Archive for March, 2009

O’Shima (Tokyo, Japan) – Japanese Steak Dinner

There was a three-way tug of war between kaiseki, sushi, and beef on this trip, each vying for attention and sampling. There was not enough time to sample the innumerable sushi spots, much less the promises of the various breeds and prefectures of wagyu beef. After weighing some possibilities, O’Shima was earmarked for the main Japanese beef experience. Unfortunately, due to the dearth of wagyu options on other menus, it became the sole beef experience.1

The standard American or Australian wagyu available in most domestic restaurants offers neither the dry-aged beefiness of a well-aged steak nor the tenderness of the mythical Kobe beef from Japan; instead, it is often an overpriced compromise without much reward. If only given those experiences as reference points, my interest would be little. Fortunately, the US and Japan found a compromise in a beef importing impasse and real high-quality Japanese wagyu can now be found in America.

(Above) – A sirloin getting weighed at O’Shima, this portion for two. It is not as marbled as the A10 beef from Urasawa (below.) That is good – it would not (or should not?) be possible to eat a steak of A10 – far too rich.

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RyuGin (Nishiazabu, Tokyo) – Pure Excellence

Ryugin might be a restaurant with an international identity crisis, known more for wild experiments than quality, but this meal showed that a fascination with the modern can possibly1 inform and augment tradition. The endless debate about molecular gastronomy’s end game continues but only a few people defend the knowledge gained from the experimental process as an end in itself. One could say that the new ideas and investigations are a constant search for a greater truth about ingredients, food, and the layers of meaning we have affixed to fine dining. Chef Seiji Yamamoto may entered a “more traditional phase” 2 now and this meal could be held up as a result of the toil of inventiveness.

Ryugin popped on my radar when Chef Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Los Angeles) mailed me a DVD of Yamamoto performing cooking tricks that resembled a hybrid of Homaro Cantu’s (Moto, Chicago) high-tech-ery and Adoni Aduriz’s (Mugartiz, a favorite of mine) more organic approach. Indeed, as I did more research, I learned that Yamamoto and Aduriz were great friends, citing each other as influences and inspiration. The food at Mugaritz has an underlying Asian twist and it is possible to see how the two could find common ground to push each other further.3 A few inquiries found that, while experimental, Ryugin still had the Japanese attention to ingredient quality. The restaurant seemed to be at the forefront of an Eastern response to the largely Spanish molecular gastronomy “movement.”

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