Chef Nicolas Boujéma of Signature at Mandarin Oriental

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There is a new French chef in town, Nicolas Boujéma, at Signature in the Mandarin Oriental. I was very curious to try his food as he has a very impressive resumé, most recently coming from Pierre Gagnaire in Hong Kong. I had the chance to interview him for Metropolis magazine for a Tastemaker piece. It’s always exciting to see a chef who is new to Japan explore the local ingredients. Boujéma is a talented chef and it will be fun to revisit and see how his cuisine evolves as he experiences the changing produce and seafood. He lives near Tsukiji Market and visits often, and says that he finds a lot of inspiration there.

Louis Roederer champagne to start, a lovely wine. This table overlooks Tokyo station, the Bank of Japan, and the historic Nihonbashi district where the Mandarin Oriental is located.

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Some lovely amuse bouche to start includes smoked eel, an aromatic muscat, and gougère.

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An earthy Australian truffle soup, ravioli foie gras, with a light vegetable broth. It is well balanced and not too heavy, and just sexy enough with the truffles. Which makes me feel guilty for indulging in something so nice before dinner.Sig4

Saffron butter and whipped butter. Excellent bread is being made in house  like this petit baguette and brioche. The saffron butter was a very nice touch.

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Tavel Chateau d’Aquéria is a lovely rosé and perfect not only on a hot summer day, as this was, but also with the sardine and tomato dish it was served with.Sig6

Lovely presentation of iwashi (sardine) that is marinated in salt, lemon juice,  and olive oil. It’s served with a refreshing tomato terrine, goat cheese from Loire, Italian ham, and mustard crouton. Again, the dish is well-balanced and not too rich, as one would expect from iwashi.

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Alsace is one of my favorite wine regions for its aromatic white wines with a crisp acidity. It is the wine I choose when we are out and celebrating a special occasion. When the sommelier brought this to the table I couldn’t stop smiling. I was told that a former Japanese sommelier at Signature married into the Hugel family and is now living in Alsace. This was riesling was nice with this next dish.

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My favorite dish of the meal was this amazing combination of truffles, waffle, braised shallots, leeks, mushrooms, and whipped cream with truffles. The leek was sliced thin and painted onto the plate. The waffle pockets were stuffed with braised shallots and served with a lovely Port sauce. And again, a hedonistic course with truffles. Had I been at home I would have picked up the plate and licked it clean. Sig9

Francois Villard Condrieu Les Terraces du Palaix. Lovely aromatics in this viognier. This floral Rhone wine is perfect for the accompanying fish main dish which reminded me of the Mediterranean.Sig10

Bouillabaise inspired cod, amadai sashimi, eggplant puree with lemon, zucchini, and fennel. The warm breeze of the south of France. A nice touch of amadai (tile fish) sashimi with the cod. Sig11

Potato espumante with saffron is a refreshing palate cleanser before the cheese course.Sig12

Macon La Roche Vineuse Gamay – lovely with the cheese! Fruity yet with a nice backbone.
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48 months aged Comte cheese which I am told is very rare. It is prepared with truffles, a white pepper cream, and shaved with some sweet jelly, and brioche in the middle. Muscat grape and dragon fruit. A luxurious course and so nice to see the cheese served three ways.

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Hakuto peaches espumante. A wonderful, light finish and a nice touch as peaches are at the peak of their seasonality in Japan at the moment. Sig15

And a few sweet touches to end a lovely lunch.

It’s always exciting to welcome a new chef to Tokyo. Be sure to put Signature on your Go List for Tokyo. Excellent food, outstanding service, knowledgeable sommeliers, and spectacular views – day or night. It will be fun to watch his cuisine evolve as he acquaints himself with the seasonal Japanese ingredients.

Signature at the Mandarin Oriental

Nihonbashi Muromachi 2-1-1

Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Reservations: 03-3270-8188

http://www.mandarinoriental.com/tokyo/fine-dining/signature/

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