All tagged japanese cuisine

Pierre Gagnaire, Tokyo

My last meal at Pierre Gagnaire, Paris was a roller coaster. Lots of ups and downs and by the end of service I was left holding on to my chair in confusion. Any great restaurant has to take risks in the kitchen to achieve something great. But my original experiences were like a lottery, and after three meals at Gagnaire Paris, I kept losing. Pierre Gagnaire Tokyo, in some ways, was the complete opposite. There were few risks. Everything was consistent. This is good in the sense that no single course was particularly disappointing; bad, however, that nothing was exceptional. Exceptional cuisine balance risk-taking and spontaneity with consistency, and it's no easy task. My meal here was an extremely toned-down version of my meal in Paris.

New York Grill & Bar

The New York Grill and its adjacent bar sits atop the 52th floor of the Park Hyatt in Nishishinjuku, Tokyo. This hotel, and in particular its rooftop bar, was made famous by the 2003 movie Lost in Translation. As in the movie the bar, with its somber spot lighting de-emphasizing the interior and emphasizing the breathtaking views of Tokyo, has to it an ethereal quality where visitors are at awe by the twinkling panorama while simultaneously in disbelief they are actually there. Or maybe that's just the jetlag. The restaurant, paneled with art deco paintings by Valerio Adami, has gone through several chefs over the last five years, the most recent of whom, Nadine Waechter Moreno, took over as Chef de Cuisine in August of 2010. My experiences at the Park Hyatt were under the previous chef, Stefan Moerth.


Why eat French food in Tokyo? Because it's usually better than in France! Located on the second floor of its own two-story building in Ginza, L'Osier perches over the surrounding street lined with designer stores and Tokyo's fashion-savvy shoppers. L'Osier is both style and substance, however; its plates both visually stunning and delicious. I had a meal here in 2006 and never got around to posting it. But I have such strong and positive memories about my experience here that it would be an injustice not to share it. I'm going to post what I remember based on my notes. I ate here before Michelin came to Tokyo and rated this restaurant three stars. It's interesting to see how this restaurant seems to have only gotten better since then.


The simplicity and minimalism of Japanese cuisine never cease to amaze me. Particularly with traditional kaiseki, sauces and spices practically don't exist. Instead of flavoring the ingredients in a dish with external condiments, ingredients are chosen for their own intrinsic flavors. This ingredient-focused approach took a bit of getting used to; in fact the first time I tried kaiseki, I didn't like it. I thought the flavors were dull, repetitive, and boring. But the more I ate it and the longer I spent in Japan, the more I began to appreciate it. My barometer of flavor reset. Instead of loud spicy Thai cuisine full of spices and herbs, or very sweet and sticky Shanghainese cusine, Kaiseki lies flat in the middle: nothing too sweet, salty, or sour. It is a cuisine of modesty and humility where the natural flavors of the ingredients are put on a pedestal to shine.


It's easy to walk down the quiet residential streets of Jingu-mae and miss this restaurant: it's in the basement of an apartment building with no signage. But what Esaki lacks in street-level visibility it makes up for in flavor. It's modern take on traditional kaiseki -- with all locally sourced organic ingredients -- highlights the best of Japanese cuisine yet incorporates a number of modern twists that make for a more interesting, fresh experience. The menu, full of kanji beyond my understanding, proved challenging -- the waitress patiently helped me to decipher the words I didn't know, and even brought paper and pen to take notes. At this 3-starred Michelin restaurant, things suddenly felt a lot more relaxed and comfortable.

Sukiyabashi Jiro

I always thought two parents were more than enough. But after visiting Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, Tokyo, I will be returning with adoption papers. Chef Jiro Ono has been recognized by the Japanese government as a national treasure and “modern master” for his contributions to Japanese cuisine. He has received three Michelin stars. The awards an accolades for this masterful chef are endless. And to believe he is over 80 years old.

Chef Ono’s dishes are simple and straight forward: the freshest fish imaginable, warm carefully selected and cooked rice, deft knife work, and a collection of wise and sarcastic jokes. He is very serious. But unlike Masa, he was faster to crack a smile. He couldn’t stop smirking at how I took a picture of each piece of sushi and even offered to pose; though, his sharp sushi knife was a forceful deterrent. He has a funny sense of humor and is full of clever quips; my limited Japanese only understood the surface. He asked if we had any allergies or restrictions. We made it very clear that we eat absolutely everything.

Jisaku Tsukiji

It was my mother's first time in Japan. While she was only staying for a short week and a half, the planning for her visit started many months before. I had to create an agenda demonstrating Japan's incredible culinary variety while still making sure she would enjoy, and remember, each meal. If she were to leave Japan thinking the food is anything less than the best in the world, I'd have failed. Kaiseki was going to be a problem. There are just too many places. The number of Michelin starred kaiseki restaurants alone would consume her trip in its entirety; how would I fit in okonomiyaki, teppanaki, yakitori, sukiyaki and shabu shabu? I knew an early morning trip to Tsukiji market was essential, not only for the tuna auction but to show her the abundance of fresh fish that we don't have access to in the US, and the ease with which it can be purchased here. Besides, forget cereal; what better way to start the day than with a small crate of Hokkaido uni.

To complement our visit to Tsukiji, later that night, I made a reservation at Jisaku Tsukiji, a small kaiseki restaurant on the fish market's perimeter. Like most well-known kaiseki houses, diners eat in private rooms. This means two things: the meal will be private, and it will be expensive. Thankfully, this was a once in a lifetime experience.