Monday, 13 February 2006

Argent

13 Feb 2006

I had the opportunity to visit Argent in Meguro recently. Argent bills itself as slow food since 1980, and some foodie sites suggest Argent is one of the reasons you would choose to live in Tokyo.

So it was with some excitement and interest that I went along with my super-smart friend. He’s the sort of guy that makes you feel like you’re Pinky and he’s The Brain in the Cartoon Network series. He was generous enough to offer to provide the wine, which in hindsight was both a blessing and a mistake (beautiful French wine chosen from his cellar...problem was quantity not quality. 4 bottles between 2 of us...)

Argent was eloquently explained by The Brain as providing wonderful French “comfort food”. The menu hasn’t changed since 1980, with good reason. Each of the dishes is prepared with delicacy and vitality, and when you’re on a good thing...

We had the fresh Japanese oysters, the country-style terrine, and a great tuna tartare. With lashings of firm baguettes, and a bottle of 1999 Pommard 1-er Cru Les Rugiens by Francois Petit-Jean. Great once it opened up...make that 2 bottles.

I next had the 13 vegetable soup (one of those great French dishes with a hint of romance and a spoonful of heaven). The Brain went back to another terrine, with destruction written clearly all over his face. The wine and the conversation seemed to be getting more elegant and more powerful as we went along.

So it was obviously time to try the Cochin Chicken (with specially grown Nagoya chickens) and the Roast Beef. Delicious both, and delightfully complemented by a 1997 Chateau Lynch-Bages Grand Cru Classe. The conversation seemed to be losing ground to the wine.
According to the Brain, you have the choice of the Raw Cheesecake, Raw Cheesecake, and Raw Cheesecake for dessert. Obviously (I think!)...

The Brain now launched an all-out assault on my brain cells with the 2004 Magie du Chateau Haut Mouleyre Cadillac, which goes to prove that the French can do something with Semillon, although I felt that the Hunter Valley Semillons were probably better. Shush, at this stage I could have been drinking sugar water. By this stage, the conversation had turned to mutual admiration in single-syllable grunts and gestures.

In summary, well-crafted food by a 2nd generation chef who learnt her lessons getting in the way in the kitchen since kindergarten. Argent is a restaurant where you can trust the food not to get in the way of the company, yet come away convinced that you’ve enjoyed yourself.

Score: Food 7/10; Wine 5/10 (but BYO); Ambience 7/10; Service 8/10; Price: 8/10; TOTAL: 35/50 (3 Forks)

Saturday, 11 February 2006

One Perfect Day...Alladin!

11 Feb 2006

Just like the line in the song, there are things that come together to make a perfect day. While no day could be perfect without Cheryl here with me, a recent visit to Alladin, reminded me of just how good this restaurant really is! A perfect day in Tokyo would very probably include Alladin for lunch around the middle of February, just when the first crop of white asparagus has arrived from France. It would be one of those sunny late winter Tokyo days, with the sky as clear as Koizumi’s conscience, so the sun would be streaming into the area of the balcony tables. Maitre d’hotel Sato would be waiting at the door, and Chef Kawasaki would have prepared the Tarte Tartin he developed for Andreas Dannenburg. A crisp chablis, properly chilled to about 8 degrees...and Cheryl!

I have to thank Andreas for introducing me to Alladin, again in early February, and again with fresh white asparagus. This visit I was the proud host of a Frenchman who as a long-term resident of Japan had seen restaurants come and go.

Alladin has served some of Tokyo’s best French cuisine since it opened in 1993, and has consistently been at the top of the list for those in the know. How I missed it over years popping in and out of Petit Point is a long story, but a game to die for would be to be Head Judge at an Ryori Tetsujin (Iron Chef) play-off between Alladin’s Kawasaki and Petit Point’s Kitaoka...admittedly, Kitaoka-san is a Chevallier de France and has served as President of Club de Trente.

For lunch - of course - Alladin serves its guests marinated olives (it’s hard not to look greedy when you’re jabbing your guest’s fingers with the skewer) before the Amuse which was an individual warm quiche, and then a fine rillette with scrumptious baguette. For the rest of the meal, lazily spread over 2 hours, we feasted on White Asparagus in a Butter Sauce and a main of Roast Pigeon (Terry), and Salade d’ormeaux & cepes marines as a starter and a main of Fish of the Day (Flounder) for The Guest. All of it outstanding. All of it served at exactly the right temperature, showing only the lightest touch of the warming tray. All of it appearing at exactly the right time.

The the Guest made the mistake of saying no to the outrageously wonderful Tatin that I had especially asked Chef Kawasaki to prepare. His loss, but I won’t invite him there again! I have to admit to a small amount of perverse enjoyment in being able to show French people what real food is like, but sometimes luncheon guests should be treated like the finest wine…enjoyed only rarely and played for every cent.

Maitre d’hotel Sato is kind enough to pay me special attention even though I only visit every other month or so. It all makes for a relaxing and enjoyable relief from the nonsense roaring past outside in the world. In summary, Alladin is one of the restaurants that would be way up high on my list for the perfect lunch on the perfect day. Then again, I’m off to Petit Point next Monday!

As someone who has got lost on the way to Alladin, you might need the map...then again, it could just be me!

Rating: Food 9/10; Wine 8/10; Service 9/10; Ambiance 8/10 (if you’re on the balcony); Price 8/10; Total 42/50 (Terry’s Top 5)

Monday, 6 February 2006

Bon, Monsieur!

6 Feb 2006

One of the delights in living in Tokyo is the wonderful panoply of wonderful restaurants. When Japanese chefs put their mind to creating certain styles of food, they simply do it better than anyone else.

One shining example of this is Bon Monsieur, in the back of Roppongi (Roppongi 7-12-15 opposite Roppongi Park). The first thing that strikes you is that it’s not very hard to get to know the chef - he’s the only person there! Dai Kono is one of those rare breeds of people who get to live their dream. In his case, that dream is to prepare stunning food for a group of very loyal customers.

The fact that Bon Monsieur is not more widely known should come as no surprise - it seats 3 customers at the only table, and another 6 at the counter. A former izakaya, or Japanese traditional bar, it’s literally a “w”hole in the wall that comes to fame in an almost nervous and abashed frame of mind.

My latest visit saw me fleeing Wolfgang Puck Cafe looking for subtle flavors with 2 friends - Kono-san was kind enough to squeeze us into the table, and shift other patrons to the counter. 2 of us decided to leave the menu and the wine to Kono-san via the “Chef’s Choice” option. Depending on your appetite, this costs either Y4000 or Y6000. Our other companion is a self-professed “meat and potatoes” man - with an appetite in exact proportion to his generosity and friendliness. I asked the chef to surprise him...and Kono-san managed this with flair and patience.

My first course was a terrine of fois gras, topped with a dried persimmon and surrounded by the merest hint of honey. If you’ve never tried these flavors together, you’re missing an extraordinary gastronomic insight where 1+1+1 ends up equalling 5. The guest flying solo was dumbstruck to get an organic salad (he’s not much of a fuit-and-veg man) - but he bravely tasted the same, then wrapped his arms around it so nobody else could get some, and pronounced it as the best salad he’s had in a long, long time. Score 1 to the chef!

The braver former Marine and I were then presented with an aji (Sweetfish) carpaccio dressed with a fresh green herb that threatened to be shiso, but matched this sweet freshwater fish exactly! This was such a revelation that I offered to put my body on the line for my Marine buddy and eat it on his behalf. To my deep regret, he declined this generous offer!

Our meat-and-veg man then got presented with a Basque pork chop that might have walked away if it had been given first aid! A known trencherman, he proceeded to devour this delicacy in a style more befitting to a medieval lordling than a Tokyo businessman. But it stopped him in his tracks and he had to surrender - it’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say he was full!
The other two of us also got a taste of this, although smaller portions, and agreed that this was probably the best pork either of us has tasted in many years. 40-love to Kono-san, and only the dessert to come.

I declined, but my two fellow colonists (they forget that America was also a destination for Pommie convicts!) bravely soldiered (Marine-d?) on with a hand-made vanilla bean ice cream and fresh persimmon. The verdict - heavenly! Kono-san had won the day.

For the finest food in a interesting atmosphere, served by one of the most friendly chefs, try Bon Monsieur. I’d advise making a reservation (03-3475-6612).

Rating: Food 9/10 Wine 7/10 Atmosphere 8/10 Service 8/10 Price 9/10 (Y38,000 for 3). Total: 41/50 (4 Forks!)