Best Steak in Tokyo – Dons de la Nature

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The assignment came from my boss in London, to seek out and eat the best steak in Tokyo. Tough assignment from Chowzter, but Shinji and I were up to the challenge. We were surprised when we called Dons de la Nature and got in within a few days. Seems that this restaurant is not yet on everyone’s radar.

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The restaurant is located in an unassuming basement on the main Chuo Dori street in the Ginza shopping district. Walking into the corridor leading to the elevator we feel as though we are in the wrong spot, until we spot the window filled with wine bottles and the name of the restaurant. We arrive and the okami-san (female manager overlooking the front of the house) is very friendly and down to earth. She takes our jackets and brings us to our table.

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Saga sirloin on top and Yonezawa filet on the bottom.

This evening there are only two options of steak, a filet from Yonezawa in Yamagata and a sirloin from Saga. The sirloin is highly marbled and has more fat than meat. The filet, while meaty, still has a nice amount of shimofuri, the white fat that is flecked throughout the meat. The steak is cut into 400-gram portions and cooked in one piece before it is cut and shared, so couples must agree on the same cut. The sirloin looked too fatty so we agreed on the filet.

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While the interior is tired and service is casual, the cuisine on the plate is taken very seriously. Chef Otsuka trained as a French chef and it is reflected in his carefully assembled salad topped with fresh crab legs, Japanese tiger prawn, and salmon. The consommé is classically made and I quickly forget about the environs and focus on the food.

The steaks start at about 30,000 JPY each ($300 USD) which is shared between two people. That is before soup and salad. There is also a course menu which starts at 21,000 JPY per person. We took wine by the glass but there is also a long list to choose from of mostly French wines.

The raising of kuroge wagyū (black-haired Japanese cattle) in Japan is very different from what you’ll find outside of Japan. The cows are grass-fed the first eight months of their lives. Each farmer selects the feed he believes to be best for the wagyū, such as soybeans or corn or straw. The last four months of their lives the cows are not fed straw anymore. We asked chef Otsuka if it is true that wagyū are fed beer and he said some places do, but that it is actually quite rare. But, he did confirm that wagyū are massaged daily. This is what helps to give the beef the shimofuri marbling that it is so famous for.

Chef Otsuka came to our table and talked about how he selects his wagyū. He only picks the best that he finds at the wholesale market so his inventory is constantly changing. He has no preferences or loyalties to any region, but will pick what is the best that day at the market.

The wagyū is first dry-aged for one month, increasing the natural umami in the meat. The second month it is wet-aged. At this point the fat in the meat turns into amino acids, adding even more umami to the meat. The aging is all done in-house.

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Chef Otsuka could see that we were so curious about our dinner as we peppered him with questions and he generously invited us into his kitchen. The meat is skewered and then cooked in a kiln that was custom built for the sole purpose of grilling the meat with intense heat. The charcoal used at Dons de la Nature is made from Kinshu binchotan. Binchotan is a charcoal made from a Japanese oak tree. And, while many places may say that they use binchotan for grilling, the best quality binchotan is said to come from Kinshu, and the stock is very limited. Some binchotan is not even Japanese. We were told the binchotan can bring the oven to a temperature of upwards of 800 to 1000 degrees Centigrade.

Chef Otsuka seasons the wagyū with salt and pepper, skewers the steak, and then puts it into the kiln over the binchotan. He then closes the kiln and listens for the sound of the fat in the wagyū melting and falling onto the hot binchotan. The charcoal then starts to smoke, adding another layer of flavor to the steak. An Argentinian chef friend of mine recently told me about the seven ways to cook meat in Argentina and one of the methods was in a similar kiln. I wonder if this is where chef Otsuka came up with the idea.

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The recommended serving for the steak is medium rare. The outside is just seared in the middle is still red. The steak is presented whole and then is cut at the table into two pieces for each person.

The steak is incredibly rich in umami. The contrast in texture from the crispy seared outside to the tender, rare inside is a treat. As the steak is marbled with fat it almost melts in your mouth. After my first bite “oh my God” came out of my mouth. I didn’t realize it until I heard the okami-san laughing. It was, hands down, the best steak I have ever had in my life.

In speaking with chef Otsuka after our meal he said what makes his steaks so unique is the searing in the custom-made kiln. Otsuka explained that most restaurants cook steak in a pan over a gas heater and that the sauté pan can only get up to about 250 degrees Centigrade. He also said that as wagyū is so fatty that when it is cooked in a pan that it is cooking in its own fat. And, that the searing directly over charcoals is the method that he thinks is ideal for Japanese beef.

This is what makes his steak the best in Tokyo, if not the best in the world.

 

Dons de la Nature

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-7-6

03-3563-4129

Monday – Saturday 5:00 – 10:00 p.m.

Closed Sunday and holidays

http://dons-nature.jp/e/steak.html

 

 

Gotta Get – Hiroshima Lemosco

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I am addicted to a product called Yuzusco, a yuzu and Tobasco like sauce that is great for pizza, pasta, eggs, you name it. Was thrilled when I cam across this Lemosco at the Hiroshima Antenna Shop in Ginza.

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It is very similar to the Yuzusco, but lighter in flavor. Sometimes the Yuzusco can be too intense. Have loved this with food and next on the list of things to try it with will be cocktails, like a Bloody Mary.

This is made from lemons, vinegar, green chili peppers, and salt. No preservatives or additives. This one is from Yamato Foods.

There are so many great condiments in Japan and these make the perfect gift to bring home for friends.

 Hiroshima Antenna Shop TAU

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-6-10

10:30 – 20:00

Gotta Get – Nori Cups at Tsukiji Market

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Once in a while you come across something that changes your food life forever. A Japanese chef girlfriend who now lives in California told me about these nori cups at Tsukiji Market. They are sold at a store that I walk by every time we do a Food Sake Tokyo tour, which is about 3-4 times a week. It is a store that we often stop by as they also sell the sushi erasers that are popular gifts. I was kicking myself for not noticing these before. These are perfect for bite-size sushi. Perfect for parties or for a fun night at home.

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The version above are unseasoned, while these are flavored with salt. I prefer the salty ones.

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Nori cups are circles of nori shaped into small cups like cupcake papers. Just add rice, or better yet, vinegared sushi rice, and top with sushi toppings.

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The first time we tried these we were celebrating a special occasion at home and Shinji pulled out all of the stops. Topping options this night included: clockwise from top left: sujiko (soy sauce marinated salmon roe in the sac), mentaiko (salted and spicy cod roe), kombu, seafood salad, maguro (tuna), kazunoko (herring roe), tobiko (flying fish roe), tuna salad, salmon, tamagoyaki (omelet), crab, and shirasu (baby anchovies boiled in salt water).

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Everyone makes their own as they like.

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On this night we simply did salmon sashimi to celebrate the new saké cups we purchased.
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There are a few shops selling the nori cups at Tsukiji Market. The easiest one to find is Orimatsu in the outer market. While here, be sure to also take a look at the erasers in designs like sushi, bento, and wagashi (Japanese confectionaries).

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Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-9-15

3:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Followers of the Food Sake Tokyo blog have written to me to say that the nori cups can also be found at Tokyu Hands in the bento section as well as at Kappabashi.

Food Trends in Japan – Supermarket Trade Show

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Fermented foods are an essential part of Japanese cuisine. Many staples of the Japanese pantry are made with fermented products including sake, soy sauce, mirin, miso, and vinegar. Kōji, Aspergillus oryzae, is the common ingredients in all of the products. The popularity of kōji is evident with the shio (salt) kōji and shōyu (soy sauce) kōji products that are very popular in supermarkets. At this year’s Supermarket Trade Show in Tokyo we came across many new products made with kōji. Some of our favorites include this Kōji Pon from Marukome. Pon, short for ponzu, is a citrusy tart and soy sauce that is often used for hot pots or vinegared dishes. This product is made with kōji, so with added fermented power. It is already on the supermarket shelves so look for this to put on your next salad.
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This is an aged shio kōji that is aged, which rounds out its flavor and mellows it out a bit. It’s a new product that is not out yet.

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These are brilliant. Dried, smoked, and sometimes fermented fish in a jar. Simply add soy sauce which will increase in umami and use as you would use soy sauce. We have a similar product at home and love the smokey soy sauce.

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Here you can see into the bottles to see the smoked and dried fish. Some kombu as well which also adds another dimension of umami to the soy sauce.

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Nigori su, or unfiltered vinegar, is very interesting. It is made with saké lees from one of my favorite sake breweries, Dassai. True to its name it is creamy and has a much thicker texture than vinegar. It could be used for making pickles, salad dressings, or for making rice for sushi.

2014 Tsukiji Market Record Tuna by Numbers

  • This year’s most expensive tuna sold at 7,360,000 JPY or roughly $70,325 US dollars.
  • The tuna weighed about 230 kg.
  • The price per kilogram was about 32,000 JPY or roughly $305 US dollars.
  • The tuna came from Ohma in Aomori prefecture.
  • The tuna was bought by the sushi chain, Sushi Zanmai.
  • Sushi Zanmai has bought the winning tuna the last three years in a row.
  • This tuna however was NOT the most expensive tuna per kg. The most expensive tuna per kg. sold at the new year’s first tuna auction went for about 40,000 JPY or about $382 US dollars. This tuna weighed in at about 168 kg.
  • Last year’s record tuna sold for 155,400,000 JPY or roughly $1.76 million US Dollars.
  • This year’s tuna came in at about 1/20th of last year’s price.

Two other interesting points that came up in today’s news. One, was that the last few years Sushi Zanmai would compete against a Hong Kong sushi shop called Itamae Sushi. This year Itamae Sushi did not participate in the auction for the winning tuna.

Also, it was noted that last year, due to poor weather conditions, that there were only 4 bluefin tuna from Ohma were offered at the auction. However, this year, fishing conditions were more agreeable and each tuna wholesaler each brought in about 30 fish.

 

More information on 2013′s Tsukiji Market Record Tuna by Numbers.

Tsukiji Market Calendar 2014

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Food Sake Tokyo has had a busy year with food tours in Tokyo in 2013. We are already booking up dates in 2014. The most popular destinations in 2013 include Tsukiji Market, depachika, and Nihonbashi.

The 2014 Tsukiji Market Calendar is now available online. As for it’s move. Newspapers are reporting 2015 for a move to the new location in Toyosu. But, we have a feeling it will take a bit longer and may not move until later than that.

We are both a chef and a former buyer at Tsukiji Market. Our tours are geared towards chefs and serious food-lovers. We introduce seasonal seafood, cooking techniques, and Japanese food culture. For more information on our tours, click here.

Yukari’s book, Food Sake Tokyo, is published by The Little Bookroom. It guides readers through Japanese cuisine and sake and shochu. It also introduces readers to food shops and restaurants in Tokyo as well as at Kyoto’s Nishiki Market.

Nihonbashi Tour on November 1st

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Can you tell the difference between the nori on the left and the right? 

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Two types of dashi, both using katsuobushi.

What better time to learn about washoku? It seems that UNESCO will recognize the unique cuisine of Japan as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in December.

If you are curious or passionate about Japanese cuisine and would like to know more about it, there will be a 90-minute walking tour of some of the historic shops in Nihonbashi. Learn more about umami, some ingredients from the Japanese pantry, and Japanese cuisine.

The tours are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4 p.m. on Friday, November 1st. The tours are in English.

For more details, please contact me directly. Our e-mail is on our “Yukari and Shinji Sakamoto” page.

Gotta Get – Fresh Green Tea

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It has been incredibly hot in Tokyo this last week. Record high for the month of October, 31 degrees C yesterday, almost 88 degrees F. I tend to drink a lot of water while out in the city, but another favorite, if I can find it, are these green tea bottles. Powdered green tea, sometimes sencha, or sencha mixed with mattcha, is in the cap of the bottle of water. When you twist open the cap the tea falls into the water. Just shake up the bottle and you have cold, fresh green tea. There are a few shops in Tsukiji Market selling this. Usually you’ll see it in front of a tea shop in a big bucket of ice.

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/

July Seasonal Japanese Seafood

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Simmered ma-anago

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Seared katsuo

July Sashimi

July sashimi

 

Some of our personal favorites include ayu (salted and grilled), shitabirame (meuniere), shijimi (miso soup), benisake (salted and grilled), and for sashimi – surumeika, kinmedai, takabe, and isaki.

Ainame 鮎並 fat greenling (Hexagrammos otakii)

Akashita birame 赤舌鮃  red-tongued sole (Cynoglossus joyneri)

Awabi abalone (Haliotis sorenseni)

Ayu 鮎 sweetfish (Plecoglossus altivelis altivelis)

Benisake べにさけ 紅鮭 sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

Dojou 泥鰌 loach (Misgurnus Anguillicaudatus)

Hamo   pike eel or pike conger (Muraenesox cinereus)

Inada イナダ young Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Isaki 伊佐幾 chicken grunt  (Parapristipoma trilineatum)

Ishidai 石鯛  barred knifejaw (Oplegnathus fasciatus)

Ishimochi イシモチ nibe croaker (Nibea mitsukurii)

Iwana 日光岩魚 whitespotted char (Salvelinus leucomaenis pluvius)

Kamasu 大和叺 barracuda (Sphyraena japonica)

Kanpachi  間八 amberjack or yellowtail (Seriola dumerili)

Katsuo 鰹  skipjack tuna or oceanic bonito (Katsuwonus pelamis)

Kawahagi 皮剥 thread-sail filefish (Stephanolepis cirrhifer)

Kihada maguro 黄肌鮪 yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares)

Kinmedai 金目鯛 splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)

Kisu 鱚 Japanese whiting (Sillago japonica)*or shirogisu

Kochi 鯒 bartail flathead (Platycephalus)

Kuro maguro 黒鮪 bluefin tuna (Thunus thynnus)

Maaji 真鯵 Japanese jack mackerel (Trachurus japonicus)

Maanago 真穴子 whitespotted conger (Conger myriaster)

Maiwashi 真鰯  Japanese sardine (Sardinops melanostictus)

Makogarei 真子鰈 marbled sole (Pleuronectes yokohamae)

Masaba 真鯖 Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Mejimaguro めじまぐろ young tuna (genus Thunnus) if it is a young bluefin tuna it will be called honmeji, if it is a young yellowfin tuna it will be called kinmeji.

Niji masu 虹鱒 rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Oni okoze  鬼虎魚 spiny devilfish (Inimicus japonicus)

Shijimi – 大和蜆 corbicula clams or water clams (Corbicula japonica)

Shima aji  島鯵 striped jack or white trevally (Pseudocaranx dentex)

Shiro ika 白いか  swordtip squid (Loligo (Photololigo) edulis)* or kensaki ika

Shitabirame 舌平目 (or ushinoshita) four line tongue sole(Arelia bilineat)

Surumeika 鯣烏賊  Japanese common or flying squid (Todarodes pacificus)

Suzuki 鱸  Japanese sea perch (Lateolabrax japonicus)

Tachiuo 太刀魚 cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus)

Takabe たかべ yellow-striped butterfish (Labracoglossa argentiventris)

Tobiuo 飛魚 Japanese flying fish (Cypselurus agoo agoo)

Unagi 鰻 Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica)