November 9, 2012: Tokyo Day….? I’ve lost count! Star Bar! Nodaiwa! Nakajima! Quintessence!

When I travel to Tokyo, I usually stay at The Imperial Hotel.  The service is great, the rooms very comfy, and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather spending my nights. With the exception of Star Bar, a truly awesome basement bar Ivon Bartok and I discovered on our trip here a couple of hears back.  Like The Imperial Hotel, the service is great and the room is comfy.  Also, the drinks are outstanding. Whenever I’m in town, I make it a point to drop by.  Master bartender Hisashi Kishi and his right-hand man, Yamasaki Tsuyoshi, are now like members of my extended family.  I’m always thrilled to see them and, conversely, sad to part ways with them whenever my trip comes to its inevitable end.

I stopped by twice on this visit and, as always, Master Kishi-san was always at his warm, jovial, and welcoming best, whipping up killer cocktails and Moscow Mules that I’ll dream about long after I return to Vancouver.

Master Kishi-san rocks the shaker:

Yamasaki-san follows suit:

Beefeater Gin with fresh muscat grape juice.  Deceptively smooth and delicious.
At the conclusion of my visit, I always leave Master Kishi-san with a little something – in this case a bottle and a selection of olive oils (because, in addition to being a great bartender, I hear he’s also a terrific cook).

And Master Kishi-san ended up surprising me by presenting me with my very own Star Bar copper (Moscow Mule) mug.  It was totally unexpected and greatly appreciated.  Oh, and much needed.

Star Bar Ginza, B1F Sankosha Building, 1-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku,Tokyo; (03) 3535-8005 

Night time view by the Pensinsula Hotel, Ginza.  Christmas is almost upon us!
Rooftop park on the 9th floor of the Shinjuku Isetan.
Unagi at Nodaiwa.
Iwasha (mackerel) sashimi at Nakajima.
Faux ice cream bar from Sebastien Bouillet.
Chiffon cake with sweet potato and maple butter cream (disguised as a soufflé).
Choux creme from Seijo Alpes

Last night, Akemi and I dined at Quintessence, a 3-star Michelin restaurant and, apparently, one of the top ten hardest places to book.  Dinner was outstanding. Unfortunately, because of the no-photo policy (it may annoy the other guests), I wasn’t able to snap any pics of the culinary highlights.  Fortunately, I was able to source some photos of the said culinary highlights from the internet:

Goat milk bavarois with lily root, olive oil, and rock salt (photo via
Another instant where I’m uncertain of the English name of the fish, but it was perfectly prepared – crispy on the outside and rare at its center – accompanied by a duo of sauces.
The incredibly airy meringue ice cream.

After we were done and on our way out, the restaurant’s chef and owner, Shuzo Kishida, came out to meet us.  At 34, he’s already been awarded 3 Michelin stars (four years in a row) for his work at Quintessence.  We chatted, mostly in French, a language I assume he mastered while working in Paris at the 3 Michelin star l’Astrance.  Unfortunately, I spent little time in Paris and it’s been a while since I practiced my French in Montreal so I was a bit…oh, let’s call it rusty.  Still, I managed well enough to let him know what a spectacular it was – every dish brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed – as great as our first visit/my second date with Akemi three years ago: (December 4, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day #10 – Quintessence, Monnalisa Marunouchi, I hit the wall – and I’ve still got 11 restaurants to go!)

Well, looks like our Tokyo Trip Late 2012 (not to be confused with Tokyo Trip Early 2012) is drawing to a close.  I can look forward to three final no-doubt-memorable meals (and maybe about a half dozen notable desserts) before I head off.  And I look forward to them.  But for now, I’m looking forward to a nice change of pace breakfast:

Plain oatmeal, sliced bananas, and a half a grapefruit.

December 4, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day #10 – Quintessence, Monnalisa Marunouchi, I hit the wall – and I’ve still got 11 restaurants to go!

Some restaurants in Tokyo require a reservation be made three months in advance.  Others won’t accept reservations until a week before the requested seating.  This year, just to be on the safe side, I forwarded the concierge at The Peninsula my list three months prior to my trip.  When he sent me my finalized schedule about a week before departure, I noted that he had managed to get me a table at all but one of my choices: Quintessence.  Despite the fact that he had called in my reservation request a month in advance as per instructions, I was nevertheless third on the waiting list.  Well, I hate to wait – especially when it comes to eating – so I selected an alternate and didn’t give it another thought…until last week when the concierge informed me that Quintessence had called.  There had been some late cancellations and, as a result, I was in for lunch.

I planned on taking the subway there (really, I did) but got sidetracked uploading photos (What else?) but still managed to leave 45 minutes early.  It was pouring rain (You know that phony-looking movie rain?  Well here in Tokyo it’s for real.) and I caught a cab.  The driver asked me if I wanted to get there quickly.  I told him, uh, sure – at which point he proceeded to merge into traffic, advancing at a snail’s pace, eating up a full thirty minutes of that initial forty-five in bumper to bumper queue.  And then, with fifteen minutes to spare, he paid a toll, got on the expressway, and got me there with ten minutes to spare.  Well, almost there.  He pointed to the place and motored off.  File this fact away for later reference.

I was early and decided to check out a nearby chocolate shop, then walked back to the place he pointed out.  I stepped into the vestibule, stepped up to the glass sliding door and…nothing.  I glanced over at the intercom, then back over at the legend that listed Quintessence as 101.  I tried 101.  Nothing.  101 *.  Nope.  101 #.  Nu unh.  Growing increasingly frustrated, I tried *.  Then #.  Then variations of incomprehensible Japanese characters.  Still nothing.  I was about ready to scale the outside of the building when a guy walked out of the elevator.  Of course, the door slid open for him.  But rather than slipping through and potentially wasting more time looking for the place, I simply asked him: “Quintessence wa doko desu ka?”  As it turned out, it wasn’t even in the building (despite the fact that it was listed as 101).  It was next door.

Just follow the simple instructions. Duh!

By the time I arrived next door, Akemi was already waiting in the vestibule.  They took my coat, then motioned me toward the dining room.  I started forward, then had one of the waiters hold up his hands.  Whoa there, buddy.  I went to sit down.  He muttered something and beckoned me.  I straightened and stepped forward, realized he was ushering me toward the bathroom, told him I was okay, made to head into the dining room, and had him motion me back to the sitting area.  I took a seat.  At which point another server came in and motioned me inside.  This time, I waited for Akemi to go first.  She experienced no trouble so I followed.

We were seated in one of the nifty, glass-walled private dining rooms and presented with the menu.  I flipped it open to reveal a clean white page.  Carte blanche!   The menu is entirely dependent on the day’s fresh produce and the chef’s inspiration.  I was intrigued.  And still somewhat wet.  For her part, Akemi had the foresight to bring along an umbrella – but still complained about the job the weather had done on her hair.

I told her not to worry, that her hair looked great. She wasn't buying it.

Apologies in advance for the proceeding breakdown of our meal.  The French-speaking staff member didn’t really do any of the serving and the staff member who presumably spoke English engaged Akemi throughout with elaborate explanations of the meal in Japanese that she conveyed in significantly more concise translations like “sweet potato” and “with vanilla”.

Sweet potato cake up front and a cappuccino of sweet potato. With vanilla. I found both inventive and wonderful although Akemi wasn't won over even though it was SWEET POTATO! Come on!
This one I know because the Michelin guide lists it as a specialty here: Goat's milk Bavarian cream with salt, olive oil, and sliced macadamia. Mine was magnificent. Akemi found hers a little shoppai (salty). We traded and I thought hers quite good as well although, admittedly, a little more shoppai than mine.
Let's call this one a delicious cake of sorts topped with scallops-but-not-really. The dish was flavored with salt on one side, then sugar on the other, building from salty to sweet (or sweet or salty if you prefer).
The fish of the day. A very good dish but it was the only one that failed to wow me.
Another specialty of the house: the enzyme-fed pork. This one wows on the basis of the preparation method alone. From I gathered of the translation, it contains collagen. The meat is roasted for a minute, then allowed to rest for five, roasted for another minute, then allowed to rest for five. The process is repeated some twenty times, and then the meat is slow-roasted for some three hours before serving.
Dessert! Olive oil and balsamic? Don't let your eyes deceive you. The green is pistachio, the brown dot espresso. Beneath it, a delicious coconut cream. Loved, loved, loved it! Akemi found it chotto nigai (a little bitter).
House special dessert: made-to-order meringue ice cream that is lightly sprayed with sea water to give it a brilliant sweet and savory flavor. This time Akemi and I agreed. We were both blown away.
The brilliant mind behind those inventive dishes: Chef Shuzo Kishida.

After dinner, we took a cab over to Roppongi Hills where we took in a double exhibition at the Mori Museum.  The first was a jewelry exhibition by Van Cleef & Arpels titled “The Spirit of Beauty”.   The second was an exhibition that explored life, death, and the human body through a collection of medical artifacts, art, and the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci.  We had to motor through the latter as Akemi was creeped out by many of the unsettling pieces, but she wasn’t as bothered by the diamonds and sapphires of the other exhibition.

This display was outisde the Hermes boutique. I'm...not sure.

After visiting the Pet Station dog grooming shop (no pugs or frenchies), we went to Sadaharu Aoki Patisserie for my favoritest of favorite desserts: The Bamboo (matcha opera cake).  We each had one and shared the plat de degustation.

The degustation platter. There's my fave, the Bamboo (matcha opera cake) in the foreground.
Akemi is ready to turn in for the night. Not so fast! We've still got dinner reservations!

Hours later, Akemi and I met up again for dinner even though both of us were still kind of stuffed from lunch (and, I’ve got tell ya, I wasn’t that hungry heading out to lunch either).  Our destination on this night: Monnalisa Marunouchi located on the 36th floor of Marunouchi Building.  And, in case you were wondering – Yeah, one hell of a view.

Alas, no menu this time either and I had to rely on Akemi’s translations yet again.

The second Akemi sat down she reached into her purse and pulled out this little baby. I hadn't a clue what it was. Any guesses? That's right. It's a purse holder. You just hook it to the table and hang your purse off it.
To start - an amuse of grilled cheese brioche with black olive and pork. A taste sensation! I couldn't believe the amount of flavor packed into that savory morsel.
A refreshing tomato gelee.
Scallops in champagne sauce with black truffle. Probably my favorite dish of the night. Every part of this dish just came together nicely.
Hmmm. What was this again? Oh, yeah. Crab-stuffed cabbage with caviar. My least favorite dish. The flavor of the cabbage overpowered the swet subtlety of the crab.

Above – Yep, yet again, shirako – served crispy this time.  Holy smokes!  I’ve eaten more sperm in these past ten days than…(insert rest of joke here).

Hirame with fettucine in sea urchin sauce. The fish was perfect and the fettucine and its accompaniments simply sublime.
For Akemi: Pork with gnocci. Akemi loved the gnocci, thought the pork was very good -but preferred the version she'd had for lunch at Quintessence.
This is the look I threw our waiter when he asked us whether we'd like dessert. You kidding?
Passionfruit gratinee with orange ice cream and almond tuile.
Hanging out with Owner/Chef Toru Kawano.
Akemi gifted me these adorable little macarons. They're just too damn cute to eat. I think I'll start with the ears.

Okay, I think I’ve finally hit the wall.  I haven’t been hungry for a day and a half.  I figure that by the time I get back to Vancouver, I won’t have to eat for at least three weeks.