We’ve waited a whole year and four months for this moment. Since our life altering dining experience at Aronia de Takazawa in November 2009, we’ve been desperate to return. You never forget your first.
In so many ways, our first meal with Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa was an awakening. Our five, no six senses were pushed beyond their boundaries and any assumptions on how and what food should taste and look were completely erased. It was an experience etched in our memory as the defining moment of coming face to face with a culinary virtuoso.
Last Saturday evening, as we pushed open the steel doors and made our way up the stairs to the dining area, everything felt strangely familiar and comforting. Akiko-san, Chef Takazawa’s wife who runs the front of house operations, greeted us emphatically as we came into view – ‘welcome back’, she gushed. We refrained from throwing our arms around her, short of sobbing how good it felt to be back. But it did feel that good to be back.
Everything looked exactly as how we left off in ’09, except that they have added another table to accommodate 2 more diners – the restaurant can now sit 10 guests. To cope with the extra work, Chef has hired 2 young kitchen helps so that he can spend more time at his work station in view of his diners, where he rightfully belongs, rather than in the kitchen at the back. Guests now have the full pleasure of being voyeurs of his craft, watching Chef Takazawa plate and put on the finishing touches to each dish in pure awe and splendor. For a team of 4, they run an impeccable and extremely tight service.
As one might guess, getting reservations can be tricky here with a waiting list that runs well beyond the 3 month mark. There are 3 menu pricing options which you will need to confirm a week in advance to allow Chef time to plan his menu and procure his produce: JPY 16,000 for 7-course, 20,000 for 9-course and 24,000 for 11-course. We opted for the 9-course menu this time with wine pairings from the Yamanashi Prefecture.
We started the evening with a gorgeous amuse bouche consisting (a) an exquisite truffled Hokkaido potato croquette (crispy truffled shell with a molten core) placed in a sunken glass holder; and beneath the glass holder, (b) a precious sliver of scallop and a bouquet of edible flowers neatly arranged in a hollowed kinkan (kumquat). Welcome to dinner at Aronia De Takazawa.
Our first course, and Chef’s signature dish was called ‘Ratatouille’. A playful rendition of the French dish, Chef Takazawa painstakingly pieced together 15 different cubed vegetables to form a brightly coloured mosaic which we were instructed to eat in a single mouthful with a generous flake of sea salt. The variations of colours, tastes and texture of this dish was truly a sensory marvel. A ratatouille in its rawest form – pure, authentic, sublime and succinct.
Next was Chef’s latest creation, very aptly named ‘Green’. It looked like a diorama from Narnia – a magical winter wonderland comprising a terrain of vegetables with edible dirt (dried breadcrumbs, sesame oil, chili flakes) and flecks of light, powdery ‘snow’ created from oil. (As we write this post, it is snowing lightly outside in downtown Tokyo and we are blown away by the parallels between food and nature, and the Chef’s uncanny ability to grasp this concept and turn it into magic.)
Next, another of Chef’s latest whimsical creation named ‘Carpenter’s Salad’ was presented to us, much to our delight. The ‘carpenter’s tools’ made from olives and anchovies were intended to be part of the dressing for the tuna sashimi and salad – a medley of the most gorgeous baby radish, turnip, tomato and sweet potato. As you work your way through the dishes, one cannot help but become cognizant that Chef Takazawa is nothing less than a perfectionist when it comes to sourcing for only the freshest produce, and treating each ingredient with utmost care and respect to accentuate its natural flavours and characteristics.
The fourth course was called ‘Pucchin Pudding’, another playful take on a childhood favourite in Japan – custard pudding. Akiko-san invited us to remove the plastic cap and turn the mould over onto our plates. Pressing on the plastic ‘nob’ at the base of the mould released the air which allowed the glob of pudding to slide down neatly onto the plate (no wonder kids love this!). Theatrics aside, this dish was marvelous. The ‘pudding’ was made from hairy crab and pumpkin, giving it a beautiful custard yellow-orange hue. The ‘caramel’ on top was made from tiger prawn stock and set to form a light gelee. Every creamy mouthful of the savory pudding made us feel like a greedy child all over again (we still are greedy), but the complexity of flavours, depth and texture found in this ostensibly simple dish was pure genius.
We were thrilled when the fifth course, ‘Breakfast at Aronia De Takazawa’ arrived because, breakfast after all, is our favourite meal of the day, and we absolutely adore eggs in all forms – especially when they arrive as a perfectly poached guinea fowl egg (whites are set but yolks still runny) and topped with black truffle shavings. Our bowl of cornflakes were in fact potato crisps which had the exact bite and texture to the real thing. We poured the ‘cereal’ into our egg dish and gave it a good mix to amalgamate the respective ingredients – without giving too much away, we could have this, every.single.day. It was so good; wholesome, fresh and hearty, exactly how breakfast should be.
Hot Balloon was our sixth course. Heatproof plastic bags encasing a silky broth of fish and vegetables arrived on a bed of grainy sea salt resembling sand. The broth was heavenly and every spoonful an explosion of the sea in all its glory. The type of fish in this dish was alfonsino (in English), known as kinmedai in Japanese or jin mu lu in Chinese, which means ‘golden eye’. We really could not get enough of the soup (yes, we do have a soup addiction problem) which was to become the subject of many sweet dreams in our nights ahead. In Singapore, we would have shamelessly asked the Uncle at the fish soup stall to ‘jia tang’ (add soup) to replenish our bowls. But alas, really good things come in small bowls, or bags in this case.
Our seventh course was ‘Dinner in the Forest – Wagyu Fillet’. Chef used pine bark to ‘plate’ the seared Wagyu (from Hakata, Kyushu prefecture), charred burdock root and bamboo shoot. He took out his blow-torch for the finishing touch and set a branch of pine needles ablaze before placing them atop our dinner. How cool was that! The waft of smokiness from the pine needles primed our palette for the robust flavours of the well-charred beef to follow.
This cute little dessert is the tasty result of an experiment. Chef Takazawa has found that slow freezing this thick oil overnight creates a smooth and slick frozen treat that with a touch of maple syrup at its base would become a palette cleanser to usher in our final course of the night.
The frozen granite slab on which our little miniature ‘pyroclastic rocks’ were placed set the dramatic stage for our final course. White chocolate vanilla, dark chocolate truffle and milk chocolate raspberry mousse were piped into a bowl of liquid nitrogen, flash-frozen to produce a crispy shell resembling molten volcanic rocks. We also had a serving of coffee ice cream on the side and fragments of gorgeously roasted almond ‘ash’ scattered to balance out textures and flavours perfectly.
Our courses were paired beautifully with 3 wines – a sauvignon blanc, a chardonnay and a cabernet merlot from the Yamanashi Prefecture. Chef Takazawa’s passion for only the finest produce and tastes extends to his selection of wines. Do indulge in them as these wines are only available direct from the wine makers.
After the meal, Akiko-san served us tea which we selected from a chest bearing 12 choices…’all have very different but good qualities’, she quipped. We chose the diet tea which was meant to aid in digestion (we were wishfully hoping for something else), and it was a perfect end to a wonderful evening.
After a three-and-a-half-hour long procession and many hundred dollars poorer, Aronia De Takazawa still hit all the right spots in all the right places with definitive finesse and precision. Chef Takazawa’s ability to challenge assumptions and stretch our imaginations by breaking free from traditional ways of cooking and thinking has given us permission and the courage to dream the impossible in pursuit of our own personal quests.
As we got up to leave, he promptly ran down the stairs ahead of us to open the door and see us out personally. He stood in the cold waving to us goodbye till we were finally out of sight. A true chef, host and gentleman, whom we have the highest respect and praise for. Thank you for dinner, Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa, it was brilliant. See you again soon.