All tagged glass of champagne

La Veduta

This past New Year's Eve we found ourselves in Osaka, one of the "kitchens of Japan." Unfortunately for us, the time around New Year's is a dead zone in Japan: nearly every restaurant is closed for the week-long New Year's holiday. There were some restaurants open, but they were all located inside the major hotels. There was a part of me that wanted to stick to Japanese-only "local" food, but another that was pretty hungry. Having never tried Italian cuisine in Japan, I made a last-minute reservation at the newly opened Italian restaurant at the St. Regis: La Veduta. The dining room was gorgeous: oversized chandeliers illuminating an open kitchen with large windows providing a view over downtown Osaka. Our maitre'd was Piemontese, a pleasant surprise of authenticity being nearly 6,000 miles away from Italy. The menu was prix-fixe which took the stress out of ordering. We ordered a glass of champagne and mentally transported ourselves to Europe.


Chef Yamamoto Seiji (山本征治) opened RyuGin in December 2003 at the young age of thirty three. Before that he had worked under Koyama Hirohisa (小山裕久) at Aoyagi (青柳) for ten years, channeling his talent for cooking the highest quality ingredients flawlessly. In theory, the highest quality ingredients combined with impeccable cooking should guarantee an unforgettable meal. At least that's what I thought. The restaurant is located on a small side street in Roppongi. The area used to be a bit seedy but after the construction of Roppongi Hills (六本木ヒルズ) completed in 2003, the neighborhood perked up. Now it is known for its sophisticated nightlife including a handful burgeoning restaurants eager to collect their stars. Yet despite being in such a lively neighborhood, RyuGin remains humble and quiet having just under twenty seats.

The service at RyuGin, like the service at nearly every other fine dining establishment in the city, was flawless and graceful. The staff spoke with tremendous knowledge about the menu yet remained impressively humble. The stage was set for a fantastic meal. Everything was ready, that is, except the food.

Le Cinq

Le Cinq has had three chefs over the past two years. Although it's kept the same name, has been in the same George V hotel, and has been housed in the same beautiful baroque dining room, it has been three different restaurants with each chef exercising his vision of what fine dining should be. The first chef, Philippe Légandre, brought the restaurant its three Michelin stars with a refined seafood-focused menu highlighting simple flavors and combinations. Then in February 2007, Le Cinq lost its third star. Légandre stepped down. His sous-chef took over during the transitory period and played off the better known dishes with minimal modification. Most recently, Éric Briffard took house, specializing in rustic yet sophisticated dishes bringing Le Cinq to an all new high. With him as chef, it's only a matter of time before the third star returns.

Le Bristol

The weather on my visit to Le Bristol, home of chef Éric Frechon, was impeccable: sunny and warm without a cloud in the sky. But then we arrived at the restaurant for lunch. Perhaps an error on my part, I did not call to check if the main dining room would be available. It turned out to be reserved for a private corporate event; so instead, we were led to a room where spring light quickly turned to winter night. This was the winter dining room, where the sun-worn curtains covered all windows keeping the cheer out and a more solemn coldness in. The oval-shaped Victorian room is lined with wood paneling, and covered with forest green, red, and patterned brown carpeting. Adorning the center of the room is a medieval tapestry depicting a pastoral scene in rural France. The daytime oppressiveness of this room, however, can be easily turned into evening elegance: just return when it's dark and the candles are lit. But while dining at Le Bristol, overall, was a refined gastronomic experience I was left wondering, where was the passion and excitement? Our waiter came to the table flanked by a champagne cart that seemed almost attached at the hip like a much more attractive conjoined twin. He offered an early afternoon apéritif, and, being just past one, I thought a glass of champagne would be more than enough for the next few hours. After being asked which champagne we desired, I wondered if my friend had been pegged as such an expert that he could discern the different offerings solely by their corks, since all eight of the bottles were completely submerged in ice water and covered with a white napkin. Must have been his striped tie. They say geniuses choose stripes, you know. He's good, but I'm not sure anyone is that good. I laughed to myself and chose a glass of Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis.