Bassanova @ Setagaya-ku

It’s getting colder here in Tokyo lately … ramen cravings strike again! Was just chillin’ in Shimo-kitazawa (eating totoro cream puffs… will show you that in my next post :p) and decided to walk over to Shindaita for ramen at Bassanova because I just saw it on TV in the morning (lol).IMG_5822.JPG

Bassanova is famed for their avant-garde flavours.Today I tried the Ninki #1 tondaku wadashi soba, their signature ramen with a “double broth” of tonkotsu (pork bone) and gyokai (fish). The noodles were Hakata-style – straight and thin, with a nice hard bite. This was topped with some extraordinarily thick pieces of menma and a beautifully grilled piece of chashu (egg was extra!). IMG_5826.JPG

I also tried the rather unique tom yum ramen, a Thai-influenced bowl which I thought tasted a little too lemongrassy at first but eventually got used to it though the broth was still a bit too salty and thick for my liking. I guess I should not have expected a tom yum goong base with lovely hints of prawn when it really only said tom yum. In any case, because the ingredients used were generally good (the wontons were nice and crunchy), I ended up finishing the bowl. I think I’d like to come back to try the green curry ramen that everyone seems to rave about! IMG_5828.JPG

Oh just an extra close up shot of the tom yum ramen.

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Bassanova 

Address: Hanegi 1-4-18, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

東京都世田谷区羽根木1-4-18 新代田たちばな荘 1F

Phone: 03-3327-4649

Kohaku 虎白 

Decided to give this fusion kaiseki restaurant a try tonight because all the other diners I wanted to visit were either closed or fully booked. Well before I start making this place sound like a sad rebound that’s available when everyone else isn’t, Kohaku is actually a highly acclaimed restaurant boasting 2 michelin stars. The only reason I was able to get a reservation last minute was that, unlike at most high-end kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo, chef Koji Koizumi and his team (as I later observed) are energetic night owls who can work well past midnight, meaning that  multiple rounds of customers get the opportunity to enjoy full course dinners everyday. 

Chef Koizumi previously served at the famous 3-Michelin-star Ishikawa, a traditional kaiseki ryotei that in fact used to be located exactly where Kohaku is right now. After the old Ishikawa was re-positioned, Koizumi took over the space (though chef Hideki Ishikawa remains one of its owners) to begin a new project that took traditional kaiseki to a modern plane, by incorporating ingredients from other culinary capitals such as China and France.

IMG_3765Upon entering Kohaku at 9:45 pm- fairly late for a kaiseki meal. (there were people entering even later at 10:45pm)
IMG_3768 The meal began with a delightful sakizuke (the Japanese equivalent of the French amuse-bouche) of ebi-imo, a traditional Kyoto vegetable that literally translates to “shrimp potato” due to the shrimp-like stripey pattern on its skin. Perfumed with a few slices of black truffle, this appetizer set the scene for an avant-garde kaiseki dinner with a French twist. IMG_3773My first course (ippin) was fugu (blowfish/pufferfish), and its shirako (or milt, or sperm, whatever you like to call it) soaked in mizore-zu, a combo of grated daikon radish, rice vinegar flavored with mirin and citrusy yuzu peel. 
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Plump and velvety, my little sacs of fugu shirako matched exceptionally well with the bright tangy flavours of the mizore-zu. Fugu was skillfully prepared into paper-thin slices, with small slivers of its gelatinous skin adding delightful, crunchy bites to the otherwise moist, creamy dish.

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Those not keen on blowfish sperm were served this hotate (scallop) with konbu paste for substitute. I had the pleasure of trying this dish as well because I was hungry … since it was already quarter past 10 at this point! Less exciting, but very fresh nonetheless. 7083331e41ceb9836e40d28cf5c939c9

Next up was the shinogi しのぎ course, a segment of kaiseki cuisine where something relatively substantial, such as rice or soba, is typically served. Tonight I had this suppon gohanmushi,  (snapping soft-shell turtle steamed rice). 20140116-232855.jpg Super rich in collagen, chef Koizumi prevented the gooey consistency of this gohanmushi from becoming too thick by balancing it out with tiny, crispy cubes of wintermelon and shiitake mushrooms. The sophisticated, intense flavour of turtle meat (and its nutritious amino acids!) is infused into every spoonful of perfectly firm rice. Not that I ever care about health when it comes to good food, but if something tastes this good and has notable beauty benefits, I’m all in!

20140116-232915.jpgI also tried a bit of the koubakogani (snow crab) gohanmushi. This was fantastic in its simplicity, for the flavour of fresh crab is best preserved without tampering too much with its natural sweetness. A tiny dab of kani miso (crab roe) rests on top, adding a trace of creamy, pure umami. IMG_3788 In the middle of the meal I ordered a glass of “la france” sake. For those who are unfamiliar, la france is a European pear originally cultivated by a French man called Claude Blanchet back in 1864, and then introduced to Japan during the Meiji period. I guess they were not bothered with giving the pear from France a name any more original than La France.  Its texture is reminiscent of a hybrid between apple and peach (very juicy, like the japanesemomo) and is extraordinarily sweet compared to most other pears. I was very happy with this glass of sake because it showcased the unique, nectarous sweetness of la france most faithfully and whilst it was extremely easy on the palate, it did not feel like it was lacking in alcohol content (hate drinks that are literally just juice when they are not supposed to be juice!).  IMG_3790

Next I was presented with this beautiful bowl ; here is the Owan course,  a warm soupy dish that is served during the course of a kaiseki meal. IMG_3791For tonight’s owan I had fresh bamboo shoots and white sesame tofu in a gentle white miso soup base. The flavours of this dish were delicate and if you are the kind of person who only enjoys heavily seasoned food or deep fried chunks of meat then you are not going to like it. Well thankfully I’m not one of you :p. The fragrant taste of sesame spread through my mouth subtly but clearly, and together with the freshly picked bamboo shoots, this was all in all another enjoyable dish.
IMG_3793After the hearty owan dish, we moved on to the Otsukuri, generally referring to the kaiseki course containing sashimi. I had the aburi kinmedai which is a seared golden eye snapper (apparently it is also called the Splendid alfonsino and according to wikipedia … this fish appears in the Wii game Endless Ocean…lolwtf?). This dish was uber appetizing covered with ponzu jelly, but what I was more impressed by was the other otsukuri dish … (scroll further down)
20140116-232942.jpg The wagyu beef sashimi!  This was simply divine. I often found beautifully marbled pieces of wagyu beef too oily or fatty for my liking but here, combined with the zesty ponzu gelee, it was a match made in heaven! NO SHI*T THIS WAS GOOD. Melt-in-mouth tenderness that literally evaporated as soon as it hit my tongue, leaving only the transcendental, buttery taste of beef behind. 20140116-232931.jpgNext up was the yakimono, or flame-broiled dish. This was a super succulent fillet of nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch). I loved the lingering aroma of the miso marinade which at the same time did not overshadow the inherent flavours of the fish. This was served with komochi kombu (herring roe on kelp) and nanohana karashi ae (brocollini/steamed rapeseed flowers with a soysauce/dashi/mustard marinade), both zippy compliments that worked well to counterbalance the greasiness of this fatty nodoguro.
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In addition I tried the flame-broiled kuruma-ebi (Japanese imperial prawn/tiger prawn) which smelled incredible and after devouring both immaculate plates of seafood I had the sudden urge to become a fisherwoman who lives by the sea and eats from the ocean everyday. IMG_3805 I was served my hiyashimono (the cold dish) just in time to cool those impractical, nonsensical thoughts down (I hold utmost respect for all fisher-men and women; I simply don’t think I can handle that life). This was the matsuba crab and kabu (turnip). Again not a dish for those with less sensitive palates but I inhaled this one in seconds because it was so refreshing, almost like a kuchinaoshi (palate cleanser) after the two relatively salty yakimono dishes! IMG_3812After the cold dish it was time to warm up again with the nimono , or simmered dish. This was the Zao duck simmered with horigawa gobou (burdock), shungiku (edible chrysanthemum greens) and daikon (radish). The duck was pleasantly gamey and juicy, and at this point two slices was exactly the right portion I wanted to be served. I did not want to be too full before the next course which I specifically ordered upon making my reservation!
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And what could be in here? This was the oshokuji (rice dish made with seasonal ingredients) I had been waiting for. IMG_3826Dun dun DUNNN!!! This was my black truffle zousui (japanese soup rice … or hangover porridge) made with aromatic black truffles, a little bit of egg, and crunchy little dices of lotus root producing a zousui with titillating textures. Strong whiffs of truffle wafts through every single spoonful of this delectable bowl of SOUL-HEALING MAGICAL OMNIPOTENT HOLY SPIRITUAL GODLY ELIXIR OF LIFE!! (ok I’m writing this at 2am so I’m kinda **** in the head at the moment). IMG_3832

Absolute ambrosia!!! OF COURSE I ASKED FOR SECONDS. Served in a bowl with a different design (I always pay attention to tableware and cutlery used … somehow that is a very enjoyable thing for me). 

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uhuhu! P.S. the homemade tsukemono (japanese pickles in small dish on the left) were very, very good too.  
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Last but not least I had the dessert, consisting of strawberry sherbet, murasaki-imo (purple potatoes), rum jelly and deep-fried yuba (tofu skin). This might look a bit messy here but tastewise it turned out to be a well-coordinated, interesting but harmonious dessert that ended the meal on a high note. 

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Had to take a photo of this very cool portrait of a white tiger before leaving. (btw the restaurant name Kohaku literally translates to tiger white). Had a casual chat with chef Koizumi as he sent us out of the restaurant and then realised it was almost 1 am already. Oops! I shall be back! IMG_3841

KOHAKU 虎白
Address: 3-4 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
東京都新宿区神楽坂3-4
Tel: 03-5225-0807

L’Altro

While back in Hong Kong I had a casual lunch at L’Altro, a one michelin star eatery by chef Philippe Leveille, whose restaurant Miramonti L’Altro in Brescia, Italy also boasts two michelin stars. Being born in France, chef Leveille’s cuisine exhibits some distinctively French twists, both in presentation and cooking methods. 20131029-230006.jpgIndeed, the grey, white & glassy interior at L’altro already told me that it was unlikely I’d be in for some rustic, homey Italian fare. My lunch began with the standard bread basket.
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At L’altro the set lunch menu changes regularly. On this day I opted for the foie gras poêlé mainly because nothing else in the starters list really appealed to me. (Note : just checked their new menu out though, it looks pretty awesome this time. anyone want to go this week?) Presentation-wise it was really nothing to scream about but considering the fact that this lunch course costed under 400 HKD, I’d say the quality was decent. (FYI at the moment it is 268 HKD for 2 courses, 298 for 3 courses, 398 for 4 courses, with additional charges for particular dishes such as foie gras) 20131029-230043.jpg

And here is a photo of a salad that I didn’t order but just stole a bit of. Like the foie gras, it was not spectacular but it was not bad enough to give me a poor impression. In fact it was probably quite pleasant to eat, only not impressionable, not that I expected it to be. 20131029-230106.jpg

Our mains then arrived. I ordered a sea bream fillet risotto ; this was buttery rich and cheesy, and the sea bream fillets were juicy with a crispy layer of skin which I liked.

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My favourite dish of the day turned out to be the lobster pasta -mixed with sweet and succulent meat, the lobster sauce soaked perfectly into the spaghetti. The cherry tomatoes also gave the dish a tangy, appetizing kick that made me crave for more. Unfortunately this was not my main dish and I had to stick with my risotto 😡 20131029-230231.jpg

We also tried the kurobuta pork which was probably the lightest of the main courses offered that day. This came with sweet potato chips and mash which were quite nice, but by this time I was ready for DESSERT.

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We ordered their signature Gelato Miramonti. I’ve seen many reviews raving about this very gelato so I was anticipating something pretty amazing. Well, it had a nice creamy texture but I am not sure if it lived up to its rumoured awesomeness. I am not even sure how to describe it … it’s simply mediocre? :/  Maybe it was a bad day for their gelato maker? This was actually nowhere near as good as the gelato I find in random gelato shops in Italy… given that this was a signature dessert I was slightly disappointed. Maybe I’ll try it once more :p 20131029-230344.jpg

Well thank God that was actually my MOM’s dessert which I took a bite of. I had this chocolate tart which was quite standard but enjoyable nonetheless. 20131029-230409.jpgSo I’ll probably return again since the new menu looks tempting.

Thank you for reading 😀

Website : http://laltro.hk

Address:  10/F, The L. Place, 139 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong

Takazawa (Aronia de Takazawa)

On a modest little street in Akasaka sits Yoshiaki Takazawa’s culinary wonderland where hours are spent preparing food for a maximum number of ten diners each night. It is easy to miss, as the name “TAKAZAWA” is only printed on the glassdoor in a rather camouflaging shade of grey. Takazawa started out as “Aronia de Takazawa” in 2005 and with only two tables, I had never been able to plan ahead in time to reserve a table for any of my spontaneous Tokyo visits. I have literally struggled to fit this restaurant into my schedule for YEARS and this summer I finally managed to go! Thanks to the one additional table they decided to accommodate per night after hiring an assistant.

ok here we go

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Upon entering the glassdoor I was greeted by these steps with the first and last lines of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees” inscribed on the rail.

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I was sat at the two seater table directly facing the chef’s sleek, metallic stage-like kitchen.  Because I have read before that chef Takazawa himself is somewhat shy, I took this quick snap before he appeared, when his assistant was the only one standing there.
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The meal began with a mouthful of caviar served on an ice spoon. Or so I thought. Akiko, chef Takazawa’s wife and our hostess for the night, explained that the “caviar” was actuallly made with tomatoes. I spent a while staring at it until the spoon melted a bit in a sudden crackle. I quickly shoved the spoonful into my mouth after this photograph was taken. Just in time! A very refreshing mouthful of tiny tomato balls bursting in my mouth. IMG_2479

Had hitachino beer to go with this just because it’s cute 😛 IMG_2478

For the second amuse-bouche we had chef Takazawa’s playful rendition of the standard appetizer combo: parma ham and melon – in jelly form!

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The third and last amuse-bouche was matsutake mushroom tempura. This was SO much better than the tempura I had at the “legendary” Mikawa Zezankyo (see my last post). It was not oily at all and the matsutake itself was aromatic and sapid.IMG_2484

Then we were finally presented with our first course – Takazawa’s signature “ratatouille”. Akiko instructed us to devour all of this in one big mouthful. WOWOWOW THIS WAS AMAZING, and possibly the most colourful bite of food I have ever had in my life. Approximately 15 different kinds of vegetables were cut into small cubes and tidily combined to form this brilliant piece; each chew resulted in a different crunch and it was very interesting indeed.

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Then we were served a thick, square piece of homemade corn toast accompanied by a mini jar of okinawa agu pork rillette. The toast was grilled to perfection, redolent of the sweet, fragrant corn. Combined with the delicious pork rillette, calling this one of the best pieces of toast I have EVER had would not be an overstatement. At this point I was very very very happy.

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Course three was a vegetable parfait. This was a refreshing tomato gazpacho topped with a lovely layer of mozzarella mousse, basil sauce, caviar, a fried basil leaf and some delicately cut pepper cubes for crunch. Hmm. SO GOOD! Although the combination of primary flavours in this dish were, as you can see, common fare in Italian cuisine, what I found most remarkable was the perfect balance of texture and taste that chef Takazawa managed to strike with these standard ingredients.

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Next we were presented with this beautiful platter of uni, kuruma-ebi, ikura and a baby crab, arranged on a blue board with shells scattered around in an image of the sea.

IMG_2515I was all ready to dive in when Akiko came over to place another gigantic plate, also reminiscent of the sea, right at the centre of our table. This plate consisted of baby squid, sazae, bafun uni, abalone, seaweed and jelly.

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The presentation of this entire course was simply gorgeous! I felt like I was literally a sea monster eating all sorts of delectable organisms from below ground level. IMG_2506

Then this showed up at our table. At any other average restaurant we would have thought that dessert has come too early by mistake – this looks like it cannot be anything but  Tiramisu.  But since we were at Takazawa, where almost no mistakes are ever made by the meticulous master chef & wife, we knew that we were in for a surprise…IMG_2521And we were RIGHT! This was corn mousse with crab meat topped with a cocoa & liquorice powder. I normally detest liquorice of all sorts but the liquorice here played only a minor role, of adding a bit of depth to the powder which was mostly cocoa. The corn mousse had a full-bodied sweetness which went very well with the meaty layer of fresh crab.

IMG_2524After that we were served this course entitled “Mount Fuji” made of a variety of  “rare” vegetables. Possibly the most well-executed vegetarian dish I have ever come across – not only was every bite delicious, the contents were very interesting. And this was  NOT because chef Takazawa presented the dish with a ceremonious pouring of water into the mountain of dry ice. The vegetables were actually incredible.IMG_25292IMG_2530

Each vegetable was specially prepared; matched with different sauces, garnishings, or marinated. I was also introduced to the “oyster leaf” (the small leaf at the front of the plate) which tasted exactly like kaki furai (fried oyster) with a dab of tartar sauce!

IMG_2531And then we had the “Candleholder”. At first glance I thought I could just dig into that gleaming brown circle but turns out it was just the design of the lid. 
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And it was foie gras creme brulee inside the LID ! With mango puree in the tin candle base to go with. The gamey flavour of foie gras struck perfect balance with the mango’s fruity freshness and the crunchy caramelized layer of the brulee added a nice touch to the whole affair.

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And it was all so SO good spread on the biscotti that came with it.IMG_25482

And then this was “Breakfast at Takazawa”. Compared with the other dishes, the combination of flavours present here had less of a “wow” factor but was nonetheless delicious. The idea behind this dish was to emulate a typical egg & cereal breakfast, fancified 100 times with summer truffles & cereal pieces that are in fact small potato chips.

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IMG_2556Next up – the Mexican Lobster. The story behind this dish was simply that chef Takazawa went to Mexico, got inspired and decided to add poached lobster in Mexican flavours to his menu :p  The lobster meat was cooked exceptionally well – sweet and tender, and although I am not a fan of coriander it was not overpowering the lobster’s brininess. The salsa, being sourish with fresh tomatoes, successfully spawned some extra appetite, which I really needed after consuming about 10 dishes.

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Our last savoury course was a meaty dish called “Paddyfields” – basically charcoal roast duck (sprinkled with summer truffles) with mashed potatoes shaped to look like a paddy field. Although I normally avoid eating animal skin, this smelled too good and looked too crispy to resist. And boyyy am I glad I broke my own rule – the skin did not feel fatty at all – just a layer of crispy goodness on top of a block of extremely succulent, flavourful duck meat. I was so full at this point … but this put me in heaven, I was dying happy.

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What pulled me back on earth to prepare me for dessert was this palate-cleanser – the “melon soda”. These ingenius pieces of melon were infused with fizzy soda so that as you bite into the melon, the fizziness bursts in your mouth.

 IMG_2570Although the melon soda did work an appetite up for me again, I was praying that dessert would not be something too heavy. After 3 amuse-bouches and 10 courses I certainly was  not in the mood for creamy chocolate or caramel pastry. Luckily, chef Takazawa was probably aware of this and Akiko came out with the perfect “Wine-tasting” dessert! Akiko instructed that we should start with the row of white wine jelly from left to right, and then do the same with the row of red wine jelly. Each piece of jelly was infused with one particular ingredient – this was exciting as we tasted our way through each jelly, from particulalry sweet ones like the peachy white wine to more intriguing ones such as the coffee infused red wine.  The jelly blocks were also presented beautifully like little gems on a shiny silver plate.

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Akiko also kindly gave me a copy of all the flavours laid out, just for reference, Indeed this was one fascinating session of winetasting. I actually would love to try all the pieces of jelly in liquid wine form.

IMG_2584Finally the night ended with a plate of petit-fours, consisting of cat-shaped miso cookies, caramel sweets, crunchy white chocolates, bone shaped calpis gummies and little cakes. IMG_2586

What can I say… I’ve already booked myself a dinner again for when I’m in Tokyo this December 😀

TAKAZAWA

Website:  http://www.takazawa-y.co.jp

Address :

3-5-2 Akasaka, Sanyo Akasaka Building 2F Minato, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan

〒107-0052
東京都港区赤坂3-5-2 サンヨー赤坂ビル裏側2F

Telephone: +81 3-3505-5052