Thursday, July 14, 2011

l'Effervescence, Nishi Azabu

Several months ago I noticed this frightening place way up in the back streets northwest of Nizhi Azabu crossing. It just looked too good. But when I started doing my research for the 'degenerate ladies who brunch instead of work' series recently, l'Effervescence turned out to hugely-rated and yet strangely reasonable for lunch. Like a lot of things, my concept of 'strangely reasonable' has changed a bit in the last few years. It seems like only yesterday that I was flabbergasted at spending a similar amount at l'Auberge.

My dining companion had already arrived, and she was already wearing a festive lampshade. Isn't it early for that, you degenerate?

We felt a bit out of place. This could be for a multitude of reasons that distinguished us from everyone else - we weren't Japanese, we weren't dressed to show our high status, we were both male,and we were sweaty. At least I was. Suffice to say, l'Effervescence has every bit the atmosphere, elegance and service of a multi-star Michelin restaurant. I don't keep up with these things, but I would guess they'll have 2 stars next year (since they only opened in September 2010).

Lunch starts pleasantly, with a bubbly glass of raw shrimp and tropical bits and fennel sprigs, plus an orange sorbet. The mediocrity of my memory is trumped only by the mediocrity of the photo, but I do remember the shot growing on me through the three or four spoonfuls required to finish it. Just great for an unannounced starter.

The butter, too, is bubbly (the restaurant's themes are bubbles and childhood, which is a funny mix for such an upper-class place, but Namae san is doing it right and without pretension). This was good butter,

but the bread was awfully good. We only got two refills each, so we didn't find out if they stock more than the four types of bread they served us. All were good enough that I've taken up a whole paragraph telling you about them.

Personally I thought there was only one way to go among the two lunch courses (OK, three, but the other one isn't the great value of the ones we got), but the Bird differed. This is his simply-grilled ayu with watermelon balls, citrus sauce, and dabs of gray paste made from ayu innards.

And this is my New Caledonia prawns with orange paste, prawn mousse, red vinegar (the tiny cubes), plus a mound of cabbage with bacon. Stupendous prawns. You can tell how much better it was because the picture is bigger than the above.

The chef's specialty is a 4-hour-roasted turnip, served on slate with parsley sauce and brioche crumbs. It's roasted at very low temperature, so the texture of raw turnip is thankfully still there (on a day like today, you could probably accomplish the roasting by putting raw turnips out in the street in the morning, then bringing them in at lunch), and then it's cut and pan-fried to brown the surfaces. It's really good. If you're going to specialize in something, it might as well be something awesome.

I wouldn't like to call Laguiole knives a nod to Michelin,

But you could have cut this Shinshu Premium Wagyu with a spoon. The flavor was astounding. The red daikon puree and nasturtium petals and leaves did nothing to harm the overall presentation either. The contrast between the beef and the raw, spicy flavors of the vegetables was great.

Great as well was this apple pie filled with , guinea fowl ragout and raisins. heavily spiced, and more than a little in the manner of an actual pie, some would describe this as too sweet. I think they'd be wrong. We counted almost 15 vegetables in the salad, but no particular mention was made.

For desserts, the lesser course again included an interesting diversion - 'light as air' Montblanc, in which the place of the cream was taken by meringue discs filled with chestnut puree. The base of the tower also concealed a whole, cooked, sweetened chestnut. One might be excused for calling this slightly precious, but it was also tasty.

While this 'bunch 'o stuff' dessert turned out to be a flavor-packed bomb (and I mean that to have a good meaning). The first surprise was the foam - see it glistening? It's because there's a lot of oil in it, and it's got a strong, arresting, citrus flavor. The log is pineapple. The lower ball is caramel mousse (in fact, was it yogurt?). The upper ball is vanilla ice cream (vanilla in that from-Tahiti way that reminds you why vanilla got to be the most popular flavor, not just the whitest and blandest of flavors). The dark crumbs are coffee beans. What the? It's all tropical, and somehow it fits together. While eating I had the strongest impression that this would fit right in at Can Roca - reminded me in form and flavor of the Tresor by Lancome dessert I had, but continuing in that vein the surprise inclusion of coffee beans (crunch, bitterness, contrast) was almost like that Trip to Havana thing (sometimes a cigar is just a dessert).

For finishers to go with the very good coffee, we got high-quality macarons, little apples that turned out to be gently-dyed lychees in chocolate cups, and chocolate Chupa Chups with a pop-rock surprise inside, finishing off the meal with an effervescent twist.

This is just a bad picture; it was in no way dark outside or in, and we were sad as anything to leave the extremely good staff and return to the 35-degree heat, wondering what just happened.

Really good. I have nothing else to say.


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