for lunch and dinner and then concentrate on the diner, so try to get a reservation at least a week or two in advance.  Definitely worth the trip!

5.     Can you explain the volunteer work that you and other ramen chefs are doing for Tohoku.

I have been participating in various volunteer efforts to help and heal the people of Tohoku.  I have visited a refugee center and cooked ramen for people displaced from the Fukushima region and more recently did a benefit dinner along with 40 renowned chefs from all over Japan.  More than 300 attended paying 200-500 dollars each to sample the amazing creations offered by the amazing chefs participating.  We all concentrated on building our dishes around the ingredients from Tohoku.  I am also building a website that will sell “virtual” bowls of ramen, and the money from each bowl will go to serving an actual bowl of ramen to people all over the Tohoku region. There are people suffering terribly, from the obvious, people that lost their homes and family and are living in shelters, to the  less obvious, the elderly that are living in their houses but still have no heat or running water.  There is still so much to do and we’ve only just scratched the surface.  I will forward the information on the site once it is ready.  All of the collected money will go directly to feeding those in need.  It’s going to be exceptional!

6.     Has your business been affected since March 11th, rolling blackouts, etc.?

The first month was uncomfortable and scary, lots of aftershocks, fears of no electricity, everything was uncertain.  Things have since stabilized and business is essentially back, with the occasional inexplicable slow day.

7.     Your noodles are made from scratch. Any interesting noodles lately?

My new shio (salt) and shoyu (soy) ramen both use my toasted wheat noodle.  It’s a relatively thin noodle with a great toasted wheat aroma.  At both shops combined I am currently serving seven different types of noodles.  I’ve really become something of a noodle geek and never tire of experimenting.

8.     I have always been a fan of your gentei ramen. What is on the menu at the moment? What can we look for in the future?

I have several new dishes in the works.  One is a spicy miso cheese mazemen (a type of ramen with little soup and lots of stuff that you mix up furiously and slurp up) a cold chili sesame hiyashi chukka (cold Chinese style noodles) and a cold roasted tomato ramen.  I am working on new noodles for each dish.

9.     Do you want to mention your book?

Yes.  I’ve written a wonderful book all about ramen and what has made it the undeniable champion food of Japan.  Mixed in is how I took on the challenge of opening a ramen shop in Japan and all the experiences along the way.  Unfortunately I lost the publisher, which went out of business earlier this year.  I am currently searching for a new publisher and If anyone has any ideas….  In the meantime my book is excerpted in David Chang’s new magazine “Lucky Peach” which hits newsstands next week.  Have a look if you can!

10. Anything else you’d like to mention?

I plan on continuing my goal of offering the most delicious ramen I can make and offering it with a giant smile.  I hope everyone can make a trip to Ivan Ramen or Ivan Ramen Plus if they come to Tokyo.