Wadakura at the Palace Hotel Tokyo 和田倉

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Seasonal Sashimi of Sea Bream, Medium Fatty Tuna, and Squid

Kaiseki restaurant Wadakura in the Palace Hotel Tokyo is a quiet oasis overlooking the moat of the Imperial Palace. Seasonal dishes are brought out in small portions and presented on beautiful dishes. There are many good reasons for having kaiseki for lunch. First and foremost, it is much more affordable than having kaiseki for dinner. But, more importantly, evening kaiseki meals can be very taxing on the stomach. Some kaiseki restaurants are only open for dinner, so it is good to keep in mind the restaurants that are serve kaiseki at lunch, including Wadakura.

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Wagyū Sirloin Steak Jyūbako

I dined with a girlfriend so we ordered two different menu items. This jyūbako, a square lacquer box of rice topped with seared wagyū sirloin steak as the main part of the kaiseki is 8,700 JPY. This comes with an appetizer, sashimi, miso soup, pickles, and dessert. The meat was marbled with fat but was not too rich. A great option for meat eaters.

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Nodate Bentō Box

The three-tiered lunch box kaiseki set starts at 5,400 JPY. This is a lovely presentation with many courses served in one box. This is also served with rice, miso soup, pickles, and dessert. Following are some of the highlights of the Nodate bentō.

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Wagyū Croquette

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Grilled delicacies. Small bites including duck, eel, chicken, and eggplant.

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Bamboo Shoot, Wakamé, Fuki (butterbur stalks), and Roe

This is a typical spring dish. Delicate flavors of the ocean (fresh wakamé and roe) come together with mountain vegetables (bamboo shoots and butterbur stalks). In particular, the sansai mountain vegetables sing of spring. Tender bamboo shoots and the crunchy butterbur stalks simmered in dashi.

Desserts were the perfect finish to a big meal, warabi mochi with coconut and mango and an aromatic annin dōfu.

Wadakura is on the 6th floor of the Palace Hotel Tokyo. There are private rooms, but the main dining room has a large window overlooking the moat of the Imperial Palace. There are only a handful of tables in the simple space so it still feels intimate. This day the other diners included some businessmen and well-heeled ladies. The kimono-clad servers are very gracious and could answer my many questions about the different ingredients. The Nodate bentō comes with a bilingual Japanese and English menu which is a nice souvenir, especially when looking back at the photos of the different dishes. A very nice touch for novices to Japanese cuisine who want to know more about the varied ingredients.

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Ichi-no-Ichi-no-Ichi Palace Hotel Original Sake

One of the highlights of dining at Wadakura is the private branded saké made for the Palace Hotel by Hakkaisan of Niigata. This saké is not sold retail so the only place one can try this is at the Palace Hotel. The name of the sake, Ichi-no-Ichi-no-Ichi, is the address for the hotel, Marunouchi 1-1-1. The calligraphy on the label is gorgeous as well. The saké has a nice aroma of rice and is very food-friendly.

Wadakura, a kaiseki oasis on the moat of the Imperial Palace, is a short walk from Tokyo Station.

Wadakura at the Palace Hotel Tokyo

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-1-1

030-3211-5322

The Artistry of Den 傳 2

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Asamayama Natsu-Jun, or summer Junmaishu, was rich enough to stand up the fish course.Den17

Katsuo-zuké, skipjack tuna marinated in soy sauce, is a dish we eat at home, but this was so much more upscale. The katsuo was marinated for a much shorter time than we do at home. Also, I loved the egg yolk that was marinated in dashi. There is a trick to get his texture but I don’t want to reveal too much.
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Akita prefecture’s Yuki no Bijin (Winter Beauty) is an appropriate name for a saké as Akita is snow-filled for most of winter. This snow melts and contributes to the delicious water used for making Tohoku saké. This was a Tokubetsu Junmai Ginjo. Check out the beautiful glass it is served in.Den19

I was so curious about this ceramic as it had a rich texture. Chef Hasegawa brought out some bowls to show me the beautiful work of this potter from Mashiko in Tochigi, just north of Tokyo. The potter carefully etches or scrapes out the black parts to show the interior white.Den20

My neighbor happened to be drinking from a saké cup also by the same potter. Gorgeous. Den21

Ayu is a summer river fish in season now. Most times it is simply salted and grilled, which is of course delicious. Tonight was my first time to try ayu as himono. The fish is butterflied, guts removed, and then marinated in salt water for a brief period and then air-dried. Just before serving it is grilled. The whole fish is edible, head to tail. “Rich in calcium,” said the server in Japanese.

In the middle was liver mousse from the ayu. Very rich in flavor, but a light mousse. And the green cake on the bottom is a steamed bread made with tadé no ha (water pepper leaves) and rice flour. It is first steamed until cooked through and is light and fluffy. Chef Hasegawa then grills it under a direct flame to give the edges some crispy texture which is like the cooked edges of the ayu. Brilliant dish that can only be had here at Den.
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Haneya Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu. The cup looked like it was made by a girl. When I asked about it they said yes, Midori Uchiyama, I believe from Tokyo. The bottom of her pieces either have a “M” for Midori or “Mid”.Den23

Here is his signature dish that comes with every meal, no matter what time of year it is. He calls this dish “Hataké no Yōsō” or the state of the farm. There were over 20 vegetables and flowers in the salad bowl, including baby kabocha squash and corn silk. He treats many vegetables individually, either roasting or pickling in a sweet vinegar, or even deep-frying. Giving a variety of textures and flavors. Brilliant dish. I wish I could eat this everyday, or make this at home, but I can see it’s a lot of prep.Den24

Pringles canister containing Den potato chips – check out the smile! And, a zucchini blossom that was deep-fried.
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Here is Midori’s sake cup and tokkuri.

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Tachibanaya Tokubetsu Junmaishu made with omachi rice. The sweetness of the sake paired well with the soy sauce ankaké sauce on the next dish.Den27

Again, a brilliant use of texture buckwheat grains on the sweet soy ankaké sauce over kuro wagyū from Hokkaido.Den28

Chef Hasegawa assembling a dish for other guests (I’m allergic to shrimp, otherwise I think I would have had this). He was saying he had just returned from a trip to France and Italy and was inspired by bouillabaisse. Den29

This saké cup was by far my favorite. I had seen photos of it from the Kenshin Utsuwa facebook page. I loved the texture, the color, the rough exterior and smooth interior. And, the saké tasted lovely in it. The artist also makes a tokkuri that my neighbor used that was gorgeous as well. I think I’ve found my next birthday present from me to me.Den30

The donabé with the rice for the shimé.

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Kamo Kinshu Karakuchi Junmaishu. A little frizzante on the palate.Den32

The rice course was amazing. Sweet corn and scallops cooked in dashi before adding to the rice pot to be cooked with the rice. I wish I could make this at home, and will definitely try.Den33I was getting full at the end of the meal so asked for a small serving of the rice. Chef Hasegawa made a rice ball for me to bring home to my husband. Very thoughtful. The rice was served with asazuké pickles made that morning and miso soup.

Den34And, dessert. Looking like the moss in front of the restaurant. I was so curious about it. It had to be edible, but all of it? So I asked Hasegawa-san if I could eat it all, dried leaves and all. He said yes so I took a bite. I was so curious what the dried leaves were. I had no idea, but it added a unique texture to the dish. “Tea leaves” he revealed.

Dinner at Den is a night that you will remember for a long time. I can’t wait to go back. I spoke with my neighbors who come once a month, all the way from Yokohama. I hope someday to be a monthly customer as well. The atmosphere at Den is light and friendly, not stuffy and staid as some kaiseki restaurants may be. It’s fun and friendly and has amazing food served on gorgeous dishes. Even for a solo diner, it’s easy to sit at the counter by yourself and take it all in.

Artistry of Den Part One

Den

Chiyoda-ku, Jimbocho 2-2-32

03-3222-3978

The Artistry of Den 傳

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Den in Jimbocho is a restaurant that everyone is talking about. I had to go and check it out for myself. I was told that chef Zaiyu Hasegawa is a great guy and a talented chef. (Note, if you are planning on eating there in the near future, don’t read through this blog post as it is better to experience his cuisine without knowing what to expect. The menu changes regularly though, so, please do read if you won’t be coming until the fall.)
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I thought the sign on the moss was curious. The blue shovel certainly caught my attention.

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Actually when I first walked up to Den, I thought it was a ceramics shop when I looked in the door. The backlit wall showcasing gorgeous pieces of pottery. So, I turned around and left, but then I realized this must be the shop.

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This colorful painting in the entrance was done by a friend of the chef. Den5

When I asked about these ceramics I was told that these too were done by potters from around Japan who are friends of the chef. I had recognized a few pieces and was hoping that they would be used during the meal.Den6

When I was seated I was brought a selection of colorful cloths, tenugui, to choose from to use as a lap napkin. This bright pink and white one called out to me and the design of the dragon was so artistic. Chef said that his friend who designed the tenugui also makes summer kimono, yukata, out of material she also designs. He said that her shop is in the Jimbocho area where Den is.

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The chef’s wife is a kikizaké-shi, or saké sommelier. I asked her to pair each course with a different saké. She started the night off with this dry Berlucci’s Cuvée ’61 Franciacorta sparkling wine. Made in the Méthode Champenoise style using traditional grapes of champagne, chardonnay and pinot noir.

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The first bite was sandwiched in monaka, rice wafers. These usually are used with sweet azuki beans and served as a dessert, and it is here where I could see the playfulness of the chef. Inside was foie gras that was marinated in white miso for ten days, adding umami and amami (sweetness as white miso is sweet). It also includes hoshigaki (dried persimmons) and one of my favorite pickles, iburigakko, a smoked and pickled daikon. The first course was brilliant and I could see that it was unique to chef Hasegawa. Den9The first saké served this night was from Ishikawa prefecture, Tedorigawa Junmai Daiginjo. It is only available here at Den as it is a house blend made for Den. It’s a soft saké that will pair with a lot of different foods, and was perfect with this fun dish below.

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I had to laugh when chef handed this dish over the counter. There was a frog peeking out from junsai, a type of water lily that is famous for having a mucous membrane surrounding each leaf. Chef Hasegawa said that they were foraged in a lake that morning in Hyogo prefecture. The frog and junsai was resting on a lotus root leaf, exactly where you may find a frog leisurely passing time on a hot summer day.

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Chef Hasegawa said to fold up the edges of the leaf to put the junsai and frog into the glass bowl. Inside was tokoroten, strings of jelly that chef made with tomato juice and tengusa seaweed. Inside was basil seeds, passion fruit, and tobiko (flying fish roe) adding even a richer texture to the tokoroten and junsai.
Den12The water serves water from a saké brewery in Niigata, Kirian Yamamizu. The fun water glass was made by an artist in Hokkaido.

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The next saké was Banshu Ikkon’s summer sake, Sunflower, from Hyogo prefecture. Light with a dry finish. It’s always a treat to have a saké in summer that was made for drinking in summer. I also loved this glass with dotted with pastel spots. Also made by the same artist who made the water glass.

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What? Did he get KFC take-out? I loved this too being passed over the counter. On closer inspection I could see it was not KFC, but DFC, and the colonel was actually chef Hasegawa. Again, great fun.Den15Inside the box was a chicken wing stuffed with turmeric seasoned sticky rice with almonds and raisins. I could eat a whole bucket of these. The gorgeous dish under the chicken is Ontaiyaki in Oita prefecture.

The Artistry of Den Part Two

Den

Chiyoda-ku, Jimbocho 2-2-32

03-3222-3978

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