February 1, 2012: Tokyo Day #5! Catching up with my old friends Joel Robuchon and Ishikawa-san,

The second issue of my comic book series, Dark Matter, hits the shelves soon (February 8th last I heard).  If you haven’t picked up the first issue yet, I strongly urge you to do so as reports have it selling out.  This, of course, means it is a sought-after collectible no doubt destined to be worth A LOT some day.  Squirrel away a few copies under your mattress now and the lie back on your nest egg and prepare to enjoy your early retirement later!

In Dark Matter-related news…

My full podcast interview with SciFiTalk is up.  You can find it here: Joe Mallozzi | Sci-Fi Talk Podcast

Also up is an early, spoiler-free review of Dark Matter #2 here: Dark Matter #2 Spoiler Free Review by Ryan Porter – The Pop …

One of the main reasons we’re here in Japan is so that Akemi can visit with her mother who has made the trip over from Osaka.  Yesterday, they had a girl’s night out.  Today, all three of us hit Tokyo.  We had a big day ahead of us so we wasted no time gathering down in the lobby (after I’d finished updating my blog of course) and headed out to brave the blustery late January weather.  For a single block anyway after which we ducked into the entrance to the Hibiya subway station and made the underground walk over to the Peninsula Hotel where Akemi and her mother intended to pick up some treats.  Unfortunately, the shops wouldn’t be open for another hour, so we had to settle for what may have been…

...being prepared right behind the big window. So near and yet so far.

I’ve been toying with the idea of making the move to Tokyo.  Of course, there are things to consider (ie. getting the dogs over and what the hell I’ll actually be doing here beside browsing that big anime complex in Akihabara) before I pull the trigger.  First and foremost however – I’ll have to decide where I want to live.  I’ve narrowed it down to Roppongi or Aoyama, but am leaning toward the latter because the former, while a beautiful neighborhood, is full of henna gaijin (translation: weird foreigners.  “Like you,”Akemi helpfully reminded me.).  Well, it just so happens that we were in Roppongi today, strolling the streets of my potential future hood.

The streets of Roppongi. My future neighbourhood?

I’ve been meaning to check out local chocolate shop Le Chocolate De H for a while now, always missing out on my previous visits.  Well, not this time.  We were there when the doors open, snapped up some outstanding yuzu macarons and a chocolate assortment.  Akemi was especially satisfied as she has been trying to track this place down since our arrival.

Akemi, the triumphant hunter.
The killer 16 piece assortment. The banana-dark chocolate was amazing, as was his yuzu and milk chocolate. Akemi feels these chocolates rival those of her long-time favorite La Maison du Chocolat.

For lunch, we headed over to Roppongi Hills for lunch at L’Atelier de Robuchon.  Akemi was a little leery after our last Robuchon experience – a stupendous feast comprised of 16 courses at the Joel Robuchon in Vegas (where we were joined by Golden Boy Martin Gero).  Yes, it was a lot and it’s understandable that Akemi felt stuffed – especially when you consider that, upon our return to our hotel room at the Venetian, she also polished off the entire top of the complimentary pistachio cake we were gifted after our meal.

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that – for Akemi’s sake – our lunch was comparatively modest…yet just as wonderful.  And the restaurant itself…absolutely gorgeous.

We were seated at the long counter that runs the length of the room…

The view to my right.
And the view to my left.
Mrs. Aota makes the trip from Osaka to spend quality time with me. And, I suppose, her daughter.
Cauliflower soup with Iberico pork chips. Akemi couldn't stop talking about it.
Poached egg, butter foam, and croutons atop cumin-scented eggplant.
Oooh. Delectably oozy!
Greenling (yes, a first for me too) is seared, then finished in a steamer, served atop poached leeks and topped with chives, parsley, mint, and crisp green onions. Fish is one of the many things they do very well here in Japan - even the cooked variety.
Duck foie gras on parmesan risotto. Rich, decadent, and all sorts of wonderful.
And to finish: Basil and lime sorbet top orange and grapefruit in syrup.

The lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a terrific deal.  Head on over and try one of the set menus.

We skipped the dessert at Robuchon so we could head on over to the famed Toshi Yoroizuka instead.  In retrospect, I should have gone with Robuchon.

Toshi Yoroizuka

For some reason, they were only offering a scaled-down version of the dessert menu.  The varied cakes, normally on display, were not to be seen.  And so, we ordered from the menu.

The Mont Blanc. Good.
Strawberry millefeuille topped with home made pistachio ice cream. Also good.

Not bad.  Good.  But all I could think of was heading over to Jean-Paul Hevin and sampling about a half-dozen of their chocolate desserts.

Which, by the way, I fully intend to do before week’s end.

Then, we were off for a little more strolling in another neighborhood…

The streets of Shinjuku

We stopped by the Isetan (sight of the Salon de Chocolat) where I picked up a couple of treats from the Sebastien Bouillet boutique: pistachio and cotton candy macarons for me, and a chocolate lipstick for Akemi.  Yes, you heard correctly.

Akemi applies some Sebastien Bouillet chocolate lipstick

We returned to the hotel for some R&R, then headed over to the big seven-floor toy store in Ginza where I tried, in vain, to locate a new Evangelion phone cover for my new 4S, and some anime t-shirts.  Maybe I’ll have better success at Kiddyland.

We took the metro over to Kagurazaka and, for the third time in as many years, I enjoyed a memorable kaiseki dinner at Ishikawa…

This quaint Michelin 3-star restaurant is tucked away on a side street in Kagurazaka.

We had a private room.

Mrs. Aota feigns innocence. In reality, she is well into executing her master plan to pay the bill before I'm any the wiser.

Our nine course meal was designed to show off Japanese seasonal offerings, from fish and veggies to fresh fruit and herbs….

Cod milt and simmered Japanese mountain potato with steamed eggs and ginger-flavored sauce. Akemi and her mother declared themselves not fans of milt - until the arrival of this dish which turned out to be everyone's favorite of the evening.
Deep-fried pomfret and monkfish liver with lotus root garnished with baby turnip. Served with seaweed sea salt (another first for me) and a chive-ponzu dipping sauce you wanted to sip once you were done.
Turnip in white miso soup with whale skin. The broth struck a nice balance between sweet and savoury. As for the whale skin...not a fan of its pronounced fishiness.
Flounder sashimi garnished with fresh sea wood and Japanese herbs. The surprise of this dish was the nori. Why can't we get seaweed preparations like this in North America?
Young tuna mixed with minced kelp. The dark speckling is salt-cured seaweed.
Charcoal-grilled scabbard fish and shiitake mushroom. I've had this long, eel-like fish once before, in a Portugese restaurant in Toronto and loved it there too.
Freshly harvested bamboo shoots, wagyu, cucumber and spinach from Kyoto with Yuzu-scented sauce. The yuzu nicely complimented the well-marbled richness of the wagyum.
Grilled conger eel, komatsuna greens, white leeks, and tofu hot pot. A relatively simpler dish but nevertheless possessed of flavor complexities.
Steamed rice with Maitake mushrooms and diced white radish served with pickled vegetables and miso soup. I was stuffed but could have kept on eating. Redolent with the earthiness of the Maitake.
Strawberry and grapefruit with white wine jelly and sherry mousse. I'm usually not a fan of fruit-based desserts but, of course, fruits in Japan are nothing like the sour North American cousins.

We enjoyed two bottles of sake with our meal and Akemi was absolutely toasted by her second glass.  The service was top-notch – professional and pleasant.  No sooner did we finish one course than the door to our private room would slide open and our server would sweep in and clear away the dishes.  In less than a minute, she would return with our next course.  It was a nicely paced meal that covered a quick two and a half hours.

Ishikawa-san and Sugi-san bid us a fond farewell.

We returned to our hotel room where I uploaded by blog pictures and watched a tipsy Akemi struggle to dry her hair after her shower.

I received a call this morning informing me that Maximus’s ashes were ready to be picked up.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and merely having him come up in conversation is enough to start me tearing up (as was the case at dinner last night when I had to use the “I’ve got something in my eyes – both of them” dodge).  While I appreciate everyone’s support concerning my decision, I’ll always have my doubts about certain things.

Last night, I dreamt that I was grocery shopping with my late father who bought me an enormous bag of ripe persimmons.  Okay all you dream analysts, what does it mean?

March 9, 2011: Vegas Day #2! Dinner at Joel Robuchon!

Martin Gero knows his food, knows what he likes, and, more importantly, knows what I like when it comes to food – so his dining recommendations are to be given serious consideration.  When Martin found out I’d be visiting Vegas, he insisted I visit two restaurants – the scenes of some of his most spectacular meals: Guy Savoy (booked for Thursday night) and Joel Robuchon.  

Now I dined at Chateau Joel Robuchon in Ebisu a couple of years ago and, despite it being the final meal on an exhausting culinary excursion of Tokyo, it was a very memorable visit.  Add to this the fact that I just finished re-watching Top Chef Vegas which, in one episode, featured the man himself, Joel Robuchon, Chef of the Century, as well as his lush, royal purple restaurant, and the prospect of following up on Martin’s suggestion became as obvious as truffle oil with squash risotto.

Joel Robuchon is located in the MGM Grand, a short hop, skip, and one loooong jump from where we’re staying at the Venetian – so we cabbed it and, unlike Monday’s dinner reservation, arrived well on time.   

We were seated and offered the menus, but immediately informed the Maitre D we were decided.  We’d be going with the Chef’s Winter Menu.  At sixteen courses, it seemed a little daunting, but I was prepared.  Mentally anyway.  Unlike Marty G. who had readied himself by eating toast and water that day, I had yet to come down from the sugar high that two sundaes, a slice of chocolate pizza, and one large pistachio macaron had delivered.  

As the waiter whisked away our menus, I began to regret that pisatchio macaron.

Well, fear not.  I made it.  Truthfully, I was full halfway through the meal but the dishes were so delicious, so exquisitely crafted and beautifully plated, that finishing wasn’t that difficult.  Until it came time for the after dessert Dessert Cart. 

But I get ahead of myself.  Our meal at Joel Robuchon was spectacular, nothing short of epic.  And it went something like this…

As we settled in, we were offered a selection from the Bread Cart. Now I usually don't partake in bread before a meal, especially a meal like this one, but I had to make an exception in this case. All the breads were served fresh and warm, loosening their tiny pockets of baked-in steam as they were pulled apart and -
Either dipped in exquisite olive oil or topped with house-churned butter.

 Then, it was time for the main event…

Le Citron: Lemon and basil gelee, anise fennel cream. A delicate but flavorful start to the meal. Although the menu mentions lemon, I believe it was actually yuzu - the first of many Asian influences we noted.
Le Foie Gras: Carpaccio of foie gras and potatoes with black truffle shavings. The foie gras melted in my mouth - as foie gras is wont to do - and the truffle shavings lent the dish a wonderful aromatic earthiness, but it was the fingerling potatoes that surprised. Often the least interesting component in similar dishes I've had elsewhere, often because they're undercooked and don't offer anything in the way of true flavor, these were actually very flavorful.
La Symphonie de Truffe: Crispy truffle tart with onion confit, scrambled egg with golden toast, Paris mushrooms with veal raviolis cooked in broth. If you love truffles as much as I do, you'll want to hit Robuchon for this dish alone. The varying textures were remarkable: the firmness of the ravioli, the creaminess of the eggs, the contrasting snap and softness of the tart.
La Nois de Saint Jacques: Seared scallop, hearts of palm in coriander scented coconut milk, Mariner's style. The scallop was firm but very tender, its crown crusted, served in a broth this time Thai influenced.
Le Kabocha: Light kabocha pumpkin veloute, ginger foam and toasted pumpkin seeds. And now Japanese influence. The flavors of the soup took me back to my travels in Tokyo. Akemi marveled at the fact that it tasted exactly like the kabocha soup her mother used to make back in Osaka. Now THAT is praise.
Les Crustaces. Yet another stunning three-in-one. No, the starfish is not edible.
Lobster in sake broth with radish and nori. Akemi's favorite because, again, the dish was very reminiscent of Japan, delivering a sense of natsukashii that had her talking about it for the rest of the night. BTW - that's a lemon grass spear.
Sea urchin in a wasabi emulsion. The wasabi was quite delicate and married perfectly to the equally delicate uni possessed of a subtle sweetness you'll only find from the freshest variety.
Truffled langoustine ravioli. A tiny bite but bursting with truffled langoustine flavor. An incredibly dense and meaty pocket of seafood

 Not picture – Le Black Cod: Black cod in daikon buoillon with yuzu zest.  Damn.  For some reason, I missed snapping a pic of this dish and it’s a shame because it was one of the highlights of among an entire evening of highlights.  The cod was sweet and smokey, its accompaniments again redolent of the very best of Japan cuisine.

Le Chou: Crispy fried cabbage with vegetable medley. A more restrained dish than the others, but no less appreciated - here, the preparation allows the delicate flavors of the individual vegetables to take center stage. The crisp cabbage was also an elegant little addition here.
Le Veau: Sauteed veal chop with natural jus and vegetable talierinis flavored with pesto. The veal was nicely cooked and fairly subtle in comparison to the intense talierinis.
Martin goes "all in" with the wine pairing.
Le Soja: Risotto of soybean sprouts, lime zest and chives. Our final savory course and, alas, my least favorite only because I've never been a fan of sprouts.
L'Amande: Light almond panna cotta, tahitian vanilla and pineapple. Didn't really enjoy this dessert either - although I was odd man out at judge's table on this one. It contained an underlying flavor I found off-putting. I'd liken it to saffron - my least favorite spice.
La Framboise: Fresh raspberries and ginger infused sorbet, crunchy honey tuile. As most of you know, I'm not a big fan of fruit-themed desserts, but this was quite nice.

Sixteen courses, several fresh breads, some house-churned butter, and a few glasses of wine later we were thoroughly sated.  And then some.  At which point they rolled out the Dessert Cart.

The Dessert Cart. I figured it would be rude to pass.
My selection of mignardises - along with a few extras the waiter added because he obviously felt I hadn't had enough to eat.
Marty G. sizes up his religieux.

We capped off our meal with a tour of the kitchen where we watched the team in action, then met Executive Chef Claude Le Tohic and Pastry Chef Kamel Guechida. 

What night!