Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tokyo in 40: Dinner at Kanda

While my Tokyo weekend was not entirely about food, I did have a few restaurants in mind that I was eager to try this time around. After an extraordinary lunch at Den just a few hours ago, in the evening I went for dinner at Chef Hiroyuki Kanda’s namesake restaurant at Moto-Azabu. Chef Kanda-san is a legend on his own, having earned the 3 stars for his restaurant Kanda in the first Michelin Guide Tokyo and retained the accolade til now. But this is not the only reason I wanted to visit the restaurant. A few years ago we had a memorable meal at Tokushima’s Aoyagi owned by Chef Hirohisa Koyama, whom Kanda-san has worked under for over a decade before going on his own in 2004. So with the chef coming through the school of one of the chefs I admired most I am curious to see how their cooking styles compare.

The restaurant was located in a quiet neighborhood just a short walk from the Roppongi Hills complex – not wanting to get lost I took a taxi from Aoyama which wasn’t that far away. The entrance was discreet, just inside an unmarked residential building on the ground level, and inside was a cozy space with the wooden counter that can seat 8. Chef Kanda and his apprentice were the only ones worked behind the counter, with a few more inside the kitchen.

There’s no written menu available - I worked out my budget with the restaurant through the concierge in advance and chef took care of the rest. I began with a dish of matsuba kani (snow crab) with dashi jelly and pickles underneath and topped with a creamy sauce – a combination impossible to go wrong with, and the crab meat was outstanding, fresh with even a hint of sweetness. Next was chunks of white asparagus and peas with egg yolk and dashi espuma and sudachi zest, served in a small bowl. The espuma was delicious, but I thought the slightly bitter aftertaste from the white asparagus tipped the overall taste off-balance. That’s about the only fault I observed all evening.

Then a few more dishes came in order, each presented in unique pieces of antique ceramics and lacquerware. The kasugodai (baby seabream) sashimi was rolled with uni (sea urchin) and presented on an icebath with shiso flower, then it’s the broiled tai (snapper) with sprinkle of grated sansho. The cooked dish of snapper was the more impressive one – of course I didn’t expect any less from Chef Kanda in his handling of snapper coming from the school of Aoyagi with Naruto-tai being its specialty dish, and both the ingredients and the cooking were impeccable with the tinkling aftertaste from the sansho.

Then we moved a notch up in richness with two thick pieces of chu-toro served with a dab of freshly grated wasabi. The fat and taste balance was perfect with the generous spread of wasabi in each bite. After that it’s another warm course, this time it’s shinjo served with dashi in a lidded lacquer bowl with the spring flower pattern inside the lid. One might have mistaken the course was about the shinjo, dumpling made of the minced shrimp meat, peas and potato starch, but in fact it was the dashi which was the main attraction. It's deceptively full of flavor, not expected from such a clear broth made with only a simple set of ingredients. On top was thin slices of the crunchy woodear mushrooms which added to the texture, and contrasted well with the dumpling which was soft like a pillow with good umami taste.

A pair of sushi pieces were presented in succession - the aji (horse mackerel) in Kansei-style pressed sushi, and otoro (fatty tuna) with a brush of sauce as nigiri, followed by two "main courses". June marked the start of the prime season for Ayu, or sweetfish, and a pair of salt-grilled baby ayu was presented in an elegant "posture" on a bed of hatade (Japanese knotweed traditionally used for grilling ayu) in a smoking bamboo basket. Even looking beyond the rather theatrical presentation, the dish was still stunning. The fish was edible head to tail and the bones and innards – the skin was grilled perfectly, crisp and delicate, and the meat was infused with the smoky flavor with slightly sweet taste and the characteristic bitter aftertaste from the innards.

The other main course was beef tenderloin, slow-grilled, then slightly batter and deep-fried to get the crispy crust. Inside was tender, rich and juicy, again, cooked to perfection, almost making the mustard served on the side redundant. On the side was a simple salad of watercress with seaweed – looked simple but again, it was delicious whenever the freshest ingredients were used. After that was a dumpling well-wrapped in leaves, and inside was a rice dumpling with anago (sea eel). It’s another tasty seasonal course, with the rice well infused with the sauce from the grilled eel. I ended the meal with two desserts – first a hojicha icecream and then a mango jelly.

Went with two glasses of sakes of quite different style – I picked the kokuryu ginmai ginjo to start, which was probably of the lightest style of all other kokuryu bottles with a fragrant fruity nose but still with an emphatic rice taste which was its signature. I then went with a special bottle made exclusively for the restaurant from Housui brewery from Chef Kanda’s hometown Tokushima, which has an even more rounded, full-body note.

I sort of hope the meal would be revelatory, but let me be honest here - it’s not, at least not to the level I originally expected. Nonetheless, a few courses were memorable – the broiled tai, the shinjo with dashi and the salt-grilled ayu were the ones which particularly stood out. And I appreciate the chance to experience Chef Kanda-san's fine cooking at last.

More photos in my Flickr album:

When? June 3 2017
Where? Kanda, Calm Motoazabu, 3-6-34 Motoazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Menu Highlights? Salt-grilled Ayu
Kokuryu Jungin Junmai Ginjo, Kokuryu Brewery, Fukui Prefecture
Housui Ginmai Daiginjo (specially bottled for Kanda), Housui Shuzo, Tokushima Prefecture

The rest of my Tokyo weekend:

No comments :


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...