Friday, November 6, 2009

Mikuni Marunouchi, Marunouchi

Health food is something I've always been suspicious of (sorry Mom). I associate 'healthy' with a lack of flavor, which is unfair except that it often seems to mean limiting salt to a stultifying degree and reducing cooking techniques to steaming (you may disagree on this one, but I think steamed things are boring). Mikuni, in the recently opened Brick Square (a block south of Maru Biru), is a nice idea - healthy food, based on local Tokyo vegetables (I think this is locavorism coming to Japan), in a space jointly created with a flower designer. Unfortunately I think the desire to appeal to the sensibilities of female diners has in this case triumphed over flavor (though, of course, not over expense).

Volleyball and I resolved on a longer lunch, which gave us the freedom to walk all the way down to Brick Square - at 15+ minutes from the office even for two tall guys, this will be out of range for most people. It was the first time I'd been inside, and it's very impressive. The inner courtyard is especially nice - grass, water features, sculpture, many benches, and dazed-looking Tokyo people wondering how they were suddenly transported out of downtown Tokyo to a resort setting. Mikuni is in the Annex building along with the Robuchon Cafe outlet and a nice looking 'counter kappou'.

Inside is certainly attractive - muted colors, flower accents, a nice bar where we sat, suited staff...We had the chef's recommendation, 4 small courses (rather than the one huge plate topped by two large plates topped by a small plate and a cup that form the cheaper 'one plate lunch'). Possibly the best of this was the first course, a turnip soup cappucino-style. For me, as a confirmed turnip eater (who prefers them raw, actually), this was a cool dish - tasting very fresh and barely-cooked, it incorporated both the root and greens of Tokyo turnips into a smooth puree that hid one chunk of peeled root at the bottom. Nice color, great flavor (butter was certainly complicit in that).

After that was a salmon salad, announced as being sourced from Hokkaido. Excellent salmon, with thick slices preserving the fresh and chewy texture of the actual fish. The very healthy salad included various Japanese greens as well as leaves of seaweed, but the dressing was dull. Likewise, the main of seared sea bream (ogodai, from Hachijojima) was nice, but left something to be desired in its cooking - not that it was bad, just that it left me wanting more flavor. It was accompanied by cooked spinach that was quite straightforward, and a combo of steamed/roasted punpkin and pumpkin puree that was the highlight of the dish for me due to the good preparation and contrasting textures.

Finally, the 3 small items forming the dessert plate were all good - a mysterious square of pudding on mille feuille pastry that turned out to be ruccola, good slices of baked persimmon on wheat cracker and topped with creamy sauce, and a lovely milk sherbet with crystallized ginger slivers on top. Coffees were automatic but good; macaroons (green for wasabi, red for seaweed) were less so - not well executed and a bit iffy on flavor.

Including 10% for the very good service, the price left us feeling a bit wanting. It's all very lovely, but...but...I couldn't get excited about any of it. If you went, I would try the one-plate option, which includes 6 different items and 'plenty of Tokyo vegetables'.

Sad but true.

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