Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kagurazaka Ishikawa

April this year, after a very satisfying meal at Tenku Ryugin - it's almost a lock that for the upcoming Japan trip, dining at Nihonryori Ryugin (perhaps Japan's most famous restaurant recently) is a must. However, after further research - about a few months before the actual trip, I decided that I would only eat at restaurants that are exclusively available in Japan. So, this leaves out not only Ryugin, but also Sushi Yoshitake and Kojyu. As a fan of Japanese kaiseki, Kagurazaka Ishikawa is like the next logical step of where I should eat. The decision to dine at Ishikawa was not a difficult one to make: 3-star Michelin, plenty of positive reviews from bloggers and critics alike, plus quite high score at tabelog. Like many other Tokyo restaurants, Ishikawa's location (in the geisha district of Kagurazaka) is not very straight forward; the establishment is in black wood at the ground floor of Takamura building, just behind the Bishamonten shrine. The discreet and 'dark' entrance only has kanji; one can see a little garden towards the end of a short corridor. Upon greeted by waitresses in kimono and checked our coats, we were seated at the counter. Then, the main show of the evening began: 9-course set menu

Appetizer (Zensai): Snow Crab served with Garland chrysanthemum and Petals - The kani is fresh and a bit sweet while the "jelly sauce", made of rice vinegar & dashi, further wet our appetite

Deep-fried (Agemono): Rice cake sandwich serve with Simmered soft-shelled Turtle - Perfectly fried rice cake (not oily at all) with good texture and right amount of 'chewiness'. The shoyu and lime added tempura-style flavor; the simmered turtle is not overwhelmed. A nice dish ..

Soup (Owan): Conger Eel with its minced meat served with Turnip and Mitsuba green with a hint of Yuzu citrus - The soup has a nice aroma (thanks to the Japanese parsley and yuzu). The tender kabu and anago are contrast to firmer minced meat below. The dashi will bring the natural umami flavor of soup's ingredients

Part 1: Sea Bream garnished with fresh seaweed and Japanese herbs (wasabi, shiso and ginger) - Standard fresh Tai sashimi with a nice texture. More than half of the "kaiseki" places we visited serving this fish in the Tsukuri part
Part 2: Seared Blowfish served with grated white radish sauce - Both high-quality of Fugu's flesh and skin are served here; Fugu is generally quite plain but it has an interesting and enjoyable texture. The grated radish on top as well as Sudachi ponzu below bring extra dimension of flavor to this dish

Charcoal-grilled (Yakimono): Black-throat Sea Perch served with Maitake mushrooms - The Nodoguro and its crispy skin are slightly sweet and delicious; The grilled Maitake is also tasty and earthy. If you find them too intense, the daikon and lime are there to help. A great dish 

Specialty: Horsehead Snapper and Cod Milt served with Soy milk and Tofu skin - Packed but (very) umami. The tara shirako is excellent and not too much, the amadai is perfectly cooked. The heavy sauce is made of kuzu, sugar and salt; its intensity is toned down by the wasabi, yuba and tonyu. Another great dish

Hot Pot (Nabemono): Fresh Sea Urchin and Thinly sliced Wagyu Beef served with Tofu and Komatsuna green - As expected, the Murasaki Uni and Kagoshima Beef are oishii. The tofu and mustard spinach are alright. The hot soup itself is wonderful especially to be savored during the cold weather  

Steamed Rice (Shokuji): Freshly harvested rice served with Sea Bream paste and pickled vegetables - I expected more for rice dish at Ishikawa (such as rice with Matsutake/Kani). It was a decent dish nevertheless; the top quality rice went well with nori, furikake and tsukemono. Halfway, the Chef poured bonito dashi to the rice to be enjoyed particularly with plenty of Tai paste

Dessert (Mizumono): Fresh Persimmon and Caramel ice cream with Monaka wafer - During Fall, kaki (a bit crunchy and rich in nutrients) is abundant and at its best. The lime jelly provides flavor and texture contrast; the ice cream is unfortunately a bit too cold with thin ice on the surface, hence unpleasant to eat. The wafer is light and quite airy - an OK dessert  

A very well-rounded and delicious degustation menu indeed. The dishes have been executed in high precision. Nothing is too much (sweet/salty) or overstated here, everything is in balanced while Hideki Ishikawa-san would let the ingredients shine on their own. When asked about his cooking style, Ishikawa was hesitated to consider his cuisine as kappo or cha kaiseki; he simply stated it's "Nihon ryori" - creative kaiseki is probably a good way to describe his cooking, a mixture of traditional style with some innovative technique focusing on ingredients' special characteristics. The chef-owner is a humble and simple man. He's very observant and cared about this customers; at least once or twice he would initiate some conversation with his guests. This small gesture actually made a tremendous difference to the overall dining experience. He is among the most easy going chefs I've ever encountered in Japan.     

Kagurazaka Ishikawa can be considered more pleasant and relaxed among top dining restaurants in Japan, but the service is top notch and nearly flawless. The restaurant manager, Chihiro-san spoke good English so don't worry about losing in translation. As a matter of fact, Ishikawa himself could understand and converse reasonably well in English - He explained that he's been learning the language 1-2 hours per week by himself; what an effort and commitment for a busy chef like him who owns 3 restaurants in Tokyo! On that day, the restaurant was busy but not fully booked. Throughout dinner, there was one empty spot at the seven-seat counter (we arrived and ate in between the 1st and 2nd seating), but at least 3 of the private rooms were utilized. Ishikawa is indeed a very popular restaurant, even Chef Tadayoshi Matsukawa had dined here a week before. On separate occasions, I've also encountered 2 groups, from Singapore and Hong Kong/Canada, dining in Tokyo had Ishikawa in their schedules. Overall, my wife and I felt very content and pleased with the wonderful meal as well as warm hospitality delivered by Ishikawa and his team. We truly love the convivial ambiance and enthusiasm shown by both the front and back staffs. Well done Ishikawa-san ... 

Please visit here for the pictures: Ishikawa Fall 2013
Food: 95 pts

Service: 95 pts

Overall: 95/100