The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2010

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Page 98 of 112

Higher Plane Dining on a Much THE TOKYO RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE IS LIKE NO OTHER story and photos by Anthony Dias Blue T Chef Takashi Saito grates wasabi. okyo is the best restaurant city in the world; at least, that’s what Michelin tells us. In the 2010 Red Guide to Paris there are a total of 97 of Michelin’s coveted stars bestowed on restaurants there. Among these are ten three-star awards. Three stars is the highest honor Michelin’s notoriously secretive tasters dole out in food—a rating reserved for the likes of Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià. In the 2010 Red Guide to Tokyo, there are a total of 261 stars awarded. Among them are 11 three-star honorees. I would have to agree with the Michelin tasters. I’ve eaten at all of the three-stars in Paris, I’ve dined at El Bulli, I’ve sampled the best of San Sebastian, the three-stars in Italy and all around France, but none of them rises to the level of food I’ve experi- enced in Tokyo. Tokyo has plenty of world-class Western and Chinese restaurants. Several of the French superstar chefs have outposts in Japan’s capital, but more than two-thirds of the Tokyo stars go to Japanese restaurants. What is it about Japanese food that evokes such critical adoration? The best Japanese food reaches a level that far exceeds the best of the West. It’s characterized by exquisite presentation, dazzling creativity, fanatical attention to detail, the use of unique, exotic ingredients and an overall elegance and purity. This excellence is distributed over several styles, including restaurants specializing in tempura, sushi, kaiseki, soba, teppanyaki, fugu, unagi (eel) and tofu. And, unfortu- nately, thanks to the brutal exchange rate, you can expect to spend $200 or more per person at the best of them. Another thing that sets Japanese restaurants apart is the fact that most of best ones offer counter seating. Rather than sitting at a table and being served by waitstaff, you are seated at a counter and served by the chef. Watching your food being prepared— and then having eye contact with and being served by the person who prepared it—makes the dining experience much more personal and intimate. The chefs enjoy watching you relish the food that has been made especially for you. A great Japanese meal can never be a passive experience; it is totally involving. The best way to fully enjoy this remarkable cuisine is to take your time; savor and appreciate every mouth- ful and communicate to the chef—in whatever manner you choose—how much you like what you are eating. All the best Tokyo Japanese restaurants offer beer, a good selection of saké and, in most cases, a small but appropriate wine list. Here are a few of my favorite Tokyo restaurants: 98 / the tasting panel / september 2010

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