Thursday, July 28, 2011

La Rochelle, Minami Aoyama

The happy couple. Big Bird and I are discussing wedding venues as our Thursday-romantic-lunch series continues, and La Rochelle bills its chapel as Tokyo's Most Romantic. Not many restaurants have chapels at all, of course, so it's awfully convenient.

Also convenient is being expected, and they were nice enough to thank us for our coming. Even in retrospect I think we can agree that it's a good idea to say you want the 'web menu', wherein they take the chef's tasting and knock 20% off the price. 7 courses, ends up being pretty good value even though the kitchen is not quite on A-game. Maybe it's just because it was Thursday lunch, or maybe that's why we could book Thursday lunch.

Gol-lee, the starter plate was one of the weakest two of the course. The white asparagus soup with unidentified chunks was OK (one chunk seemed a lot like pork fat, but the other was squid, so maybe I wasn't thinking clearly on the first). A cube of vinegared fish in jelly. A chicken rillette spoon. And a mousse made from carrot leaves, with a curious lack of taste.

Fortunately things looked up with the steamed-lobster-raw-shrimp course, where the bugs were succulent and tasty, the sweet onions were interesting, and the middling taste and texture of the pink mousse filled in some gaps while also not attempting to take center stage (read as: didn't taste like much). The asparagus was erect.

The light shellfish sauce was poured on at the table.

Not for the first time, another smaller plate came with the main one. This was a shot of shellfish and vegetable dice (I'd like to say shrimp and asparagus) with a shrimpy soup and a shrimp foam. Nice.

The fish course was middling; again some attempts at technique that could be said to be middling successful. I'm not sure what to make of the plate design, with the parsley breadcrumb-wrapped flounder cigar on a stripe of pea mousse, the roasted red pepper stuffed with ratatouille-like mince, and the walabi and green beans wrapped up at the bottom. Interesting.

The light fish sauce was poured on at the table.

And the cigar turned out to conceal a sea urchin surprise.

We were kinda looking at each other by this time, like "Do we really want to have a reception here? Do we really want to get married at all, or should we find someone better?" The meat course saved the day, with a cylinder of Iberico pork wrapped in salami and roasted perfectly. Loved it.  The purple potato and stuffed zucchini flower were mere distractions.

The light meat sauce was poured on at the table.
And the side plate was a cube of stewed pork belly bestrided by a hot cube of crumbed foie gras. Less good than it sounds.

The palate cleaner was herbal, not in an identifiable way. Also not in a way I found appealing. At all, really.

And the dessert, boy was this weak. It's supposed to be several preparations of a particular flower or herb; I thought the menu said fleur de mais, and I'd like to think that's 'cornflowers', but without the right accent mark..and certainly without the blue color. And without any particular flavor. Blah.

The light vanilla sauce was poured on in the kitchen. [HA! Gotcha!]
These chocolates, tiny cold souffles, sort of, were better. Ginger, lavender, and another flavor, and they were edible and tasty to varying degrees if not up to the technical standards that a lot of other restaurants achieve in their petits fours. I don't mean to be pissy here (even though I know it's sounding like it), and I don't mean to sound spoiled (ibid), but this costs the same as lunch at l'Effervescence, and the contrast in technical skill and flavor is stark.

The light lemongrass tea was poured in at the table after we sat for long enough to make them think we were settling in. Not that they were rude or anything; this is a perfect way to keep things going.

'Keeping things going' is almost certainly the theme of this restaurant. It's been open for a long time, and Iron Chef Sakai has been famous for many, many moons. Certainly they're doing stuff that was great in the 80's, and if it's gotten a bit tired, it still has some elegance and charm. Some.

By the way, what do you think of the ring I got Big Bird? Not too much, is it?

Such dainty hands.


  1. nice ring! Congrats...

  2. Congrats! when is wedding party? cant wait!

  3. Wedding will be at the mercy of US Immigration Service, but ~early next year. You're always welcome in Chicago!