Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Morikawa Tokyo

There are plenty of introduction-only restaurants in Japan, but probably none is as 'mysterious' as the one named Morikawa. The establishment information in the tabelog does not mention its address or telephone number. After having searched and asked here and there, miraculously the chief concierge of hotel Okura Tokyo managed to secure two seats for us at dinner. Morikawa is located in the Akasaka area; its surroundings are pretty crowded. There are many small restaurants & shops as well as a multi-story bic camera store. The outer entrance of the restaurant was wide and sturdy. Although we're seated at the counter, all diners upon entering the restaurants were required to take off their shoes. Nearly all of the floor area in the dining room was covered by thick tatami mat. We arrived about 7:30 PM and there was another couple on half way enjoying their meals at the counter. Besides 4 of us, there were a few people occupying the private room. Unlike the crammed seating at Kadowaki, the long counter, made of refined hinoki wood, and chairs at Morikawa were spacious and comfortable. For the restaurant decoration, there were some beautiful Calligraphy behind us. Outside a restaurant with ryotei, this happened to be the most luxurious (kappo) kaiseki institution I've ever been. Even, the rest room was expansive and above the toilet bowl, an AC was hanged on the wall (assuming it would be turned on during the hot summer days).

At the beginning, after being seated, we saw a tall gentleman (Mr. Morikawa) behind a counter with serious face. There was hardly any smile and he presented the first dish to us. It was lavish and beautiful; we're excited to eat it. Then, I took a courage (and perhaps shamelessly also) to ask his permission whether it's fine to take a picture of the dishes. At first, he seemed unhappy and then called someone. The phone was passed on to me and the lady concierge on the line explained to me that normally pictures were not allowed here but this time would be an exception - my guess because it was a relatively quiet evening. I was grateful and glad that we're allowed to take pictures "legally". The intense atmosphere began to melt when I could correctly described most of the ingredients in the multiple sashimi courses. Even, the middle-aged couple next to us was a bit 'impressed' when I could recognize Iwatake mushroom. From that moment onward, everything went a lot smoothly. I felt that we sort of passed the 'test' from the host. Additionally, the friendly and pretty Okami, Mrs. Morikawa became more active in assisting the service throughout the night. By 9 PM, we were the only diners left so we got the undivided attention from the staffs and the experience looked like we had a private dining at someone's luxurious house. Similar to other elite kaiseki places, there was only one menu available - omakase. Without further delay, here were the dishes that we had:

Hokkaido hairy crab served with vinegar sauce - It's like Shanghai's hairy crab but better. The chef prepared it so that we could easily enjoy this delicacy. The steamed meat had clean flavor while the kani miso was tasty & rich; eat them together for some balance. For non-purist, you're welcome to dip the gani in the slightly sour but light sauce (a mixture of vinegar and a bit of dashi + shoyu). An excellent and extravagant way to begin a meal
Tilefish served with chestnut - A bowl serving this dish was beautiful! Both the Amadai and kuri were served in its 'modest' forms for its 'unadulterated' flavor. The Amadai was meaty and of high quality though a bit tasteless for my taste; to complement it, the kuri was also not strong. Fortunately, the clear dashi was aromatic with some umami flavor to enrich the fish and the chestnut. A heartwarming soup

Spiny lobster sashimi served with wasabi - It was superb; arguably the best raw Ise ebi I've ever had. The clear flesh was plump, firm and a bit sweet; the cooked head/brain was delicate, delicious with some meat in it - a perfect combination with pleasant aroma and distinct flavor
Tai and Shima Aji sashimi with Iwatake - The sea bream was magnificent; a bit chewy but flavorful. The striped jack, due to its 'crunchy' texture, was cut differently; it was fresh and tasty. The 'rock' mushroom (only the 2nd time I ate this rare mushroom) had jelly-like texture and unique aroma. Another wonderful sashimi course

Broiled Matsutake - The Matsutake was perfectly cooked as shown in beautiful color. For this, the chef chose the ones with close cap (taste delicious). We're served this stuff 4 times in which the next one was bigger and more delectable than the previous one. For some variation, we're provided with komatsu, suidachi and light dipping sauce. Possibly my best yaki matsutake
Grilled Eel with its liver and rice - It was really stunning, better than I had expected. This unagi kimo kabayaki was not only delicious, but also nutritious. The unagi meat was rich & tender yet not too soft; the kimo was also tasty yet neither greasy nor fishy. It went well with the rice and the portion was just right

Hot pot of Pine mushroom with Pike conger - In front of us, Morikawa-san sliced and served generous amount of Matsutake. The hamo was also plenty. He showed us how to cook this course and explained a few ways to enjoy this classic Japanese dish - a staple item during Autumn. Outstanding!
Without the mushroom, the broth (it had some flavor from the Conger eel's bone) was already tasty. The Matsutake enhanced it by giving a very pleasant aroma. I also enjoy its 'meaty' texture. If you want a more acidic flavor, the lime and light sauce containing little salt were available. With some vegetables and Matsutake, the soup was remarkable ... Adding the hamo, make it a 'perfect' dish  
Another plentiful and pristine Conger eel that would bloom beautifully like a "flower" inside the hot pot. Minimal preparation was required and I could fully experience the Hamo's natural flavor. Consuming this creature, interchangeably with Matsutake and drank the rich dashi was one the 'greatest' pleasure I've had in my foodie adventure. Totemo umai!

Matsutake 'tempura' served with German Osetra caviar - A very luxurious dish resulting an explosive flavor in the mouth. Certainly the best byte I've ever had in 2015. Chef Morikawa himself slowly and carefully deep-fried the mushroom (crisp, firm and delicious). The caviar was smooth, rich and creamy with some hazelnut taste. The combination was heavenly; I was excited and kinda speechless at that time. A mother of pearl spoon was provided to scoop any left over caviar
Homemade Buckwheat noodles served with duck soup - To wind down, the kitchen provided al dente/chewy soba. The 'tsuyu' was warm and rather intense soup containing succulent and tender duck meat (without any trace of foul smell). The overall taste was clean and not heavy; surprisingly a good pairing

Matsutake gohan served with pickles - The slices of Pine mushrooms were rather subtle in flavor this time. Instead, the rice has richer flavor and aroma of the matsutake. It was still very nice though not the finest I've ever eaten. That being said, I still managed to finish 2 bowls of this rice
Mandarin orange - On top was watery, sweet & slightly sour mikan jelly. In contrast to the smooth jelly texture, there was some seedless orange 'flesh' underneath. It was simple and refreshing 

Morikawa did not hold back in using the finest, freshest and most luxurious seasonal ingredients available. We ate during the period when Matsutake was at its peak - very abundant and of high quality. Having been working at Kyo Aji for more than a decade, Morikawa-san displayed the high technique in executing Japanese cuisine and was capable of sourcing and selecting top produce. All of the dishes that utilized Pine mushrooms were not inferior to the ones prepared by the legendary Kenichiro Nishi. My meal here truly satisfied my hunger for Matsutake mushrooms. Normally, I ate good Matsutake dishes in tasting portion, but here some of them was prepared in a la carte-like size such as the nabe with Hamo and Matsutake. The only thing in which Morikawa was a bit lacking compared to Kyo Aji was probably at rice dishes and desserts; in these 2 'departments', Nishi-san was simply too superior. However, I admired Morikawa-san's boldness & confidence to use caviar with Matsutake tempura and let the diners cook their own hot pot. Not only for food, but also for drink, Mr. Morikawa served very fine sake - the imperial's family 'favorite' one called Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo. The one we had was, of course, not the best kind of Kokuryu yet still awesome. The aroma was mild with some hint of fruit and nuts; the flavor was rich & explosive yet really smooth. An exceptional sake with plenty of umami flavor and slightly dry finish.

Although at the early stage of our meal the situation was a bit intense, Morikawa and his staffs could turn it around and delivered an impeccable service since then. In my home country there was a proverb if translated in English more or less is as follow: "You can't love what you don't know". Initially, I thought I would receive an arrogant and unfriendly service like the one I had at Jiro Ginza for the whole meal. I was pleased that it did not happen and both Mr. and Mrs. Morikawa stepped up their game as they're also getting more comfortable with us. A special note for Mrs. Morikawa; she was naturally very kind and caring so her hospitality was effortless. As we're talking more about many different things including family, Mr. Morikawa took out his iPad and showed us his family picture collections including their 2 children. On the one hand, I agree that an immaculate service should be given consistently; on the other hand, some Japanese people, due to its culture, could be quite rigid at times. I suspected that Morikawa hardly had any foreigners dining there, hence might explain the odd situation at the beginning. The food here was on par with my meals at Matsukawa, Morikawa-san's close friend but for the overall experience I like Morikawa better probably because we could communicate a lot more here. At this moment, after my meal at Kyo Aji, this one was the 2nd best gastronomy experience I've experienced in Japan. Have a deep pocket and 'thick skinned' as well as be open minded, you will be rewarded with a fantastic meal at Morikawa. Please see here for the pictures: Morikawa Sep '15

Food: 98 pts

Service: 96 pts

Overall: 97.5/100



Bowlinthewall said...

Hey, thanks for the great review! I'm actually going to Japan in May for my birthday. I've been a regular at Matsukawa for three years now, and was wondering if it was worth the effort to try Morikawa. I was lucky to get an invitation to Matsukawa in the first place. Do you know if Morikawa is the kind of place that would except a foreigner calling them without an introduction? I'm conversational in Japanese, but not so much over the phone.

Bowlinthewall said...

Thank you for the wonderful review. I actually managed to get a hold of the phone number for this place. Would it be unwise to call them for a reservation a couple of months from now? I would love to know your own personal experience in the matter.

Bu Pun Su said...

Halo, thanks for reading. I don't know the exact answer of your questions since I got an assistance from the hotel's concierge. Are you going to stay in a hotel with a concierge? If not, I would say go ahead to try to contact them if you really want to have a meal there. Based on my sole experience, it was not a busy/popular restaurant (yet)

Do you have any pictures for your Matsukawa meal? I only visited there during late Autumn and would love to see the dishes there during different seasons. Anyway, good luck - hope you can secure a seat there

Bowlinthewall said...

I put up a few albums here, but I haven't updated this page in a while. There are two albums but I've been there 5 or 6 times in total. Enjoy! https://www.facebook.com/bowlinthewall/

Unknown said...

Very good review, love it, thank you

Bu Pun Su said...

Thanks for reading bro