I like Sushi, but I love Kaiseki more. This is one of the main reasons why, given available time and budget, we only visited 2 elite sushi-yasan. In addition to Ishikawa, we ate at Matsukawa. When talking about Matsukawa (prior to our visit), 3 things came to my mind: 1st, introduction-only restaurant. Similar to Kyo Aji and Morikawa etc. newcomer needs to be invited by the restaurant’s regular patrons. Fortunately, Matsukawa did not apply this rule strictly or at least I got no problem when asking my hotel’s concierge to make reservation for us (perhaps, we could be lucky). 2nd, Michelin, go away please. Tadayoshi Matsukawa, the chef-owner, seems to be allergic to any publicity and media attention. For many restaurants, Michelin award can make or break their business. However, Matsukawa is confident with his cooking and happy with his current clientele base. 3rd, creating pure and simple washoku at its highest quality. Matsukawa-san, a former leading chef at Seisoka, is a master of preparing Japanese traditional cuisine. He selectively chooses the highest possible quality ingredients and apply minimal touch to these pristine produce to ultimately generate dishes with utmost refinement. There’s only one-menu available, but guests are welcome to notify their food preference and allergy (if any) in advance. Normally, Matsukawa will serve 10 courses before the desserts and tea.
The main highlights of my meals were:
- The Crabs: late Fall or early Winter is the main season for Japanese snow crab, and among them Taiza kani is arguably the most precious one. Matsukawa-san is the master of preparing crab dishes. My favorite was the owan mono. The soup, with clean and light dashi, contained a generous amount of delicious red snow crab. On top of it, there are a few slices of aromatic Matsutake mushroom and green yuzu to enhance the dish. Excellent! I can eat this soup every day. Apparently, this was one of Chef Matsukawa’s signature dishes and deservedly so. A strong candidate for the best dish in my Japan’s trip.
The other two crab dishes were: lightly cook Taiza crab (the meat and the eggs) prepared on its shell. It was fresh and exquisite. Matsukawa brought it to another level by creating a little sour sauce (a mixture of komezu, shoyu an dashi) on the side. Another fabulous crab dish was a lump of tasty crab meat served with creamy and flavorful kani miso. I even tried to scoop up this greenish sauce left with my chopsticks. I like Japanese snow crab very much - as much as I love Brittany blue lobster.
- The Sashimi: at first, I expected to eat Maguro or Tai, like what I often had in other restaurants. Our mukozuke happened to be more interesting: crunchy and fresh Filefish with its rich liver was very good; the red shell clam was deep in flavor and chewy but soft enough to bite through; blowfish ‘meat’ and its skins had great texture and refreshing when consumed with daikon and ponzu sauce; the ultimate sahismi for me was the beautiful spiny lobster – the meat was inhenrently sweet while the ‘Lobster’s’ brain was even more umami without any bitterness.
Honestly, there was pretty much no bad dishes here; I liked nearly all of them. The yakimono dishes were also excellent. I enjoyed the grilled Tai, Awabi and Mana-Katsuo. The rice might look simple, but each side dish was of high quality even the pickles and miso soup. The star was, of course, Ikura – I love when the roes’ burst and dish out immense flavor. Also, make sure to get Matsukawa’s signature dessert called Azuki bean jelly; under the light, this yokan turned semi transparent like a piece of art. Tastewise, it’s ethereal and incredibly delicate with the right amount of sweetness (Initially, this sweet was not part of the meal. I requested the waiter and the cook about it and was politely declined. I kept pressing on and asked Matsukawa-san himself who immediately prepared us this awesome yokan). A typical dish of Matsukawa: simple, pure and umami. For me, a meal here was a life-changing experience. I ate plenty of dishes with unique ingredients. Besides those mentioned above, for the first time I ate: Bottarga (robust and salty), Iwatake mushroom (rare and often associated with longevity), Konoko (intense brininess), Fugu shirako (soft and creamy) and Nametake (a decent mushroom). There are still plenty more dishes not yet mentioned and I will let you read my more detailed review if you really want to know all of the stuffs that we had.
By the way, I forgot to mention that I got so many different dishes because I came here twice. The first one was for dinner, seated at the counter. The second one was at lunch, seated at the private room (I reserved late, that’s why I could not get the counter that only has 6 seats) – a good way to have different experiences. I haven’t been to Matsukawa before and there was not that many (English) info available out there (at least I could not find any at that time). The 2nd booking initially happened because I could not find any good kaiseki restaurant for my lunch (sounds kinda crazy, right?). I would like to try either Esaki or Seizan, but neither opened for lunch on Thursday. Then, I decided that Matsukawa should be worth it for a 2nd meal within a week (L’Arpege and Le Louis XV were the other 2 restaurants having “the honor” where I ate there more than once during the same trip). After having fabulous dinner, it was an easy choice that returning here is a “must”. The service was overall good, but not in the Ishikawa’s league. They’re friendly and helpful, but hardly took initiative to re-fill our water, sake or change the hot ocha. Somehow I often found that kaiseki restaurants often have great service when the Chef’s wife/daughter acts as the “Okami”.
The true star of the service was actually the hospitable Chef Matsukawa himself. He’s modest, amiable and charming despite hardly speaking any English. We communicated with my limited Japanese and during dinner, fortunately there was one lady staff who spoke fluent English. When I stated that his restaurant was Tokyo’s best, he humbly refused and said that Kyo Aji was (still) the real Tokyo no 1. During lunch, Matsukawa-san came to our room twice to serve the dishes. After each of our meal, as we expected, the Chef, accompanied by 1 waiter, escorted us out and bid us farewell. Matsukawa might appear shy, but he surely possesses extra ordinary talents in preparing Japanese traditional cuisine: from sourcing out-of-this-world ingredients to consistenly producing sublime dishes executed with high precision. It’s almost certain that I would love to return here should I get a chance to visit Japan again in the future. The main challenge is probably: can Matsukawa outdo himself? It would probably be difficult especially if I visit outside Autumn season. For Kaiseki, it’s generally agreed that Autumn generates the best quality produces – at least, it’s true for me since I love snow crab and Matsutake very much. I doubt if I will like Ayu or Takenoko more. Matsukawa scores 98 pts for the food only perspective; it’s been a while since I ever bestowed such high score to any restaurant. The last time I did this, if not mistaken, was in 2010 for my meals at L’Arpege (due to Challan duck and Pigeon ala dragee), L’Ambroise (due to pastry containing black truffle & foie gras and (lightly cooked) scallop with truffle) and Gagnaire Paris (due to Turbot steak and Lozere lamb)
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