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Morikawa - unxpectedly as good as Matsukawa (at least for me)

Bu Pun Su | Feb 19, 201608:42 AM

Having a dinner at Morikawa was something that I had not expected. As I liaised with my favorite hotel chef concierge in Japan, I informed him that we would like to return to Matsukawa (he’s also the one who helped me to get a table there without any introduction from regulars a couple of years ago). Additionally, I told him about Morikawa too … with very low expectation. Alas, Matsukawa was fully booked but the pleasant surprised was that we had a confirmed reservation at Morikawa, another introduction-only restaurant in Tokyo that’s very secretive since there’s hardly any info about its address and phone number in the tabelog website.

Morikawa-san was an alumnus of Kyo Aji; he was working there for more than a decade and he certainly didn’t “embarrass” his master, Kenichiro Nishi. Consequently, there’re plenty of similar dishes though the execution and interpretation might not be exactly the same. Since we went there during the ultimate season of Matsutake, we ate lots of Pine mushrooms. It’s my favorite mushroom and of course I was ecstatic; I’ve never eaten more Matsutake in one meal than the one I had here.
-The 3 Matsutake dishes served here were spectacular. The grilled (close caps) pine mushrooms were cooked until golden. They’re the ‘sweetest’ and most flavorful version I’ve ever had
-The hotpot/nabe; Morikawa-san sliced generous amount of Matsutake, cooked some for us (including the hamo) and let us prepare the rest ourselves. The portion was more suitable for an a la carte version and its quality was as nearly good as the one I had at Kyo Aji
-Lastly, the ‘tempura’/deep fried Matsutake (taking the meatiest part from the pine mushroom) was superb - fragrant and delicious. Chef Morikawa served it with generous portion of Osetra caviar creating an explosive flavor in the mouth. Arguably, this dish provided the finest one byte I had in 2015

The sashimi dishes at Morikawa were also incredibly good. I thought I could not eat a better Tai than the one I had at Kyo Aji, somehow Morikawa-san’s version was equal if not slightly better. I had 2 raw seafood courses:
Spiny lobster sashimi served with wasabi = It was superb; arguably the best raw Ise ebi I've ever had. The clear flesh was plump, firm and a bit sweet; the cooked head/brain was delicate, delicious with some meat in it - a perfect combination with pleasant aroma and distinct flavor
Tai and Shima Aji sashimi with Iwatake = The sea bream was magnificent; a bit chewy but flavorful. The striped jack, due to its 'crunchy' texture, was cut differently; it was fresh and tasty. The 'rock' mushroom (only the 2nd time I ate this rare mushroom) had jelly-like texture and unique aroma.

I will let you see the more comprehensive review below for the rest of the dishes. The parts in which Morikawa was a bit inferior compared to Nishi-san were in preparing rice dish and desserts. Nevertheless, (for similar versions) they’re still more superior to anything I had in other Japanese places in Tokyo. In fact, as far as the food’s concerned, I would put my meal here among the top 3 restaurants in Japan – ‘better’ than Kitcho Arashiyama and equal to Matsukawa.

The dining room at Morikawa was opulent (by Japanese standard) and really roomy. The floor was covered with tatami-mat and felt comfortable while the wall had some pretty calligraphy. All guests had to take off their shoes prior to entering the dining room. The counter was long, the chair was comfy, and the distance between diners was spacious. It was a relatively quiet evening. In addition to us, there were a rich couple next to us and a few corporate guests in the private room. My wife explained to me why they’re really rich  the lady wearing a complete set of medium-size Van cleef’s Alhambra (necklace, ring, & bracelet) plus carrying a Hermes Birkin bag in alligator skin. In short, what she wore and carried easily were worth more than Usd 200K … Hmm, I did not remember if she had a diamond ring too

Anyway, our experience at Morikawa did not start too well. The chef-patron looked intense in the beginning when he served the 1st dish (the positive side, we began in style by eating Japanese hairy crab served in its shell); the situation became more awkward when I ‘shamelessly’ asked his permission to take pictures of our dishes. But, somehow at the end he decided that though normally it’s not allowed, this time he would make an exception for us – hooray! The ice started to break further when I correctly mentioned the ingredients in the first few dishes served to us; even the (rich) couple next to us was probably impressed too that they initiated some conversation with us. It seemed that he had a test for us to decide whether we’re ‘worthy’ to eat there.

The service took off on a higher note when Mrs. Morikawa began to be more pro-active and served us directly. She spoke decent English, delivered friendly and personalized high level of Japanese hospitality. In the middle of the meal onwards, Mr. Morikawa became more relaxed too; generally he’s not as shy as Matsukawa-san. He also tried to speak some English; appreciate the effort. We communicated even more with them (in a mixture of Japanese and English) – probably it’s also because we’re the only guests left at the time so the service was much focused. Even, at one point, Morikawa-san showed the pictures of his family including his 2 children from the iPad. What started as an intense atmosphere turned out to be a pleasant & happy situation. As part of Japanese custom, Mr. and Mrs. Morikawa also bid us farewell and were waiting in front of the entrance until we’re out of their sights.

Dining at Morikawa was ‘unique’ and rewarding. To be able to eat here, you would need some good luck. In addition, prepare for deep pocket as well as ‘thick skinned’. Initially, I expected to be treated rather poorly like my experience in Jiro Ginza, but was glad it was far better from that. Had they become more ‘open’, I would not see a problem for this place to get a 3-star Michelin. The dinner at Morikawa ranked as my 2nd best meal in the land of the rising sun – rather unexpected; only in Kyo Aji I had a more wonderful experience. This will be my last report from the Japan trip last year and thanks for having read (some of) them

Comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspo...
Dishes’ pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...

Morikawa,
Matsukawa,
Kyoaji,
Tai Kou Rou Jiyugaoka,
Gonpachi Nishiazabu
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