Today, we took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka, riding (and eating) in comfort as the scenery whizzed by.
It was quite comfortable (surprisingly roomier than any airline I’ve ever flown), with reserve seating and food vendors who stroll up and down the various cars, offering up everything from ice cream and coffee to katsu (pork cutlet) sandwiches.
I’m thinking that, in the future, this might be the way to see more of the country. I could start in Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern area, and wind my way south by train, getting off to explore some of the cities along the way. I could spend a couple of nights in Kyoto, Nara, Okinawa, Kobe, Kyushu…
Before boarding, we loaded up on supplies – in the form of snackables. Since we arrived at Tokyo Station early, we had to wait some ten minutes for the shops to open. And, at exactly 8:00 a.m., they did – right on schedule. Check it out:
I picked up three of those mini pork burgers (they come in both lean and not-so-lean), a bento box, and some macarons for dessert:
I also had some of the chocolates my friend Tomomi gifted me the previous night:
Speaking of Tomomi, I promised to provide the details of the incredible meal we enjoyed…
It was a spectacular dinner and the culinary highpoint of this trip so far. The restaurant, L’Effervescence, is located in a quiet side street steps away from the Chokokuji Temple. It has only been open about two years but has already earned itself a Michelin star thanks to its young, innovate Chef Shinobu Namae.
I arrived early (because I assumed I’d get lost – and did), and relaxed in the sleek lounge while I awaited my dining companion. Tomomi arrived right on time, looking as gorgeous as ever, and we were escorted to our table, tucked away in a cozy, semi-private section.
In the mad scramble to pack for Osaka, I misplaced the menu, so bear with me as I attempt to tap my spotty memory and recall what, exactly, we ate:
First up were six imported olives. Three were regular, and no less delicious, olives while another three had been laced with a hint of blood orange.
Their version of kinpira (burdock and carrot) with a touch of yuzu, topped with a foam confrere and accompanied by some yuzu ice. Apparently, very natsukashii.
Next up was the apple pie which – hey, check it out! – looks a lot like the hot apple pie I used to get at McDonalds when I was a kid. Chef Namae’s version is made with braised beef cheeks and Japanese sweet potato. And, yes, kind of tasted like apple pie.
This dish was a masterful marriage of subtle flavors, highlighted by some beautiful Spanish mackerel.
The restaurant’s signature dish is a daikon (Japanese turnip) that has been slow-cooked for some four hours – yet, surprisingly, still retains its firmness and a certain crunch. No idea how they pull it off but it’s damn impressive.
The sea bass was perfectly cooked and easily the best I’ve had. Our waiter described the arduous preparation process that involved switching the fish off from varied heated environments to achieve that perfect textural balance.
Foie gras with fresh chestnuts, chestnut puree, and black truffles. The foie gras chestnut combination has been a revelation on this trip.
Interesting. Sipped on the left, the oolong tea is cold. Sipped on the right, it is piping hot. Sipped from the middle and you are treated to a swirling combination of the two. The most unique palate cleanser I’ve ever had.
The main course was a perfectly prepared piece of pork (Yes, they can serve it pink in Japan because of the type of pork they source) accompanied by some outstanding mushrooms.
I had the cheese course but should have joined Tomomi on the salad instead – made up of 27 different vegetables (out of the 40 in season).
A pear dessert featuring cauliflower ice cream. Hmmmm. Interesting, but I actually think the ice cream would have been far more successful as an added element to a savory course.
Chef Namae’s take on tiramisu. We were instructed to eat the coffee capsule on the spoon first, then crack the crunchy chocolate top and scoop out the cream and cake to complete the experience.
We ended our meal with various small sweet bites, among them some pop rock chocolate pops –
And lemon curd in a tube. We were also gifted a take-away treat that, frankly, I was to full to eat – which Akemi likened to an incredibly moist caramel pound cake.
Once we were done, Chef Namae came by to introduce himself. I told him how much I enjoyed the meal and greatly appreciated, not only the execution of the various dishes in terms of the complexity of textures and tastes, but also the amount of creativity and hard work that no doubt gone into their conception. At some point, Chef Namae had to come up with the inspired idea, then he had to figure out a way to achieve it on the plate, coming up with a game plan followed by a trial and error approach that eventually yielded the sought-after results. And all I did was show up and eat it!
Whew. Got the first full day of Osaka under my belt. It’s, uh, quite the unique city. Tomorrow, I’ll take you all on the guided tour. Make sure to wear your comfy shoes!
And, finally – a some heartening news from sis who has decided to hold off on the difficult decision. Although he’s not going to get better, Aspen appears to have bounced back and is in much better spirits. Great to hear!