Shigeyoshi 重よし revisited – Tokyo, Japan

I have said this before and I will say it again.  Shigeyoshi, an elegant 40 year old restaurant in the heart of Tokyo, is my favorite restaurant in the world.  While I have been fortunate enough to experience numerous meals all over the world that have blown me away, this is the place that I always come back to, and look forward to returning to the most.  It’s not just the attentive yet unobtrusive service- that is almost a given in any restaurant in Japan.  It’s not just the highest quality ingredients that represent regional specialties and seasonal offerings.  It’s not just the consistency of astoundingly delicious meals, plate after plate, course after course.

It is Chef Kenzo Sato, the quintessence of the soul of traditional Japanese cuisine, that attracts me to this quaint 2 Michelin star haven.  He is humble and unassuming, doing it all for the simple and pure love of food and people.  He has kept the same loyal staff at his side for the majority of the 40 years (and they have happily remained by his side), knowing the importance of consistency, especially for his regulars who depend on it. He pours his heart and soul into each and every plate, and it comes through in his beautiful presentations and unforgettable flavors.

My first experience at Shigeyoshi was 6 years ago, and I will never forget the magical feeling that I had on that fateful night.  Sitting at the pristine wooden counter, directly in front of this chef who immediately drew me in with his bright smile and charisma, I remember watching his every move with wonder as he skillfully prepared each course.  It quickly became apparent to me that this man absolutely loved his restaurant and his craft, and I could taste it in every memorable bite.  His food is exciting, but also comforting, and always saturated with love and care.  At Shigeyoshi, there is no thinking, critiquing or analyzing.  One just feels, and that feeling is pure- ‘delicious’.

That extraordinary feeling has brought me back to Shigeyoshi every year since then, and through every successive meal I have fallen more in love with this amazing chef, the tranquil space that he has created and the exquisite food that has changed my life.

Every meal at Shigeyoshi is a testimony to the beauty of Japanese cuisine.  There is something so incredibly wonderful about the simplicity and sensitivity of Japanese aesthetics.  Sayori sushi, layered with a slice of perfectly pickled Kyoto turnip senmaizuke and neatly wrapped with a kombu seaweed ribbon, was served with a side of nanohana brassica lightly dressed with sesame paste- nothing more, nothing less, and it was perfect.

Coarsely chopped Japanese kuwai potatoes and arare rice crackers were made into a shinjyo, deep fried and served with warm dashi broth and spinach for a comforting earthy dish with just the right balance of moist and crunchy textures.

Matoya oysters from Mie prefecture, a staple on the Shigeyoshi menu, are famous for being sterile and bacteria-free through a special method of breeding and harvesting.  These oysters had a clean crisp cucumber finish, pairing especially well with the Dom Pérignon Vintage 2000 that we brought that evening to celebrate Chef Sato’s second Michelin star, a well deserved recognition.

The tempura course featured two delicious items- shirauo, little tiny ice fish that were still alive and kicking when they were tossed in the hot oil, and kansouimo, dried sweet potatoes from Ibaraki prefecture with a chewy and dense texture.  A smidgen of sea salt accentuated the freshness of the delicate fish and brought out the intense caramel-like sweetness of the satsumaimo potatoes.

One of my favorite courses at every Shigeyoshi dinner is the chinmi mori, an assortment of Japanese delicacies that serves as the ultimate complement to chilled sake.  This time it was sweet luscious Hokkaido uni, tender namako sea cucumbers with ponzu, sweet amaebi shrimp with its eggs, asari clams with bitter butterbur sprouts, and an unohana of shime saba, pickled mackerel coated with soy pulp.

The futamono course, a ‘lidded dish’ of warm soup and hearty seasonal offerings in ornate lacquer bowls, usually signals the halfway mark of a traditional kaiseki meal.  In stark contrast to the simplicity of his signature suppon turtle soup that he usually serves every year, this time Chef Sato presented a bold and dynamic dish of hongamo duck shinjyo topped with warm mochi and garnishes of baby turnip, thinly sliced daikon and carrot.  The shinjyo was like paté, rich, airy, buttery and divinely delicious, but Chef Sato insisted that it was only made from duck meat.

Tai sashimi (red snapper) from Naruto at its fattiest winter peak was served with thick seaweed and a rare vegetable called kanzou no me, a Chinese medicinal plant that tasted like licorice.  One of the charms of dining at the counter at Shigeyoshi is to be able to see all of the action in the kitchen, including Chef Sato’s swift and skillful hands breaking down the whole majestic tai into a beautiful sashimi plate.

Young tender bamboo shoots from Kyushu, the southern part of Japan, lightly seared and dusted with katsuobushi, were served with braised butterbur sprouts in a gorgeous black lacquer bowl for a simple aromatic mountain vegetable dish.  These fresh takenoko bamboo shoots, which don’t resemble their canned counterparts in the slightest bit, were crisp and vibrant with a slightly sweet milky flavor.

No part of a perfect red snapper goes to waste, especially when it’s a beautiful specimen from Naruto, Japan.  After we enjoyed the sashimi course, Chef Sato prepared a traditional tai no nitsuke dish with the fish head, briefly simmering it in a soy ginger sake broth.  While slurping up the gelatinous coating around the fish eye and nibbling every tender morsel of meat and skin off the bones, I realized that this is exactly what sets Shigeyoshi apart from all other restaurants for me.  Michelin star or not, it is not about complicated technical artistic plates with multiple components that aim to impress and ultimately overwhelm.  It’s about what sings to the soul, and this expertly seasoned and perfectly executed dish of braised fish head, while not sexy nor fancy, was one of the most delicious things that I have ever eaten.

Echizen gani, a type of crab that is often called the ‘king of winter food’, was served with a side of its tomalley, the savory creamy green innards that I personally find to be the best part of the crab.  These large snow crabs, whose season runs from November to March, are sold at auctions with special yellow tags on their right claw to distinguish their supreme brand.  Sweet, moist and light, this prized crab meat was particularly delicious paired with our cold sake.

For the final savory course at Shigeyoshi, the diner is always given multiple options to accompany rice, tsukemono pickles and miso soup.  In the past I have enjoyed traditional Japanese comfort dishes of kaki furai or breaded deep fried oysters, ebi ten don or shrimp tempura rice bowl, kaki age don or mixed tempura rice bowl, and oyako don which is simmered chicken and eggs over rice.  At Chef Sato’s recommendation (‘I got the most amazing toro this morning from Tsukiji!’), I ordered toro sashimi, thick tender marbled slices of buttery heaven that effortlessly melted in my mouth.

A simple dessert of intensely sweet grapefruit wedges was the most perfect way to cleanse our palates and end our wonderful kaiseki meal.

For the past 40 years Shigeyoshi has continued to maintain the same level of quality and service, staying immune from fickle trends and unnecessary pretentiousness despite its recognition as one of the best restaurants in Japan.  Shigeyoshi has it all- the finest seasonal ingredients, perfect execution, beautiful presentation, heartfelt service and memorable food.  The special added touch is the chef’s character, and the intimate experience that he has with each diner through his food, which is an extension of his soul.  His food satisfies my palate, and also conjures up tender memories from childhood and a strong sense of comfort and peace.  Dining at Shigeyoshi always reminds me of what food is ultimately about- to nourish.  I look forward to going back to Shigeyoshi on my next return home to Tokyo, where Chef Kenzo Sato will be waiting for me with that same warm welcoming smile.

Shigeyoshi 重よし                                                                                                             6-35-3 Corp Olympia 1st floor                                                                                 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tokyo                                                                                            Tel 03-3400-4044

Crab trivia- did you know that the Japanese Spider Crab, which is known to be the biggest crab in the world, is also the oldest, the most deep-living, and with the highest longevity (they can live for more than century)?

Test Kitchen LA- Jordan Kahn, Red Medicine Beef Banquet

With the much anticipated and highly awaited opening of Red Medicine just around the corner, I was reminded of Jordan Kahn’s Test Kitchen dinner in the beginning of September.  Pastry chef prodigy Jordan Kahn took center stage at Test Kitchen for the second time to showcase menu concepts for his upcoming project with Noah Ellis, former head mixologist for the Michael Mina group, and Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman.  The project is called Red Medicine, and they have taken over the former Hokusai space on Wilshire Boulevard to open a contemporary Vietnamese fusion restaurant with a unique modern twist.  Back in August Kahn headlined Test Kitchen’s debut with a fantastic preview dinner where he impressed with crispy brussels sprouts, pork belly tartines and the most sensational coconut bavarois.  This time the theme was Bò 7 món, a Vietnamese banquet of 7 courses of beef using American wagyu.

Bar bites included beer battered sweet potato fritters with crunchy turmeric, wrapped in lettuce leaves and dunked in nuoc cham, a satisfying starter with a great balance of sweet and spicy flavors.

Pho bo with brisket and rare beef in caramelized onion and star anise broth was met with mixed feelings from all diners at the table, especially the Vietnamese diner.  The meat cuts were incredibly tender and savory, like none I have ever had in a bowl of pho, but the hyper-concentrated overly-salty broth dampened the joy of the beef.  Most will agree that the broth is the most important element of any noodle soup dish like pho, ramen and laksa.  Although all of the other components in Kahn’s rendition of pho were perfect, the soup broke the dish.

LANGUE (tongue), daikon, cassava, peanut, salted plum: rolled sous vide tongue topped with crumbled cassava root and ground peanuts with a side of daikon radish ribbons on a bed of salted plum was a good dish with distinct crisp flavors, although the tongue had a distinctly gamey finish that wouldn’t have been able to stand alone without the radish and plum.

ONGLET (hanger) tartare, mustard leaves, chili paste, herbs: my favorite dish of the evening.  Tender beef tartare with the bitterness of mustard leaves and the jolting heat of homemade Sriracha sauce was a winning combination, especially when topped on crunchy and light shrimp chips and toasted baguette. 

ENTRECÔTE (strip), Boule d’Or melon, chlorophyll, fines herbs, fried shallot, lime: perfectly cooked beef, prepared medium rare, paired with many different flavors, some subtle like the sweet and watery Boule d’Or melon and others more pronounced like the fines herbs and homemade Hoisin sauce (made from raisins and yams), complemented by a touch of crunchy texture from fried shallots in a vibrant palette of bright green hues.  

OS À MOELLE (marrow), beef cheek ragout, rice powder, chicories, nuoc cham, onion pickles: a decadent and rich plate of crunchy then buttery deep fried bone marrow on a bed of beef cheek ragout, nicely balanced with the sharp and slightly bitter flavors of radish slices, onion pickles, sautéed chicories, friseé and a hint of nuoc cham.

CALOTTE DE BOEUF (ribeye), lemongrass-brown butter, pickles, herbs, nuoc cham, lettuce, rice cake: a perfectly grilled piece of beef, a delight to wrap in lettuce leaves with pickled carrots and daikon, then dunked in delicious nuoc cham.  Yet by this portion of the meal I am beginning to think the unthinkable- that there is too much beef and I cannot handle another bite.  The beef was beginning to feel like a block of iron weighing my stomach down, and I was craving some bún rice vermicelli to go with the protein. 

POITRINE (brisket), Vietnamese caramel, green peanuts, flowering brassica:  I was happy to know that this was the last course of beef, yet overwhelmed with the large mound of brisket topped with flowering brassica greens.  The brisket in the pho bo was amazing, yet the cut that we got for this course had a lot of fibrous gristle, too tough to cut with a knife.  Although the caramelized flavors infused into each fiber of the brisket was amazing, this was simply too much beef for one night.

CONSOMMÉ, espelette, coriander: we declined the final consommé dish after hearing that it was the same broth used in the pho bo.

LIME SABAYON, cucumber, jasmine, cashew, hyssop: with Jordan Kahn being an award winning pastry chef, naturally the dessert was amazing. The delicate textures and flavors of tart lime sabayon, cucumber foam, sesame streusel and dense cashew financier resuscitated me from my beef overdose, and in my excitement I forgot to take a photo.

Although this meal featured a hefty quantity of beef that even I couldn’t conquer, and some dense heavy flavors, the beautiful plating, the mixture of textures and vibrant color schemes all reflected the creative thought and intention that Kahn puts into his works of art.  He is without a doubt one of the more talented young chefs to grace the Los Angeles culinary scene, and many have been anxiously waiting for his upcoming solo venture at Red Medicine.  Stayed tuned for news on the opening, which is now rumored to be after Thanksgiving.

Red Medicine

8400 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

(323) 651-5500

Test Kitchen LA

9575 West Pico Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 90035

(310) 277-0133

Random trivia:  Did you know that there are many theories for the origin of the word pho, the popular and loved Vietnamese noodle soup?  Some believe it came from feu, the French work for fire, as in pot-au-feu, while others argue for the Chinese word fen for rice noodles, and the Cantonese word hofan for rice vermicelli.