So, what better way to include a day of eating than eating some more?  After a memorable lunch at Chez Matsuo, a late afternoon snack at Pierre Herme, and a pre-dinner appetizer at the Pierre Marcolini Cafe, we headed off to Akasaka and dinner at Aronia de Takazawa.

According to the direction I got from the hotel, the restaurant is located “on the backside of the building next to an oyster bar.  Look for the white door with two large potted plants on either side.”  We stopped to ask for directions and still nearly missed it.  The entrance to the place is thoroughly non-descript, hidden away in a back alley.  Fortunately, the guy we asked for directions was kind enough to walk us over –

Ah, how could I have missed it?

The door opened onto a stairwell leading up to…parts unknown…

Abandon all hope ye who enter here?

The stairwell brought us up to the dining area, a gorgeous little room looking into the chef’s station, a sleek metallic cooking island decked out with multi-colored rock salt and an enormous leg of dry-aged venison prosciutto.

The stage-like setting is no accident – the chef’s station sparse and brightly lit, the dining room softly illuminated and surrounded by wood paneling.

As we took our seats, we watched as one of our servers pressed her hand to one of the wall panels.  It sprang back to reveal a hidden compartment.  This, I immediately realized, was a magic show.  From the hidden entrance to the set-up to the concealed access points, it all hinted at illusion, sleight of hand, and surprises.

Our appetizer, a hardboiled egg? No, actually, it's a decorative stone.
Set it aside. The meal/show is about to begin.

We settled in and chatted with our two servers, both of whom spoke flawless English, both of whom sported hands-free ear pieces that had them synced with the man in the back.  As for the magician himself, I was amazed to discover that Takazawa is only thirty-three – and he looks even younger.

Takazwa-san carves the prosciutto.

On the one hand, it’s surprising given how accomplished many of his dishes are, with their subtle balances of flavors and textures.  On the other hand, leave it to a young chef to come up with such audaciously imaginative creations.  According to our server, Chef Takazawa changes his menu regularly, heading down to the Tsukiji Fish Market every morning and building the night’s menu on the inspiration provided by the freshest offerings.

Moving on to the meal…

We started with the shaved, two year aged Hokkaido venison house made prosciutto, unagi (eel) in aspic, and ceramic saradine cans containing tiny, marinated morsels of fish atop sliced daikon. Small bites but intensely-flavored.
The menu said "Ratatouille" but, when it arrived, it was nothing like any ratatouille I'd ever seen. Comprised of fifteen different vegetables and accompanied by a black bean capped with Spanish salt, we were instructed to pop the whole thing in our mouths.
We were served homemade bread, piping hot. On the left, bamboo-charcoal. On the right, pumpkin. In the jar - nothing quite so mundane as butter. Instead, pork buttery smooth pork rillettes.
Next up was the "Crab" House Sandwich which, like the ratatouille, WAS and WASN'T. Fresh crab meat is about the only thing you'll readily identify from sight alone. The layerings, dark and light brown, are two different kinds of crab roe. The bread? Not bread at all but a clear tomato broth set to a slightly firmer than foam consistency.

The menu referred to this dish as "Powdery Dressing". I call it "Insanely Good". Two year old venison served rare with crispy mushrooms, pine nuts, and shaved white truffle topped with...
That "powdery dressing" served smoking from a deep frost-crusted pot. "Liquid nitrogen,"I marveled, causing Chef Takazawa to throw me a surprised look. Yeah, I don't often see it when I go out to eat but when I do, it's unmistakable.
My dinner date, Moro, was really looking forward to this dish and she was thoroughly blown away by Chef Takazawa's take on Oyster Gratin - the plump oysters sitting at the bottom of the bowl and topped with a surprisingly subtle gorgonzola foam.
Next up, Chef Takazawa reinterprets a Japanese classic only, in his version of Carrot Tempura, he crisps carrot greens and sets them atop a bowl of - not the traditional tempura dipping sauce but vegetable broth. We were instructed to break up the tempura and take the pieces for a swim.
Vegetables with SOIL - Tasty root vegetables and earthy shaved truffles. And the soil component? Minced venison.

We were then presented with mini cast iron pots. Inside...
Another nuanced but gorgeously textured creation. Fear not, squeamish eaters. That's not brain nestled alongside the delectable fish. It's cod sperm.

The main course: Wagyu Japaneseque with gingko, wine-marinated mushrooms, pickled ginger, red daikon, and wasabi.
The beef was "red cow" from southern Kyushu, not as marbled as Kobe beef but still rich, fork-friendly, and full of flavor. The best steak I've had in years.

We were then served something called FANTA GRAPE. I'm sure many of you are familiar with Grape Fanta? Well, this dish approximates the sensation of sipping the drink with three enormous grapes bursting with effervescence. I'm not sure how the effects was achieved (I want to guess nitrous oxide?) but suffice it to say it was damn impressive.
And finally, Apple Pie. Or, as Takazawa put it: "Apple pie without the pie." Sliced apples, apple skin, cinammon sticks, and raisins are cooked in the specially designed bag.
The bag is cut open and a dollop of luxurious homemade caramel ice cream is added to the dish. And, yes, it tasted exactly like apple pie.
We finished the meal with tea.

To be honest, the photos don’t do justice to the meal, or the experience.  It was a night full of surprises and laughter, an utterly delightful dinner through and through.

A photo op with the masterful Chef Takazawa. I'm the one on the right.

After we were done, Chef Takazawa and one of the servers actually escorted us downstairs.  Moro and I thanked them profusely for a truly wonderful time and then headed off.  As we walked back down the alleyway, we reflected on the meal’s many highlights.  And, just as we were about to take a corner, we happened to glance back and there stood Chef Takazawa and the server, still at the entrance, waving goodbye.

Next time I’m in town, I am coming back.

They say the first day is the hardest and I’ll vouch for that.  My jet lag started to catch up with me halfway through our meal.  At one point, I asked Moro what time it was, imagining it was about 11:00 p.m.  Turns out it was a little after 8:00 p.m.

I got back to the hotel at around ten, then spent the next two hours or so uploading pics and posting my blog entry.  By the time I crawled into bed, it was 1:00 a.m.

I intended to sleep in this morning but, for some reason, I can’t sleep past 8:00 a.m.  Could be because eight a.m. Tokyo time is one p.m. Vancouver time.  Damn, am I going to feel it tonight.

I uploaded more pics, had the foie gras and truffle macarons I bought at Pierre Herme, then headed out.  Today’s lunch was a little more traditional.  I went to Chikuyo-tei, an unagi (eel) restaurant that has been in business since Japan’s Edo Period, over a hundred and fifty years ago.  My dining companion on this occasion was the salsa-rific Sachi who took the one hour subway ride into town to have lunch with me.  And a lovely lunch it was…

There's something about the clean simplicity of sashimi - in this case tai, hirame (?), and mouth-meltingly good tuna.
Succulent grilled eel, the way the samurai used to eat it centuries ago.
I fished two of these out of the lovely soup that came with unagi. While Sachi couldn't quite explain what part of the eel it came from, she did assure me that eating it is purported to make the diner smarter. Upon closer scrutiny however - Hey, did't this thing's mother crawl out of Chloe in Time?

Following our meal, I spoke with one of the owners of the family-run restaurant, an older woman who smoke excellent English.  She informed me that the establishment has been in her family for seven generations.   Might damn impressive.

After our chat, she spotted my camera and offered to take a picture of us in the restaurant’s garden…

Satchi and I, post-unagi.

From there, we headed to Roppogni where we strolled through Midtown and snacked on some ice cream –

I got a trio of flavors: peanut, pumpkin, and - Carl's favorite - sweet potato. The ice cream was very good but the flavors were quite subtle and, after a while, it was hard to differentiate between them. Next time, I go only sweet potato.

We then took a stroll and checked out some of the sights –

At which point it was over to the Ritz Carlton for some much-needed sustenance…

Chestnut desserts have been all the rage in Tokyo for as long as I can remember. I'm surprised they're not as popular over on my side of the world.
I went with the choux a la creme matcha, counting on green tea's fat-burning properties to counter the calores packed into this enormous cream puff.

Some more walking through Roppongi Hills to close out the day and I was finally ready for bed.

Unfortunately for me, it was only 5:00 p.m. and I had dinner reservations in two and a half hours.

39 thoughts on “November 26, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day #2 – Aronia de Takazawa, Chikuyo-tei Honten, and more strolls and sweets.

  1. 1. I really need to have the recipe for that ‘Ratatouille’! It looks wonderful! All the food looks amazing…simply amazing…but that one is right up my alley.

    2. Cod sperm? Really? Doesn’t that make you gay or something if you swallow it? *shudder*

    3. Either you have a VERY trusting wife, or you’re a eunuch. I haven’t figured out which.

    Continue to enjoy – and to post! Loving the pictures, and dining vicariously through your pictures!


  2. Wow Joe, I hope you can settle in and pace yourself… all those calories and taste sensations can be overwhelming. I’m glad you are enjoying your gourmand vacation. Be sure to get some rest.

    Thanks for sharing your travels and photos. It’s always interesting to see what is considered edible in other parts of the world. Odd looking sculptures, but appealing, in a mechanical kinda way.

    From all you showed us above, I would eat the ratatouille, red cow steak, fanta grapes, chestnut puffs and the apple pie as they looked fabulous. But not all at one sitting because I would burst wide open. I don’t know how you do it Joe. Cool idea to have a magic show out of the food presentation.
    You actually ate cod sperm? Yikes!

    Happy Thanksgiving to all you Americans the world over! Many blessings to all!

    on the overcast, rainy, chilly Jersey Shore

  3. One could conclude that the Ancients spent a good bit of time in Japan and left many artifacts. Beautiful photos and scrumptious (causing hunger pangs) food!
    Looking forward to more.

  4. Hey Joe

    Keep it up buddy… live it up cuz we only live once…. oh by the way I love that blue suit you were wearing. Can you tell me what brand it is, I was thinking Zegna or Kenzo… I may be wrong?

  5. Thanks to Sylvia, I now understand you are 14 hours ahead of me (Central Time Zone in America). That means, good morning sleepy head! Hope you had a restful night after your big day of eating. These pictures are awesome! Who needs the stinking Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We have Mallozzi in Tokyo!

    I was going to say, don’t listen to Ivon, he’s just jealous you can eat like that and not gain weight. (I think the food you are eating is better for you – excluding the desserts!). But maybe Ivon is right about the exercise. That is a good idea. Exercise then go and enjoy everything.

    I like how you are including yourself in more of the pictures. It’s a “I was here” record. Keep ’em coming. (nice blue suit)

  6. Me revoila!

    Huuummm, vous me donnez fiam…moi et paquet de chips je ne paye pas de mine à coté de tout ces plats!

    Mon dieux!!! j’adore la nourriture, je rêve un jours de pouvoir gouter autant de choses que vous! Ces photos nous donnes l’eau à la bouche, dommage qu’il n y’a pas l’odeur qui va avec 😉

    Je pensé à quelque chose….votre voyage à Tokyo ne doit vraiment pas être donné avec tout les réstaurants où vous mangez, vous devez économiser une bonne partie de l’année^^!

    ….je vous ai envoyé un email, j’espere que vous allez me répondre 🙂

    Bonne journée!

  7. Joe, these photos of your meals are rapidly approaching the level of food porn!! That ratatouille terrine made my jaw drop. Great presentation at this place- wow.

    The Fanta grape thingys are made with a gelling agent like magnesium cloride, it encapsulates the droplets of liquid and keeps them more or less “solid” for serving. I’ve seen them make “olives” the same way with olive puree. If you are really interested in molecular gastronomy, drop me a line and I’ll send you some info/ sources. Same goes for anybody else, BTW!!

    Happy Turkey day to all!

  8. I’m numb just looking at the incredible pictures. The apple pie dessert looks incredible. And I’m taking special note of the Unagi restaurant. I absolutely love eel, and would like to see how many presentations they can do with it. Thanks for sacrificing two hours or more just to keep us updated. It’s good karma that hopefully will come back to reward you.

  9. Best thing I tasted in Japan was gyu don in Takayama, made with Hida beef steak, the cheaper and less famous but no less tasty cousin of Kobe beef. And in a completely unrelated note, shortly after I got home, a bear attacked a bunch of tourists at the bus station in Takayama. Not really what I wanted my parents to see on tv. Worst thing in Japan was a truly VILE bowl of some sort of ramen in Shinagawa on my first night, black and oily and only edible because I fell asleep on the plane and no-one woke me for breakfast. You’d have to be starving to eat that slop, I swear. Someone else said it was curry flavoured but if mine was, I couldn’t tell. He might have got a different one though.

    Japan was a definite mixed bag for me, as far as food was concerned. I didn’t much like the okonomiyaki, but I’d buy it again just to see the cook make it again! (At least, the same dude in Hiroshima – he didn’t speak a word of English, but he was a SHOWMAN!) I accidentally ended up having Chinese in Minowa on my last night because I couldn’t tell the difference from the outside and I didn’t want to be rude and walk out after seeing the (English) menu. Curse my ridiculous British sense of manners. I tried unagi when I was in Auckland and I thought it was disgusting so I made a point not to try it again even in Japan. Fool me once, etc etc!

    There’s a shop in Ueno station, I can’t remember the name, but I remember they had the most AMAZING little choux buns with chocolate and banana creme filling. I swear, if you send me some, I’ll totally post you the money 😉 They give you a little freezer gel bag in with it and everything!

  10. Wow, I am so jealous! What a trip so far! Keep having a great time! It all looks so good, but that apple pie (without the pie) looks unbelievable.

  11. Okay Joe, the cod sperm thing was just gross.LOL I was okay with the brain but the other? (shudders)

    Love the pictures and glad you are having a good time.

  12. I have no idea where you put all of that food.

    Good news for SGU here. It’s going to be following new episodes of Supernatural on free to air TV. Great show to have as a lead in.

    Hope you’re having fun! Certainly looks like it.

  13. Hmmm…7:30 am…

    *jiggles bed*

    Time to get up, Joe!! 😀 What culinary adventures will you be up to today?? Can’t wait to find out!


  14. Hi Joe,

    Glad you’re enjoying yourself.

    Wow that ratatouille looked amazing. They all did. I think I’ll go back and read your older food posts – that is, after all, why you started this blog?

    Do those pictures (any of them) come with recipes? I’m inspired – and hungry.


  15. Another nuanced but gorgeously textured creation. Fear not, squeamish eaters. That’s not brain nestled alongside the delectable fish. It’s cod sperm.

    yeah, that’s so much better. you eat some weird stuff.

    speaking of weird stuff, any hope of a tokyo edition of the weird food purchase?
    my brother is still asking me to remind you about the cucumber pepsi & green tea coke. i add that if you don’t like soda pop you can ship it home & have someone in the office try it when you get back.
    there’s also a shrimp burger at mcdonald’s and squid & mayo pizza at pizza hut over there, but you don’t strike me as a fast-food type.

  16. Hey dude, Where can I get to smoke english? is it tasty? sorry its been a long day/week/month/year……

  17. Another terrific round of snapshots, I believe you are enjoying yourself, so we don’t have to tell you to. You could try cat naps, unless you think that won’t work. thanks for sharing.

  18. NO ME JODAS, cod sperm? The rest looks fantastic. But really, NO ME JODAS, cod sperm?

  19. Mr M, how do you manage to put away so much food? Wait, the simple answer is that Mr M is an unnatural entity. 🙂

    Slightly off topic. I was shock by the MSRP for the 10 episode half season SGU DVD set. Is $49.98 USD/$59.98 CAD. That’s more than the cost of a whole season of SG1 or SGA. It’s even more expensive than iTunes download. Still don’t understand why there’s a $10 price difference for the same identical product between the US and Canada. The thought of price gouging come immediately to mind.

    Hopefully after MGM gets off stage. Whoever picks up the Stargate franchise will treat the fans better.

  20. BTW, Joe, I volunteered at Animal Defense League yesterday (25th). First time since April; last six months have been “interesting times” at our house.

    Still not enough pet parents for all these dogs and cats! (For the new folks, I’m allergic to pet hair, therefore can’t adopt, so I volunteer.)

  21. Joe it sounds like you’re having quite the culinary adventure. That whole presentation at Aronia de Takazawa read like it was a restaurant from the future. Really cool. The chef and the server sounded like they were really nice people.

    And I hope all of the Americans out there had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
    from non-nonsensically warm Southern California
    I mean seriously 80 degrees Fahrenheit in late November… is the weather broken again?

  22. I am quite literally frightened by the cod sperm. I did however, watch several Iron Chef America episodes today so I guess that just tops off the night. LOL They had turkey flavored ice cream on the one. Hmm. I’ll pass.

    I hope you made it through dinner! Get some sleep. Don’t want to pass out in your soup bowl.

    Thanks for sharing the pictures!

  23. Incredible post. Nearly as incredible as the first day, and more controversial by a landslide.

    I echo Carl Binder — words I never thought I’d type, and it’s a privilege to do so.

    “Cod sperm!?”

  24. Coucou Joseph!

    Je ne pourrai surement pas passé sur le blog ce week end. Je souhaite donc un trés bon week end. Je pense fort à vous.

    Gros Bisou!!!!!

  25. Prayers going out for your stomach, Mr. M. I hope you can eat all that you want with no side effects 😀 . The food looks incredible.

    Gilder: I’m allergic to almost everything. I volunteer and have three cats at home. I understand you reluctance to get pets at home, though. Since, I have allergy symptoms all the time, even with medication. To me it’s worth the aggravation. I would love to get a dog but it doesn’t fit our lifestyle right now.

    I’ve got a link and a story for anyone looking for retired greyhounds: Dairyland Race Track in Kenosha, Wisconsin will be closing on December 31, 2009. 900 Greyhounds need to be adopted or they will be euthanized.

    Sleep well Mr. M!!!!


  26. I gotta learn to read the comments before reading the blog, I wish I had read maggiemayday’s comment first. I’m with Carl.

    I am enjoying your trip Joe. When do we get to see some weird food purchase videos? Some videos of the sights would be cool too. Be safe.

  27. There’s another possibility for the grapes — you can carbonate fruit under pressurized carbon dioxide. The link I pasted uses an iSi whipper, but I’ve seen instructions that just use dry ice and a container that can handle some pressure.

    Looks like a fantastic dinner! I really enjoyed my time in Japan, I hope you do too.

  28. ROTFLMAO — Thing that came out of Chloe — you’re right! It does. You are a brave man. I have such psychological issues with food. Like caviar. I’ve never had it before but the thought of eating it made me want to vomit. I had to psych myself up to try it, and when I tasted it, it had virtually no flavor at all except a salty taste. It was like bland, salty jelly. I wouldn’t eat it again, but I can say that I tried it. I tried an experiment one time with scrambled eggs and put green food dye in them. I couldn’t eat them. Not only could I NOT eat them, I couldn’t eat eggs for quite awhile after that. And I know it is all psychological. Some of us were born with adventurous palates and some acquired adventurous palates along the way; I’m in neither category.

    These pictures remind me of the last Top Chef episode they had about a famous contest called Bocuse d’Or (the first time I ever heard of it). They showed actual footage from that cooking competition that looked like the Olympics of food creation, and some of the pictures above resemble the type of creations there. Truly is a work of art.

  29. My first thought when I saw your suite was J. Travolta.

    This was very funny: “Hey, did’t this thing’s mother crawl out of Chloe in Time?”

    I greatly enjoy reading about your trip and reviewing all of the food items.


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