Signature is the home of chef Olivier Rodriguez who formerly worked at the Tokyo location of Enoteca Pinchiorri. His menu read straightforward with two tasting menus and an à la carte section. The tasting menu seemed like a little much since my body still thought it was seven in the morning. So we ordered a few of dishes from the à la carte section and decided to split them. Well, maybe we ordered a lot of dishes. The exorbitant prices are justified (somewhat) by the exquisite view. We were lucky enough to have a window table, and maybe it was the jetlag but I felt like I was eating on the edge of a cliff. My eyes were in awe of the view: thousands of red lights flickering atop the Tokyo skyline.
The amuses started with a pâté de campagne topped with sundried tomato. The pâté was on the dry side and lacked the smooth gamey flavor of liver that I like. I think the leanness of this dish is something that more closely fits the Japanese flavor profile. Alongside the pâté was a trio of smaller amuses among which the candied espresso foie gras stood out as the most interesting. I really like coffee but dislike coffee-flavored things. Here the espresso offered a hint of chocolate flavor and the candy crunch added textural contrast to the smooth foie gras.
Venture de thon mariné au thym, fenouil cruit et cru, anchoïade niçoise, feuilles de roquette aux olives noires - Chunky medallions of thyme-marinated tuna belly with cooked and raw fennel, black olives, and an anchovy sauce. The acidity of this dish was immediately apparent, particularly the way the slightly-sour olives mixed with the anchovy cream. It was almost like a tartar sauce. The rocket added a hint of vegetal bitterness and helped to break up the creamy mayonnaise-texture but its inclusion still seemed a little random. The tuna belly was just lightly seared leaving the inside a cool magenta. This dish was good, but a bit boring.
Velouté Du Barry et royale de moule et coquillage au curry - A cauliflower velouté with curried mussels and a shellfish flan. What's amazing about this dish is how mild the flavors of cream and butter were despite it being cream-based. This is a testament to the "Japanification" of a French dish making it lighter. The curry added a tannic element to the cauliflower helping it integrate with the smooth shellfish flan. The mussels had a very mild flavor of shellfish, but this was masked a bit by the curry. This was really good for the first two bites.
Noix de Saint-Jacques toastées, navets étuvés à la vanille et citron confit aux noix - Toasted scallops with stewed vanilla-infused turnips, candied lemon, and walnut. I loved how the candied lemon brightened the cream sauce. The cooked turnips were remarkably Japanese in texture only subtly flavored with hint of vanilla. The scallops were crowned with thin sheets of toast adding textural contrast. The toast also helped to absorb the sauce. This dish was outstanding.
Filet de chapon poêlé, fondue de poireau et topinambour, émulsion d'oursin - Roasted scorpionfish with a leek and Jerusalem artichoke confit in a sea urchin emulsion. This was a fantastic dish. The skin of the roasted scorpionfish became slightly crunchy and its flavor intensified during the cooking process. The interior of the fish was smooth and succulent. The combination of Jerusalem artichoke and sea urchin was particularly interesting: the artichoke somehow made the already sweet urchin taste sweeter, and the salty skin brought everything together. This was the highlight of the meal for me.
Lamelles d'ormeau tiédies, terrine de haricot coco et poireau aux câpres et caviar, sauce au corail - Thinly sliced warm abalone with a white bean and leek terrine with caviar, lemon, caper, and a "coral sauce." It's interesting how slicing abalone really thin changes the texture from rubber to something a bit more elastic like cooked octopus. The white beans were a little starchy on the inside leaving them perfectly round, but unfortunately dry. This made it difficult for them to integrate with the rest of the dish. I wish the urchin was emphasized a bit more because the way it interacts with the artichoke was fascinatingly delicious.
This meal was particularly special for me because it highlighted French cuisine as seen through a Japanese lens. Cream sauces were lighter, the vegetables were a little different, the portioning a bit smaller, and sweetness noticeably less. In some ways, visiting a French restaurant in Tokyo is a real peek into the local Tokyo dining scene. These are the kinds of restaurants Tokyo-native diners seek out, and the menu and dishes reflect this with their Japanification.
My biggest complain is that a lot of the dishes seemed a bit sterile or lacking soul. It felt almost as if mechanically prepared. While technically flawless and quite tasty: where was the love? There was a tremendous disconnect between the kitchen and the table. It was almost as if the chef meticulously wrote down the recipes and asked someone else to prepare them.
At the end of the meal, while not particularly moved by the food, I was happy that I went. The view was truly spectacular, and there was nothing more satisfying than walking home from dinner and crashing for the night. I don't think that I would return if I weren't staying so close to the restaurant, however, as there are just too many amazing restaurants in this city. But for my first night in the culinary capital of the world, I wasn't disappointed.