As I mentioned in Part I of today’s blog, we went to the Tapas Molecular Bar in the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo for our first foray into “molecular gastronomy”. The Oriental Lounge seats seven at a long bar behind which Chef Jeff Ramsey and his assistant Tomoyuki work their magic with such atypical kitchen tools as liquid nitrogen an nitrous oxide – creating, deconstructing, and transforming. Each of the 28 tiny tapas dishes we were presented with held some sort of surprise either in its preparation or its presentation.
THE SNACKS AND COCKTAILS
We started with a Yakult Beer – draft beer topped with Yakult, a children’s yogurt-like drink. Sweet, certainly full-bodied and very drinkable. We then followed up with the two items pictured in the second photo: on the left, a crispy risotto and on the right, crispy beets. Both were incredibly light and crispy, the risotto fairly subtle, the crispy beet bursting with a wonderfully intense beet flavor. We went from savory to sweet with a liquid candy floss, a foamed version of cotton candy that was a little too subtle for me to detect any hint of sweetness, especially after the crispy beet. Then, back to savory with the “hot frozen soufflé”, a delicious crème brulee-like creation made of roasted, skin-on Japanese potato and lots of butter. We concluded the snacks and cocktails portion of the meal with salmon ikura and passion fruit gelee shooter served in a test tube. The salmon eggs and passion fruit married surprisingly well, this from a guy who isn’t big on fruit.
We started of this section of the dinner with the parmesan linguine – transparent noodles made from a consommé of parmesan cheese, clarified and set in agar and slicked into thin strips resembling linguine, served with tomato essence, micro basil, and baby clams. Phenomenal. This was followed by the sea urchin and green tea, and odd combination that didn’t quite work for me, but the uni was incredibly fresh and sweet. Next up: the textured gazpacho, a gazpacho with watermelon and powdered olive oil. Refreshing and incredibly good. Chef Ramsey offered an interesting tip for serving olive oil in an untraditional way. Take some olive oil (he suggested regular over the extra virgin) and freeze it for a day. Then remove it from the freezer and put it in the refrigerator for another day. When removed after the second day, it will spoon off like butter and make a terrific accompaniment to many dishes, literally melting in one’s mouth. And speaking of which, the next dish up was the grilled langoustine with chanterelle mushrooms served with a foam made of almond milk and langoustine juice. At this point, we took a break from the eating so that Tomoyuki could demonstrate the creation of “carrot caviar” in which the liquefied carrots are dropped dripped into water where they immediately form a membrane, taking on a round, caviar-like appearance. The actual dish was very light, very subtle. We followed light and subtle with bold and flavorful, my favorite dish of the evening: the sizzling beef. The beef is cooked to medium-rare, then placed in a canister pressurized with nitrous oxide that served to tenderize the meat. It was removed from the canister, sliced and served, the individual pieces “sizzling” on our tongues as the nitrous oxide was vented from the meat. Strange, yes, but so, sooooo tasty. As was the grilled unagi with pineapple served with an avocado puree – my second favorite dish of the night. We were then treated to a take-off of a Mexcian dish (whose name escapes me), an apple crisp wrapper filled with apple pieces and a Spanish sheep’s milk. It was so good the Japanese girl seated to my left started to coo. Next dish was Fondy’s turn to coo as we were presented with a foie gras cappuccino topped with a corn foam and corn bits. I don’t think I’ve ever had foie gras with corn, and was quite surprised by how remarkably well they went together. At this point in the meal, Chef Ramsey informed us that it was time for a drink. Mojitos! The bartender made a big show of lining up the glasses with their curious metal straws, then shook up the shaker, removed the top and poured…nothing. We were served the empty glasses and told to drink up. Turns out the mojito (a thick mojito foam) was hidden within the metal straw, offering a refreshing little break before heading into…the curry bun. In Chef Ramsey’s version of the curry bun: a bread foam topped with crisp bread crumbs served with grilled quail, carrots, and potatoes and topped with a curry sauce. While I loved the rest of the dish, I wasn’t enamored of the bread foam, finding the crumbs lent it a bit of a bitter flavor. But we were back on track with the fish fry, pan fried barracuda and crisp bread accompanied by a deconstructed tzatziki – cucumbers, lemon, yogurt and dill. As our tapas drew to a close, we were presented with the miso soup – the miso soup geleed to a yolk-like semblance, served on a spoon with scallion oil sauce, tofu caviar, and powdered seaweed. It looked odd but tasted exactly like a spoonful of miso soup. We concluded the tapas portion of our meal with a lime wafer, a palette-cleansing, solid sherbert disc.
THE DESSERTS AND PETIT FOURS
The first dessert was the Blue Hawaii, a solid version of the drink flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen and served still smoking. In fact, as I ate the icy blue concoction, it’s all I could do to keep it from smoking out of my mouth. Equally fun and inventive was the next dish, listed simply as bacon and eggs. It certainly looked enough like bacon and an egg served sunny-side up, and when I asked Chef Ramsey what it actually was I was about to eat, he replied: “Eat your bacon and eggs.”, and sprinkled them with “salt” and “pepper”. The bacon, it turns out, was a sweet, bacon-flavored cookie (much better tasting than it sounds), the egg white made of coconut cream, the yolk a thick liquid mango. The “salt” and “pepper” were colored sugar. Next came the petit fours: the New York Cheesecake (another fluffy but dead-on creation), the saffron chocolate torte (the tiny bite-sized bit crowned with a sugar dome), an exquisitely intense little raspberry and black pepper merengue, a vanilla candy (made from vanilla and apple pectin with a paper-thin sugar edible wrapper), and an excellent cotton candy cappuccino.
We were then served a plate of fruit. I thought it a disappointed end to an incredibly creative dinner, but it turns out I thought too soon. Chef Ramsey instructed us to try a piece of each fruit, to bite the grapefruit, the orange, the strawberry, lick the sour lemon. Then we were handed what looked like a red jellybean which he described as a “miracle fruit” grown in the jungles of Africa, a fruit that will change the way we experience food. We were instructed to pop the “miracle fruit” in our mouth and eat the flesh surrounding the pit at its center. We followed the instructions and as we worked the “miracle fruit” around in our mouths, assistant chef Tomoyuki turned over an hour glass and counted out exactly one minute. Then, we were told to spit out the pit and try the fruit on our plate again. Incredibly, the grapefruit was amazingly sweet, the sweetest grapefruit I’ve ever tasted. The orange was equally sweet as was the strawberry. And then I tried the lemon, licking it at first, then actually eating the whole thing. I could feel my salivary glands constrict, but there was no tartness in the fruit. It was all wonderfully sweet. I don’t know what the “miracle fruit” really was, and Chef Ramsey stuck to his “deepest, darkest jungles of Africa” story, but I’d love to find out. It could well change my opinion of fruit in general (and lemons in particular).
Dinner wrapped up a little after 8:00 p.m., with plenty of time to spare for the night’s second seating. Chef Ramsey told me that he was planning a cookbook and I handed him my card, asking him to give me the heads on the release date. All I need to get started is a candy floss machine, a handheld blender, and a line on some nitrous oxide.