Holy crap it’s cold in Tokyo! I don’t remember it being this cool or rainy the last time I was here. Of course, my memory aint what it used to be. Still, I can’t recall wearing my coat out so often. Like today, for instance, when I headed out under overcast skies to meet my lunch date, Satchi, at Yonemura in Ginza. It was a ten minute walk from the hotel but, by the time I arrived, I was positively chilled. I took the escalators up to the fourth floor where I wandered the corridors, past the eight similar-looking restaurants, not one of which sported an English sign. Eventually, however, trial and error prevailed and I found the place.
The Yonemura in Ginza is the sister restaurant of the original Kyoto location offering a French take on Japanese tradition. The main dining room rocks. Forget the tables tucked away in the side room and head right for the curved counter seating that seats about 12 very comfortably. The seats actually swivel! I spent a good five minutes settling in, swinging back and forth to check out the chefs working at their various stations on the other side of the counter. Them and the girl with the cowboy hat.
Satchi arrived and we settled in for a pleasant meal…
Above: Steamed Rice with Crab.
So I was thinking – when was the last time I ate fugu? Well here, the fugu is incorporated into a clam bouillabaise with outstanding results.
Above: Grilled beef steak and vegetables with sesame dressing. Love the meat in this country. I suspect that even a marginal steak here would be considered out-of-this-world in North America.
After steak, I had some curry rice. I really enjoy the Japanese version which is darker and sweeter than the Indian version.
The plan was to wander Ginza on the look-out for people walking their pugs and french bulldogs, but it was raining by the time we got out so we headed over to Matsuya where they were, coincidentally, having a sale on umbrellas. Lots to choose from for the ladies and, after much searching, I finally found a nice, sturdy, wood-handled, black umbrella for myself. It cost me about $60. Did I mention they were on sale?
Then, as we headed out, Satchi noted that the hem at the bottom of my coat had unraveled. Great! First the button; now the damn hem! And so, we headed back to the hotel where she watched Harry Potter and I uploaded pics and did a competent enough job of sewing up that hem. I was in my hotel room sewing! I’m supposed to be on vacation!
By the way, I’ve finally realized why I’m having such a hard time negotiating the Tokyo subway system. It’s not that the system is complicated. It’s actually quite straightforward. It’s that I’m continually distracted by the mini-skirted, high-heel or boot-sporting women who frequent the place. I mean – Holy Smokes! – it’s an endless parade of leggy brunettes. It’s no wonder I keep boarding trains headed in the direction opposite to the way I was planning on going. And I’m not just talking about girls in their late teens. It’s women in their 20’s, 30’s, even 40’s. It’s a wonder I haven’t strolled right off the platform onto the tracks.
Anyway, I mention this because I did take the subway to my dining destination: Ryugin, located in Roppogni. I was early and took a stroll in the pouring rain before eventually ending up at the restaurant a little earlier than my reservation. My dinner date, Stefan, arrived soon after.
We were having the Chef’s menu that night. I’m not a big drinker – for a foodie, I know next to nothing about wine except for the fact that I do like the occasional German white – but I’m partial to cold sake. I suggested we go with the sake course pairing, and Stefan – who IS a wine guy – was absolutely thrilled by the suggestion.
Anyway, we enjoyed a multi-course chef’s dinner with plenty of detailed explanations of our dishes…which doesn’t really help after your fifth glass of sake. I asked our waiter whether we were getting a menu and he informed me that there was no written menu, but he’d be happy to send me a copy via email. I have yet to receive it, so I’m going to have to rely on my booze-addled memory to remember what it was, exactly, we ate…
We were then asked if we would like to include a soba course. We were both stuffed but thought what the hell. Stefan had the cold soba with yuzu that I found quite tasty. Yet cold. I had the hot soba in a magnificent broth.
The soba course was followd by three successive desserts. The first was an orange and mandarin sorbet that Stefan enjoyed immensely more than I did.
The second was a trio of beautiful-looking squares possessed of a marshmallow-airy consistency…
Our final dessert were two…well, how to describe them?…delicate soft dough-wrapped pastes, one chestnut the other…I can’t recall.
“You feel ripped off by dessert, don’t you?”asked Stefan.
Yes, I had to admit. I felt a little underwhelmed. However, I did enjoy…
Ryugin was the only restaurant I visited on my last trip that I made a return visit to this time simply because I had a great time in 2009, the dishes back then had been very inventive, and I expected a whole new experience this time. And while it was true, I noted the talked-about shift away from the inventiveness of my first meal here and the more traditional approach of the more recent menu. Stefan was unimpressed, turning to me at one point and declaring: “Regretfully, you were the best thing about this meal.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was unimpressed (because there were some lovely dishes in the mix), I can say that I wasn’t as enthusiastic this time out.
Which brings me to one of the many topics Stefan and I discussed over dinner. Why wasn’t I as enthusiastic? Could it be because I was at the tail-end of my culinary odyssey, experiencing gourmet ennui? Would I have considered Ryugin a slam dunk if it had made an appearance earlier in the schedule? Maybe. And, then again, maybe not. I’ll save the final summary for the conclusion of my trip but, looking over the list of 22 restaurants I’ve hit so far, there are 5 I’d consider outstanding (the rest range from good to very good), one on Day 1, another on Day 5, another Day 6, another on Day 8, and another on Day 9. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the final seven restaurants scheduled make the top spot as well.