While Provinage is a repeat visit for EOITwJ, I'd like to reassure any worried readers that we have not abandoned our borderline-pathological focus on eating somewhere new at every opportunity. It's just that Provinage is so pleasant, as is the opportunity to have a special event like the first 'Eating Out In Tokyo' dinner. I started writing this blog because I was impressed with two others titled 'Eating Out In Tokyo', so a combined dinner with Terry 'COB' White and Dominic 'Carter of Mars' Carter was a special treat. Stir in the fact that I always wanted to go to Provinage for dinner, and you have a happy event.
This is the kind of restaurant that I can really get into - small but stylish, the food is good quality and has a few modern ideas thrown in, and the service is excellent (Manager-Sommelier Tanaka san and the other waiter both inquired very pleasantly why it's been so long since I was in for lunch. I could only cry and hang my head...). I can only summon up two small complaints, but in the bigger picture, no problem. I urge you to visit Provinage (lunch remains an extremely good value from the look of things). As I went full-geek and showed up with the camera, let me dive in to what happened on the plates:
Under stern recommendation from Tanaka san, we all had a few oysters to start. COB knew a lot about these guys, which were a well-known Hokkaido species, so he may have more to say. They were exactly bite-sized, completely fresh, and very good. With lemon, cocktail sauce, and shallot vinegar.
Amuse of foie blond mousse (or words to that effect), very soft and flavorful and topped with something like liquor-soaked dry fruit that added a lot of extra taste.
The COB blessed us with his wine expertise; the 2003 Gevrey Chambertin on the right was lovely if still a little young to me, and the 9-year-old Sancerre on the right was quite interesting. I feel like it would stand up to several more years at least and get more interesting - slightly reminiscent of Hunter Semillon in its oldest and best form.
And interestingly, the sommelier decanted the Sancerre. I'm not sure if the COB requested this, but the wine came out very big afterward, so I suppose it's a good idea. Interestingly, he also recommended red wine with the oysters that we had to start - funny because it seems like only yesterday that I read this article about that very topic. I think the wine was something like Rhone - light and fruity, not too tannic, not too acidic - but I'm talking out my azz again...
Getting silly up close and personal with the foie, which was a quality piece of fat, cooked reasonably well. The celeriac noodles (I think) were OK but didn't add much; the orange sauce, on the other hand, was lovely.
It wasn't as big as it looks.
COB had the 'Terry' white asparagus (not my joke) which was very fresh and pretty looking, but strictly off limits to anyone not sitting in his chair.
CoM had this salmon starter with an odd little pizza; I'm not sure what it was even though he generously gave me a taste. I'm afraid it didn't make much impression, and the style of this plate is also out of keeping with most of the food at Provinage.
Lamb loin, rolled in olive paste (some would say 'tamponade'), wrapped in pastry. The lamb wasn't as flavoursome as it might have been, and the pastry didn't do much. With sauce and veg, the overall effect was still nice. I'm pretty sure the roast veg was a turnip, despite looking quite potato. As you may have suspected, the arty camera angle is indeed covering up for the rookie mistake of taking a bite before taking a picture.
Ham steak and its vegetables. Amazingly, we were able to break the COB's cardinal rule of food sharing ("NO") and get a bite. I thought this was pleasant, in a ham steak sort of way - really put me in mind of ham suppers in the country. I mean this seriously even though it sounds fake! We went a couple times to Richwood, I think it was the Oddfellows hall. They'd have all-you-can-eat ham steak and various accompaniments like 'pepper hash'. Haven't thought of pepper hash for years, but I used to love it. Interestingly I just looked it up and one web site said the cookbook listed it as a New Jersey recipe and another as 'Philadelphia Hash'. Who knew there were regional South Jersey recipes? I guess this goes on the list of 'things to make this weekend'...anyway, roughly equal amounts of shredded raw cabbage and bell pepper (all green in my memory, but a little red would be nice), with plenty of vinegar, mustard, celery seed, and a little salt. Let stand so it pickles a bit. Mmmm, I could eat some right now.
Camembert mousse with stewed apples and strawberries plus mixed nuts (pine, wal, almond). The moussing lightened up the taste of the cheese so it went better with the fruit, the light crumb crust added some texture, and of course the nuts were crunchy. Simple but a nice idea.
COB requested cheese instead of dessert. Mimolette plus something washed. No chance of getting a bite of these!
There you go. Looks pretty good, doesn't it? If I wanted to complain (which I don't), I would say that it's a bit cheeky to price the prix fixe at Y5000 but then levy a surcharge (Y200-Y700) for every dish barring one entree and one main (the entree was the head cheese, which gives you some idea). But that still works out to a good value. They also seem a bit outgunned by the patrons - with about 12 customers, the kitchen struggled to put things out at a good pace (thus we were there almost 4 hours). But with an erudite group and wide-ranging conversation, this isn't a problem either. Make sure you go with interesting people, but make sure you go!