Ryugin the previous year (2008) was memorable – a tour de force of the world’s best ingredients served in a kaiseki meal – but mysterious. The format is challenging enough – a meal of the seasons and traditions, imbued with ritual and symbolism – but the promise, or spectre, of molecular gastronomy further obscures the accessibility of Chef Seiki Yamamoto’s daring synthesis of history.1 Lacking the necessary framework of cultural references to properly assess Yamamoto’s complete vision, it was the ingredients from last year’s meal that persisted and reminded me that obsessiveness is most obsessed in Japan. Tweet
Archive for japan – tokyo
Down an anonymous alley, just above Ginza, the obsessive line up early to nab a mythical mousse cake – “the best in the world” – one man bakes as many cakes as he feels necessary for the day. He then calls it a day – the freedom of being great. The cake is not guaranteed past eleven so the necessary strategy is arriving early.
There are meals where every bite is a revelation, old world views crumble, and life takes on new meaning – the pursuit is pushed forward and there are new realms to explore. It is magical when it happens, smiles everywhere, but time, and continued avocation, often cruelly reveal the legitimacy of those epiphanies – there are few – and what was once the culminate becomes the stepping stone – local maxima. Sushi was one of those first gateways for me – I thought I knew sushi – I still don’t – but nothing I’ve had1 compares to the Sawada meal below.
A meal at Koju does not surprise as much as it lingers – a slow burning memory that simmers for days, or weeks. Where restaurants like noma and Manresa tell a story through their use of local & timely ingredients, Koju bridges a gap between story-teller and eater – it is not a meal as much as it is an immersive experience. And it just may be my favorite restaurant in the world.1
Sushi in Tokyo / Japan has more variations than my general “eat / politely pass / inedible / risking death” four quadrant diagram of American sushi. The restaurants, chefs, and sushi have personalities and characteristics, as they might here, but backed by tremendous ingredients and skill. That is important because it expands the discussion for interpretation. Cuts, temperature, and seasonings add infinite inflections to the binary fish on rice. There may be styles and choices that one doesn’t agree with but learning and appreciation does not have to be sacrificed.