I don’t know whether restaurants should and can be ranked, but apparently where I dined today was named the best restaurant in Asia this year. I had no idea about this when I happened to walk by Les Créations de Narisawa one afternoon in April. I just thought it’d be nice to try it out because the restaurant itself looked intriguing from the outside. Its chic and minimal appearance pointed to the restaurant being contemporary Japanese but the name of the establishment suggested something French. Separately, it turned out Tomo and Kayo had wanted to dine here for a while (chef Narisawa is celebrating the restaurant’s 10th anniversary this year). Done! This is where we’d congratulate Miki on her new bundle of joy. Amazingly after 10 years in business, reservations at Narisawa was still not easy to make; we were lucky to grab the last available table on a weekday.
Today’s menu: we asked for one in English for me but each course needed further explanation.
While we were looking at the menu and sipping our champagne, this mysterious thing was getting puffier by the minute on the table. It was being doubled boiled very slowly…
First course: Essence of the Forest and Satoyama Scenery. The water tasted of oak and cedar, and the “tree” was made from okara (soy pulp, it was hiding underneath), charred leeks, matcha, and whatnot. Unlike the “dirt” I had at Manresa a few years ago, I enjoyed the different textures and tastes of this edible tree.
For the course “Bread of the Forest 2010” and Moss our server wheeled over this trolley with a hot stone bowl on it. He put the proofed bread dough (the mystery object that was left rising on the table when we first sat down) in the bowl and put a wooden lid on it to bake it. Apparently this bowl was heated to 300 degrees celsius. I could hear the dough sizzle sizzle sizzle…
The hot stone bowl really did bake the dough! We had this gorgeous roll to eat, with what appeared to be a small rock covered in moss. It turned out to be butter whose outer layer was dusted with black olive and spinach extract. This butter was a big hit at our table.
We moved onto “Ash 2009” Scene from the Seashore next. This huge bowl containing liquid nitrogen made a dramatic appearance at our table side. From this ice-cold bowl our server produced frozen “ash” that once poured onto the squid became this dark ink-like sauce. Our server explained that this “ash” had paprika, lemon juice, and powdered olive oil. The squid was tender and delicious.
Fish course: Tile Fish, Matsutake Mushrooms, Soft-shelled Turtle Essence. Another beautiful presentation. Throughout the meal my friends tilted their heads every now and then, trying to pinpoint the familiar flavor or smell from their everyday Japanese cooking. We thought the dashi and the matsutake made this dish quite “Japanese.”
At the beginning of our meal we had to make a decision on what our meat course was going to be. Since the duck was chef Narisawa’s signature dish, Kayo and Miki chose the duck. Tomo and I decided to have beef (for two) over pork. Our steak didn’t look like steak at all when it appeared table side. A lump of coal perhaps?
But it really was this beautiful steak after all. The meat had been dusted with carbonized leek powder to give it that coal-like appearance. The dark black sauce was made with fermented garlic and the lighter brown sauce definitely had soy sauce in it.
I don’t eat like this everyday, right? We had 4 sets of desserts. Up first, vanilla cake in honor of M. and her 赤ちゃん。 Then this yummy strawberry, 酒粕 sakekasu (fermented rice/lees leftover from sake production), and 葛餅 kuzumochi (made from arrowroot, popular Japanese thickener, typical summer dessert).
All throughout our meal we saw this giant dessert trolley being wheeled from table to table. It was finally our turn!
We so enjoyed our meal that we barely noticed the 4 hours that flew by. Each course was thoughtfully composed and the service was impeccable. But aside from all the wit and whimsy, I liked the food. Apparently chef Narisawa doesn’t like to label his cuisine as being French (he’s trained and worked with Robuchon, Bocuse, Girardet); Michelin Guide, which gave two stars to Narisawa this year, classifies it as being “innovative.” His creations are of his own, using local and sustainable Japanese produce. Cuisine d’auteur? I don’t know what to call it in Japanese. It did remind me of Benu, another memorable meal put together by a chef whose French training was the base for his modern Asian/Korean cuisine. While I recall having distinct and strong flavors at Benu, chef Narisawa’s food was decidedly more subtle. I suppose there is an inherent difference between Japanese and Korean food…
Les Créations de Narisawa’s number one ranking is not something I can judge or dispute. All I can say is that I will always remember having a wonderful time with my lovely friends here, celebrating a fantastic new start for Miki. We were the last ones to leave the restaurant but we hadn’t had enough; we came back to my place to continue our gabfest for another 4 hours. Does talking non-stop for 8 hours burn enough calories for what I consumed today?
Wishful thinking, I know.
Les Créations de Narisawa 2-6-15 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062, Japan (Aoyama Itchome Station, Exit A5)