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

Alan Richman in GQ on how Food is Made Better in Japan

I had the great pleasure of spending some time with journalist Alan Richman as he tested a theory that food is better in Japan. Why is it that French, Italian, or Chinese food is so good in Japan? Read as he eats his way through Tokyo testing this theory. The story opens up in what may be Tokyo’s best pizzeria, Seirinkan in Nakameguro.

http://www.gq.com/blogs/the-q/2008/02/made-better-in-japan.html

Indagare Interview – Culinary Tokyo: Restaurants Not To Miss

Isetan depachika (photo by Takuya Suzuki)

Isetan depachika (photo by Takuya Suzuki)

This interview appeared a while back but I wanted to share it for its information on some of my top recommendations for foodies visiting Tokyo.

Born in Japan and raised in the United States, Yukari Pratt Sakamoto, the author of the soon-to-be-released Food Sake Tokyo (Little Bookroom, $29.95), is a true Tokyo food insider. Here, she shares her favorite restaurants, bars and gourmet shops in the Japanese capital.

What are some Tokyo restaurants you would recommend for the following types of meals?

A traditional Japanese dining experience: Tofuya Ukai, one of the most unique dining experiences in the city. It specializes in tofu and soy products, but also serves seafood and meat. The menu is kaiseki style with several courses. For an authentic local experience, I would recommend Yamariki. And if you’re looking for a high-end dining experience with a big-name chef, there’s Nihonbashi Yukari with Iron Chef 2002 winner, Kimio Nonaga.

What are some restaurants you would suggest for families traveling with kids and why?

Tofuya Ukai is nice, as each group gets their own private dining room. Ivan Ramen is a child-friendly ramen shop run by a native of Long Island, Ivan Orkin. And also try going to a kaitenzushi shop, the sushi shops with a conveyor belt. These are made for families. A popular shop is Magurobito (Roppongi; 81-3-3405-5466) that does a very nice job with good seafood. Ask for any “shun” or seasonal seafood that may be off the menu. Another very good option for children are restaurant floors located in department stores. Here you will find a variety of restaurants (sushi, tempura, tonkatsu, etc.) and these shops are accustomed to families.

What are the types of food not to miss trying while in Tokyo?

Seafood-based food like sushi, tempura, and unagi (eel). Noodles like soba and ramen. And of course, kaiseki (Nihonbashi Yukari is one of my favorites). Also, the wagashi(traditional Japanese confectionaries) should be experienced. Good stores for wagashiinclude Toraya or Kano Shojuan. Hormone ryori (innards) are very popular at the moment. Try Saiseisakaba or Yamariki. An ideal eating trip to Tokyo would be to visit different shops that specialize in one type of food. Birdland (Ginza; 81-3-6269-9825; http://ginza-birdland.sakura.ne.jp/ for yakitori, Kondo (Ginza; 83-3-5568-0923) for tempura,Kyubey (Ginza; 81-3-3571-6523; www.kyubey.jp) for sushi, Tamai (Nihonbashi; 81-3-3272-3227) for anago (eel), sukiyaki (hot pot), soba, ramen, etc.

What are some tips to navigate the incredible food floors in the department stores in Tokyo, and which ones would you recommend for a first-time visitor?

There is usually a concierge on the first floor by the main entrance of each department store. Inquire if there is any special food events taking place, these are often on an event floor. Often there are maps of the food floors, these are good as some are so big you can get lost. The best one to visit is Isetan (Shinjuku; 81-3-3352-0909;http://www.isetan.co.jp) in Shinjuku.

What are some of your favorite Tokyo bars (both classics and new ones)?

The hotel bars are great. Park Hyatt Tokyo’s New York Bar & Grill

What are the main culinary items visitors should buy in Tokyo?

Knives at Kiya (Chuo-Ku; 81-3-3241-0110; www.kiya-himono.co.jp) in Nihonbashi. Lacquer at Kuroeya (Chuo-Ku; 81-3-3272-0948; www.kuroeya.com) in Nihonbashi.

If a traveler only has one day and night in Tokyo, which are the places you would suggest to get a good taste of the city (lunch, dinner, drinks)?

Have lunch at Kyubey Sushi in Ginza; dinner at Nihonbashi Yukari, and finish your night with drinks at the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar & Grill in Shinjuku.

What are some of your favorite spots in the city that are not food-related?

AsakusaMeiji Jingu Shrine, Monzennakacho. A very short trip out of the city, but still a part of Tokyo is Mount Takao.

http://www.indagare.com/passions/4/departments/172/8166 (text above)

http://www.indagare.com/passions/4/departments/173/8165 (on Food Sake Tokyo)

Chef Seiji Yamamoto of Nihonryori Ryugin 日本料理龍吟の山本征治

Chef Seiji Yamamoto photo by Jun Takagi

Chef Seiji Yamamoto photo by Jun Takagi

Avant-gardist Seiji Yamamoto of Nihonryori Ryugin once silk-screened bar codes onto plates with squid ink. His latest shocker: He’s embracing Japanese classics, as in his rice steamed with shamo (chicken).

Ryugin

Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-17-24, Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor

03-3423-8006

http://www.nihonryori-ryugin.com/ (English)

Food & Wine 2010 Tokyo Go List

Here’s a piece I wrote on chef Yamamoto for The Japan Times.

Food & Wine’s 2010 Go List

Bar Pleiades

Bar Pleiades

This is one of my favorite article contributions each year. Food & Wine’s Go List – including the best of Tokyo.

http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/go-list-2010

Tokyo highlights include Seiji Yamamoto’s Nihonryori Ryugin and Bryan Baird’s The Taproom in Harajuku. Read on for more for the best in the world.

Shotengai Shopping Arcades – Walking Food Tours of Tokyo

Shotengai

Shotengai

I love the shotengai, Japanese shopping arcades. Filled with ma and pa shops selling tofu, fresh produce, rice, pickles, miso, and other basics of the Japanese pantry. This article recently appeared in Metropolis magazine and features five of my favorite shotengai in Tokyo.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/local-flavors/street-eats/ (text follows)

While the one-stop food shopping at Tokyo’s depachika is an amazing experience, the gourmet eats come with a high price tag. At the other end of the spectrum are the places where most Japanese do their daily shopping: neighborhood shopping streets known as shotengai, where you’ll find mom and pop shops selling vegetables, fish, meat, rice and even handmade tofu. The Tokyo Shotengai website (http://meturl.com/shotengai) lists over 550 of these shopping streets; here are some of our favorites.

KAGURAZAKA 神楽坂

This foodie neighborhood is filled with many fantastic shops along the main drag. Try 50-ban (3-2 Kagurazaka) for its steamed buns, Kintokiya (2-10 Kagurazaka) for wagashi made from sweet potatoes, and the gorgeous Rakuzan (4-3 Kagurazaka) for tea. Isuzu (5-34 Kagurazaka) offers a variety of Japanese-style sweets and, if you walk along the street far enough, Baikatei (6-15 Kagurazaka) has fantastic handmade wagashi. Nearest station: Iidabashi

NIPPORI 日暮里

Just outside of Nippori station lies the Yanaka shotengai—very typical of what you would imagine an old-style shopping street to be like. Two of the area’s meat shops are famous for their menchikatsuNiku no Sato (3-13-2 Yanaka) and Niku no Suzuki (3-15-5 Nishi-Nippori). Goto no Ame (3-15-1 Nishi-Nippori) has a colorful selection of candies. There are many options, including deep-fried tofu balls known as ganmodoki, at Musashiya (3-9-15 Yanaka), oyatsu-pan (snack breads) at Atomu Bakery (3-11-14 Yanaka), and skewered and grilled seafood at Fukushima Shoten (3-13-4 Yanaka). Note that a lot of the shops are closed on Mondays.Nearest stn: Nippori. www.yanakaginza.com

NINGYOCHO 人形町

The historic Ningyocho district is always a delight to visit. While you’ll find many shops selling the local specialty, ningyoyaki (small cakes filled with azuki bean paste), there are many other interesting stores. On the famous Amazake Yokocho shotengai is Futaba Tofu (2-4-9 Ningyocho), with a variety of tofu products and also the sweet, creamy drink for which this street is named. Hojicha tea is the specialty of Morinoen (2-4-9 Ningyocho), while the long line outside the tiny Yanagiya (2-11-3 Ningyocho) is a testament to the popularity of its taiyaki sweet-bean cakes—considered one of the three best varieties in the city. Ningyocho’s most famous restaurant may well be Tamahide (1-17-10 Ningyocho), renowned for its oyako-don rice bowls. Nearest stn: Ningyocho.

KICHIJOJI 吉祥寺

Just north of Kichijoji station is Sun Road, a covered shotengai filled with many small shops. Among the several worth exploring are traditional German bakery Linde (1-11-27 Kichijoji-Honcho) and Meat Shop Sato (1-1-8 Kichijoji-Honcho), which is famous for its menchikatsu and wagyu and which also has a popular restaurant on the second floor, usually with a long line. Okashi no Machioka (1-15-1 Kichijoji-Honcho) will have your eyes spinning with all of the different types of candies, sweets and snacks. In the evening, the Harmonica Yokocho strip is filled with small restaurants that are perfect for a drink and some nibbles. Tecchan is a popular yakitori spot—if you can squeeze in (1-1-2 Kichijoji-Honcho). Nearest stn: Kichijoji.

AZABU-JUBAN 麻布十番

This popular foodie street in the heart of the city is easy to navigate. The renowned Mamegen (1-8-12 Azabu-Juban) tempts customers with over 90 varieties of flavored rice crackers, including uni, wasabi and curry, but it’s the shio-okaki (deep-fried and salted) that are irresistible. The taiyaki at the extremely popular Naniwaya Sohonten (1-8-14 Azabu-Juban) are made by the shop’s fourth-generation owners. Hasegawa Saketen (2-2-7 Azabu-Juban) has well-selected sake, shochu and umeshu. If you’re craving meat, the yakitori at Abe-chan (2-1-1 Azabu-Juban) will hit the spot. Alternatively, slurp up some soba noodles at Nagasaka Sarashina (1-8-7 Azabu Juban), notably the delicate, white sarashina noodles. Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban.

Harajuku Taproom for Craft Beer

Bryan & Sayuri Baird's Harajuku Taproom

Bryan & Sayuri Baird's Harajuku Taproom

Photo by Keigo Moriyama

Tokyo is filled with many options for beer and food. What makes one pub stick out over the rest is the quality of the beer and the Harajuku Taproom is one place not to be missed for fans of craft beer. This article from Metropolis, written by my editor, Steve Trautlein, introduces readers to the great pub in Harajuku, just off the popular Takeshita Dori and the wonderful beers handcrafted by American Bryan Baird. Bryan and his wife Sayuri-san have opened up their third taproom in Japan. You will not be disappointed.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/bar-reviews/harajuku-taproom/

Interview with Harumi Kurihara for JQ Magazine

Harumi Kurihara

Harumi Kurihara

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Harumi Kurihara (via e-mail through her staff) after the release of her English cookbook, Everyday Harumi. Here is the interview from JQ magazine, the JET Alumni Association magazine for NYC. Find out her three favorite kitchen tools and her suggestions for Americans wanting to make bento to take to lunch to work.

Scroll down to page seven to see the interview:

http://jetaany.org/magazine_files/JQ_JanFeb2010.pdf

A doyenne of domesticity, the tireless Harumi Kurihara is often called the Japanese Martha Stewart. A media maven, she is omnipresent from magazines to TV in Japan, guiding followers not only with recipes, but also tips on entertaining at home. A popular author of washoku cookbooks, Kurihara recently released her third cookbook in English, Everyday Harumi.

What makes this book unique is the research that Kurihara did to find out what ingredients are most prominent in Western kitchens and crafting suitable recipes ranging from traditional Japanese to innovative and creative fare. The resulting book empowers home cooks unfamiliar with Japanese recipes to quickly become fluent. While visiting New York City last fall to promote her book at Japan Society and Mitsuwa, among other places, Kurihara-san answered questions for JQ.

Congratulations on a beautiful cookbook. The chapter on kitchen cupboard essentials is packed with good information, and we love your healthy and delicious recipes. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you decided to make cookbooks in English?

I started working as a cooking assistant on TV, behind the scenes. Conran Octopus asked me to publish Everyday Harumi. This was made with a British-only crew. American people can cook all the recipes in this book.

What are your three favorite Japanese kitchen tools?

The first one is a suribachi, or a mortar, to grind sesame and other ingredients. The second one is an akutori, or a scum remover. The third is called daikon oroshi, or a grater. You can grate a radish, ginger, or wasabi with it.

Help us create a menu for a picnic in Central Park.

Deep-fried chicken, sweet egg rolls, and quick pickled cucumber.

Can you suggest bento ideas for Americans who want to bring lunch to the workplace?

Green pea rice, ginger pork, and spinach with peanut dressing.

 

In your cookbook, most of the ingredients are things we can find in American supermarkets, notably the seafood. How did you conduct your research for the book?

I went to supermarkets in London and checked everything myself. I wanted to know what was easily available.

 

How do you stay so skinny when testing all of these recipes?

I don’t do anything special. I taste all the ingredients, and I eat small portions regularly.

 

President Obama and his wife Michelle are encouraging Americans to eat healthful diets. Can you make any suggestions?

From the book, I recommend pork and vegetable miso soup, and tsukune [ground meat patties].

 

Did you find any new favorite restaurants in New York from your visit here, and do you have any favorite restaurants in Tokyo if we come for a visit there?

Sorry, I have no idea. There are so many great restaurants, but what is more important is enjoying the people you are dining with.

 

You are indefatigable. How do you manage all of your projects like cookbooks, magazines, TV, etc.?

Out of love for my family and all my friends.

 

Any ideas on what we can look forward to in your next cookbook in English?

The basic seasoning, soy sauce. I saw a lot of ingredients at the supermarket, and everyone gets confused which one to choose. I recommend you use soy sauce in addition to your own seasonings.

 

Your English is getting better and better. Have you been studying?

Yes, I’m studying English on the phone, every morning.

 

At your Japan Society lecture, you gave brilliant advice on entertaining at home. You said that when you have guests coming over, the fi rst thing you do is check to see what’s in your fridge and freezer and create your menu based on what you can build from what’s in your home, going to the supermarket only to purchase additional ingredients. Do you have any other tips for entertaining at home?

Two tips for you. The first one is to prepare some dishes in advance. The second is that I cook some dishes in front of my guests. I can save time this way, and my guests enjoy watching my cooking.

 

Any final tips or advice?

You should not only go to Japanese restaurants but also cook Japanese dishes at home. Japanese cooking looks difficult, but it can be done easily. I recommend that you try to cook someJapanese dishes.

Learn more about Everyday Harumi atwww.conranusa.com/ProductDetails.aspx?pid=9103997&cid=Books&language=en-US.