Soba at Honmura An

Honmura An

Fresh Yuba on Chilled Soba

My first introduction to Honmura An was in New York City back about 15 years ago. A friend who loved soba wanted to share with me his favorite soba shop in the city. I was mesmerized with the stone grinder for crushing the dried buckwheat and impressed that the noodles were being made fresh daily. Sadly the Manhattan shop has since closed. Honmura An has since relocated to Tokyo, in Roppongi, just across the street and around a corner from the massive Tokyo Midtown complex. It is a short walk from Roppongi Hills or any of the Roppongi stations.

The interior is modern and sparsely decorated with simple washi, Japanese paper, that hangs from above. In the back of the restaurant there is a large window overlooking the soba prep room. Sadly when we arrived the rolling and cutting of the noodles were done for the first seating of lunch.

A few tables had solo diners, in their 20s, plugged into their own music or engrossed into their phones and the outer world. Most of the diners were area businessmen and ladies who lunch. The restaurant has a big menu of small bites that can be had before finishing off with soba. At lunchtime most people were not having the side dishes but all going straight for the buckwheat noodles. This day it was quite hot outside and as one would expect, most diners were ordering the cold noodles.

Honmura An

Ikura and Grated Daikon on Chilled Soba

I had asked if they had yakimiso, a classic dish of a sweet miso, often studded with buckwheat, that is grilled. I was disappointed when I was told it wasn’t served so we ordered two types of soba. One topped with a creamy, fresh yuba (soy milk skin) and the other a grated daikon and ikura (marinated salmon roe).

The noodles are fine and very delicate and this would be a great light lunch during the hot summers that Tokyo is known for.

Honmura An has a nice selection of saké and wine. I was so happy to see Urakasumi Junmaishu on the list that I didn’t even bother looking at the wine list. The saké is easy on the palate and a nice partner to the soba.

Honmura An

Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-14-18

03-5772-6657

English menu available.

Closed Monday and 1st & 3rd Tuesday

La Boutique de Joel Robuchon

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J’adore Joel Robuchon. For special occasions we love L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Roppongi. The food is exquisite, service is professional yet friendly, and it has a great wine list. But, at the moment we don’t have the luxury of dining out for long meals. So La Boutique de Joel Robuchon offers a taste of Robuchon, without the commitment of a time. A good friend first put this on my radar right after it opened. He was addicted to the tarte au citron and served it at all of his dinner parties. La Boutique de Joel Robuchon is both a patisserie and boulangerie. In the photo here the Roppongi shop shows off its most popular bread, a curry pan, stuffed with curry and crispy on the outside.

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Monsieur Robuchon’s quiche with salmon and spinach or mushrooms. Notice how each one is made by hand.

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Kouign Aman is very popular in Tokyo and it is found at many bakeries throughout the metropolis. But this is the first time I have seen it with sweet potatoes that are in season at the moment. Actually, it looks like a nice fusion of kouign aman and daigaku imo, a traditional sweet made from sweet potatoes and sesame seeds. A nice nod to the local cuisine.

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And yes, you read correctly in the back sign, “Croc” foie gras et pomme, garnished with pink peppers. In front, croque monsieur aux champignons. We are so spoiled in Tokyo.

There are three locations in Tokyo of La Boutique de Joel Robuchon. These photos were taken at the Roppongi Hills location. The other two are in Marunouchi Brick Square and Yebisu Garden Place. My only complaint is that the boulangerie doesn’t open up earlier. The shop I pass the most often, Marunouchi Brick Square, does not open until 11 a.m.

Five Questions for Japan’s First Master of Wine Ned Goodwin

Ned Goodwin is Japan’s first Master of Wine. Ned is also one of the most passionate sommeliers in Japan. Ned graciously took me under his wings when I moved to Tokyo to work as a sommelier. His generosity and guidance helped me tremendously. Ned has had a great impact in the wine world in Japan with innovative wine lists and staff training. Here Ned shares with readers some of his favorite places to drink wine in Tokyo and more.
1. Congratulations on becoming the first Master of Wine in Japan. Tell us about the Master of Wine and how it is different from a Master Sommelier. What all did you have to do to become a Master of Wine?

On average the MW demands around a decade of study and is a mutli-disciplined course that examines vineyard work, vinification, marketing / business and contemporary issues such as Global Warming, the rise of China et al.  These sections are woven around four-days of exams that constitute the ‘Theory’ section of the exam. Each day consists of three one hour essays aside from the final and fourth day, which consists of two essays.

In addition, each morning over the first three-days, one sits the ‘Practical’ section of the exam. The ‘Theory’ follows in the afternoon. The ‘Practical’ constitutes a white, red and ‘mixed bag’ (often fortifieds and sparkling, but not necessarily) paper; each 2 1/4 hours long with 12 wines across each discipline.

These two sections are then followed by a 10,000 word dissertation on a subject pertinent to the market that one works in. Diss was on Jap. sommeliers & whether the wine by-the-glass in a tightly defined tier of restaurant chosen by them, had physiological synergies with a tightly defined customer type that both drinks wine and goes to the defined ilk of restaurant. In other words, are sommeliers here giving customers what they like, or do Japanese prefer (possibly) other similarly priced wine by-glass styles, that for some reason or other, are not popular here (Gruner, Rose etc.).

The Master Sommelier is more service-focused without the overall range or discipline across many facets of the wine world, that the MW demands.

2. What are some of your favorite places to drink wine in Tokyo?

Shonzui in Roppongi (Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-10-2)

Buchi at Shinsen kousaten (Shibuya-ku, Shinsen-cho 9-7)

Fiocchi in Soshigaya-Okura (Setagaya-ku, Soshigaya 3-4-9)

Tharros in Shibuya (Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 1-5-2, Shibuya SED Bldg).

3. What are your favorite retail wine shops in Tokyo?

I mostly get my wine directly from producers, wholesalers or importers albeit, if I were to purchase wine at a retail level, Tokyu Honten (Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-24-1) is very good.

4. In a Japanese magazine you wrote about pairing rose with yakitori. Any other general recommendations to pair wine with Japanese food?

I think pairing wine with Japanese food is relatively straightforward given that the dominant flavour profiles are sweet/salt, with and subtle textures an important part-at least with traditional Japanese fare. The major stumbling block is the rather ethnocentric and closed mentality of many Japanese chefs and even sommeliers when it comes to matching wine with anything Japanese. True, there is of course beer and Nihon-shu, although wine offers a different and equally fun experience. Izakaya-styled food is particularly good with a slew of rose styles although, perhaps due to their perceived simplicity, rose has not really taken on here as a category. Umami and its yeasty, savouriness lends itself well to wines that have spent time on lees, such as many Chardonnays and bottle-fermented sparkling wines.

5. Any wine trends you see in Tokyo or in Japan?

Recessionary pressures mean less expensive wines and the rise therefore, of imports from places such as Chile. There is an overall lack of dynamism in the market and the power of China, Hong Kong and other SE Asian markets has usurped Japan’s muscle, to a great degree, on the world stage. I believe that many Japanese still want to drink quality at a better price rather than a cheap price, however. Yet because selling in a western sense is foreign to most Japanese and their attention to ‘face’ and ambiguity / lack of direct sales techniques; wines that sell themselves (cheap and/or from mainstream regional brands such as Chianti, Chablis etc.) are relied on instead of sommeliers and salespeople actively suggesting real value across, perhaps, lesser known regions. Salespeople in Japan rarely engage the customer, but play to a love of pomp and aesthetics in terms of sertvice styles. Unfortunately, these approaches often fail to get good wine of value in glasses!

Ned’s links include:

The Institute of Masters of Wine

Asian Correspondent

Twitter

UPDATE as of December 15, 2012:

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Ned has made two wines under the “Good Wine” label. These Australian wines are perfect for entertaining or for your new house wine. Pinot Grigio and a Cabernet & Shiraz blend. E-mail me for details for delivery in Japan.

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

Vegetable Sushi Potager in Roppongi 野菜寿司Potager

Vegetable Sushi

Vegetable Sushi

Potager Interior

Potager Interior

French trained chef Aya Kakisawa created a following for her vegetable based desserts at Potager Patisserie in Nakameguro. Her new restaurant, Vegetable Sushi Potager, serves creative sushi showcasing Japan’s rich diversity of vegetables. High ceilings and a glass counter is a stark contrast to the traditional sushi counters. Using classical French and Japanese techniques, domestic, organic vegetables are simply seasoned with traditional seasonings like vinegar or the spicy, salty yuzu kosho. Pureed carrots resemble uni while eringi mushrooms could be mistaken for scallops.

Vegetable Sushi Potager (opened January 2011)

Minato-ku, Roppongi 6-9-1, Roppongi Hills, Keyakizaki Dori

03-3497-8822

www.sushi-potager.com/en/ (English)

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.