I’ve yet to visit a bad restaurant on this trip.  The places I’ve been to  have ranged from quite good to spectacular.  As of yesterday, I’d put three of those sixteen restaurants in the latter category.  As for this morning, I can add a fourth.

I was getting worried that critiquing lunches and dinners was like comparing apples to oranges.  Thus far on this trip, all of the lunches have been very good, but only the dinners have fallen into the spectacular category.  In all fairness, I thought, it was an unfair comparison since lunch was usually half the price of these dinners and, as a result, the chefs weren’t on their full game.  To which my sometimes dining companion Stefan countered that a chef should always be on his full game.  I wasn’t wholly convinced – until lunch at Hirosaku in Shinbashi.

I was running late, so I ended up taking a cab.  And good thing I did.  The taxi driver dropped me off and pointed me down an alleyway.  I strolled down, confirmed the address, and then wandered the neighborhood, evidently looking fairly nefarious in my long leather coat and gloves.  At one point, some businessman passing me going the other way stared up at me too long and wound up catching the corner of a sidewalk display table right in the groin.  From the corner of my eye, I saw him double-over with the impact that shook the enormous table, and heard him muster a gasped “Sumimasen” (sorry) before dropping.  I honored Japanese custom by not even breaking stride.

I returned to the restaurant and arrived just seconds before a harried Stefan who was being personally escorted to the location by a bike courier.  Apparently, he’d been wandering the neighborhood for 45 minutes looking for the place and none of the locals he’d stopped to ask had had any idea where to find it.

Ah, there it is! How could he have missed it?

He had almost given up.  Well, good thing for him he hadn’t otherwise he would have missed one of those spectacular meals.

Hirosaku is located in a quaint little detached house.  He slid open the entrance and poked our heads inside.  At first, I thought we’d stumbled onto a residence – until we were greeted with the requisite “Irrashaimase!” and welcomed inside.  We were offered a choice between dining upstairs or downstairs, and decided to head up to the second floor where we were given a private dining room.

When I first met Stefan, he told me that he had yet to be wowed by a dish in Tokyo.  Granted, there had been many excellent menu items, but none that had waylaid him like a band of culinary thugees on a darkened restaurant row in India.  Well, this meal had some wows.  And plenty of ’em.

Tofu skin with wasabi. The tofu had a wonderful texture and consistency. It was also damn good.
Stefan prepared to be wowed.
Baby crab. Stefan was quick to note the way the meat was perfectly lined up beneath the jelly. To my delight, pockets of crab roe were tucked away throughout the meat and within the shell.
Ankimo, aka monk's fish liver. The foie gras of the sea! Fantastic!
Fugu sperm tempura. How shall I word this? Best "preparation of this ingredient" ever.
The tempura was served with a house salt, finely powdered containing a hint of yuzu. Stefan, being a salt guy, was impressed and asked about it. As a special treat, they gifted him a bag as we were leaving.
Probably the best unagi I've ever had. Served with these incredible, spicy little Japanese mountain peppers called sanshoo.
A lovely sashimi plate containing hirame-wrapped sea urchin.

Above: Oysters and green onions served in a delectable sweet and savory miso broth.

I have never imagined soba could taste so good!
Served with a side of the soba starch that we mixed into the remnants of the dipping sauce and then drank. "Interesting" at first and then, the more I sipped, the more it veered into "pleasing" territory.
Okay, I'm not one for fruit desserts, but these were some mighty fine strawberries (served with a mango sauce). Stefan declared them the best strawberries he'd ever eaten.
Hirosaku is owned and operated by a lovely couple.

If you go, prepare to be wowed.

We then headed to Shibuya where we were scheduled to meet some fellow travelers for what I’d dubbed “a chocolate crawl”.  I envisioned it as exactly like a pub crawl, except that instead of pubs, we’d frequent chocolate shops, and instead of hoisting pints, we’d be downing chocolate macarons and 72% cocoa truffles.  Since we were early, we walked around…

My favorite building in the world. The Prada Building in Omotesando.
I didn't think I'd want to do any clothes shopping while in Tokyo, but this suit caught my eye.
I almost bought this outfit for my friend Carl.

Alas, the chocolate crawl was a bust.  No one else showed (as it turns out, they were at another Pierre Herme in Seibu).  Crushed, I headed back to Ginza where I dropped in on my Marcolini gals before heading back to the hotel to work on this blog.  Holy crap, it takes forever to upload these pics.

As dinner time drew near, I decided to take the subway to that night’s location, La Rochelle Shibuya, restaurant of famed Iron Chef French, Hiroyuki Sakai.  I was given simple instructions to follow but once I exited Shibua station – which is HUGE by the way – I wandered aimlessly before finally giving up and hopping into a cab.  I handed the driver the map and directions.  He threw me a look and asked me if I was serious.  Yep.  I was.  He gave a shrug, put the car in drive, rolled down the hill and, a minute later, we were there.  It was worth the seven dollars.

La Rochelle Shibuya is located on the 32nd floor of the Cross Tower.  I was early and escorted into an elegant waiting area where I took the time to catch up on my emails.

The elegant waiting area.

Finally, my dinner date arrived – the lovely Jessica who I ended up sharing the majority of my meals with on my last trip to Tokyo.  She’s just back from the U.S. and a little busier this year, but I’m sure we’ll be able to squeeze in a few more of these before my departure.

The night-time views out the main dining room’s enormous windows are spectacular.  It’s now wonder the place hosts many a wedding and banquet.  As we settled in, our waiter appeared to run us through the menu.

Vahid provides wonderful service and a wealth of information on the Tokyo dining scene.
Jessica does her Lady GaGa imitation.
Beef carpaccio served with vin rouge du chef.
Shiobara turnip mousse with sea urchin and caviar.
Caramelized foie gras and carrot in a chemise of Carta-Fato - yes, the same cooking technique I experienced for the first time at Aronia de Takazawa, then Les Creations de Narisawa. Apparently, it's the latest/hottest thing out of Italy.
Jessica again.
The most beautiful dish of the evening: Scampi in zucchini chemise.
I snapped this one when she wasn't looking (away).

Above: A seasonal mushroom soup.

For Jessica: Turbot
For Joe: Beef with mushrooms.
The cheese tray. I think the prosciutto may be just for show. They asked us whether we wanted some and we said "sure" and they heard "no" and then we reiterated that we would like some prosciutto as well and they said "okay", served us our cheese, and left.
A dessert trio: chocolate, a fruit fromage blanc pudding, and a jelly citrus shot.
Macarons, chocolate truffles, and marshmallows - all made in house.
Iron Chef Iroyuki Sakai in paper.
Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai - in the flesh. Very friendly, very gregarious. Came by, chatted with us, posed for some pics, then signed both of our menus.

Tick, tick, tick.  Now the made scheduling and re-scheduling rush as I attempt to figure out my dinners and dates for my last less-than-a-week….

28 thoughts on “December 3, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day #9 – Hirosaku, La Rochelle Shibuya, and the outfit I almost got Carl.

  1. Awesome, you got to meet Iron Chef Sakai!
    The yellow fur would adorn Carl quite nicely. The robot suit might be needed when Carl reacts to the suit.

    Again, the photos are just gorgeous and mouth watering. I think many of us will suffer from hunger pangs.

    Have to say I am surprised you have so many fugu thingeys served. Thought that would be by request as opposed to – here you are, surprise.

    And, you are on time as usual…and now my bedtime.

  2. Does Stefan as a foodie/salt website ? You don’t have an iPhone with you ? With apps to show you where the restaurants are ?

    SUGOI indeed

    Tried quintessence ?

    http://www.quintessence.jp/english/concept.html

    esaki ?

    http://www.sunnypages.jp/travel_guide/tokyo_restaurants/traditional_japanese/Esaki/958

    Les Enfants Gates ?

    http://www.sunnypages.jp/travel_guide/tokyo_restaurants/french/Les+Enfants+Gates/3170

    http://www.sunnypages.jp/search/tokyo_restaurants/Michelin

  3. I would have to agree that a chef should always be on his game. I suppose you should take that opinion with a grain of salt, though, since I’m planning on stopping at Sonic for a bacon cheeseburger for breakfast in a couple of hours. Is it still breakfast if you’ve been at work all night? I get confused. Anyway, I’m pretty sure all those frozen pizzas and no-name colas in my childhood damaged my palate forever. I still really enjoy the frozen pizzas, but I’ve upgraded to brand-name colas now.

    We did have beef burgundy for dinner tonight (last night?), which is pretty upscale for us. I set it up in the crockpot this morning (yesterday morning?) before I went to bed. I did use “baby bellas” instead of the generic white bulk mushrooms, and that bottle of cooking wine was $4!!

  4. Iron Chef!! Love that show, Sakai was always my favourite. Wondering what he’s up to .. so thanks for that *waves at Sakai*

    Man those dishes are a piece of art eh?? I’d love some of their crockery.

  5. Oh yeah…. Carl de pimp yo.. word. I bet he’d wear it too (In the office only)

  6. Coucou Joseph!

    Ahh il neige sur votre blog, quand j’ai vu ça j’ai été parcouru d’un frisson…^^ ça fait longtemp que je n’ai pas vu la neige et ça me fait penser au froid.

    Et bien dites moi vous avez passé une bonne journée gustative!

    Encore merci pour toutes ces photos!!!

    Bisou,
    A bientôt.

  7. Fugu again, mmmm, how are you doing on life insurance?

    The desserts look the best to me again. They are like works of art. A shame to destroy them. It is very good you have captured their beauty in your photos.

    otros ojos: “blowfish job” , too funny!

    Is the snow something you set up or a wordpress thing? Here in Mississippi it doesn’t often snow, we usually get ice storms instead. It might possibly come with a thin layer of snow on top of the ice for deception purposes.

    T

  8. You are absolutely ruining my enjoyment of eating out. The vast majority of restaurants around here are of the big chain variety. While their food is good, it simply doesn’t compare to the visual treats you offer. Or the startling intensity of flavor and texture some of the fine foods you showcase have. On the plus side, while I may be eating out less, I am venturing further afield to sample more varied cuisines.
    Love your collection of chef shots. Nice addition to nail down an Iron Chef. Do hope you enjoy the remaining days of your adventure, and look forward to more pictures and more descriptions. Not to mention how you give a final rating to the various places.

  9. I’m making snow angels! 😀 Great story about the crotch hit – why do we always find that so funny?? Seeing (or, in this case hearing about) a guy getting it in the groin never gets old for me – it’s always funny – maybe, because, I’m not a guy! 😀

    Oh, and I think you should invite Stefan to Vancouver, to take a dining tour of your city. He’s your best dinner/lunch date to…well, to date! Very impressive knowledge, I’m enjoying his insights as well as yours.

    Lastly, you’re really starting to worry me with all the sperm and roe you’ve been eating. Just think, all those reproductive cells mingling in your tummy…getting to know each other over a semi-digested foie gras…

    Anyday now, I imagine some horrid sea monster mutation to come bursting out of your stomach! If and when it does, be sure to take pictures! 😀

    @ Tammy Dixon – Thanks for the tips! I’m seeing my ENT doc on Monday, but in the meantime I did get that humidifier. So far, so good!

    As far as being taxed on tips, whether they have received them or not – yeah, I’ve heard that before. Sucks.

    I wonder, however, about jobs that in the past were traditionally NOT tipped jobs. For instance, every counterperson around here has a tip jar out. In the past, we never tipped the gal serving ice cream at the Dairy Queen, or the guy wrapping up fish at the fish market. But in the last few years, all of these types of places now have tip jars out. Is it an attempt for employers to pay lower wages for jobs that once paid more, or have these jobs always been low paying jobs, and we just never knew you had to tip them? Or…are these higher paying jobs, and people are just getting greedy?

    Really hard for me to figure out (and yeah, I’ll leave a tip there, too…just in case).

    @ Shirt’n’Tie – Yup – I remember the Tippu Tippu girls. 😀

    @ Ponytail – Wow…nice story about your sil – IF she left a good tip, besides! 😉

    Canadians don’t tip (Joe – is tipping ever done in Canada?) – at least, not when they vacation in our area. Locals used to hate the Canadian invasion in the summer, because they rarely tipped, and if they did they’d leave a dollar for a $50 meal. It didn’t help that they all spoke French, giving locals yet another thing to complain about.

    I, however, liked the Canadians because the men all wore these really skimpy bathing suits (‘grape smugglers’) instead of the surfer baggies (Jams) that most US men wore. I got quite an education that way! 😀

    Things have changed around here as far as foreigners/tourists go. We now have such a melting pot in the area – first it was the Irish students coming over to work back in the 90s, then Russian, Polish, and just about every other Eastern European you can think of, and a few from Africa, the Middle East, China and India – not to mention Mexicans coming out the wahzoo – that finally most locals are tolerant of accents and different languages. There are always xenophobes about, but with many of those visitors eventually putting down roots here, the face of our area has certainly changed, and in the majority of cases, for the good. That has softened most locals’ attitudes about ‘foreigners’.

    @ ytimynona – Don’t monkey around! I played around last year – thinking I could treat myself – and ended up sick for the better part of 6 months. Get ye to the doctor! *craps whip* 🙂

    @ otros ojos – “Blowfish job” – 😆 … 😆 … 😆 Too bad you beat Joe to that title, ’cause THAT would have been the best title ever!! Too funny! 😀

    Have a good evening, sir!

    Oh, one last thought. Last night a local place re-opened after being closed for a month of repairs. It’s owned by the same family that has the Washington Inn (our favorite romantic dining restaurant), but is more ‘family friendly’. It’s the locals’ favorite, and I’ve mentioned it here before. We went there because – after cleaning windows all day, and changing out screens for storms, plus cleaning the bathroom, straightening up and entertaining a new neighbor who stopped by to say hi (ack! RIGHT in the middle of my window cleaning, when all the curtains were down, and there were wads of paper towels all over the place…and the bathroom was a mudpit from washing the screens in the shower!) – I was NOT going to cook!

    Anyhoo…

    Ever since that venison, I’ve been craving red meat – of any kind. Well, last night they had braised short ribs in a red wine jus that were fall-apart out-out-of-this-world delicious! (The flourless chocolate decadence cake for dessert was pretty damn good, too! 😀 ). Fun little place to eat – Lucky Bones Backwater Grille:

    http://www.luckybonesgrille.com/about.html

    NOW have a good evening! 😀

    das

  10. Love the coat. But sperm tempura? That settles it — I’m never eating in Tokyo. Do they have a Chili’s?

  11. Oh, forgot to add…

    I think we should start a new game called Pimp Your Carl! 😀

    Enjoy, sir!

    das

  12. HA!!! I am SOOOOO slow sometimes!

    Finally got your “Best ‘preparation of this ingredient’ ever” comment. 🙂

    das

  13. The next time you see those sanshoo peppers, pocket some seeds for me and I’ll see if I can grow them in Ohio.

    Seibu is a real place? Come on, Veggie Tales fans, you know that song’s stuck in your head. “Say – booooooo.”

    On a sad note, a patriot I know was in Vancouver protesting war and got caught in the pre-Olympic sweeps and thrown in St. Paul’s under the “mental health act”. My guess is groups of protesters are safe so the foie gras fun can continue. These things tend to be done to people who are alone and without resources and connections to fight it. A report smuggled from the inside thanks to missionaries indicated immigrants are another target of the “mental health act” so I’m not just guessing at the connection to people without the means to fight.

    Threatening to go on a hunger strike will get you threats of being held longer (imagine that, a protester with the tendency to protest their treatment). My guess is there are a lot of beds being held in advance of the Olympics and anything is being used as an excuse to keep the funding flowing.

    I can’t risk going to Vancouver myself to protest the pre-Olympic round-ups because I have small children, but I’m pretty angry. I’d normally consider it the business of Vancouverites how out-of-hand they let their government get, but you gotta’ cut me some slack when it’s personal.

  14. Wow, Joe! I have to admit I’m not the world’s greatest fan of fish, as it used to make me ill when I was a kid. But looking at your photos over the last few days, I’ve really been thinking how amazing all this food looks – even the fish!

  15. Clarification: the missionaries were only involved in giving the “patients” internet access and are not responsible for the content of what was reported.

  16. Thanks, Joe – It’s snowing! Sugoi! (not sure what this means.)
    Seens bature decided to start light snow in the Chicagoland area in honour of the start of your blog snow fall.

  17. Attention Fl. people, WE have AGAIN had to cancel for Sat. due to many circumstances, Kabra will also post a note. We are very sorry, so close to the holidays is sooo difficult. The next time I will not put this together in hopes it will come off, maybe someone else has better luck!! Happy Holidays to all , Sheryl

  18. ATTENTION FLORIDA FAN BLOGGERS!!!!

    Sorry but we need to RESCHEDULE our ORLANDO Lunch this Saturday Dec.5. December is just a hard time of year. There’s just too much going on, healthwise, workwise, holidaywise, petwise…

    After the holidays when things settle down and Orlando is a less hectic, would be a better time. Don’t you think?

    I apologize for any inconvenience.
    Thank you.

  19. Naw , not sure the outfit is “Carl” the bow tie with those shoes, not really. Now the coat has possibilities!
    Even the presentation of the house salt was very high end, thanks for sharing oh so many more pictures(and uploading them) .

  20. @ Carl – I don’t know Carl, you and that coat and Marty G.’s suit, wow, two stylin’ guys, I’m speechless.

  21. Love the cartoon character arrest form the other day. It probably was for inappropriate touching. He looks skeezy to me.

    “At one point, some businessman passing me going the other way stared up at me too long and wound up catching the corner of a sidewalk display table right in the groin.”

    I shouldn’t laugh, but that’s what he gets for staring creepily.

    Sorry the chocolate crawl didn’t work out!

  22. Joe, what was the scale of the “Iron Chef Sakai in paper”? Like action figure size? or old-school G.I. Joe size? or life size?

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