November 16, 2013: Tokyo Day #11! Esquisse! Kushiage! Star Bar!

I have at least one revelatory dining experience every time I visit Tokyo and, on this trip, it was the dinner I had at Esquisse, Tokyo’s hottest French restaurant.  Located on the 9th floor of the Royal Crystal Ginza, Esquisse has only been open a year and a half but, in that short time, under the stewardship of the Head Chef Lionel Beccat, it has made a name for itself amongst a host of culinary luminaries.

How great was our meal?  Well, it was so good that Akemi, who had hitherto proclaimed herself “not a fan of French cuisine”, did an about face and has now declared herself very much a fan.  At least so far as Esquisse is concerned.  “The best meal I’ve eaten on this trip,”was what she said.  And we’ve had A LOT of terrific meals on this trip.

Every dish was a visual marvel, and the intricacies of its textural and flavor combinations nothing short of incredible.  Descriptions would not do any of them justice so, instead, feast your eyes…

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Chef Lionel Beccat
Chef Lionel Beccat

If you’re making plans to visit Tokyo, put this one at the top of your To-Do list.

Esquisse: Royal Crystal Ginza 9F, 5-4-6 Ginza, Tokyo

Overall, it was another of good eating.  We were out the door fairly early this morning so that Akemi could check out one of her favorite chocolate shops, Chocolat de H, which had relocated to Shibuya’s Shin Q department store.  We walked the basement food section and I snapped some surreptitious pics.  For some reason photography is not permitted in the building so, if you report me, I’ll deny any knowledge of the photos or this blog…

Joel Robuchon baked goods
Joel Robuchon baked goods
Sebastien Bouillet popsicle-shaped cheesecakes.
Sebastien Bouillet popsicle-shaped cheesecakes.
Sebastien Bouillet owl and ladybug cakes (contain no actual owl or ladybugs).
Sebastien Bouillet owl and ladybug cakes (contain no actual owl or ladybugs).
The bread spread
The bread spread

We picked up a few desserts (for later) and had just enough time to cram them into our hotel fridge before heading downstairs to meet up with Akemi’s old friend and co-worker, Nihei, who took us to lunch.

Don't see many of these in Canada.
Don’t see many of these in Canada.

We walked the five blocks over to Kushino Bou, a terrific kushiage restaurant.  For those not in the know, kushiage cuisine offers an assortment of panko-crusted deep-fried favorites.  We were seated at counter and were instructed to simply tell them “Stop” when we’d had enough.  And then it began, skewer after skewer after skewer after skewer…

Saddle up to the counter at Kouji Bou
Saddle up to the counter at Kushino Bou
Two types of kushiage: beef, shrimp and shiso
Two types of kushiage: beef, shrimp and shiso
Shitake mushroom?  I think.
Shitake mushroom? I think.
Skewer receptacle

Akemi maxed out at around twelve.  Nihei and I managed about twenty.  Apparently, the restaurant’s average repertoire includes anywhere from 40-50 different skewers a seating, so if you’re planning to “sample a bit of everything”, make sure to skip breakfast.

After lunch, we strolled over to Akemi’s former workplace, Pierre Marcolini, where we picked up some thank-you chocolates for Nihei.

Akemi and Nihei, our affable host
Akemi and Nihei, our affable host

We bid our host a fond farewell and burned off lunch with a little walk so that we could return to the hotel room and sample the desserts we had purchased that morning…

Clockwise from left to right: chocolates from Chocolat de H, cheesecake from Paul Basset, chocolate mousse cake from Sebastien Bouillet, and chocolate and pistachio mousse from Toshi Yoroizuka.
Clockwise from left to right: chocolates from Chocolat de H, cheesecake from Paul Bassett, chocolate mousse cake from Sebastien Bouillet, and chocolate and pistachio mousse from Toshi Yoroizuka.

Not a bad one in the bunch.  The cheesecake was particularly intriguing – not overly sweet and a touch salty.

In the afternoon, we did a little advance Christmas shopping.  Among the notable sights:

What kid wouldn't want this?
What kid wouldn’t want this?
Former employee of the Robot Restaurant, now reduced to working retail.
Former employee of the Robot Restaurant, now reduced to working retail.

And we capped off our night at….where else?…Star Bar.  Check out Master Kishi-san doing his thing.  He’s a machine!

Star Bar: 1-5-13 Ginza, Chuo

November 9, 2012: Last full day in Tokyo! Restaurant Esquisse! Chez Tomo!

The familiar face of Chef Lionel Beccat

My friend Moro-san suggested we go to lunch at Restaurant Esquisse, a relatively new addition to the Ginza dining scene.  It has only been open for about four months now and yet, in that short time, garnered some great word of mouth. Always up to trying something new, I booked us a table.

I arrived early and had just taken a seat at the table when I was greeted by a familiar smile.  It was none other than Chef Lionel Beccat, the culinary magician who had crafted one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit down to in Tokyo – which also happened to be my very first date with Akemi (all the details in pictures here: November 30, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day $6 – Ginza La Tour, Michel Troisgros).  Back then he was at Cuisine Michel Troisgros.  Today, he heads the kitchen at Restaurant Esquisse and, judging by the meal we enjoyed, he is still firing on all creative cylinders.

Our set lunch course included…

Apple soufflé.  Incredibly delicate, airy, but with a lovely pronounced apple bite.
Lobster with caviar, mushrooms, lobster brain and mustard cream.  Like all Chef Beccat’s dishes, it balances delicacy with complexity of flavors.  
Mussels with trumpet mushrooms, apricot, and lemongrass foam.
Foie gras with grilled anago, mandarin orange, and maitake mushrooms.  Loved the creme brûlée preparation of the foie. 
The wild duck
Scallops with truffles and almond-hazelnut foam.I know some aren’t fans of foams but when done right (like in this dish) they had a whole other level of scent and flavor.
Monkfish prepped in konbu, then yogurt, wrapped in black olive and sepia accompanied by its spinach-wrapped liver with raisins.  A stronger, meatier fish that marries well to the black olive and squid ink.
Japanese oysters with apple and daikon horseradish emulsion topped with lemon caviar.  A refreshing palate cleanser to break up the robust flavors of the bracketing dishes.
The lemon caviar in its natural state.  They go for about $10 a pop.
Wild duck with a (not) celeriac puree, beet, white carrot, red radish, and Cyprus salt – accompanied by its date-covered leg.  Duck is tricky.  Undercooked, it’s chewy.  Overcooked, it’s inedible.  Here, the preparation is perfect, crispy-skinned and tender.
I say the duck was served with (not) celeriac puree above because, although that’s what I assumed it was, our helpful waiter explained it was actually cerfeuil.  And, when I expressed confusion, he popped back into the kitchen and returned with a sample.  Chervil!  Really?
Sorry.  By the time I finished it, I realized I’d forgotten to snap a pic.  I toyed with the idea of hanging around and getting a photo of our neighbor’s plate but ultimately decided to go with this.  What you missed: Grape sorbet from Kyojo with whipped grape champagne creme brulee and a confit Porto, topped with an anise treat.
Tarte tain with vanilla ice cream, creme anglaise, roast pear, rusk, and sugar caramel.  Another triumph of taste, temperature and textural contrasts – sweet, salty, sour, warm, cold, crispy, crunchy, soft, and chewy. 
Our guide on this culinary odyssey: Chiba Tadashi who painstakingly explained every dish and, whenever I expressed confusion, ducked back into the kitchen to retrieve the ingredients to hopefully help clarify.
Les mignardaises
Chef Beccat

A wonderful lunch.  Much thanks to Chiba-san for going above and beyond the call to make our lunch as informative as possible (even though, I’m sure, I’ve missed plenty of the details in attempting to jot them down, shorthand, on my iphone notepad).  And, of course, many thanks to Chef Beccat for yet another memorable meal.  I’ll definitely be back on my return visit to Tokyo.

Last night, we dined at Chez Tomo in Ginza with Akemi’s friend, Megumi.  Akemi was particularly looking forward to the restaurant’s signature vegetable plate.  I was dubious – but ended up pleasantly surprised.  You’ll see why in a moment…

If there are two things I’ve eaten A LOT of on this trip, it’s foie gras and sea urchin.  And that’s been perfectly fine by me.  In this dish, the sea urchin is served with lobster in a bisque-like preparation served in the uni’s shell.
Interesting.  Flounder-wrapped around Japanese pear accompanied by a Japanese pear ravioli, beets, seawater gelatin cubes, and black olive tapenade.  Quite a few acidic notes.
A mosaic of between 28-30 organic vegetables from Yamanashi.  This dish was a blast to eat, offering up an incredible variety of tastes and textures.
A soup duo: chilled chestnut on the left and a warm beet-laced vegetable medley on the right.
Roasted Hokkaido wild Yezo deer roast, patty and heart sauté, served with black pepper sauce.  The presentation left a little something to be desired but the dish was delicious nevertheless.  Surprisingly sweet and lacking in black pepper kick given the black pepper in the description.
Instead of trotting out finished desserts for us to select from, we were presented with the main ingredients that went into each of the four desserts of the day (ie. the fresh egg and vanilla beans that go into the creme brûlée).  We all decided to go with –
The chocolate trio.  A so-so cold chocolate drink accompanied by a delightfully dense chocolate ganache and bittersweet chocolate ice cream.

Homeward-bound today and Akemi and I are really looking forward to seeing the dogs.

See you in Van and thanks for tagging along!