さんだ Sanda- Tokyo, Japan

Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel are arguably the top 3 powerhouse fashion brands that have been dressing, tressing and decorating beautiful women from head to toe for decades.  Their easily recognizable logos are splashed all over bags and clothes on international fashion runways and magazine covers.  Similarly, in the beef realm we have Kobe, Matsuzaka and Yonezawa, the 3 famous sandai wagyu brands that reign supreme in the bovine world with their unique method of breeding and exquisite marbled meat.  These respective haute couture and haute cuisine trios are international icons with A-list star status.

And then…there’s Hermès. Incomparable in craftsmanship, each carefully hand-constructed by dedicated artisans, ultra luxurious and a timeless classic.  The illustrious Birkin bag (a larger version of the Kelly), for one, is a fashion legend that is known to fetch up to $19K with a 6 year waiting list.  Such is the Sanda gyu in the wagyu world, a more exclusive beef brand in a league of its own with only a handful of farmers who raise less than 1000 cattle per year.  While Sanda gyu is served selectively at upscale steakhouses like Aragawa for a price that could buy an Hermès clutch, one can sample this highly prized beef at a more affordable restaurant in Tokyo called Sanda after its illustrious namesake.

The only catch is that you won’t be sinking your teeth into juicy cuts of sirloin and rib eye steak.  Sanda restaurant, tucked in a quiet neighborhood behind the Tokyo Midtown Complex in Roppongi, only serves Sanda wagyu offals.  Every part of the glorious specimen of Japanese cow is treated with utmost respect and served elegantly in kaiseki style, elevating beef organs to a 1 Michelin star status.  My first meal at Sanda 6 years ago, in the Akasaka location that has since closed, was a life-changing experience.  Luscious cuts of cow blood vessels, intestines and reproductive organs opened my eyes to a whole new world of innards and showed me the path to offal nirvana.  It was time for me to make my pilgrimage back to this holy shrine for an awakening of the senses and transcendence into offal enlightenment.

前菜:アキレス腱ポン酢

Due to the interesting selection of cuts, the chefs serve each course without an introduction.  ‘Try it first, then I will tell you’ is their motto, as they watch each diner’s reactions with mischievous smiles.  The restaurant blooms with conversation and laughter as playful exchanges between guests and chefs come naturally.  The first course, for one, had me stumped.  A dainty starter of soft semi-translucent strips with chopped scallions, spicy momiji oroshi grated daikon and ponzu sauce was all about texture- pliable with a subtle crunch, a pleasant elasticity and bounce against my teeth, all owing to the high collagen content of julienned Achilles tendon.

ハツモト中華風

Then came the hatsumoto, directly translating to ‘the root of the heart’, aka ascending aorta, the largest main artery that stems from the left ventricle of the heart to deliver oxygenated blood all throughout the body.  Thick batonnets of aorta with the texture of semi-firm cheese and a mellow buttery savor were exceptionally delicious tossed with sesame oil, shaved Tokyo negi and togarashi chile, one of my favorite bites of the evening.

ハチノス胡麻和え

Another sensational hit from the tasting menu was the hachinosu honeycomb tripe, the second stomach of the cow, with its firm chewy texture and ever so delicate hint of wonderful gaminess, balanced by the creamy white sesame dressing that made the sake flow easily.

フワ辛子醤油

Sanda is quite possibly one of the only restaurants in the world to serve beef lung and do it so elegantly, showcasing its bold minerality and iron flavor in a simple preparation with soy sauce and Japanese karashi mustard.  Referred to as fuwa by the chefs, taken from the onomatopoeia fuwa fuwa to describe something soft and fluffy, these pink cuts of pulmonary tissue were indeed spongy and light, juxtaposed against the delicate crunch of the cartilaginous bronchioles.

椀物:牛タン団子のスープ

The stand out course of the evening was the beef tongue and throat cartilage dango meatball soup, a densely packed yet soft flavorful meatball with finely chopped bits of crunchy cartilage for fun marvelous texture.  The enticing aromas that wafted through my nares and the warmth of the delicate broth that seemed to spread down my esophagus straight through to my toes left me sipping this bowl of comfort in silence with a long lingering sigh of content on the finish.

刺身:レバーの刺身

Glistening crimson red slices of liver sashimi adorned with white sesame seeds and chopped scallions were creamy and silky like crème fraîche, surprisingly sweet with absolutely no iron flavor characteristic of this organ.  A quick dip in salted sesame oil rendered these delightful segments even more slippery on the tongue, making for an intense session of culinary foreplay.

牛トロ寿司

Harami, commonly known as hanger steak from the cow’s diaphragm, was prepared as delectable sushi, one topped with wasabi and the other with Japanese karashi mustard for a side by side of eastern and western interpretations.

揚げ物:ミノの唐揚げ

As the chef placed this deep fried dish in front of me, I caught his look of challenge in eyes.  ‘Guess which part of the cow this is,’ he seemed to say with his smiling eyes, as my taste buds pondered over this elastic piece in deep thought.  Springy, pliable, but with added layers of juicy flavor through every successive bite, it was obvious that it was a part of the digestive tract.  It was mino, the first stomach, deep fried with shishito pepper and dipped in sea salt and curry powder, a delicious morsel to complement our sake.

煮物:ほほ肉のシチュー

It seemed unfair to be served only 2 bites of Sanda’s breathtakingly delicious beef cheek stew, tender cuts of richly flavored meat braised in red wine long enough to melt its connective tissue layers into liquid umami.  Having fallen under its hypnotic spell, I slurped the sauce down to its last drop with no shame, chasing this liquid gold down with a Japanese plum wine made from red wine infused plums.

焼き物:四種

For the grilled course, the chef presented the 4 beef selections of the evening.  Plates of coarsely chopped daikon radish and finely chopped cabbage were served to enjoy with the fattier cuts of grilled meat, while 3 types of soy sauce (wasabi, garlic and ginger) were presented to use as dipping sauces.

膵臓

Pancreas was surprisingly light, lean and tender, reminding me of grilled chicken thighs, going well with the wasabi soy sauce.

ほほ肉

Thinly sliced beef cheeks had a little more texture and robustness, augmented by the zing of ginger soy sauce.

やん

A first for me, the next grilled course was called yan, the thick knobby portion of connective tissue between the 2nd and 3rd stomach of the cow.  Definitely more chewy and dense, this morsel was all about flavor- the more one chews, the more flavors are extracted, until the jaw fatigues and cannot chew anymore.

ハラミ

Harami, the rear diaphragm, was unexpectedly fatty and juicy, turning into liquid fat at the first bite.  Dipped in wasabi soy sauce, these were intensely rich bites that went well with the crispness of coarsely chopped daikon radish.

鍋:牛タンのしゃぶしゃぶ

4 perfect thin slices of Sanda beef tongue were presented across the counter for the final wagyu course, a shabu shabu.

ギアラ、しびれ

Wrapped around crisp stems of mizuna greens, the delicate slices of tongue were tender and delicious, but the star players in the ponzu dish were the bite sized servings of savory giara, the 4th stomach of the cow, and shibire, buttery sweetbreads/thymus glands that simply melted in my mouth.

〆:中華麺                                                                                                                        デザート:黒胡麻アイスクリーム

Slurping ramen noodles in a light beef based broth, spiked with green onions and a generous sprinkling of coarse black pepper, followed by a simple dessert of dark black sesame ice cream, was the perfect way to end the inspirational meal of beef offals.

Only in Japan can such an experience be possible- a full course kaiseki of beef innards, expertly prepared and elegantly presented to be worthy of a Michelin star, for the quality of the Sanda wagyu brand naturally renders its innards at a similarly high quality.  Not once did I feel like I was having entrails, waste products normally thrown to the hounds, for the freshness of the ingredients, the delicacy of the flavors and the beauty of simple plating elevated the dining experience to one of luxury and finesse.  For a lavish adventure into organ meats, pay a visit to Sanda and allow the friendly welcoming staff to guide you into a whole new world of beef.

Sanda                                                                                                                            Wagyu Restaurant                                                                                                         4-5-9 Roppongi                                                                                                    Minato-ku, Tokyo Japan                                                                                 03-3423-2020

Random trivia:  Cows ‘moo’ in English, but they make other sounds around the world.

Afrikaans: moe-moe                                                                                                   Bengali: hamba                                                                                                              Dutch: boeh                                                                                                                   French: meuh                                                                                                          Hungarian: bú                                                                                                            Korean: um-muuu                                                                                                         Thai: maw maw

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Gyugin 牛銀本店 – Matsuzaka, Japan

He wakes me every morning with that sweet gentle voice of his, calling my name with even more affection than the day before.  ‘Come outside, it’s a beautiful day,’ he says, and he leads me into the wide serene pastures where we frolic and play.  He strokes my black hair with a soft brush, then proceeds to tickle me all over with his playful touch.  We walk along the beautiful river, drinking the fresh natural spring water to quench our thirst.  We toast to our time together with a bottle of beer which I happily guzzle down.  Mozart playing in the background, a little tipsy, I fall into a state of absolute bliss as he massages me all over with those strong masculine hands.  Life is good…

…very good, for the black-haired wagyu cattle raised in Japan that live a privileged and pampered life. Daily massages, shochu hair and hide treatments, classical music, long walks, a special diet made with homemade okara and grains, and lots of beer sound more like the luxurious life of an A-list Hollywood celebrity, but the extent to which these Japanese farmers go to treating their cows (better than their own wives) culminate in an unrivaled cut of supreme beef.

File:4 Kobe Beef, Kobe Japan.jpgKobe beef is world renowned, but it is only 1 of the trio of ultimate Japanese beef supremacy- the top 3 brands of the ‘Sandai Wagyu’ being Kobe, Matsuzaka and Yonezawa.  All are beautiful works of culinary perfection, their intricately marbled patterns of snow white fat melting easier than butter and bursting with refined flavor.

This past January I made a pilgrimage to the Ise Jingu in Mie prefecture, the most sacred and holiest of Shinto shrines in Japan, to honor my roots and receive blessings for the new year.  On my way back to Tokyo I made a separate pilgrimage to Gyugin restaurant in Matsuzaka city, one of the most highly regarded temples of Matsuzaka beef.

Just as one would expect a plethora of pizzerias in Napoli, there are as many as 30 specialty Matsuzaka beef houses in Matsuzaka city.  All, including the top 3 restaurants called Gyugin, Wadakin and Mimatsu, boast prime cuts of the prized meat and crowd their walls with photos of legendary champion cows to augment the experience.  Gyugin is the locals’ restaurant of choice, including 3 taxi drivers, a train conductor and numerous store owners whom I carefully interviewed that day.  The restaurant is tucked away in an old merchant neighborhood at the foot of the Matsuzaka castle, housed in a 2 story wooden structure that still resonates with Meiji era architecture.

In Japan in the 1800’s, meat was randomly cut up in cubes and used in mixed batches regardless of the muscle cut, thrown into a large pot with scallions and miso.  At the turn of the Meiji era in the late 1800’s, butchering became more of a precise art with a deeper understanding of preparation and aging, with an emphasis on select cuts for use in specialty dishes like amiyaki and sukiyaki.  It was around this time that Ginzo Kobayashi, born as the 3rd son of a field farmer, followed his ambition to make it big in the city.  He got his first job at a butcher shop called Yonehisa.  After learning the craft of butchering and the ins and outs of raising premium cattle, he opened his own butcher shop Gyugin at the tender young age of 22 in the heart of Matsuzaka city.  That was 1902.  Today, almost 110 years later, Gyugin remains a sacred site for Matsuzaka beef and a historical icon of sukiyaki.

As with any Japanese craft or restaurant, Gyugin exemplifies the Japanese philosophy of kodawari– the uncompromising and almost stubborn devotion to excellence and attention to detail in the pursuit of perfection.  In the end, kodawari leads to consistency, a quality that I find most important in a restaurant.  At Gyugin one will find the sukiyaki prepared in exactly the same way as it was 110 years ago- only with soy sauce and sugar- to honor the same flavor, quality and tradition that it was built on.  The beef and its beautiful sashi (marble) speak for itself.

Gyugin offers 2 other ways to enjoy Matsuzaka beef: shiochiri, a lighter sukiyaki using white soy sauce, kombu dashi and white pepper, and mizutaki, essentially a shabu shabu with ponzu and white sesame dipping sauces.  Yet sukiyaki is the shining star here, the taste that made Gyugin history, with 3 grades of beef to choose from.  Our server recommended the middle grade called Take for 8,400 yen per person, not by any means a middle grade price, but the best balance of fat, meat and flavor.

Every meal is prepared by your server to ensure perfect execution and flavor. Large slices of Matsuzaka beef, hand sliced to order by a seasoned butcher who cuts as precisely and evenly as a machine, are gently draped into a cold iron pot with a cube of beef fat that begins to melt like butter once the heat is turned on.  Slowly the meat starts to sing, first a low hum then a gradual fortissimo with sputtering sounds of melting fat.  In goes the sugar, then kijoyu soy sauce, an overly simple concoction for such a grand display, yet its slow caramelization releases a sweet intoxicating aroma that grips you with a visceral pang of hunger.

The white sashi (marbled fat) slowly turns translucent as red turns an appetizing brown.  Meanwhile the most perfect fresh farm egg, its bright orange yolk standing taut and almost a gravity defying vertical, requires a strong puncture of the chopsticks to get through the elasticity of its membranes.  It’s a powerful and vigorous specimen of egg, one that can stand up to the heartiness of the sukiyaki.  We all whisk the egg in silence as our eyes fixate on the simmering pot of meat.

After what seems an eternity, a glistening slab of beef is lowered into my bowl.  I gently toss it around with my chopsticks, coating the large surface area with a light application of whisked egg.  The first bite is phenomenal- an explosion of sweetness quickly followed by the creaminess of egg, then a slow injection of fatty meat that liquifies with each careful bite.  Tender, silky, savory yet light, I now see why so many have dedicated their lives to this wagyu.

Beef, warm white rice, kurazuke daikon pickles, repeat, and within minutes the first course is done.  It’s time for the vegetables now, a palate cleanser before another intense round of Matsuzaka gyu.  Carrots, onions, enoki mushrooms and mitsuba cook briefly in the beef glaze, enjoyed in a simple ponzu kombu dashi dipping sauce.  After another satisfying round of beef sukiyaki that tastes even better than the first, we are served the final savory course of tofu and scallions, then a refreshing yuzu sorbet.

Gyugin Yoshokuya next door serves Westernized Matsuzaka beef dishes like beef cutlet, grilled steak, beef curry, beef katsu and hamburger, a popular joint for families with children. However, to really appreciate the essence and beauty of this glorious wagyu beef in its purist form, an evening of sukiyaki at the original Gyugin restaurant is an experience not to be missed.  The most prized beef in the world, created from tender love, care and years of pampering, is truly one of the most delicious foods that I have ever had the privilege of savoring.

Gyugin-Honten

1618 Uomachi

Matsuzaka city

Mie prefecture, Japan

Tel. 81-0598-21-0404

11am-8pm, closed Mondays

Random trivia: Did you know that the song ‘Sukiyaki’, by Kyu Sakamoto, remains the only Japanese-language song to hit #1 in the US (1963 US Billboard Hot 100)?

Aragawa 麤皮- Tokyo, Japan

When one thinks of good quality beef, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Kobe beef.  Kobe beef, which comes from cows that were born and raised in Hyogo prefecture, is highly prized for its exquisite flavor and marbled fat.  These days it’s virtually impossible to walk in to any good restaurant in any part of the world without seeing Kobe beef on the menu.  Kobe beef burgers are still all the rage at most gourmet burger joints and restaurants in the US.  However, it’s important to make the distinction of true Kobe beef and Kobe-style beef.  True Kobe beef comes from Japan, and the cows are raised in a very specific manner.  Every day they’re massaged by hand with an exorbitant sake rub, fed a bottle of beer, taken for regular walks, and lovingly brushed and caressed by their caretakers.  They’re treated better than the average human (until they’re slaughtered, of course).  Kobe-style beef comes from cows that are domestically raised in the US, and they don’t get nearly the same amount of love and attention as their genuine counterparts.

Courtesy of Orlando Calvos on Wikipedia

In Japan, Kobe beef is very popular and praised for its high quality, but it’s not the holy grail.  In Japan there are many more types of exquisite cattle that are even better than Kobe-gyu (gyu means beef in Japanese).  Perhaps you have heard of Matsuzaka-gyu and Yonezawa-gyu, which are just as popular and famous, and are similarly raised with great care and effort.  Classical music is sometimes played in these farms, as it is believed that happy relaxed cows make tastier beef.  Numerous other brands of beef exist in all prefectures of Japan, such as Ishigaki-gyu, Iga-gyu, Yamagata-gyu, Saga-gyu, Maezawa-gyu, Hida-gyu and Konoe-gyu just to name a few.  If you travel to any countryside in Japan, you’ll likely be able to find an exclusive and rare brand of beef, raised by a solo farmer, that’s worthy of competing against Kobe beef.  According to the Japanese beef quality grading system, only 3 types of beef make the top cut, and Kobe beef isn’t on the list.

If you want to see what these special cows taste like, you’ve got to travel to Japan.  There’s really no other country in the world where the unprecedented quality of the beef exceeds anything beyond your wildest imagination.  There’s one restaurant in Tokyo, a very noble and well respected establishment, that is debated to serve the best steak in the country.  43 years ago Aragawa took up a small restaurant space in the basement of a nondescript office building in Shimbashi.  Since then, it has established a reputation for being the best steak house in the country, as well as notoriety for being the most expensive.

The restaurant was opened by owner Akira Kazama, who spent numerous years studying and tasting all of the different brands of beef from Hyogo prefecture.  He decided to open Aragawa when he finally met his dream bovine, the Sanda-gyu 三田牛.  When I first visited this restaurant 5 years ago in its original location (and frankly shady location, as it was right next to a karaoke snack pub on an otherwise deserted basement hallway), I was blown away by the unmeasurable sweetness and juiciness of the steak.  I was excited to revisit Aragawa on my recent visit back home, especially after finding out that it won a Michelin star.

Thankfully, Aragawa has moved into a new location in Onarimon.  The restaurant is on the street level now, and has a more fitting beautiful exterior that reflects its distinguished reputation.  Once I opened the large wooden door, it was like stepping into a movie set from The Titanic.  The decor was still the same, in old world aristocratic style with velvet carpets, antique wooden chairs, plush silk embroidered sofas and fine bone china perfectly laid out on the crisp white linen tablecloths.  Chefs in the open kitchen wearing tall white hats greeted us with a smile, as the tuxedo clad maitre d’ with slicked back hair bowed down to waist level in an honoring Japanese welcome.  Like the previous space, there were only 6 tables here in this exclusive restaurant, and as always, it was a full night.

Aragawa offers one steak course.  There is no written menu, and the chef’s selections for the day are recited by the waitstaff.    You are allowed to select 2 seafood appetizers from a choice of 4 or 5, which is then followed by the house salad, the steak dish, and coffee or tea.  It’s a straightforward, simple no-fuss menu that flaunts supreme ingredients and flawless preparation.  We started with the house specialty, the Aragawa smoked salmon.   I had this on my previous visit, and it was the most exquisite and divine piece of smoked salmon that I have ever had in my life.  They always use domestic wild salmon, and its origins vary from season to season depending on where they can find the best quality for this dish.  This tender piece of king salmon from Laosu Hokkaido, was practically dripping in fatty juices and it had the perfect amount of smoky flavor.  Unlike traditional and commercial thinly sliced smoked salmon, this thick cut of salmon, in all its flesh and skin, was truly a magical and incomparable dish.

For the second seafood appetizer course, my dining companions had the poached Hokkaido sea scallop with beurre blanc.  It was around this time that our bottle of wine arrived at our table.  The wine list here at Aragawa was a compilation of the ‘Best of’.  Only the finest wines in the world would be appropriate to complement the finest cut of beef, and I was amazed at all of the distinguished pedigrees that I was seeing on the 5 page wine menu.  Haut Brion, St-Émilion and Lynch Bages stood out in the Bordeaux dominant line up, and we chose a 1995 Château Canon La Gaffelière Saint-Émilion.  This divine bottle of wine, with silky tannins and a hint of dark berry undertones, was a superb choice for our meal.

For my second seafood appetizer, I passed on the tiger prawns and hairy crab, and went for the fresh Hokkaido scallop that was quickly salt cured in its shell.  The moist white adductor muscle flesh, virtually raw and extremely tender, was still attached to the shell.  It was served with an assortment of pancultural condiments, which included lemon, wasabi, chopped scallions, soy sauce, red shiso leaves and cocktail sauce.  This fresh hunk of scallop was already delicious on its own, and I enjoyed it most with a simple squeeze of citrus.

Normally when you go to a chop house, they will ask you what cut of beef you want and how you would like it cooked- well done, medium or rare.  Here at Aragawa no such questions are asked.  They’ve already done the choosing for you, and they serve you their choice cut for the day with full confidence.  The cut of choice may change depending on the condition of the Sanda-gyu cows, but it’s usually a sirloin, cooked medium rare.  Given that they only raise a cattle of less than 1000 cows a year, this prized meat is a rare treasure.

The meat was grilled in a special brick oven heated with binchō-tan, a high quality Japanese charcoal made from oak in the Wakayama prefecture, and seasoned with only salt and pepper to enhance the natural flavors of the beef.  The sirloin was cooked to perfection, with a smoky sear on the surface and a glistening color of medium rare red in the center.  The knife simply fell through the tender meat fibers down to the porcelain plate, and it was like cutting through air.  With each bite, a squirt of warm savory juice filled my oral cavity with a luscious aromatic veil, while the marbled fat permeated my taste buds with a light and sweet flavor.  This fatty cut of meat wasn’t heavy at all, and I finished this 200 gram portion of Sanda-gyu without feeling its physical weight in my stomach.  Words cannot describe how incredible this steak was.

I was glad that I made this return trip to Aragawa for the Sanda-gyu steak.  I can honestly say that it’s the best steak that I’ve ever had in my life, and probably will ever have had in my life.  The best things in life don’t come for free though.  You’re probably wondering how much this decadent steak feast cost.  Let’s just say that it’s probably the most expensive piece of meat in the world…but it was worth every yen.

Aragawa

3-23-11 Onarimon Odakyu Building 1st floor

Nishi-shimbashi, Minato-ku Tokyo

Tel 03-3438-1867

Random trivia: Did you know that some Japanese brand name cows receive “happy endings” after their massages, which is believed to stimulate blood flow and improve marbling texture?  TMI (too much information)…

Bond Street at the Thompson- Beverly Hills

IMG_9956

At the Beverly Hills Thompson Hotel, Chef Brian Redzikowski mans the helm of the kitchen at Bond Street restaurant.  The restaurant and hotel, just like the original in New York’s SoHo, is beautifully designed in true Dodd Mitchell style.  Sleek dark brown suede banquettes and checkered patterns encompass the dimly lit dining room.  The classy bar is an ideal place for incognito lovers to whisper sweet nothings by flickering candlelight. A quaint sushi bar sits by the open kitchen,  a traditional Japanese haven almost hidden from the otherwise contemporary space.  The large wooden communal table by the bar decorated with bonsai plants almost took my breath away.  My goodness, is that a George Nakashima table?  After close inspection, I could tell that it wasn’t, but it was still a beauty.  Japanese artistry juxtaposed with lustrous modern design compose the perfect background for the innovative food here at Bond St.

IMG_0004Chef Brian Redzikowski is almost too perfect of a fit for this restaurant known for sushi and Japanese fusion cuisine.  Only a chef who has the mastery of classical French techniques and an eye for Japanese aesthetics can competently operate and actualize this menu.  His impressive bio reflects how his path was naturally bound for the executive chef title at Bond St.  Le Cirque, Alain Ducasse, Le Bernardin and Joel Robuchon at the Mansion have refined his culinary skills.  His position as executive chef at Matsuhisa in Colorado and executive sous-chef at Yellowtail in Las Vegas prove his competence with Japanese cuisine.

He started off our special tasting menu with a prosecco sangria jello and foam.  The flavors were sweet, fruity and seductive.  The foam layer fizzled away like fine prosecco bubbles.  As we examined the chiffon lace decoration on this dish and toasted with Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé champagne (a signature Robuchon bubbly), the two former Robuchon chefs that I was dining with both chuckled as they simultaneously exclaimed “This is SO Robuchon!”

My favorite dish of the evening was the big eye tuna tartare with truffle oil, thinly sliced red onions and microshiso.  It was stunningly plated on a thin wooden plank that was reminiscent of the Nakashima-esque wooden table by the bar.  Served on a light and airy crisp, this dainty appetizer saturated the air with its ethereal truffle aroma.

 

A ‘sashimi’ plate of king crab and hamachi.  The intense aroma of the bacon foam on top of the king crab with vinegar gelée opened the flood gates of my salivary glands.  This foam can easily be marketed to become a basic tabletop condiment right next to salt and pepper.  I felt like the vinegar gelée was unnecessary and took away from the excitement of the bacon essence, but the hamachi belly with soy strip was delightful.  The soy flavors kicked in after a few seconds, as the strip slowly dissolved in my mouth and transfused through the wonderful fattiness of the fish.

The Skeena river salmon sushi went back to the basics.  After all, this is a sushi restaurant (well, sort of).  But of course, Brian put a little twist to it.  It was served with soy pearls, small round jelly-like pearls that were probably made with either alginate or agar.  Although it was a fun concept, I would have preferred to keep this simple and a little more traditional with soy-marinated salmon roe.

By this time we were knee deep in the most insanely delicious bottle of 2005 Domaine Etienne Defaix Chablis Vielle Vignes from Burgundy- a perfect balance of dry and sweet, and went well with all of the seafood dishes.

Foie gras with spicy rice krispy treat, yogurt powder and yogurt chip was interesting.  The best part for me was the actual foie gras which I only got to enjoy for a nanosecond before it disappeared under the overwhelming sweetness and chewiness of the rice krispy treat.  I didn’t quite understand the role of the yogurt, as it did nothing for me, and the yogurt powder reminded me of infant formula.

The next dish was a corn flan with carrot marshmallow, sweet pea foam and spot prawns that I unfortunately forgot to photograph.  You can see a photo of it on Chef Redzikowski’s site.  A deep white bowl with a layer of yellow corn flan at the bottom was colorfully dotted with orange and green and a side of light green pea foam.  The flan was incredibly smooth and silky, and the sweet pea foam was beautifully aromatic.  The crunchy texture of the croutons mixed with the succulent meatiness of the prawns and melty marshmallows was brilliant.  We all loved this dish.

The Alaskan black cod with miso dengaku and potato miso foam was nice.  The cod was perfectly cooked and flavorful, motivating me to eat carefully with the precision of a plastic surgeon so as not to leave behind even a small flake on the plate.  I was a bit surprised to see a red miso dengaku paste on this fatty fish, as cod is usually marinated with white miso which has a lighter taste.  The warm potato foam was good enough for me to want to bathe in.  Bravo to the bottle of 2004 Chenin blanc ‘Les Genêts’ from Savennières by Damien Laureau for enhancing this portion of our dinner with its fruit and honey undertones.

 

The sous vide Snake River Farm Kurobuta pork belly dish was interesting.  It was served with artichoke foam and olive oil powder.  Our server gave us strict instructions to incorporate the foam and powder in each bite.   I applaud the chef’s creativity and determination in incorporating molecular gastronomy elements in his dishes, but I was deeply perplexed with the elements.  The powders and foams were too frail and muted to do their part in enhancing the fatty pork belly.

The sous vide Kobe beef on a bed of applewood smoked bacon was presented beautifully.  The beef slices were nicely marbled and fatty as Kobe beef always is, although I question the presence of the bacon.  I’m assuming it was for consumption and not just for visual and olfactory foreplay, as these were some of the toughest slices of bacon I’ve ever had.

 

The beef was accompanied with a side of veggies.  Similar to the carrot marshmallows in the corn flan dish, it came with a round carrot sphere served on a bed of cippolini onion purée with microvegetables and honey teriyaki sauce.  The cippolini purée was exquisite, teeming with that unique sweetness that only an onion can produce.

Sous vide meat round 3 was Sonoma lamb with carrot purée and powder, gingerbread, lamb jus and mint paper.  The meat was tender and delicate, and beautifully done.  The arrangement of dots, cubes and powder was like a Japanese rock garden.

 

The meats were beautifully paired with a flawless 2006 Vosne Romanée by Domaine Forey Pere et Fils.  Luckily we still had a little left to enjoy with the first of 6 desserts which couldn’t be more perfect with this wine.  As a tribute to the Vosne Romanée, these pinot noir and strawberry liquid-filled chocolate spheres were chaperoned by pinot noir reduction dots, micro shiso and strawberries.  Upon first glance, this brown sphere seemed timid and nervous, sweating fine beads of perspiration under the ravenous stares of its predators.  Once consumed, its surprisingly thin and delicate crust ruptured between tongue and palate in a torrent of seductive poison, rendering its predator paralyzed in a fervent state of ecstasy.

 

The warm cherry clafoutis with vanilla ice cream was next up in this sinful dessert carnage.  It was nice to get a classic French dish made simply and splendidly.  It was an amazing dessert that almost caused a war when it came down to the last bite.

 

The lemongrass and espresso ice creams with cappuccino foam was sharp and refreshing.

 

The caramel flan with popcorn foam was interesting to say the least.  Not my cup of tea, but a bold experiment in unique flavor and texture combinations.

 

Mochi donuts with coconut ice cream and rhubarb was something I could easily do without.  The mochi balls had a caustic chewy texture that made it distinctly un-mochi like.

 

The grand dessert finale was fittingly carried out by the caramel chocolate ball filled with liquid vanilla ice cream on a bed of caramel powder.  We were instructed to eat this in one bite.  Mind you, they were the size of golf balls, so we all initially hesitated, not wanting to look silly trying to do this.  But we were among good friends, and happy tipsy friends at that, so we all took the plunge together.  Just like the pinot noir chocolate ball, this heavenly sphere instantly collapsed in our mouths, resulting in a tsunami of rich vanilla decadence.  See this YouTube video of Brian making these opulent orbs.  Avoid the somewhat cheesy music by viewing it on mute.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoeeC5ABgZU

 

 

The decadent feast concluded with colorful origami boxes containing chocolates.  The flowing progression of our meal narrated a beautiful story and each dish allured us with mythical charm.  Like traditional Japanese kaiseki, the aesthetics of each plate demonstrated the esteem and discernment of understated beauty.

The exorbitance of powders, foams, strips, dots and sous vide meats left me yearning for a simple plate of meat and potatoes, but I appreciated Redzikowski’s creative and daring adventure into new culinary frontiers.  Like the restaurant decor,  his food represented a flirtatious blend of sexy modernism and traditional elegance.

Bond Street

9360 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212-3134
(310) 601-2255

 

Click here for more beautiful photos of Chef Redzikowski’s culinary creations.

 

 

Random trivia:  Careful where you pop…

Jan 2, 2009 12:31 pm US/Pacific

Popcorn Trail Leads Police To Suspected Thief

NATOMAS (CBS13) ―

A messy thief has been arrested after a trail of popcorn led police directly from a crime scene to the suspect’s living room.

Sacramento police say they responded to an alarm at the Food Stop store in Natomas early in the morning on New Year’s day.  When officers arrived they found that the business had been broken into and several items taken.

That’s also when they noticed a trail of popcorn.  Officers followed the trail of clues to an apartment complex behind the store and to the door of one unit.  When officers knocked, they noticed the popcorn kernels continued inside the apartment.  Officers found the stolen property inside.

Officers arrested Tyree Brown for a theft warrant and possession of stolen property.  He may be charged with burlgary at a later time.

(© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)