Saturday, April 18, 2009

Argo, Hanzomon

EOITwJ was embarrassed. All set to go to a very nice-looking French restaurant in the decidedly odd neighborhood of Hanzomon (or Kojimachi, more picturesquely and food-related-ly) we...were late and forgot our cameras. Thus all visual correspondence herein is courtesy of GT's keitai; excuse our shocking omission. It's even worse because this was very lovely food - more lovely than tasty, it could legitimately be said - and better pictures would be really nice to have. The environment is also a significant draw; specially-commissioned art objects (cloudy-things on the ceilings, glass plates throughout), a big field-stone wall that would be very appropriate in a California-themed place, architecturally-interesting chairs, the library/lounge space off to the side...
All these are things that we failed to take adequate pictures of. Dinner started with these salty petit-fours. A definite 'curry' slant - one cumin, one actually curry powder. The dark thing in the back was, I think, a dried smear of cheese with something black in it. Creative!

Followed by the first course, I was actually called the 'Amuse-ZEN', a deeply multi-part affair in three plates. In the middle, a small slab of marble got topped with a thick onion soup. To the left, a ball of spinach leaves was filled with...errr, shrimp paste?, then alternate cubes of salmon and cumin-ed potatoes, and a cheesy foam. The other side was tofu! Interesting stuff here - a sakura tofu, lime tofu, and green tofu. They were served in a row of perfectly-formed half-domes, along with some rough salt and chive sprouts. The green one was probably the best because the green flavor was mild (enough that I couldn't tell what it was), but the lime was quite interesting. The sakura one was a bit cloying.

You wouldn't expect a pumpkin soup to be this good. Possibly you could make it at home, but the impossibly creamy texture, delicious pumpkin-y sweetness, and chilled-out...errr, chill, made this very good.

At which point we got into the main action. The star of this plate was ostensibly the shrimp - from New Caledonia, I believe, and coated in a cloak or fried bits. And accompanied by nuggets of breaded and fried sweetbreads. And lovely steamed vegetables, and roasted tiny onions, and a few flowers for good measure. It was really a nice-looking plate (and I'm a sucker for those tiny copper sauce pans, like the one you can see just beyond the plate, holding the do-it-yourself sauce).

But disappointing. The shrimps were flavorless, as was the fry. The sweetbreads were oddly tough and not that tasty. The vegetables were fine, the flowers were fine...overall just OK. This is where an overall theme emerged, however: the shrimp and sweetbreads were distinctly lukewarm. At the time I thought this was intentional...

Fishing time saw us with a fillet of scabbard fish (tachiuo), something I don't think I've ever had in cooked form before. It was nicely cooked, and they had done it so the skin was seared crisp and charred-tasting in places, but from grilling, not frying. Other stuff on this complex plate included a little pile of ratatouille, on the right under the steamed spinach, then some pureed potatoes, some saffron sauce...not sure how it all went together, but it was pleasant. And lukewarm. Very much not hot.

Everyone at the table agreed about this duck: strongly flavored and difficult to cut, it was kinda confrontational for the first bite. After that pretty good, but a real worry at first. Good technique - beautifully shaped, skin done pretty well, meat roasted through without being overdone...and lukewarm. Very much so. By the end, completely cold. White asparagus were tolerable; mushroom duxelle (under the duck) was nice.

Passion fruit sorbet. Good job. Intense but not overwhelming, and really fit the bill for refreshment after the heavy flavor of the duck.

Desserts had me totally excited on the web site. They looked like the most creative part of the meal, and that's saying something since all the photography was pretty good. I had a rough plan to order an extra dessert, but was getting full and reconsidered. Then they brought the wrong dessert, then offered to replace it, then realized their sin and brought the third dessert, comped. This being such an outlandish rarity in Japan, it was all the more appreciated, and everyone got to go home happy since they couldn't serve these desserts much the next day anyway.
First, the 'passage to Egypt'. The green pyramid was tea-flavored, and filled with layered grapefruit cream and on a crunchy, nutty base. The exterior was thicker and cakier than expected, which gave a strange balance of cake to cream (and I'm a creamy kinda guy, so it was balanced the wrong way). The tan pyramid was bitter caramel pudding. Good for me!

Everyone at the table thought we had to get this strawberry tart...because it came with green pea ice cream...which turned out to be pretty weird. It was pea in flavor. And grainy. I think the pea flavor could have been better integrated with the milkiness of the cream, and taking out the distracting vegetality of the remaining pea fragments would have been good too. This would have been better served as a shocking accompaniment to a savory dish, even if savory ice creams are already in danger of being passe. The strawberry tart was a tart with strawberries.

And finally a real oddity. Meringue 'cone', topped with peach ice cream, topped with a crunchy green tea nitro foam (i.e., tea frozen in liquid nitrogen. I'm breaking the rules by eating this before September, when Ferran is preparing a personalized tasting menu for us). The tower was surrounded by a few pieces of fruit and some rice balls (白玉). Then drenched with a sauce of hot milk and azuki beans that made everything smoke, crumble and melt together. Creative is not the word...a really funny perversion of old-style Japanese desserts (all of which are fruit, tea, beans and rice) into a pretty good modern form, complete with a fillip of molgas.

Coffee was lovely but weak; they seemed not to understand how to foam milk or else the proper balance of a cappuccino. But the macarons were actually quite good, and the yuzu jelly squares were nice. The Argo-branded cigarillos were a cute touch (if you squint, you'll see that the labels look like Cohibas), and were more fancy than expected, being not just chocolate, but rolled sheets of chocolate filled with raspberry paste and dusted with powdered chocolate.
This was served in the lounge, which was really, really appealing to me. A lot like the living room I wish I had! Designer chairs, mildly 70's carpet, huge picture windows looking out toward the north...this was after the whole dinner, where the emptiness of the restaurant allowed us to claim a table at the window - overlooking the Imperial Palace gardens and beyond (sort of Ueno-to-Shinbashi in extent). So pleasant, so elegant, so creative, so beautiful...I'd like to go back in a while to see what else the chef comes up with. From the various web resources available, it seems that the forms stay relatively fixed but the contents change a lot (e.g., the amuse always come on those flat black plates, but sometimes there are four plates, and the constituent parts are totally different). I just wish they'd keep the food hotter.

This is right in the zone if you're an MD for FedEx and live in Hanzomon.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jon. I'm honored as i fit the profile and yes, have tried this restaurant...