First, read my little intro about Japan.
Overview of Japan posts:
Japan 1: Welcome to Tokyo! (and a killer okonomiyaki)
Japan 2: Yokohama and Omuraisu
Japan 3: What Makes Japan One Of A Kind
Japan 4: Special Japanese Neighborhoods + Those Famous Food Floors
Japan 5: A Gourmet Japanese Lunch + Roppongi Hills
Japan 6: Kyoto (1st installment, 2nd installment)
Japan 7: Disneyland and DisneySea
Japan 8: Tsukiji Fish Market & Tsukiji neighborhood
The Japanese reserve shabu-shabu for celebrations or at least, the sense of it being a special occasion. Fittingly enough, Yappi takes us to Kissho, a luxury Japanese restaurant with a killer view of Tokyo and its environs. I’m not sure if Kissho could be considered a ryÅtei, a traditional, upper crust establishment that offers the complete Japanese dining experience. But the dining room is immaculate, the politely aloof kimono-clad waitresses are here, and there is a cool elegance about the whole thing. And of course, there is the prohibitive price tag of a meal here at this possible ryÅtei, meals beginning at Â¥8,000 (P4,000) per person. But read on and see that it’s all worth it.
It begins with a ravishing appetizer of hiyayakko, cold, almost cylindrical blocks of tofu nestled against strips of uni (sea urchin). This creation sits serenely atop a gold mesh dish that’s perched above a bed of finely crushed ice to keep everything cold.
Tofu is one of Japan’s divine creations and to taste it here at its source is remarkable ”“ the silkiest, sublime texture rolls then dissolves on my tongue, and when eaten with a bit of uni, ah! It’s truly one of the most extraordinary things I have eaten in recent memory. This celestial lot is garnished with shiso leaves and shungiku (edible chrysanthemum leaves), two perennial accompaniments to dishes of this sort. Eaten with the tofu and the uni, they provide a bit of pungency and hint of mint, though I will admit that it’s an acquired taste. As for the freshly grated wasabi, its slightly gritty, almost refreshing piquancy suffuses through my mouth igniting a gentle fire. I worry that I may not be able to go back to the synthetic stuff squirted out of tubes after this.
A familiar Asian ingredient renkon, the lotus root, is unique for its webbed, tunnel-like interior that resembles a wheel. Because of its high iron content, it must be soaked in vinegar before being cooked otherwise it’ll turn black. The lotus root’s characteristic crisp texture plays off of the soft and starchy gingko nuts that have been skewered on pine-needle leaves and deep-fried. Perfect o-tsumami (little starter dishes).
No meal in Japan is complete (at least for me) without sashimi. What arrives at our table is a deep, silver bucket overflowing with ice, the bed upon which preens large scallops, dewy shrimps, cuttlefish, and nuggets of tuna. The presentation of this dish multiplies the magnificence of this dish exponentially.
The star of this meal is the shabu-shabu, a type of nabemono (hotpot) cooking where thinly-sliced beef is dipped into a hotpot of liquid. Our beef here is Japan’s celebrated kÅbe-gyÅ« (Kobe beef), its marbling sparkling in the sunlight streaming in from the window. Our mouths begin to water simultaneously. This is my first time to eat Kobe beef and I tell you now that all the Wagyu beef I’ve been eating in Manila this past year has become but a distant memory. When gently dropped into the hot broth, the beef instantly turns opaque, its edges becoming a light brown. Several seconds, perhaps a maximum of one minute is all that’s needed to briefly cook it through. I ignore the traditional dipping sauces of sesame and ponzu (a mixture of shoyÅ«, dashi, and citrus) and holding the beef carefully with my chopsticks, take a bite.
The intrinsic flavors of beef and — oh god, that glorious fat! — intertwine and mingle merrily in my mouth. Though I’m chewing slowly, reverently, I feel that my teeth are too brutal to this meat’s impossible tenderness. It’s obscene for something to taste this good. So moved am I by the succulence of this meat that I want to throw myself on my knees and thank the heavens that I’m not a vegetarian. This beef is saying my name in every sense and I all I want to do is answer its call over and over again.
Though I want to fixate on the beef and forget about everyone at my table (who are also experiencing their own personal epiphanies), I make a conscious effort to pay attention to the other food on the table. Boo is blissful with her plate of tempura, its batter almost translucent, barely clinging on to the food. I pick up a ladle and swirl the two types of mushrooms in the hotpot: enoki and shiitake, the latter of which has been slashed decoratively. There’s also cabbage and more of that divine tofu, though this one is of a firmer consistency, as well as some glass noodles. I honestly can’t tell you what they taste like because I really don’t remember. My mind is spent on the Kobe beef.
Roppongi is fast shedding its reputation as sleaze-ville, the traditional heart of Tokyo’s hedonism. That part will never die but Roppongi has an added attraction called Roppongi Hills, a multi-billion yen, urban upmarket complex designed as a “city within a city.” The area is now home to over 200 restaurants and designer shops, serviced apartments, a major art museum, and the lush Grand Hyatt Tokyo. With a supreme emphasis on luxury, I’m told that Roppongi Hills is the new Ginza . It’s a fact I don’t doubt.
Roppongi Hills is very attractive to me because it’s not just one long street like Ginza is, but a major development that’s sprawled over several kilometers and characterized with a swirl of corridors and escalators. (It’s easy to get lost here). Roppongi Hills’ main drag has lots of greenery and is lined with the most upscale brands. Check out the Louis Vuitton store (below), its name ablaze in lights on its building.
We pass by Harbs, one of the most popular pastry shops in Tokyo. Queer name aside, it’s known for its crepe cakes, cakes made from feather-light crepes piled high sandwiching fillings of fruit and cream. We try to score a table but are told the waiting time is now up to an hour. We’re forced to move on.
Knowing my love for all things sweet, Yappi brings me to Le Chocolat de H. It’s a supreme injustice to call it a chocolate shop because it looks more like a chocolate salon or some ultra-exclusive chocolate club. We enter and there’s a small seating area, and to the immediate left is a chocolate “viewing” room. It’s a room that’s “guarded” by a woman who lets in customers one at a time to ensure that the room is never crowded. What this chocolate viewing room is is a veritable trove of all things chocolate ”“ from truffles to designer chocolates glittering with gold leaf and shimmering with edible sparkles. I feel myself suck my breath in sharply as I survey the rows of chocolate bars wrapped in stiff black paper, their cocoa percentages proudly indicated, and I drool when I see a tall, slim bottle of thick brown liquid titled simply, “Tasse de Chocolat.” Have mercy!
Tuckered out from walking and feasting our eyes on such edible splendor, we nab a small table outdoors. I immediately zero in on the chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), but Yappi urges me to try the truffle plate and glass of red that comes with it. “It’s the way to taste chocolate, “ she tells me with quiet confidence.
The chocolat chaud is not as chaud (hot) as I think it should be and I’m immediately reminded of the exceptional hot chocolate beverages that I had in France. Still, there are things I eat solely for the experience. While I have not yet graduated to being able to fully appreciate a chocolate tasting accompanied with a glass of wine, I can’t help but feel like I’m sitting in the lap of luxury here in Le Chocolat de H. The dusk breeze is gently blowing and the ambient light surrounding us comes from the moon and some of the nearby shops’ glowing signboards. Goodness, I don’t think I ever want to leave Tokyo.