Dining at One of the World’s Best Restaurants: Two Michelin-Starred Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan

Last year, S. Pellegrino released their “50 Best Restaurants in Asia,” a spin off of the regular World’s 50 Best list. Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan, topped the 2013 list — and Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa has been awarded two Michelin stars on top of it. Everything I read indicated it was nearly impossible to get a reservation. We’ve had magical luck in the past with securing reservations at some hard to get into places (still never made it in French Laundry through, go figure), so why not give it a shot for my birthday?

If only I had as much luck picking winning lottery numbers, I’d be set!

So what’s the verdict? What’s the Best Restaurant in Asia like? Here’s a detailed look at our impressive lunch at Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan.

Narisawa Tokyo Japan

Narisawa menu and building in Tokyo, Japan

The menu at Narisawa is continually changing, and the day we dined was part of the “Spring Collection, 2013.”  The theme for this collection was Evolve with the Forest.

Chef Narisawa is known for his mastery of French cooking techniques while showcasing Japanese ingredients, with a heavy emphasis on flora aesthetics. The wine list was quite impressive, featuring a number of local Japanese offerings as well. We opted to go with the suggested wine pairings for each course.

Wine: Champagne Vilmart et Cie

We started off with a glass of Champagne from one of the premier houses in France. The Premier Cru estate dates back to 1890 and is located in the Montagne de Reims region. Beautiful Brut fermented and aged in oak casks for 10 months and specifically labeled for Narisawa.

 

Champagne Vilmart et Cie labeled for Narisawa

Champagne Vilmart et Cie labeled for Narisawa

I knew we were in for a treat when we were told that the interesting concoction on the table was bread…which would be fermenting right before our eyes!

“Forest 2010″ Bread of the Forest and Moss Butter

Chef Narisawa is noted for his “Bread of the Forest” which rises with the use of candlelight. Several courses in, the bread has grown enough where it is popping over the sides and they bake it table side in a stone pot for 12 minutes. The stone pot has an oak tree lid, with the faint aroma of yuzu seeping through.

Narisawa Bread of the Forest

Chef Narisawa’s creation of “The Bread of the Forest” fermenting at the table

Baking Bread of the Forest Narisawa

Baking the “Bread of the Forest” tableside

Accompanying the bread was a very interesting butter, resembling a pile of moss! The black is dehydrated black olive and we were told the green powder was parsley.

Moss Butter Narisawa

Moss butter served with “Bread of the Forest” at Narisawa

Essence of the Forest

Starting off lunch, we were served three small dishes at once. The first of the courses to arrive was called “Essence of the Forest” and it was meant to symbolize the Spring forest season. Definitely a lot going on with this course and we were told, “it’s ok to eat with your hands.”

Really? In a Michelin-starred restaurant with perfectly pressed white tablecloths? Needless to say, more of my forest ended up on the table cloth versus in my belly.

While intimidating to eat, Essence of the Forest was an impressive presentation. The cup was the key to the forest and contained its “essence”. The cup was Japanese cedar filled with oak-infused water. The forest was created with Japanese herb tempura, the “bark” is skin of the Jerusalem artichoke, while the orange is a kumquat. The forest floor scattered around the plate was made with Japanese soy pulp mixed with green tea powder and black tea powder mixed with bamboo powder.

Essence of the Forest Narisawa

“Essence of the Forest” course at Narisawa

Chiayu, Japanese Sweet Fish

Baby sweet fish in Japan are a delicacy, often called chiayu. We were told the livers were left in, which gives a very bitter contrast. The green dots are sansho pepper leaf sauce and the fish are topped with additional sansho leaves. Lightly tempura fried, the taste of the chiayu was surprisingly mild, however a definite contrast with the bitter livers.

Chiayu sweet fish Narisawa

Chiayu sweet fish with sansho chili pepper sauce and leaves

Sumi

Sumi means charcoal and this is an important element in chef Narisawa’s creations. In this instance, it was akin to a charcoal deep fried onion bread.

Sumi Narisawa

Sumi “charcoal”

Wine Pairing — 2008 Toriivilla (Imamura) Blanc Cuvee Tradition

This pairing was for all three dishes — the “sumi charcoal”, chiayu and “Essence of the Forest.” It’s a local Japanese wine made in the Bourgogne style — very smooth with elegant honey-apple flavors. The mix of mountainous soil and wind coming down from Mt. Fuji makes for a complex minerality on the palate as well.

Toriivilla Imamura, 2008

Toriivilla Imamura, 2008

“Soil 2001″

As the name suggests, the next course was not just paying homage to the soil of the forest — it was the soil of the forest. Now, before you go, “ewwww dirt soup”, it was a very calculated course with the terroir of Japan being recreated in a soup. Chef Narisawa created this recipe in 2001 and it comes from the Nagano region. The soup contains no salt or pepper, only burdock root seasoning. We were told the winter soil makes for a tastier soup.

Soil 2001 Narisawa

Soil 2001 soup at Narisawa

So how was the soil soup? Surprisingly quite tasty. It was one of my favorite courses. And maybe I am just easily swayed once you throw the term “terroir” at me as I’m very aware of the role soil composition plays in the flavor profile of wine grapes.

Soil 2001 Narisawa

Soup made with “terroir” of Japan — chef Narisawa developed this in 2001, hence the “Soil 2001″ name

Spring Garden

Green asparagus cooked over broiled chicken to retain its flavor and texture — compared to a chicken butter vinaigrette.  In the mix was snapper sashimi with a seaweed sandwich. Pan fried oysters and basil rounded out the dish, which was a wonderful blend of color, texture, flavors, and aromas.

Green Asparagus Narisawa

Green asparagus with sashimi, salad and floral accents

Wine Pairing: Riesling Lion, Edel Wein, 2011

Japanese Riesling from the Iwate Prefecture. Very few vineyards make rieslings in Japan and this is a hybrid of Riesling and Koshu Sanshaku grapes. It is said this wine was once deemed “too delicate” to serve with food and was not that popular, however, this crisp and refreshing  wine has been gaining notoriety in the past few years. Narisawa’s talented Sommelier, Yoshinobu Kimura, does a magnificent job at including this gem in the tasting menus. 

Riesling Lion 2011

Riesling Lion 2011

“Ash 2009″ Scene of the Seashore

The presentation of “Ash 2009″ was rather impressive. The course started off with a beautiful piece of squid and then the ash was created table-side from a mix of olive oil, lemon juice and liquid nitrogen. The ash was spooned over the squid which released a stream of liquid nitrogen across the table. The red sauce was puree of paprika and salami. Very delicate flavors, nice grilled essence from complex paprika sauce, and the squid was perfectly cooked.

Narisawa Ash 2009

Ash 2009 – Scene of the Seashore done table-side at Narisawa

The scene of the seashore concept is to represent the typical Japanese fishermen returning with their catch, the misty ocean at night and the smell of charcoal as they cook the day’s bounty.

Want to attempt this at home? Chef Narisawa shared his grilled squid recipe on Fine Dining Lovers

Wine Pairing: Domaine Andre Vatan 2010 Sancerre Les Charmes 

Hailing from the Loire region of France, this is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Some vines are planted in limestone, so look for a zesty minerality with some smokiness on the palate. This was the perfect wine to cut the richness of the squid.

Sancerre Les Charmes 2011

Sancerre Les Charmes 2011

Fugu, Blowfish, Hagi, Yamaguchi

Deep fried fugu or blowfish. This was the first time I’ve had fugu outside of a dedicated blowfish restaurant in Osaka. Despite the hype of the dangers surrounding eating fugu, it’s a relatively uninteresting flavored fish (at least how I’ve experienced it). Chef Narisawa managed to make it interesting, give it texture through deep-frying it and a tart finish from the Japanese sudachi. Sudachi is a small round citrus that is primarily used for flavoring rather than eaten. Served on butcher paper, we were told to eat with our hands again.

Fugu Narisawa

Deep fried fugu or blowfish

Wine Pairing: Beblenheim Riesling, Domaine Trapet, Alsace

Alsace is definitely the spot in France for quality Riesling, but add the name Trapet, and it’s guaranteed to be a hit. Jean Louis Trapet is a very well-known name in Burgundy, especially among the great estates of Gevrey-Chambertin. His wife’s family has the property in Alsace and both estates produce biodynamically-farmed wines.

Domaine Trapet Bablenheim Riesling 2010

Domaine Trapet Bablenheim Riesling 2010

“Luxury Essence 2007″ Ise Ebi, Lobster

This complex dish showcases Narisawa’s talent for creatively combining flavors and textures. The lobster was lightly deep-fried and served in a broth made with chicken, pork, ham, and water cooked in a convection oven for eight hours. Add Japanese radish, Brussels sprouts, carrot and more for a unique dish.

Luxury Essence 2007

“Luxury Essence 2007″ with lobster and a broth that requires 8 hours of cook time

On sensory overload at this point, I accidentally missed snapping a separate photo of the glass drop bulbs suspended on a hanging rack that held the steaming broth for “Luxury Essence.” You can get the general idea with this overall table photo I took when they first brought the dish out.

Luxury Essence Narisawa

The start of “Luxury Essence 2007″ before pouring the broth

Wine Pairing: Domaine de L’Hortus Grand Cuvee 2010

This beauty is from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Nice oaky nose with fruity notes on the palate.

 

Domaine De L'hortus Grande Cuvee 2010

Domaine De L’hortus Grande Cuvee 2010

Rockfish, Odawara Bay

The next course was Rockfish from Odawara Bay, served with Japanese nanohana greens.

Rockfish Odawara Bay

Rockfish from Odawara Bay in Japan

Wine Pairing: Chateua De La Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

This premier cru (1er cru) from Meursault is made from Chardonnay grapes and  comes from Côte de Beaune in the Côte-d’Or region. It’s balances nicely with dishes like the rockfish.

Chateau de la Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

Chateau de la Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

“Sumi 2009″ Hilda Beef

The last savory course is where the sumi made an appearance again. The beef was covered in charcoal, made with carbonized leek powder. It was presented whole on the small grill and removed for carving. The meat undergoes a slow cook with heated olive oil continually poured over it for 30 minutes.

Sumi 2009 Hilga Beef Narisawa

“Sumi 2009″ Hilga beef presented whole

We were given a cup with sake granita to eat in between bites to cut the richness. Served on a plate that also included Japanese white bamboo shoots, onion, and more sansho pepper flowers, which only bloom about two weeks out of the year. The sansho flowers were also the basis for the green sauce swirled on the plate.

Sumi 2009 Narisawa

“Sumi 2009″ served with a cup of sake granite to cleanse the palate

Wine Pairing: Lynsolence St.-Emilion 2001

This Grand Cru is produced with 100% Merlot grapes and hails from Bordeaux’s famed Right Bank area of St.-Emilion. Small production (around 625 cases) and only 20 cases of those were brought to Japan. The wine still exhibits rich color, fruity notes and lots of spice on the finish. The 2001 Lynsolence stood up nicely with the rich taste and fatty texture of the Hilga beef.

Lynsolence Saint-Emilion 2001

Lynsolence Saint-Emilion 2001

Salty Dog

The first “dessert” to arrive was not truly a dessert at all, but rather a cocktail to cleanse the palate. Salty Dog is made with grapefruit juice and vodka, served in a salt-rimmed glass. Chef Narisawa’s version included Japanese grapefruit with pulp, confit grapefruit skin, and a rim that was a bit sweet and salty.

Salty Dog Narisawa

Salty Dog cocktail prior to the grapefruit juice being added

Kuzumochi – Sakekasu – Strawberry

Let the sweets begin! The base was a strawberry sorbet, handmade mochi cakes made with kuzu starch, and sake lees jelly. A fresh milk /cream sauce is then poured over the dessert table side.

Strawberry sorbet Narisawa

Strawberry sorbet dessert

Wine Pairing: Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

This unique wine was more of a fortified wine that had lots of raisin and orange flavors, with a nutty finish. Selosse utilizes a small number of Chardonnay barrels that he leaves outside around six years. He added leftover grape juice from Champagne making and many call it France’s version of Greek retsina. It is called Ratafia and hails from the Champagne region.

Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

Petit Fours

This was pretty much the equivalent of a dessert buffet. They wheeled over a rather large table filled with an impressive array of sweets. It was overwhelming to choose just a couple, but I did try to refrain some — and then I spotted the tray of mini-macarons. No way was I skipping those!

Petit Fours Narisawa

Petit Fours table at Narisawa

Petit Fours Narisawa

My plate of Petit Fours

Mini macarons Narisawa

A whole tray of mini-macarons!

After the meal, chef Narisawa came out and took the time to say hello to each table in the restaurant. He is extremely down to earth and quite humble. What a pleasure it was to meet him after experiencing one of the best meals we’ve had during our travels.

Chef Narisawa Tokyo Japan

Meeting Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa as lunch was winding down

Narisawa

Minami Ayoyama 2-6-15
Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Tel +81-3-5785-0799

Opening Hours: Lunch 12:00 – 13:00 (last order) Close 15:00; Dinner 18:30 – 21:00 (last order); Closed Sunday

Website: Narisawa

Kua ‘Aina Sandwich Shop and Kona Beer – Dinner in…Tokyo!

In our various journeys to Tokyo together, the one constant has been Tokyo Disney.  Erin writes about the Disney Theme Parks on Examiner.com and her Pooh’s Travels blog, so whenever we have a chance to combine our travels with a visit to one of the Parks anywhere in the world, we try to do so.  We’ve had a number of trips to Tokyo Disneyland since moving to Taiwan in 2009, and have managed to eat at almost every restaurant and food stand in both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySEA, as well as the Disney Resort Hotels.  We’ve also managed to walk every inch of the theme parks, sometimes putting in some very long and exhausting days.

On our most recent visit to the Resort in May, we had a very short time in Tokyo, so in order to visit both Parks and have a day in Tokyo, we knew we’d have to take advantage of every minute we had, so we flew in that morning (6AM wakeup following a 2AM bedtime after watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides here in Taipei on opening night) and rushed straight to our hotel at the Resort (Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel) and then into Tokyo DisneySEA in order to catch the new Fantasmic show.  By the time Fantasmic ended, we were pretty beat!

How many times do you get to that point where you have been on your feet for way too long, you’re physically and emotionally exhausted, and just want to get back to your room and relax?  We found ourselves hitting that wall, and nothing is better than a little comfort food to help rejuvenate you in this circumstance.

On on of her previous solo trips to Tokyo Disney, Erin had done take-out from the Hawaiian burger restaurant, Kua ‘Aina, which happens to be located right next door to the Disney Store in the Ikspiari shopping and entertainment complex. Rather than trying for a big sit-down dinner in DisneySEA (where we have already tried every restaurant in the Park and at the Hotel Miracosta) we opted to head over to Ikspiari to pick up whatever we needed from the Disney Store and grab some burgers to bring back to our room.

Kua ‘Aina (pronounced “Koo-a eye-na”) had it’s start on Hawaii’s North Shore in 1975, and currently has locations in Honolulu and Haleiwa in Hawaii, one location in London (opened in April, 2011) and 17 locations in the Tokyo area.  Kua ‘Aina literally refers to someone from the “back country”, but for Hawaiian natives, it refers more to people who actively live Hawaiian culture and keep the spirit of the land alive.

Menu Options at Kua 'Aina

Kua ‘Aina at Tokyo Bay offers five hamburger options; Hamburger, Cheese Burger, Bacon Burger, Pineapple Burger and Avocado Burger.  They also offer nine other sandwich options; BLT & Avocado, Teri Chicken, Rosemary Chicken, Tuna & Avocado, Pastrami, Mahi Mahi, Roast Turkey, Roast Beer and Turkey & Avocado.  Each is available as sandwich only as as a set with a soft drink, french fries and onion rings.  They also have side dishes such as french fries, onion rings, popcorn shrimp, chicken nuggets, crispy finger chicken, clam chowder, pumpkin soup and pickles.  For a (perhaps) healthier option, they also have a Caesar Salad, Avocado Salad and Hawaiian Cobb Salad.

Take Out Packaging for Kua 'Aina Sandwiches and Burgers

For our take-away dinner, I went with the Avocado Burger and Erin went for the BLT & Avocado.  It is very difficult and expensive for us to get avocados in Taiwan, so we both jumped at the chance to get some decent avocado.  At Kua ‘Aina, they take their take-out seriously, with ingenious containers perfect for eating in your hotel room without plates available.

Kua 'Aina Avocado Burger

The Avocado burger was a pleasant surprise, with a generous, thick, nicely coked beef patty loaded with a couple of large slices of fresh avocado.  There was a similar generous helping of avocado present on the BLT & Avocado, and the bacon was crisp and well prepared.  Both sandwiches really hit the spot.  The sides of onion rings and french fries were also nice, with a nice crisp that lasted all the way to our hotel room.  The batter on the onion rings was very tasty.

BLT & Avocado from Kua 'Aina

To go with our sandwiches, in honor of American Craft Beer Week, we took advantage of the presence of a couple offerings from Hawaii’s Kona Brewing Co.  Kona Brewing has been producing their line of craft beers since 1994.  They are committed to making handcrafted ales and lagers of uncompromising quality.  Kua ‘Aina offers up the three flagship brews from Kona — Fire Rock Pale Ale, Big Wave Golden Ale, and Long Board Island Lager.  We went with the two ales for our meal.

Kona Brewing Co. Big Wave Golden Ale and Fire Rock Pale Ale

Fire Rock Pale Ale is a “Hawaiian-Style” Pale Ale with a bright, copper color, citrus-floral hop aroma and a rich, roasted malt taste.  This went perfectly with the flavor of the burger.

Fire Rock Pale Ale from Kona Brewing Co.

Big Wave Golden Ale is a smooth, refreshing brew inspired by what makes Hawaii great.  It has a light, golden color with subtle fruity hop aroma and a slight sweetness.

Big Wave Golden Ale from Kona Brewing Co.
Kua ‘Aina Sandwich
Ikspiari Shopping Complex
Third Floor, next to Disney Store, near movie theater.
047-421-7321
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