Saturday, February 6, 2016

Beef Exceptional!: A Tasting of Wagyu Beef From 4 Regions of Japan.

Our beef tasting was done under the very capable hands of Nota Bene chef David Lee. Our timing was perfect, arriving just after the lovely renovations were completed. All samples of Japanese beef were sourced from Famu, Toronto's Japanese butcher Seiko Ishiguro.

We chose strip loin cuts as they would be easier to cut and portion.

Japanese wagyu beef is intensely fat and will melt in your mouth. This is because the fat melts at a lower temperature (77F; 25C). This melting point is lower than the fat of conventional angus or wagyu cross breed beef that one buys in the USA or Canada. Even handling the meat in your hands can melt the fat.  So, Japanese wagyu beef should not be cooked further than medium-rare.

 Japanese beef is graded on a scale determined by the amount of intramuscular fat and the quality and colour of the fat. The higher the number, the better the beef. Beef with the highest grade of fat is graded A5. U.S. prime beef must have 6-8% of marbled fat to qualify for the highest USDA grade of “prime”. In order to achieve the highest quality grade for wagyu (A5), on the other hand, meat must be at least 25% marbled fat. 

Chef David Lee with renown foodie Moez kassam, holding the 4 beef samples.

 The Hokkaido and Okinawa samples.

Closeup of the raw Okinawa sample.

The Myazaki and Kagoshima samples. 

A closeup of the Myazaki sample.

The beef samples were presented in 2.5 oz pieces. The beef samples were perfectly cooked and seared properly to create the Mallard reaction, which I feel must be done properly to obtain the maximum flavor with Japanese beef. Two of the 4 samples tied to win, Kagoshima and the Okinawa. I preferred the Okinawa and gave it a score of taste 9+; texture 9 and juiciness 9. After the tasting I learned that the Kagoshima sample was fed sweet potatoes as part of its food regime.

The samples plated, flight one.

Close up of a cooked sample.

It was interesting to note that the differences between each sample, in taste, texture and juiciness, was extremely subtle. The fat was creamy in texture with a slightly nutty flavor. The meat lacked the very forward beefy taste of the best of Canadian prime that one might receive from such prime butchers in Toronto as Cumbrae’s or Olliffe’s, but, nevertheless, the flavors were wonderful. In regards to the texture, one taster commented that the juiciness lacked some of the liquid juices typically experienced with North American beef. It was remarked that the liquid juiciness he described may have been due to how the beef he remembered tasting, was stored (wet aged; dry aged; or a combination). Dry aged beef, aged 6-8 weeks, an ideal, has much less of the liquid juicy aspect. The bottom line is that the taste experience with Japanese beef cannot really be fairly compared to the experience tasting beef from elsewhere. That comparison is a bit like the trite comparison comparing apples and oranges.

Some wines we enjoyed with this dinner:

That's Harlan Maiden and Marcel Guigal Cotes Rotie La Landonne!

1971 Mouton Rothschild, still remarkable wine after 45 years! (not that the others were not wonderful as well!).

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Alo Restaurant Revisited

Alo Restaurant Revisited

Alo is one of the best dining experiences in Canada, and continues to be, in my opinion. For me this justifies a second post.

Madai, plum, rice and coriander. Expect fresh fish perfection at Alo!

King salmon, perfectly cooked with chanterelles, new potato and sorrel.

Burgundy snails, parsley puree, black garlic, bread crumbs, charred pearl onions. Chef Kriss excels in his compositions of flavours and textures.

Quebec foie gras, cockscomb, turnip and buckwheat. This is a perfect dish for me. The creamy texture of the foie gras and the sublime texture and mouth feel of the cockscombs are something I would dream about when I think of fave dishes.

Muscovy duck, perfectly rare, with sunchoke, gooseberry and swiss chard.

Dark chocolate cremeux. Pear puree, pear gelee and tonka bean.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A spectacular "Mystery" Wine dinner at Splendido: Chef Victor Barry's Last Harrah!

This was the last truly important meal chef Victor Barry would cook for us as Splendido was officially closing Jan 1st. The meal did not disappoint.

The format for our mystery wine dinner is that snacks are served with a white reception wine. When we are seated, all of the wines have been pored. Only the sommelier knows what the wines are. They are all red and each event has a theme. The theme this evening was no wine younger than 2005. each guest brought 2 bottles of wine from the same vineyard, same producer or same vineyard, different producer. Canapes are served during the tasting, then, after much discussion with attempts at naming the wine, the producer and vintage, the wines are revealed.

Reception Snacks
I apologize for the dim light.

Reception wine Corton Charlemagne 2005 Drouhin.

 Northern Divine caviar cornets.

Chef Victor Barry's masterpiece that he has served at many recent dinners: the most perfectly fresh B.C. sea urchin on nori brioche. This is a dish where most everyone wants seconds!

 Salmon sashimi with garlic, avocado and tamari.

Canapes for the Tasting

Jamon de bellotta, leek and raclette tarte, 5 hour roasted bolero carrot and Boileau Farms venison tartar and truffle sandwich.

The dinner

Seared Quebec foie gras with boudin noir, onion raisin jam, sauce albufera and brioche.

 The presentation of the potato gnocchi.

The gnocchi are covered in shaved Alba truffles. These gnocchi were sublime, with a velvet texture and as good as one could get anywhere. 

Roasted duck breast, duck leg royale, coffee roasted date, endive and orange.

Wild duck royale, duck braised in duck stock finished with the duck's blood, its liver, dark chocolate, maple syrup and sherry. This was a richly flavoured, truly extraordinary dish and the greatest rendition that I have ever enjoyed! 

 Roasted rack of wild venison. blueberries and parsnip.

Fabulous dry aged Cumbrae Farms rib cap....this cut of meat, from this producer, cooked Chef Victor Barry's way, is the absolute favourite piece of meat I could enjoy, anywhere. It was so good, I hate to admit that I had a third portion!!

Northern spy apple tart with ginger and vanilla cream.

The dessert wine was Chateau Nairac Barsac 1983.

The wines unveiled: 
The red wines listed together were paired and tasted together:

Corton Clos des Rois Prince de Merode 2001
Corton Clos des Rois Moilard 1971

DRC La Tache 2004
DRC La Tache 1971

Vosne Romanee les Suchot Drouhin 1999
Vosne Romanee les Suchot Bouchard 2003

Chateau Lascombes 1982
Chateau Lascombes 1975

Chateau Smith Haute Lafite 1998
Chateau Smith haute Lafite 2005

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou 1996
Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou 1982

Opus One 1997
Opus One 1983

Monday, January 11, 2016

Tokyo Restaurants, Fall 2015: Sushi Yoshitake, Ippudo Ramen, Sushi Mitzutani, Matsukawa, Harutaka, Sushi Sawada, Akasaka Kitafuku, Gogyo Ramen, 7-Chome Kyobashi

Sushi Yoshitake

The entrance to this esteemed Michelin 3*** establishment, considered by many Japanese, one of the 5 best sushi restos in Tokyo. There are only 11 counter seats. In my years of eating in Japan, it was certainly one of my 2 favourites, the other being Sushi Sawada. 

Before your meal begins were are advised to eat the sushi immediately after it is presented because the temperature of the "shari" sushi rice is adjusted  by the chef for different fish (!!!) so, the sushi is tastiest immediately after serving.



Koubako crab.

The crab with sotoko jelly. There are 2 kinds of eggs in crab, uchiko and sotoko. Uchiko is the ovary which is inside of the shell. Sotoko is fertilized egg.

Nodoguro: Black throat sea perch.

Fabulously tender and succulent, very slow cooked octopus. The chef's technique in preparing this octopus was impeccable, creating a unique texture.

The season for salmon roe. There is no salmon roe you can buy in a jar that can hold a candle to roe this fresh, with virtually no salt.

Wonderfully tender, very fresh, steamed abalone accompanied by abalone liver sauce (the best version of abalone liver I have ever experienced).

Straw smoked and seared bonito sashimi. This was so tasty/good that it was the only one that I requested a second portion, at the end.

Steamed egg custard with crab (no photo).

Nigiri (Sushi, Fish On Pressed Vinegared Rice):

Chef at work.

Squid being prepared over bincho charcoal.

Ink squid.

Wonderful sea bream.

Chu-toro, medium fatty tuna.

O-toro, the best (for me) (most fatty) part of the tuna belly. Here, it was incredibly fresh and flavourful, with wonderful firm texture (often, in North America, o-toro has a somewhat mushy texture).

Gizzard shad.

Ark shell (akagai), perhaps the best experience of this shellfish in my experience. Plump texture, sweet and remarkably fresh.

Sea urchin, topped with ash for flavour.

Prawn (kuruma-ebi).

Sea eel.

Bamboo leaves on which the eel was grilled.

Sea eel sushi.

Preparing a chopped tuna hand roll with rice and roasted nori.

The maguro tuna for the hand roll.

The hand roll.

Tamago (sweet Japanese style omelette served room temperature, like a firm egg custard), a typical conclusion of the meal.

Soup (no photo).

Ippudo Ramen

Ippudo also has a branch in New York and is my fave ramen spot there.

Shiromaru ramen is Ippudo's original tonkatsu ramen. The rich and fragrant porky broth is a very slow reduction of pork bones and other secret porky ingredients that are reduced over an 18 hour period and then left to "mature" for 24 hours to extract the savory intense pork flavours. Traditionally the broth is served with Hakata style thin, straight noodles.

My bowl of ramen with topping of bean sprouts, spring onion, seaweed and crushed raw garlic which is provided, with crusher, at your table.

The raw garlic and pickled daikon.

More fermented condiments.

Sushi Mitzutani

Sushi Mitzutani is a very "serious" restaurant with about 8 seats. Conversation is not encouraged. NO photographs. The chef never smiles or looks away from what he is concentrating on. He is very serious about his craft. Chef Mitzutani previously trained at michelin 3*** Jiro (the chef on which the movie was based). Reservations must be made months ahead and only by a Japanese person, preferably with a house familiar patron making the introduction and reservation.

So, because no photos were allowed I will cite each dish.

Appetizers     1, flounder
                    2, abalone
                    3, mackerel

   Nigiri          1, gizzard shad
                    2, lean tuna (maguro)
                    3, middle fatty tuna (chu-toro)
                    4, fatty tuna (o-toro), great quality melt-in-the-mouth tuna.
                    5, ligament of surf clam
                    6, pacific geoduck clam  (mirugai)
                    7, ark shell
                    8, halfbeak
                    9, horse mackerel
                   10, prawn
                   11, sea urchin
                   12, sea eel
                   13, gourd strip roll

Chef Mitzutani is considered a master at making rice, and, his rice was indeed a wonderful texture and seemed to be at a good temperature for the fish. The vinegar aspect was subtle and very flattering for the fish.

The courses are simple in their presentation. There is no originality or "creativity" in what is presented, such as at Sushi Sawada (will discuss later). The drama is all about the masterful presentation of exceptional quality seafood.

Please be aware, this restaurant accepts cash only.


Matsukawa is a by invitation only kaiseki restaurant. Invitation only means that a familiar patron of the restaurant must make your reservation. The restaurant takes cash only. Matsukawa is considered by many, one of the top 2 or 3 kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo. It only has 7 counter seats.

We enjoyed Daiginjyo   Higan,  Senshin sake with our meal.

We were presented with perilla tea.

 The tokonoma, alcove of honour.

Taiza crab. Snow crab (= Zuwai crab) has different names depending on the area and the port where the crab are landed. Taiza crab is one kinds of snow crab. It is said that Taiza is the best Snow crab because the port of Taiza is so close to the fishing grounds, so it is remarkably fresh and of great quality. The catch is extremely limited because there are only 4 fishing boats in Taiza.

Taiza crab leg. 

Clams and rice, called Iimushi. 

Sea bream sashimi.

Taiza crab ball in soup topped with yuzu zest and rind..

Threadsail file fish served with its liver.

Dried mullet roe on a bed of daikon puree.

 Taiza crab sashimi presented on its shell.

Mana bonito. 

Duck with fried leek.

Just harvested buckwheat made into noodles topped with matsutake mushrooms and grated daikon.

Turnip and sea cucumber ovary (not raw).

Chinese pickled cabbage.

The presentation of fresh salmon roe, nori seaweed, raw mullet roe and simmered whitebait.

The simmered whitebait. 

The most exceptionally fresh salmon roe with bright clear flavours. For anyone with previous salmon roe experience outside of Japan, these flavours are almost addictive. At another restaurant, we were given a big bowl of the same and frankly, I could not stop helping myself to more. 


 Raw mullet roe.

Rice and miso soup served with the Chinese pickled cabbage. 

I made some rice, salmon roe and nori to be eaten together. 

Baked chestnut.

Grapefruit jelly and persimmon from Kumamoto Prefecture. 


Chef Harutaka Takahashi began his career with the remarkably well known Sushi restaurant Jiro.

The tokonoma.

One of the distinguishing features of this restaurant were the stunning ceramics used for plating. Very special guests were in a private room and received the royal treatment in this respect.

Our lovely sake ewer.


 Octopus from Sajima served with gingko nuts.

 The octopus.

 Barracuda topped with diced leeks. 

Cod sperm sac, now in season. This creamy delightful dish was found at other restaurants we attended. I even had it served to me, right after I returned from Japan, at Yazu No Hana Sushi Bar, in Toronto, although that was not what it was called there. The real name was hidden from the patrons and an innocuous sounding name for the dish was used.

Presentation of sashimi of Flounder and sillaginoid (also known as smelt-whitings). 

The lovely spoons for the forthcoming soup. 

Tilefish and ground lotus roots in their soup stock.

A lovely bowl for the sauce for the gouper, below. 

Grouper (kue). 

Smoked Spanish mackerel. 

Remarkably tender and flavourful black abalone.

Inventory: The chefs at work. Also see below.


Sea bream.

A plate prepared for the important guests in the private room.

Ink squid. 

Maguro, lean tuna. 

Chu-toro, middle fatty tuna. 

O-toro, fatty tuna of great quality.

Gizzard shad. 

Geoduck clam (mirugai).

White tile fish. Notice how each grain of rice is firm and separate, a distinguishing feature of this chef and his restaurant.

Ligaments of surf clam wrapped in nori. 

Half beak. 

Preparing the prawns. 


Pacific gaper (horse clam). 

Salmon roe wrapped in nori. 

Baby sea bream. 

Sea urchin (uni) wrapped in nori.

Sea eel (anago). 

Japanese omelette (tamago), the traditional finish to the meal. This version was particularly good.

Sushi Sawada

No photos were permitted and for this restaurant, that was indeed a shame as I would have to say that this restaurant may have been my very favourite sushi experience of all my experiences over the years.

Only chef Sawada prepares all of your food and his wife may help him and help him serve. There are no assistants or sous chefs. There are only 6 seats in this restaurant and reservations are notoriously difficult to get. If you apply far enough in advance, a good hotel concierge may obtain a reservation for you. To make a reservation you must guaranty your place with your credit card. If you cancel there is no refund.

I have listed the dishes we had below.


                1, ginkgo nuts.
                2, flounder.
                3, bigfin squid.
                4, purple sea urchin from Karatsu.
                5, steamed abalone with cold abalone jelly.
                6, edge of flounder.
                7, mackerel  seared with charcoal. The fish is suspended by the chef in a hand held grate over the charcoal.
                8, amberjack cooked like bacon.
                9, microtomato.
                10, lean tuna (maguro) from Ohma, aged (!!) for 8 days.
                11, middle fatty tuna (chu-toro)
                12, shinofuri, the part between middle fatty and fatty tuna (o-toro).
                13, sea cucumber ovary, half roe,  served hot.
                14, rolled barracuda.
                15, baked cococha of tuna, the part just below the gills ( very     popular dish in Spanish Basque country).
                16, daikon roll

                1, halfbeak
                2, ark shell (akagai)
                3, smoked bonito. It is smoked with straw which was harvested in the same field as the rice below. The flavours of this dish were so                 good, I asked for seconds after everything was served!
                4, salmon roe.
                5, tuna marinated in soy sauce.
                6, middle fatty tuna (cho-toro).
                7, Shimofuri (the part between chu-toro and 0-toro).
                8, fatty tuna (o-toro).
                9, scorched (using the charcoals) fatty tuna (o-toro).
                10, daikon pickled in malt.
                11, stuffed squid with rice
                12, prawn
                13, sea urchin from Akkeshi.
                14, sea eel
                15, egg (tomago).
                16, Chinese lanterns (fresh gooseberries).


Akasaka Kitafuku, the Red King Crab dining place, is a one of a kind crab dining experience. It is a Michelin 1* restaurant. Each fresh crab, originally from Hokkaido, is taken directly, live, from a large holding tank. There is no public dining area. There are only 3 private rooms and each room is reserved for only 1 group.

Custard egg with Seiko crab.

Three appetizers: monkfish liver, mackerel sushi and smoked oyster. 

Blackthroat sea perch, awabi mushrooms and white maitake mushrooms, all for shabushabu. 

The shabushabu broth. 

A lovely presentation plate for the crab.

The presentation of the 1.6 kilo live crab, just arrived from Hokkaido.

Without any fuss, and no action to kill or make the crab brain dead, the legs are quickly snipped off at their tops, at the body. There is no struggle by the crab as the chef says that the crab has no pain sensors there.

The shabushabu broth.

The legs are now de-shelled. 

This aspect of the leg is grilled over bincho charcoal. 

The tops of the major legs are de-shelled and placed on a rack to be served raw.

After the legs are placed on the rack, we are asked to help ourselves to a leg and to strip off the raw meat with our teeth. This aspect of the meat was very sweet. 

The broth. 

The next section of each leg has been de-shelled and is to be placed in the shabushabu broth for enough time to just be cooked medium rare and then immediately eaten.

More de-shelling.

The crab ready to eat. so sweet and tender.

Legs of the crab ready to eat.

The presentation of the body which was steamed in the kitchen.

The body is cut and trimmed.

The tomalley.

Some meat with tomalley ready to eat.

Getting ready for trimming and eating.

Now, all of the meat is trimmed for eating. 

Ready to eat.

More trimming and picking.

The presentation of the very small heart of the crab and the tomalley, in the centre. This part of the crab, arrayed around the centre was so sweet and delicious, and perhaps my favourite aspect of the eating experience, although i liked it all. 

Rice is presented. 

Seasonally perfect and exceptionally fresh salmon roe is presented. We are then asked to help ourselves. 

My salmon roe/rice assembly.

Various vegetable pickles. 

Beef shigureni. 

Miso soup.

Rice flour pudding (no photo). 

Apple mousse topped with fresh apple.

Gogyo Ramen

Kogashi-men is "burnt" ramen and is unique to this establishment. The ramen is prepared with lard and flambeed at more than 300 degrees celcius. The dark coloured broth is served extremely hot. And, yes, there was lots of particulate charred sediment.

I had my ramen served with bean sprouts, scallions and cabbage.

7-Chome Kyobashi

At this very small 10 seat, Michelin 3*** resto, no photos were allowed. Chef  Shigeya Sakakibara fries the ingredients in the lightest, finest layer of batter that I have experienced in a Tempura resto. The oil for cooking our ingredients was perfectly fresh and unused. I will list the dishes:

                     1, sperm sack
                     2, propagule,  (Mukago in Japanese),  like small potato

                     1, shrimp sandwich
                     2, prawn
                     3, lotus root
                     4, sillaginoid
                     5, sweet potato
                     6, prawn
                     7, quail egg
                     8, prawn
                     9, matsutake mushroom
                     10, squid
                     11, ginkgo nut
                     12, prawn
                     13, oyster
                     14, onion
                     15, prawn
                     16, blowfish
                     17, bamboo shoots** 
                     18, cherry shrimp
                     19, potato jelly (Konnyaku in Japanese).
                     20, chestnut
                     21, soup with green turtle and baked bean curd.
                     22, Tencya, tempura and rice and soup.
                     23, persimmon, 2 kinds of grape. Grapes of this variety are extraordinarily expensive in   Japan

**The chef told us that these bamboo shoots, were freshly harvest from Kyoto region are very rare.
In this season, they pre-dig some of the bamboo shoots as a trial/test to check how they are growing, before harvesting.