Thanks to many 'Hounds who gave me great advice, I had a fantastic 36 hours of eating in Tokyo! Here is my report on Aronia de Takazawa:
We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to try Chef Takazawa’s 11-course Autumn menu in November.
Aronia de Takazawa, located in a nondescript multi-use building in the Akasaka section of Tokyo, is one of the best restaurants on earth. It also ranks as one of the toughest tables to score on the planet. Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa, already a legend in the gastronomy world at age 35, is the obsessive, meticulous genius behind Aronia de Takazawa. On the night we went, he cooked for a total of four people. Just four. Chef Takazawa's obsessive quest for culinary perfection is admirable. It's also a lot of fun to watch, as he diligently prepares each dish at his stainless steel workstation.
Inside, an illuminated staircase, with the poetry of Joyce Kilmer highlighted on the side, leading up to a beautiful, sleek second-floor dining room.
There are only two tables at this restaurant. Only two.
A marble "egg" greets us at our place setting as we are seated. The "egg carton" is also made of marble!
The theme of the experience is "Enjoy Your Imagination" - Like works of art, each dish in our tasting menu is introduced, along with the year in which each dish was first created.
Amuse bouche pairing: Left: Kani miso (crab roe) and tachiuo (scabbard fish) with yuzu foam... Right: Potato soup spheres with white truffle. These were two inviting palate-opening starters to the evening. The essence of these potato soup spheres, when combined with another type earthy richness of the white truffle, is simply superb. Superb! Kani miso (crab roe), with eaten in the same bite as the tachiuo (scabbard fish) sashimi, along with yuzu foam, is a total revelation. So clean, and so complex!
Aronia de Takazawa is a champion of Japanese wines and spirits. We decided to go with a barrel-fermented 2008 Japanese chardonnay. Excellent! Crisp and just dry enough for our liking.
Ratatouille (2005): So colorful! This is Chef Takazawa's signature dish, and a staple of the restaurant since its inception in 2005. Fifteen (15) different fresh seasonal Japanese vegetables are each marinated and prepared in a different way (that would be fifteen different modes of cooking). Then, each vegetable is cubed and fused to one another to ultimately create this incredible vegetable mosaic. The dab of salt at the tip of the spoon is actually called magma salt, and is harvested from the rim of active volcanoes! It takes over 13 hours to prepare this one dish, and yet I'm told I must finish it in one bite. Yes, it is like a vegetable "orchestra", going full blast in one's mouth! The magma salt imparts a slightly sulfuric, smoky taste to the whole thing - Outerworldly!
Bread service: Fluffy, hot toasted carrot bread is presented with a chilled jar of creamy homemade rillettes de porc made from Okinawan Agu pork. The pork rillette is heavenly, and is the perfect accompaniment to the butter-toasted carrot bread!
Vegetables Parfait (new): Layers of green tomato puree, heirloom tomato puree, and mozzarella ice cream, topped with edible flowers and caviar... A straw is included, encouraging the diner to "mix it all up and drink it all in"!
Matsutake Spaghetti (new): Not actually pasta, the "spaghetti" are actually strands made from prized matsutake mushrooms! Kegani (Hokkaido hairy crab), another seasonal delicacy, accompanies this "pasta" dish. For this dish, Chef Takazawa has also added generous slices of matsutake mushrooms, and all of this is topped with uni (sea urchin roe)! The matsutake mushrooms are so fragrant! Truly, a taste of autumn in Japan. Large chunks of kegani (Hokkaido hairy crab) meat and huge Hokkaido uni (sea urchin roe)! Heaven!
Bacon EGG ? (new): This was an interesting and quixotic presentation... It is an illusion, because there is no actual poached egg here! The "poached egg" is really soy milk gelee, with a mashed kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) "yolk" interior! The "bacon" is also not really bacon; it is actually dried slices of jamon iberico de bellota (acorn-fed ham) from Spain! Cubes of makomodake (young bamboo shoots) and popcorn complete the presentation. This whole imaginative concoction is then given a drenching by potato soup - The taste combination is wild and so good!
Powdery Dressing (2006): A salad is presented, topped with saba (mackerel) and Inca no Mezame (purple potato). Balsamic dressing is subjected to extreme freezing with liquid nitrogen, then the sub-zero dressing (in powder form) is then immediately poured cold onto the salad! Marvelous! The balsamic powder "thaws" shortly thereafter, and the dressing's taste is "seared" into each bite of the salad... Interesting and inventive!
EZO - Venison Tar Tar (2010): Plated onto a mirror plate, this dish is gorgeous. Venison from Hokkaido, with fried garlic biscuit, with uni and white truffle on top... The venison was not gamey at all! Velvety texture, with the crunchy garlic cracker. Fantastic. Lots of truffle, too!
A 2010 Muscat Bailey A, from Nagano, goes well with venison!
Coffee Jelly with FOIE GRAS (new): Again, an illusion! There is no real coffee jelly here; instead, a kotake mushroom broth was cooled into jello cubes (resembling coffee jelly), then put into the jar with foie gras mousse! All this is then served with a white wine & mushroom "cream" poured over it! So rich! Smells so earthy and delicious! The aroma is amazing. The kotake mushroom broth cubes really do resemble coffee jelly! The white wine & mushroom "cream" alone would go great with any pasta by itself!
Hot Balloon (2008): A culinary plastic bag is used to make a rich seafood and mushroom broth. Gomahata (a type of grouper), and at least 5 different types of mushrooms are all mixed into this bag, which is stewed without losing any of the original juices. Chef Takazawa came over to our table and personally cuts the sealed bag open! The released aroma is overwhelmingly delightful! Black truffle, white truffle, tree fungus, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms... The broth is just incredible and so rich! And the gomohata grouper is among the tenderest bites of fish we have ever had. Fluffy flakes of perfectly cooked fish just melt in the mouth! So delicate!
Chef Takazawa starts grilling some beef…
For the next course, we chose a cabernet & merlot blend: A late harvest 2006 Chateau Mars from Yamanashi...
Dinner in the Forest - WAGYU (2009): Saga beef, chestnuts, fingerling potatoes, ginnan (ginkgo nuts) and a gooseberry branch, all served on a piece of hollowed-out cork tree, covered in flame-blasted cypress branch for a strong smell of a coniferous forest! This dish appealed to so many senses! The cypress branch is then removed, revealing the yummy morsels underneath! Chef Takazawa wants the diner to envision foraging for (exquisite) food in the wild - If only camping was like this! No utensils, please. In the forest we dine with our hands. Roasted chestnuts, seared Japanese beef, fingerling potatoes, and ginnan (ginkgo nuts) with salt. Roasted autumn chestnuts with mined salt - Marvelous! Fingerling potato! Cute! Actually this is mukago, a baby yam from the vine of the yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam). The wines go very well with the each bite, and adds further dimensions to the flavors.
A Yamabe Winery 2007 Niagara L'altitude de 700 sweet wine starts us off in our dessert journey - Tastes a lot like ice wine!
Saint-Maure (new): Another food illusion by Chef Takazawa! This is supposed to resemble Sainte-Maure de Touraine (a French goat's milk cheese with a black-grayish rind). But instead, it's actually not cheese, but rather Hokkaido goat's milk ice cream, coated with charcoal chocolate cake powder! Served with a demi-grape and berries, it is a wonderful dessert!
Takazawa's Special Camembert (2006): Resembling Camembert cheese, this dessert is, in actuality, a truffle cheesecake! This is served with a New Zealand Manuka honey ice cream and berry confiture. The truffle cheesecake is light and airy - Delicious. Manuka honey is made by bees which solely visit the manuka bush, and is only found in New Zealand. It is thought to contain some very powerful antiseptic properties. I just know it's really tasty as ice cream!
Aronia de Takazawa carries their own selection of special-blend teas! I chose something with lemongrass in it. Our server Akiko-san said I chose their "Hardworking" variety of tea. Hardworking, or hardly working?! The tea is well-brewed and very refreshing!
Petit fours! We actually got four petit fours! Each one is housemade, of course. Matcha (green tea powder) Cake, Coconut Meringue, "Salt & Pepper" Chocolate & Yuzu Marshmallow.
Even the restroom is photogenic here! Microsoft-billionaire-turned-mad-food-scientist Nathan Myhrvold, author of "Modernist Cuisine", gave a copy of his 5-volume tome to Chef Takazawa as a gift when he visited Aronia de Takazawa a few years back. Of course, with much humor intended, Chef Takazawa decides to put this seminal publication in the bathroom, as reading material. Grant Achatz, Chef at Alinea in Chicago, has also visited Chef Takazawa for inspiration!
Even the way the bill is presented is well-conceived...
It should be noted that service was FLAWLESS during this meal. An amazing experience, all in all... Chef Takazawa is so humble, and even signed the menu for us afterwards! "Gochisosama deshita, Chef Takazawa!" This was a life-changing meal!