Esaki: Contemporary Japanese in Aoyama

Featured on Savory Japan for April is Esaki, a wonderful three-star Michelin rated establishment featuring chef Shintaro Esaki’s innovative cuisine. Every single bite of our lunch was surprising and incredibly delicious. And midway through our meal, our server came to the table bearing the bounty of the season in a basket brimming with the wholesome, fresh produce that went into our meal.

Esaki is a place we’d like to return to again at different times of the year, as seasonal shifts bring varieties of seafood and produce into their shun (the peak of flavor).

Kunio Tokuoka, Kitcho’s Kaiseki Visionary

Savory Japan is updated for December with a new page in the LEARN section for Seminars and Classes. Featured there is an overview of the Japan: Flavors of Culture conference we attended last month and featured here in three postings. The page will be a home for links to more in-depth articles that will be added in the coming months. Kicking off the series is a cooking session with legendary Kitcho chef and owner Kunio Tokuoka, whose book we reviewed  a few weeks back.

Featured in this beautiful book on page 155 is this photo of Oyster Rice that would be perfect for the coming cold and snowy months, when oysters are at their most flavorful.

 Oyster Rice 

 Photo and excerpt from the book Kitcho; Japan’s Ultimate Dining Experience, courtesy of the author and publisher, Kondansha International. All rights reserved

SERVING VESSEL: Black earthenware pot, ca. 2000

ARTIST: Masatake Fukumori

 The lid of the pot comes off to release the irresistible aroma of oysters mingled with a subtle hint of soy sauce. Some of the oysters are deep-fried; others are simmered briefly in kelp stock, which is then used to make the rice. Just as the heat is turned off, both kinds of oysters are arranged on the rice and chopped water dropwort (seri) is scattered on top. Kunio has removed the black edges from the oyster meat, as he maintains that they do not taste good—once again defying conventional thinking in pursuit of pure, perfect flavor.

Michelin Guide Kansai

Ever since the Michelin guide to Tokyo was published, and the resulting controversy and buzz the city’s 227 stars (more than any other city in the world) has generated, my friends and I have been talking about the fabulous restaurants in Kyoto and Osaka, and wondering why there wasn’t a guide to what is known as the center of food culture in Japan. While cosmopolitan Tokyo’s culinary landscape is a microcosm of the worlds’, the Kansai area, including Kyoto and Osaka has long been viewed as the place where Japanese culinary traditions were born, flourished and refined over thousands of years. As you can imagine, this leads to some REALLY great dining, at prices generally lower than in the capital.

In the Japan Times article of April 24, Jean-Luc Naret, the director of the Michelin Guide, says “Kyoto is a place where gastronomy is really quite important, with a history of traditions and products,” …. “And Osaka is Japan’s second-biggest city, with good restaurants in every category.” The guide is due to be published in October, and according to the Japan Times, is anticipated to increase local food sales by “30 to 50%.”

Of course, we’re wondering if any of our personal favorites will wind up on the list. And also, how exactly does one become a Michelin judge? Wouldn’t that be the best job in the world?