Archive for the ‘michelin star restaurant’ Category

Sushi Sawada –
Type of restaurant: Sushi shop
Date and time of the meal: 20-11-2014 12:00
Address:  MC Building 3F, 5-9-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku  Phone: 03-3571-4711
Tabelog: 4.28/5
Michelin stars: 2
URL: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13001043/

NO PHOTO RESTRICTION

Picture taking is forbidden to normal diners as/per the house , therefore  no pictures were taken. No note-taking neither as I did not know whether that would offend the house’s staff, so I made a mental note of my appreciation of some of the sushi pieces which assessment was determinant in my overall rating of this meal.

***Here are the elements that my overall rating will take into account: (1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered  (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best).


Chef Sawada Koji‘ has long established his credentials as one of Tokyo elite Sushi Chefs, his  Sushi shop  is   a top  rated  restaurant  on Tabelog, Japan’s most important online community for local foodies.  Restaurant Magazine’s web site adding, and I’ll quote: ”’those in the know rank Sawada alongside better-known three-starred joints such as Mizutani and Sukiyabashi Jiro”.  I went there to enjoy the place and despite my generally less than enthusiastic report about the food, I could see why Sawada is highly regarded (It is, at this moment,  one of the  toughest restaurant reservations, as hard as Sukiyabaki Jiro Honten as/per  my hotel concierge — the concierge was ultimately not capable to book me a seat at  Jiro, but Sawada was indeed a really tough reservation ) :  it offers a relaxing journey that most of the other  elite Sushi shops failed to  deliver during this trip, the produce was generally of exceptional mention even by the high standards of its competition.  For those reasons, and only for those,  this dinner was my  preferred  ‘sushi experience’ in Tokyo. Had the food impressed me as much,  this would have been life shattering. This meal at Sawada was one of the last meals of  this trip,  therefore easier to compare to the earlier performances at the other sushi places.

FOOD REPORT:  Quick rundown of some of the many items that were offered (I did not take note of each of them, there were too many and I was  more busy enjoying my food rather than stopping all the time to reflect on them):

The highlights of this long meal (there were far more items than at the other Elite sushi shops) have been the sea urchin, which quality was easily the best of this trip (I have long familiarized myself with all sorts of sea urchin sourced from all corners of this globe and shall observe that those from Hokkaido –which Sawada San did serve of this evening — do rank among the most spectacular examples of sea urchin you’ll get to enjoy at a Sushi shop): Bafun sea urchin (less sweet than some of the finest sea urchin of California, but rich in taste, its vivid orange color so easy on the eyes, the taste divine), Murakasi (This sea urchin of mustard yellow color is one of my preferred sea urchin, its sweet taste so fresh in mouth). 10/10

Another highlight was the trio of tuna, in part because Sawada-san thought about the right way to stand out from his direct competitors: the tuna had more concentrated flavor as he has better aged his tuna. A beautiful touch was that   he did slightly grill his fattiest piece of tuna, where most of  the other elite sushiyas of this trip would offer it raw, allowing for the expected spectacular mouthfeel that rarely fails to come from grilled fat. 10/10

Ark shell clam (Akagai ) was  beautifully sourced (Sawada-san had, in general, the best produce of this trip with some items truly exceptional), elegantly  butterflied in typical upscale Sushi shop fashion. It is in the work of items like the Ark shell clam that you can really appreciate the vast difference between the finer vs lesser Sushi shops of Tokyo as the former’s extra efforts (in refining the texture) is admirable. This was almost as skilfully crafted as at the other elite sushiya of this trip,Mizutani,  the only reason I am not rating it with the ultimate score has to do with the fact that the  salinity of the rice stood, for me, as clashing a bit with the clam     8/10

Salt water eel (anago) tasted great, timely simmered, and its  quality I found even better than at Mizutani  (I won’t stop repeating it: the sourcing, here, is, in general, second to none and we are talking about this globe’s finest Sushi shops, so imagine!! ), Sawada’s preparation putting more emphasis on the natural delicate sweetness of the specimen’s flesh, keeping it simple,  whereas most of the other Sushi shops did add a bit of flavor intensity (for eg, at the other Sushi shops, the Salt water eel would  taste more of the tsume sauce that generally accompanies anago sushi, but at Sawada it’s the taste of the eel that stood out). As I prefer my seafood as unaltered as possible, Sawada’s approach suited me fine. However, I found, again, the white vinegar/salt portion of the sushi rice overpowering in a way that its saline intensity distracted from fully appreciating the salt water eel in its full glory. This was certainly – on its own —a great piece of anago, but it is also a piece of nigiri, which means the interaction between the rice and its topping should have been judicious.  7/10

Cuttlefish – Piece after piece, I was floored by the quality of his produce. As if he has suppliers that even the other Sushi Masters of this trip are not aware of. The quality of the cuttlefish was stellar, this time Sawada-San letting the cuttlesfish expressing itself at its best, the texture soft, the flesh retaining a nice chew. One of the best cuttlesfish nigiris of this trip. 8/10 (could have been a 10/10 had the slicing being as impressive as, say, Mizutani...there was also  the vinegar taste of the rice that clashed a bit with the cuttlefish in a way that it made the cuttlefish/rice blending tasting a tad superficial for my taste, but I’ll forgive  that one…it was lovely, highly enjoyable regardless of the downsides ).

Gizzard shad – Talking about exacting sushi pieces, this is another great example of just that. Gizzard shad is a demanding piece as each step of its preparation, from the curing, its slicing, having to cope with its strong natural flavor, everything should be flawless. It’s a fish that can be as rewarding as it can cruelly let you down. The thing about Gizzard shad preparation is that most won’t notice how great it is when it is well done, but one single mistep and you realize how challenging it can be to work with this fish.  As with all the seafood served during this meal, the Gizzard shad at Sawada was of superb  quality, but the effect of its preparation felt unimpressive to me as it tasted just a tad better than any other average Gizzard shad I have sampled in Tokyo, and certainly less spectacular than the one I had at Mizutani (At mizutani, the vinegar  flavor was so fresh and spectacular that it lifted the taste of the fish to palatable triumph, here the Gizzard shad  did not taste  as exciting) + the slicing of such fish should be precise,  but instead, a big part of the edges was almost dented! I am not saying that it is always like that at Sawada, I would not know as it’s my sole visit here, but that was the case during this meal and there’s no excuse for that at such level. 5/10

Hamaguri clam – The consistency springy as it should as/per hamaguri classic sushi prep standards, but the nitsume sauce a tad cloying and less enjoyable than at the other Sushi shops of this trip. The texture not vivid as those I had at the other shops in Tokyo (obviously a consequence of the prep method he used, which is most likely the aging of the clam). Take hamaguri clam, which in its traditional sushi preparation needs to be boiled. Then smoke it a bit, then let it rest at room temp and you’ll get to the exact same feel of my Hamaguri clam. Again, did he smoke it? age it? I did not ask as I do not want to sound / appear impolite to my Sushi Chef. I have heard about the tendency  of an increasing number of Sushi Chefs to age their seafood, and they do age some of their seafood at Sawada too. Alas, for my taste,  seafood’s texture and flavor is generally —-save for some sparse relevant examples  such as tuna/bonito  —, better expressed raw, especially for sushi. A long time ago, they were aging food because they had no choice, nowadays we find the idea attractive because we basically just love trends. Aging beef is a trend, nowadays, but it has its known limits (is meat still  enjoyable upon, let us say, 80 days ++ of aging??For me as well as for many serious Master tasters, it is not)  which, fortunately, most steakhouses are aware of. Aging seafood is sadly a theme that’s applied in a nonsensical fashion at most Sushi shops (around 90% of the aged seafood I tried at Sushiyas, even here in Tokyo,  epitomized the problem of trends:  too much style, little substance. It is one thing to know what seafood to age, it is disrespectful to the hard work of the fishermen  when you age every single seafood they have proudly ‘snatched’ from the floor of the ocean for you to appreciate the mother of all food –the seafood–  in its full natural glory….. ) . 5/10

Abalone was timely steamed to ideal palatable consistency (tender enough, with a nice chew), but Mizutani did better (7/10), bonito tasted great and was timely smoked although its quality was similar to what I had at the other places and honestly, it’s hardly a challenging piece (7/10), quality mackerel but which marination and seasoning failed at lifting its powerful flavor to the heights of palatable enjoyment attained at the other sushiyas (another exacting item where the genius expected at such high level needs to make a difference – Mizutani-san nailed this, alas not Sawada-san who had  not just one chance, but twice, as I had a smoked as well as a raw version of this piece of fish), a 6/10 for the mackerel (I had mackerel tasting as great at lesser Sushi shops in both the marinated as well smoked versions),  salmon roe (better than at the  other places 8/10).

Prawn – properly boiled and avoiding the common error to overcook the prawn –yep, I easily caught couple of   sushiyas  making this mistake in Tokyo—, BUT not as precisely sliced as Mizutani. Regardless, the quality of the prawn was superior at Sawada.  9/10

Omelette’s based cake (Tamago) in its ‘ sponge cake’ version – The elite sushiyas of Tokyo had in common this feature that  the refinement of their   tamagos is   simply unmatched outside of Japan.  But even better, the 2nd tier sushiyas that I  did visit in Tokyo  barely approached the 1st tier when it comes to  perfecting the texture and taste of the tamago. Excellent  texture and consistency of the cake and I can see why, some ppl,  judge some Sushi Chefs  by the tamago (if you go all your way to perfect such an apparently simple cake, then there is nothing more to add about your obsessive sense of perfection, lol –  A 9/10 for that tamago, but I’d give it a 10/10 had I not been a tad more impressed by the delicious tamago of Mizutani an (to set the records straight, Mizutani’s  tasted better  but Sawada’s had finer  texture).

Pros:  Leisurely and incredibly intimate ambience +  the fabulous sourcing of the ingredients (yeah …even by the high standards of the elite Sushi shops of this trip)!

Cons: At this level, I expect the most ‘challenging’ pieces of seafood, those that rely heavily on the best curing preparation/marination/knife skills/seasoning to express themselves authoritatively. That is exactly what Mizutani-san did. That is not what I have experienced at Sawada.  Furthermore, the precision in slicing seafood items like mackerel, gizzard shad,  and cuttlesfish  is a matter of the uttermost importance at this level. 

So,
1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered?  – Shari (sushi rice) comprised of a mix of white rice vinegar, as well as the usual salt and sugar. The problem is that the ratio of the salt was misjudged as the white rice vinegar mixed with the salt did, for my taste, impart  an ‘unatural’ kind of saline flavor to some of the seafood toppings, the anago nigiri being a perfect example of just that. This might sound nitpicking and most won’t play attention at such details, but restaurants of  this level, charging  those prices, do exist essentially for their patrons to be able to appreciate such subtleties (or else, just eat your sushi at any random entry level sushi shop).  Another quibble is that the rice was ‘one-dimensional’ in its construction (firm consistency throughout, on my visit), compared to what the other Elite Sushi shops have crafted, in the sense that the other Sushi shops did oftently offer an appealing (to the touch as well as on the palate) elaborate firm exterior/soft interior contrast that I did not experience during this meal at Sawada.  The sourcing  of the rice is uniformly exemplary at those great Sushi shops of Tokyo, Sawada’s is no exception, but I’ll stand by my observation about the seasoning of the rice and lack of complexity in the sushi rice (shari)’s construction.

(2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping? See previous point #1
(3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip?
Sawada-san can is certainly talented, or else he would not be considered as one of the best in Tokyo, and there are certainly plenty of other sushi shops in Tokyo that are doing worse . That said, Sawada-san is also considered as a world class  elite Sushi Master. Consequently, I’ll compare my appreciation of  his craft to those standards. And at such, solely on the back of this meal, I did not find his slicing skills to be as consistently precise/impressive as his peers, and I was left with the same impression about  his work of the textures (which were at times glorious, indeed,  but not always). On the bright side, he was consistent in maintaining  a perfect control of  the temperature of his food: during my meal there, he essentially went by the book, which means almost uniformly using body temp for the rice, room temp for the seafood topping. As for the taste, the overall was not as delicious as, say, the consistently mouth watering meal I just had at Mizutani but rest assured that everything tasted good (just not as consistently  delicious  as what came from the kitchen of some of his direct competitors, the mackerel –in particular—should have been the perfect opportunity to storm my palate, as the others did, but it was a non -happening during my visit).
(4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best)? Even by the already exemplary standards of those elite sushi Shops of Tokyo, some of his produce was exceptional.  Some of the other top sushi Masters of Tokyo can envy him for his beautiful produce. But for me, during this meal, he generally failed at extracting the most out of  his  exceptional produce in a way that his direct competition has managed to do,  during this trip.

””The sourcing is world class, but in the end, my meal at Sawada did not manage to leave an impression in the way that Mizutani did. To the contrary of many people, I do not mind Genius cooking (which is what sushi performance of this level, price tag and world class reputation, is supposed to be – Genius, in this case,  meaning an overall craftmanship that’s way above the standards that already exist and NOT some surreal /out-of-context vision of what food can’t be) to follow the course of hits and misses, but it has  to, ultimately, awe  me with an ‘impression of the spectacular’ that is capable to wipe all the misses and dominate the hits. That is what Mizutani-san did. Alas, Sawada-San did not walk in his steps (I was obviously not floored by Sawada’s seasoning + work of the texture of the rice as well as some of his sushis). At least the finer  sushis  managed  to convey how ingenious, often witty, the Master can be in his prime. I just wished he would express it more  consistently. Still, regardless of some of my severe observations, I fully enjoyed my time here and the journey remains one to never forget as the charisma of the Chef, coupled with a sense of place  and exceptional sourcing do  suffice in explaining why Sawada is oftently regarded as one of world’s finest Sushi shops”’. Obviously, and hopefully, my high  rating of  8/10 (see the section ‘overall food performance’) is a testament to my latest assertion.

SAWADA3

Overall food performance: 8/10  (Category: top tier Sushi shop in Tokyo)  in comparison to the other Sushi meals of this trip to Tokyo (for eg,  I prefered my meal at Sawada to those I had at Daisan Harumi/Sushi Oono/Sushi Sho/Sushi Iwa, but the meal at Mizutani had the edge). The essential is already written above (the section in red), so I’ll just add that  you SHOULD NOT start comparing my score of Sushi Sawada to — to take an example —  the scores of my Sushi meals outside of Tokyo –  we are in a completely different set of expectations and circumstances.

What do I think a week  later: In Tokyo, the ‘sushi shop spectrum’ regulates itself….the best produce are for a handful of elite shops like Sawada,Mizutani, Jiro,Saito. The second tier shops and the rest will  have to fight hard to get good seafood, rice, etc. The huge advantage of Sawada is that a journey under this roof  does  boot with spectacular produce. That, alone, explains why many have been impressed by Sawada.

Restaurant: Dons de la Nature
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 1 Chome−7−6, B1F
Phone:+81 3-3563-4129
Cusine: Steakhouse (serving only one type of meat: Purebred Wagyu)
Date/Time of the meal: 19-11-2014 18:00
Michelin stars: 1
URL: http://dons-nature.jp/

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Dons de la Nature is widely considered  as one of Tokyo’s finest steakhouses. Which means that, here, you are exempt from the laughable mis-identification of the meat, a sad recurrent feature  at plenty of steakhouses around the globe. At Dons de la Nature, when they tell you they have Kobe beef, then it is the real one that  comes from Kobe in Japan (and not from elsewhere),  and when they say Wagyu,  then it is TRUE PUREBRED Japanese beef and they will tell you from what region in Japan.

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Traceability is taken seriously here. Wagyu beef is  usually (usually, I wrote, not always) fed on rice straw which is essential for achieving the high level of  intramuscular fat as well as whitening the marbled fat. The slaughter occurs in between 23 to 28 months.

THE FOOD:

I took no starter, fearing that the steak would be filling.

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The meat  available on the day of my visit was  Wagyu from the Oki Islands, (there was a choice of a highly marbled sirloin,  as well as tenderloin — for my taste, Sirloin features the  characteristics I am looking for when eating Wagyu as it’s not lean like tenderloin, the flavor certainly more expressive compared to tenderloin).

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Oftently, in Tokyo, steaks are cooked on an iron griddle (teppanyaki), but here, at Dons de la Nature, they grill it over charcoal (my  preferred cooking method for steak), no ordinary charcoal that is (they use the highly praised Binchōtan charcoal) ,  inside a kiln.  From such steakhouse, there’s not much to say about the basics (as expected, they get the requested doneness right, medium-rare in this case, the seasoning, although simple — a bit of salt — is judicious, the nice crust on the outside that most steak aficionados favor nowadays is achieved beautifully , and the kitchen  clearly knows how to delicately handle a meat of such extensive fat marbling ),

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so what I was looking for was how far the extensive marbling could impress in flavor. Unexpectedly,  the umami  kick  that the  media and plenty of online accounts have praised  continues to elude me (this was the 3rd Wagyu tasting of this trip, having tried Matsusaka a day prior, then Sanda) .Well, YES the umami dimension is  definitely there (afterall the effect of the marbling has to be ultimately felt)  but I get more exciting umami flavor from most   40 to 45 days perfectly dry aged corn-finished prime Black Angus cuts …that have less marbling.  I also do not get the comparision to  foie gras (a common comparison) that I oftently hear about. Do not get me wrong:  this is   quality red meat, that is for sure,  the fat much more delicate in taste and texture in comparison to a fatty cut of Black Angus, but at the end of the count …it is just not as flavorful.   I admire the  quality of Wagyu beef, but for the enjoyment part ..nah,sorry…I (my palate) just do not get it. This was a  6/10, at best, for me  (Grade: A5/  Breed: Japanese Black Wagyu from Oki Islands, 30 days of wet aging  + 30 other days of dry aging )

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The Chef’s wife has suggested to pair the steak with a glass of Camus Père & Fils Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru 2001. This is a wine that scores high on paper: exceptional soil, exceptional vintage, too, as 2001 is one of the very best years of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine.  But the wine I was having had barely any structure (surprising for a wine known for its complexity), the wine devoid of the mouthfeel expected from a grand cru, the finish disappointingly short. Furthermore, this glass of wine was so dry that it clashed with the flavor of the meat I was having. Dryness is a characteristic of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine, but but this was way too dry to be enjoyable. This is an instance where you need a wine with silkier tannins/rounder palate.

Pros:  Wagyu is so praised outside of Japan that there are no shortage of marketing manipulations to call pretty much everything that looks like meat… Wagyu.  You therefore really appreciate the moment when you get to enjoy the real thing on its very own land, which is exactly what Dons de la Nature offers.

Cons:   Wine pairing to a steak is expected to be a highlight at a steakhouse. It has to.

How influential is buzz (buzz about Wagyu is obviously..epic ) and  scarcity (it goes without saying that, at those prices, it is impossible for the most to enjoy Wagyu on a regular basis) in your enjoymentof your food? No one will ever know, and only people with interest in the industry should care about such questions. The only thing that I know is that Wagyu,  the real thing… any meat lover should try it at least once as it  is  one of those rather unique experiences that you’ve just got to  try. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it better than I did….

Service: Very intimate, very very friendly. The wife of the Chef is very enthusiastic. It is much more informal than at most of the steakhouses that I have been to.

My verdict and conclusion:  I won’t rate this house as I do not want my aversion to Wagyu to influence my opinion about Dons de la Nature.  But Wagyu, you my friend….even at the same cost as my favourite Black Angus steaks, there is simply no way I could appreciate you. I respect your legendary reputation but for me, it is clear  that your scarcity creates your value. Yes, you are beautiful to espy (I have rarely seen marbling of such striking beauty), but for my palate, you are not even half as flavorful as an expertly dry aged prime cut of Black Angus. And I just gave you 3 chances right here on your own lands! I even  ensured to lower my expectations (I had none, to tell you the truth) and I did erase  any notion of price from the equation so that the assessment’s  focus is on what matters most:  the flavor!!!.

What I think weeks later: That Wagyu is my all-time biggest disappointment on the aspect of food, that is life and I can deal with that. What struck me most was how the praises about its superlative flavor had absolutely nothing to do with what I have enjoyed. If the flavor of meat is going to be almost as subtle as the one of tofu….then I’ll take the tofu! Meat needs to be flavorful no matter how hard you have worked its quality.

Restaurant: Ishikawa
Address: 〒162-0825 東京都新宿区 神楽坂5−37 高村ビル1F
Date and time of the meal: 18/11/2014 17:30
Type of cuisine: Kaiseki
Phone:03-5225-0173
Tabelog: 4.33/5
Michelin stars: 3
URL: http://www.kagurazaka-ishikawa.co.jp/

Ishikawa (1)Kagurazaka Ishikawa is a well known kaiseki house in the area of Shinjuku (Shinjuku is vast, though, so keep in mind that if you stay close to the Shinjuku JR station,  Ishikawa is really NOT in the vincinity….;p). They have been operating for 11 years now. Chef Ishikawa explained that he comes from a part of Japan where the rice is of exceptional quality (yagata?? I am not familiar with Japanese names but it sounded like that), so he plays particular attention to the handling and preparation of  the rice (at a place like Ishikawa, you realize that rice is an ingredient that we, in the West,should  take seriously as great rice is not … just rice, indeed). The service here is world class (couple of waitresses and some few chefs) and the decor tasteful.    I tried to discretely take the pics of my food, discretely I insist  as  Japanese do not like that sort of distraction, especially in such intimate settings (in some of the restaurants that I will visit later on, photo taking is banned— at Ishikawa they are so nice that they won’t tell you anything,  but play close attention at the behavior of the other patrons and you’ll get what I mean ) , so as I usually do, out of respect to the privacy of other diners, I refrained from taking pictures of the room when it was full of patrons.

Ishikawa (2)Kaiseki is my favourite type of Japanese meal for its strong focus on all sorts of seasonal produce. It is also the kind of meal that I do approach with a lot of anxiety (positive / constructive anxiety that is),  because I remember that I, too, come from a country with food of deep and extreme nuances/subtleties/complexity , therefore condemned to be oftenly  mis-interpreted / mis-judged because as diners, we  mostly have no time with how things are supposed to be,  rather interested to expect things to be what we want them to be . I remember, couple of years ago, inviting a long time food journalist/cook/experienced foodie to eat a dish of cassava leaves cooked in coconut milk. A dish of the kind that I like a lot since its description is ordinary, its execution pertains to a totally different registry. In facts, you need to find the proper cassava leaves, cook it for at least 6-7 hrs with the right amount of quality coconut milk (popular in some African cuisines ) and its final taste will depend on your palate and ability to keep enhancing the flavor with as little as coconut milk, water, garlic, onions, salt , your leaves and deep understanding of how fire can impart sublime taste to your food. I ensured that a long time experienced cook, a granny actually, cooked it, because I wanted that friend to start with a version of that dish cooked  by “hands and a palate ” of considerable  experience. That friend/foodie/cook’s verdict on that day was straightfoward: it’s bad, it is just leaves that he  would have boiled, nothing more and that all the attention to details and long time cooking was pure Bullshit. The granny was upset and accused that dude of ignorance.  Both reactions were expected, but  I simply asked my friend to try, as much as he could, to remember that supposedly ‘disgusting taste of simple boiled leaves’ but …since he loves food…. to keep his mind open and give a chance to that dish, wherever he finds it. But more importantly, to do it himself and try replicating that exact memory of taste. 10 years later, this is the dish that my friend admires the most, cooks the most, etc. Of course, this sounds like a fairy tale   — I know, i know …. we are ALL mostly pessimistic by nature,  and tend to be  bored with  nice stories lol — but there’s a reason I brought the “fairy tale” here:  Kaiseki suffers from the same faith…its complexity, its depth, its purpose  is not always  evident, especially for non Japanese palates/tastes.  Even for someone like me who has cooked seriously for almost two decades, and have  studied and practiced a lot with the nuances of Japanese fares for the past 3 years (it was  important for me to spend some time learning/understanding/practicising with one type of cuisine before starting to assess it) , I had to go out of my way in understanding one important element:  the work of the texture and exceptional focus on the details  is for the Japanese leading Chefs far more important than how it is valued elsewhere.

The food report:

Blanched blowfish tossed with Japanese herbs, grated white  radish sauce.  Basically a julienne of  veggies with morsels of blowfish. Tasty, but not a testament to high level kaiseki cooking  ( ordinary for a restaurant of this reputation) as it lacked a sign or two of restaurant quality brilliance (anyone could pull out this sort of ordinary flavors , in an effortlessly way ) . 6/10

Ishikawa (3)

Deep fried shitake mushroom with minced Japanese duck,sliced duck breast, dried shitake mushroom: the quality of both the duck and the mushroom was impressive, but there was more. There was technique (the cooking of both the duck and the mushroom superbly achieved in letting the deep meaty flavor of the duck expressing itself, the mushroom timely roasted so that its earthy flavor is left unaltered while the mushroom is cooked enough and nicely seasoned to spectacular mouthfeel ) and an inspired touch (it is easy to extract decent flavors out of  duck and mushroom, but harder to  get duck and mushroom complementing each other this well. Exciting 10/10

Ishikawa (4)

White miso soup with savory rice cake. The quality of the ingredients continues to be, as I’d expect from a restaurant of this reputation, of the highest order. Such comment also applies to the technical execution of the food: as mastered as it gets ,meaning the balance of flavors is spot on, seasoning judicious (never too salty, never bland). The beauty of great kaiseki cooking is to extract the most out of the least, and that is what they’ve accomplished successfully: deep ,  balanced, delicious  and complex flavors out of a simple rice cake and miso soup. Miso soup is one of those things that escapes attention when done well but which failure you will quickly notice, so it is easy to take such great work of this soup for granted . Excellent Miso soup like this one I was sampling is a rare treat,even in Tokyo, as I came to realise. 9/10

Ishikawa (5)

Sea bream sashimi . I am not too sure what one should expect from seabream. There’s no exceptional seabream flesh, there are just great and bad ones. This was of the great sort. The quality of the seaweed high. As great as ..great fresh seabream flesh tastes.

Ishikawa (6)

Seared Ise Lobster with vinegared soya sauce – quality lobster, one piece served raw (sashimi), the other seared. The quality of an ingredient is always half the battle/ the quality of this lobster was high. There was  a true fresh taste of the sea when eating the raw lobster, which was a reminder that no ordinary lobster was served. Then you had the charcoal grilled piece, which did not fail to remind that quality seafood cooked using a flavor-enhancing cooking method like charcoal grilling does ultimately water the mouth. Delicious as one would expect,the soya sauce is,of course, of the non ordinary sort  8/10

Ishikawa (7)

Charcoal grilled horsehead snapper flavored with salted bonito innards sauce is a technique that I will steal from them as I love charcoal-grilling fish at home (using a hibachi charcoal bbq grill) but I was looking for new ways to enhance the natural flavor of charcoal grilled seafood. Bonito innards sauce is exactly what I was looking for: a distracted palate would think that you’ll get the same palatable impact using just salt .Well,no…there is indeed an impression of  ‘that is easy to replicate’ when flavoring fish with salted  bonito innards sauce, but the level of the  complexity of the resulting flavor is not that easy to emulate. This sauce matched beautifully with the snapper.  Whether it is street food or fine dining, I do not have  unrealistic expectations when it comes  to charcoal grill seafood. I just expect an exceptional understanding of what makes a simple piece of fish ..tasting great! Which is what they did. Superb  9/10

Gluten bread with walnut and dried sea cucumber . The sea cucumber oceanic flavor, striking (in a very very good way). I am usually accused of being very conservative about drying / and or dry-aging seafood, but that is because I find that seafood drying   and/or drying aging is oftently misunderstood (you really need to know which seafood is truely enhanced by such process ). This sea cucumber was timely dried, the exciting mouthfeel and aromas are a testament to its high  quality and this is an instance where drying seafood  adds — rather than substracting — to the pleasure of eating food.  8/10

Ishikawa (8)

Fresh water eel was flawless in all aspects: top quality eel, the tsume sauce highly enjoyable both in texture and taste, the mashed taro packed with vibrant fresh earthy flavors. As it is the case with all the other offerings, the ingredients are complementary BUT in an inspired/thoughtful/witty  way (only the 1st offering tasted and felt like an ordinary assemblage of food items). Flawless. 9/10

Ishikawa (9)

Hot pot of snow crab, tofu and seasonal vegetable. That the ingredients would remain of very high quality was not a surprise anymore,  so it’s in the work of the broth that I had high expectations. They were met: the broth had depth/complexity, its taste exciting.  A world class hot pot, with a benchmark tofu (I am a huge fan of tofu as it is one of those little things that is easy to overlook but that can marvel when executed masterfully ….the tofu,here, impossibly soft, its taste not bold at all and yet so revealing in subtleties) . 10/10

Ishikawa (10)

Steamed rice, seabream paste and pickled vegetables. I won’t rate this dish as my opinion is sadly..biaised.Biaised because the seabream paste was reminescent of our canned tuna in the western world, therefore I am unable to appreciate that seabream paste as I wished … because I can’t genuinely get excited about flavors and texture of this sort. Needless to stress that there is no fault here (it’s one perfect legit version of a  seabream paste), just a clash with a personal perception. What I will do,though,is NOT to overlook the star of this dish, the rice. Again, the Chef seemed to have mentioned Yagata (???) — correct me if I am wrong — as the place of origin of his rice. This, to put it boldly, was spectacular rice with superlative flavor and texture. That he steamed his rice like a master at his craft is not the sole reason behind that incredible bowl of rice  (10/10 for that benchmark rice). At some point, they transformed the dish into their take of the ochazuke dish (combination of green tea/steamed rice) which, on this instance, combined the spectacular rice, a perfect broth, nori, the seabream paste and sesame seeds. The overall was tasty.

Ishikawa (11)

Sweet red beans,Yuzu citrus ager and cream cheese with toasted wafer featured quality red beans which sweetness is not overwhelming but judicious, the yuzu citrus ager flawless in texture and adding necessary acidic balance, the cream cheese is a far better version of the standard cream cheese as its soft consistency coupled with superb lactic mouthfeel did stole the show . It is easy to overlook simple ingredients like those (red beans, cream cheese) as  they are oftently taken for granted, therefore we tend to be uninvolved when we use them. This dessert was a reminder that doing so (underestimating such humble/common   ingredients) is a mistake as cream cheese/red beans/yuzu citrus ager  done this well and tasting this good can be exciting.   8/10

Verdict: 8/10 (Category: top tier Kaiseki in  Tokyo)  Kaiseki cuisine (in this case, Chef Ishikawa’s take on it) is very simple in appearance, thefore it can sometimes  gives the wrong impression  that it is hard to get excited about,  but  its  subtleties can  reveal a lot more than what its first impressions may suggest. Ishikawa was about that, and much more: great service , a sense of place, ingredients of the highest quality and more importantly …. a great sense of taste. Ishikawa has an understanding of flavor combination that floats my boat (always that little inspired touch that imparts either surprise or joy in mouth,for eg the rice cake of the miso soup –not the classic texture of rice cake, rather a texture close to marshmallow and it happened to be more effective than the other sorts of rice cakes in its intent to surprise/please. Or a zest of orange skin that tentalized and added a thoughtful kick to the snow crab’s broth ). I loved Ishikawa.

What I think weeks later: That rice, that rice …I do not know if their rice is always that stellar, but the one I was having was like no other rice.

Takara, Montreal

Posted: November 3, 2014 in michelin star restaurant
Tags: ,

Takara
Cuisine: Japanese
Address: 1455 Rue Peel, Montréal, QC H3A
Phone:(514) 849-9796

Takara is located in the luxurious shopping mall of Les Cours Mont Royal. The restaurant has an elegant dark-wooden interior decor, certainly upscale for a Japanese restaurant in Montreal.

My food:

Takara, Montreal - Miso soup

A bowl of Miso soup (in its light version) was well made, the dashi (stock) of good quality, the seasoning flawless and its taste great, one of the better  bowls of Miso I ever enjoyed in Montreal. 8/10 by Montreal standards (as ever, not to be compared with what’s done abroad BUT this was properly achieved. PS: Miso soup has the reputation to be easy to make, and it is indeed easy, but as with anything that is easy …it is easy to make a decent one…hard to make a great one and that one was as great as a bowl of miso soup gets in Montreal) –

Takara, Montreal - Sushi

Then an assortment of nigiris and makis. Unmemorable, I am afraid: the makis poorly conceived (lacking in craftsmanship, the rice crumbling easily ). The seafood was not bad, not great neither. This was part of their lunch special, so probably this would have fared way better in the evening or outside that special. 4/10

Takara, Montreal - Eel

Barbecued eel (Unagi) was decent with nothing to rave about, no quibble to raise neither, though still nicely meaty in consistency and fresh tasting (no fishy-ness at all), the glazing sauce having great color while avoiding cloying texture. I prefer bolder chargrill flavor with my unagi, and a glazing sauce with extra depth, but this was   not bad at all.  7/10 by Montreal standards

Conclusion: 6/10 as my personal overall impression of this lunch special (they had couple of lunch specials, at  less than $20 /  my lunch special + 1 beer did  cost me slightly less than $30). I  have heard that they are doing better than this outside of that lunch special. As for the score of this lunch, it’s really the quality of the Miso soup that I was having as well as proper preparation of that unagi that weighed in the balance, or else it would more accurately have been a 5/10 meal in my assessment.

The Deli, Montreal’s forte (alongside other local staples like the poutine, cheesecake) as it is  virtually impossible to elect  the smoked meat by which you’ll  judge the other smoked meats in town:

You  need to try the major delis of Montreal, those most Montrealers usually consider as pertaining to their tier1 and tier2, which are the usual culprits: Schwartz‘s, Reuben’s, Smokemeat Pete’sThe Main, Jarry Smoked meat, Dunn’s, Snowdon Déli, Lesters, etc.

You have to try those since they can be really different from each other’s (the seasoning, the quality of the rye bread, some prefer rusticity, others opt for  refinement )  and the differences will tell you how inaccurate it is to hastily elect one smoked meat as the ultimate One.  As an example: isn’t that tempting to associate dry brisket with failure? Well, if you do so, you could be wrong because some have their dry brisket perfectly balanced by either seasoning or the perfect amount of mustard kick that would make the whole less exciting had that same  brisket been moist. The preparation can be completely different from a place to  another as some cover their brisket with spices, others do not, some have their meat easily breaking apart (considered as authentic to some), others do not (and that does not mean the brisket is less good..obviously),etc.  And examples of that sort abound and remind us  that you should not anticipate anything that sounds off-putting  as necessarily bad when it comes to the smoked meat.

I went back to one of Montreal’s major delis, Reuben (the one on 1116 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest) after two years of no show. As soon as you enter the place, the attention to details jump to your eyes: this will be about refinement (for a deli in Montreal) all the way -> the art-deco inspired interior design is not overly flashy but  this is clearly Montreal’s best looking deli as far as décor is concerned, the staff looks good and is dressed well (again, by Deli standards).

ImageSliders ($20) rank  among the priciest sliders that I had in Montreal, but they  were also the finest ones I ever had in town since a long time. Amazing  textures and flavors, the bun beautifully leavened, the beef expressing flavors like few sliders in town do. Not one single flaw to be noticed: dry? NO, try ‘savourishly juicy’ instead! Tired looking bun? NO, more accurately of the ‘beautiful glossy golden’ color kind  with soft fresh risen dough. I had my share of sliders since the beginning of the year  (Le Hachoir, Bier Markt, Boccaccinos , etc), but those at Reuben’s fared far better to me. I have  no clue if Reuben’s sliders are always as impressive on a regular basis but  you’ll hardly get better sliders than those I was enjoying, even on gourmet tables, in town 9/10

French fries came with the sliders (you’ll be surprised by the laughable number of places that serve their sliders with nothing else), and their texture was great. They were not served enoughly hot, but that could have been intentional as to not burn your tongue ….I don’t know, I did not ask. Just guessing. Regardless, those were good French fries that would have been startling ones with extra heat and more expressive potato flavor. 7/10

ImageI went on with their 10 oz ‘famous super sandwich” (that’s how it’s called on their menu) – Ordering the smoked meat been obviously the main reason I came here. On their web site, they state that ‘’ Each plate is expertly hand-carved to order and served steaming hot”””, which was not just a statement but also an evidence. The quality of the meat, fresh rye bread,  and the genuine artisan skills at play are admirable here, but I found even more impressive the fact that they managed to deliver a gourmet-quality sandwich (great mastery in refining every aspect of the smoked meat: for eg, no bold seasoning at all, no aggressive mustard flavor, no overwhelming rich fatty brisket even with their fattier  smoked meats..AND YET, the balanced and controlled flavors are very enticing, tasting fresh and delicious)  without losing the soul of  its rustic version. I am saying this because many fans of the smoked meat do sometimes associate genuine smoked meat with messy fatty brisket or with dry over-seasoned one (try all the major Délis in town and you’ll get what I mean…but again, as I wrote earlier on, what sounds off-putting is NOT  necessarily a failure when it comes to smoked meats). Well, Reubens proves them wrong. Excellent  9/10

Last, I had their strawberry cheesecake (of the North American sort, of course), the strawberry not overripe nor undeveloped, served at timely ripeness, its  taste consequently savourishly fruity, its appearance of the fabulous deep red kind,   the cream cheese packed with a great kick of fresh lactic flavor, gorgeously sweet and tart sensations mingling together.  This is a speciality of Montreal, so many places are doing a great one but Reuben’s is largely one of the finest strawberry cheesecakes you’ll get in town. A flawless cheesecake in terms of the technical conception  as well as for the palatable enjoyment  9/10

Pros:  The refinement of their smoked meat generates a mouthfeel effect that’s as enjoyable as those of any  rich and flavorful rustic takes on the smoked meat. Another admirable feature is to observe that doing more than just smoked meat (steaks, burgers, etc …which WE Montrealers usually do not want from our  Delis…we want our delis to just focus on the smoked meat)  substracts nothing to the quality of those smoked meats. Furthermore, they don’t just do an excellent smoked meat but they also perform well when it comes to the non-déli items as demonstrated by sliders that had the edge over other versions found at  places specializing in burgers.  This is one of the few places in Montreal that seem to suffer from virtually no inconsistency (Bottega do share that feature with Reuben’s ).

Cons: The gentleman (40ish, relatively short, bald) serving us was polite, but I felt a bit rushed. Now, I live in Montreal  since a long time so I know where such thing should be treated as perfectly expected/normal, which was the case here. The reason I do mention this is because some people, especially from outside Montreal, could have a different interpretation of this. So here we go: there’s nothing wrong to that and I could have just asked him to slow down a bit.

Verdict – 9/10 (Excellent) in  its category (Deli). It’s being a long time that I live  in North America, and delis I have visited and re-visited. There will always be plenty of contradictory opinions about what the perfect Deli should be, and mine is that  Reuben’s is the  perfect all-rounder deli : refined and yet enjoyable, great cooking skills, nice décor, etc.      REUBEN’S DELI   1116 Sainte-Catherine W. Montreal, Qc 514.866.1029  http://reubensdeli.com/ – Visited on Wednesday March 19th 2014 18:00

***René Redzepi’s restaurant, Noma, is moving to Japan  for 2 months in 2015 http://noma.dk/japan/

***The revenge of the Sriracha sauce…- The Sriracha sauce, that sauce we thought condemned to humble oriental eateries…well, guess what..it seems to be the new trendy ingredient at many  restaurants   in town …  omg, who would have predicted that one? Next, I hope that the piri piri enjoys such fame too, lol. Anyways,  it is not my type to overlook /under-estimate  anything so I am not too surprised by the the Sriracha’s  rise to fame

***The Cabane à sucre of Chef Martin Picard‘s team continues to be an exciting of its genre. Many Chefs are now mimicking Chef Picard’s initiative but  whatever this man does …simply stands head and shoulders above anyone else’s actions because he is not interested to act different for the sake of being different, he is just different for real and this transpires in the very inspired form that his initiatives take. Any country needs a Chef like Martin Picard!

***Kyo maintains the bar high in regards to quality isakaya by Montreal standards, a surprise for me given that they do not benefit from the incredible popularity that some other restaurants are enjoying. My last meal there (click here) was another successful performance and their Chef, Chef Ding, is clearly one of the few genuine talents of this city.

***Another visit at Gourmet Burger on Bishop street (in Montreal)  and the Burger is still as delicious as I remember it from last time. Clearly my favourite burger in town. It’s a bit pricier than the average burger you’ll find in town, it is NOT t going to decrown any of the finest burgers that our US neighbors are munching on,  but it is certainly a burger that Montreal can be proud of.  My review of that  first burger there can be found here.

***Went back to my favourite ramen-ya in Montreal, Ramen Misoya and … this time the performance was inferior to what I’ve experienced on the last 3 visits, the ramen simply less pronounced in flavor and the texture less remarkable. Despite the less than impressive bowl, they remain, in my opinion, Montreal’s best bowl of Japanese ramen.

 

***Brazilian Chef Helena Rizzo named World’s Best Female Chef for 2014 . Chef Rizzo used to be a model and architect. She is currently at the helm of restaurant Mani Manioca in Sao Paulo, a restaurant balancing  contemporary innovative Brazilian fares with a deep respect of its traditions.  http://www.manimanioca.com.br/index.html

***World star Chef/restaurateur  Alain Ducasse has published a book on his favourite food destinations in London, UK . See here.  Monaco, Paris and New York also have also been covered by Chef Ducasse in other books already available in stores.

***A book on wines is making the headlines these days,  revealing lots of gory details about the wine industryIsabelle’s Saporta Vino Business.  Clearly the most controversial book (about wine)  since a long time. Check that out.

***Chef Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen nightmare  TV program is going to focus on UK Chefs around Europe. Click here, for more.

***Omnivore is a true revolutionary initiative  with fresh approaches/views on  the worldwide food /restaurant scene. Check out their latest publication.

Kyo 711 Côte de la Place d’Armes, Montréal, QC H2Y 2X6 (514) 282-2711 http://www.kyobar.com

UPDATE

I went back on July 10th 2014 as well as at the beginning of September 2014. Chef Ding was not at the helm when I was there, on both occasions, which usually did not make a huge difference, in the past, but the difference was felt this time. I basically picked an assortment of sushis which was pretty to espy, as usual, but the bold marine kick of the versions I had before, especially when Chef Ding is at the helm, was replaced by subtlety (for eg, red tuna was not bad but not as exciting in mouth as on my last visit here, octopus retained a nice chew, which is what I prefer as it reminds us of the natural condition of this jewel of the sea but I could taste the sea the last time I had it here. In comparison, it took me couple of chewing, this time, to really realize that I was eating octopus, mackerel was again, not bad, but it was exciting the last time I was here) .  Overall, an Ok food performance (6/10) compared to the 8/10 of my previous visit here, with a tuna tataki sampled in September that went even below that score (5/10) for the tuna tataki as the tuna flavor was not present, the tataki preparation not as superb as under Chef Ding’s supervision, seasoning unexciting . Perhaps just a slight drop off on both visits (compared to what I am accustomed to, when Chef Ding is around) as the service is as great as ever and  the desire to do well is intact.Even  Kazu , my  other #1 Isakaya in town, had sometimes some less than exciting meals to offer, which is the proof that after all, there’s not one single  restaurant –as great as it might stand — that can excel day after day. As long as this  does not turn into a habit, I’ll understand…………

Review of my meal on Thursday March 13th 2014, 18:00:

Since its opening last year, I have visited Kyo a couple of times. For me, their Chef, Chef Terrence Ding, is clearly one of the few true talents of Montreal not only for his  ability to deliver  some of this city’s  finest oriental bistrot bites (taste good, look good, done well)   but also because he manages to do it consistently. The only time I felt a slight slip in standards (though, if you would not have experienced with Chef Ding’s cooking you would  have not noticed the  difference) is when he had a day off, but he is one of the few  skilled Chefs of Montreal who’s always behind his kitchen (I even saw him present on Mondays, Tuesdays, days that most Chefs in town do usually skip since those days are less busy). This is an Isakaya(Japanese bistrot)-inspired restaurant   but  they are also opened to other oriental influences (Korean, Chinese, etc).

KYO, MONTREAL - PORK BUNOn this visit (Thursday March 13th 2014, 18:00), they were ‘testing’ a new item on the menu (the staff suggesting that this item will remain –or not — on the menu depending on the reaction of the clientele) , the  ‘Pork bun’, a chinese bread-bun based small ‘crepe” with a filling of braised pork belly.  As expected from Chef Terrence Ding, the refinement and taste of the bun did benefit from extra diligence (the glossy texture and perfect smooth consistency of this bun are hardly bettered in town) and taste (delicious for sure, but what impresses me with this Chef is his ability to perfectly balance seasonings, aromas, keeping the classic flavors intact while avoiding the heavy-ness of traditional cooking – in a way that…not many Chefs in town are pulling off) of great standing. As for the  braised Pork belly, I know many gourmet restaurants who would be proud of that one I was having  (many kitchens  not controlling properly the fattyness of the pork belly , others simply over-braising the pork belly): braising is one thing we all can do, how to timely braise your meat and, again and again, how to avoid the overly  heavy effect of that Pork belly while retaining its essential rich appeal is a task that few are fulfilling  this well. Excellent 9/10

KYO, MONTREAL - SASHIMI PLATTERI also picked an assortment of sashimis (10 morsels at $23), the octopus retaining proper  chew  (8/10),  the red tuna as great as you’ll find in town and certainly on par with its versions of this city’s top sushiyas..if not better, actually  (10/10 by Montreal sashimi standards) , the scallops second only to the stunning one I once had at La Porte and of the standards of any of the  ambitious sushiyas in Mtl, if not a tad better…  (8/10), white tuna as fresh as it gets in Mtl, certainly of great quality by local standards.  Kyo  is not a sushiya,  so I  obviously  do not expect them to demonstrate knife skills of an ambitious sushiya and yet they are doing great even on that aspect, certainly as great as some of the few highly regarded sushiyas of Montreal and surroundings . 8/10

Conclusion: 8/10 Strong performance by Isakaya-inspired standards in Montreal, Chef Terrence Ding keeping the bar high (the cooking technique is confident,  the food flawless, the presentation is exquisite and the ingredients are of great quality ). In hindsight, I do not recall having sampled anything that I did not like but for the sake of sharing I have to mention that some of my  favourite items here have been the tempura moriawase (tempura fans will have hard time finding better textured tempuras in Mtl ),  the beef tongue (guytan), the kalbi. You can’t go wrong with their offerings, so just go with whatever you feel like having. My only quibble has been with the only time Chef Ding was not around (happened just once , which is a miracle on a restaurant scene where most major cooks are not  present even on busy nights like Fridays and Saturdays) and even on that evening, it was still performing at a level that plenty of restaurants in town would not reach in their prime .  Where Kazu is about bold flavors and presentation (which I also like),  Kyo opts for refinement all the way.   Both are  my  favourite Isakayas in Montreal, Kyo being ideal for its  cozy refined decor, whereas Kazu is  boisterous and there is always a  lineup.  It seems to be a daunting  task to properly spot great talents in Montreal as I always see mentions of really bad cooks passing as the talented cooks  of this city (I know… the trends, the buzz effect!) when far superior Chefs like Chef Ding remain relatively underrated.

Q& A – (I do not have time to manage the comments sections, therefore I did turn it off. But kindly send me your questions by email and I’ll reply. I’ll post the questions that the most can benefit from, on this site. Any off-topic question will be discarded – Thanks for your understanding). Jeremy asks if Kazu is less expensive that Kyo and if I find Kyo expensive? And to compare both Kazy and Kyo a bit more. Which I would recommend. Answer:  Kazu has two types of items, those that they can afford selling cheaply (rice with salad, for eg…yes some ppl rave about that..what do you want me to tell you, lol) and those that are pricier (for eg, braised  octopus, braised tuna for two ). So online opinions about Kazu’s prices vary depending on what the OP (original poster) is reporting about. If you take most of their uninsteresting cheap items, you can eat cheaply at Kazu. If you want some of their serious stuff (for eg, braised tuna belly for 2), you’ll pay for that and it won’t be that cheap. As for Kyo, their prices are available to the public (see here) and you can judge for yourself.  Since I can deal only in facts I know, all I can say is that in comparison to the normal prices of the Montreal food scene and given the quality of its cooking and ingredients,  Kyo’s prices seem fair to me.  I recommend Kazu if you are looking for bold rustic boisterous Isakaya,  Kyo for a refined version of an Isakaya-inspired meal.