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L.A. 'Hound reports back: Aronia de Takazawa, Tokyo [LONG REVIEW WITH PHOTOS]

J.L. Dec 6, 2011 11:59 PM

Hello everyone,

Thanks to many 'Hounds who gave me great advice, I had a fantastic 36 hours of eating in Tokyo! Here is my report on Aronia de Takazawa:

We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to try Chef Takazawa’s 11-course Autumn menu in November.

Aronia de Takazawa, located in a nondescript multi-use building in the Akasaka section of Tokyo, is one of the best restaurants on earth. It also ranks as one of the toughest tables to score on the planet. Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa, already a legend in the gastronomy world at age 35, is the obsessive, meticulous genius behind Aronia de Takazawa. On the night we went, he cooked for a total of four people. Just four. Chef Takazawa's obsessive quest for culinary perfection is admirable. It's also a lot of fun to watch, as he diligently prepares each dish at his stainless steel workstation.

Inside, an illuminated staircase, with the poetry of Joyce Kilmer highlighted on the side, leading up to a beautiful, sleek second-floor dining room.

There are only two tables at this restaurant. Only two.

A marble "egg" greets us at our place setting as we are seated. The "egg carton" is also made of marble!

The theme of the experience is "Enjoy Your Imagination" - Like works of art, each dish in our tasting menu is introduced, along with the year in which each dish was first created.

Amuse bouche pairing: Left: Kani miso (crab roe) and tachiuo (scabbard fish) with yuzu foam... Right: Potato soup spheres with white truffle. These were two inviting palate-opening starters to the evening. The essence of these potato soup spheres, when combined with another type earthy richness of the white truffle, is simply superb. Superb! Kani miso (crab roe), with eaten in the same bite as the tachiuo (scabbard fish) sashimi, along with yuzu foam, is a total revelation. So clean, and so complex!

Aronia de Takazawa is a champion of Japanese wines and spirits. We decided to go with a barrel-fermented 2008 Japanese chardonnay. Excellent! Crisp and just dry enough for our liking.

Ratatouille (2005): So colorful! This is Chef Takazawa's signature dish, and a staple of the restaurant since its inception in 2005. Fifteen (15) different fresh seasonal Japanese vegetables are each marinated and prepared in a different way (that would be fifteen different modes of cooking). Then, each vegetable is cubed and fused to one another to ultimately create this incredible vegetable mosaic. The dab of salt at the tip of the spoon is actually called magma salt, and is harvested from the rim of active volcanoes! It takes over 13 hours to prepare this one dish, and yet I'm told I must finish it in one bite. Yes, it is like a vegetable "orchestra", going full blast in one's mouth! The magma salt imparts a slightly sulfuric, smoky taste to the whole thing - Outerworldly!

Bread service: Fluffy, hot toasted carrot bread is presented with a chilled jar of creamy homemade rillettes de porc made from Okinawan Agu pork. The pork rillette is heavenly, and is the perfect accompaniment to the butter-toasted carrot bread!

Vegetables Parfait (new): Layers of green tomato puree, heirloom tomato puree, and mozzarella ice cream, topped with edible flowers and caviar... A straw is included, encouraging the diner to "mix it all up and drink it all in"!

Matsutake Spaghetti (new): Not actually pasta, the "spaghetti" are actually strands made from prized matsutake mushrooms! Kegani (Hokkaido hairy crab), another seasonal delicacy, accompanies this "pasta" dish. For this dish, Chef Takazawa has also added generous slices of matsutake mushrooms, and all of this is topped with uni (sea urchin roe)! The matsutake mushrooms are so fragrant! Truly, a taste of autumn in Japan. Large chunks of kegani (Hokkaido hairy crab) meat and huge Hokkaido uni (sea urchin roe)! Heaven!

Bacon EGG ? (new): This was an interesting and quixotic presentation... It is an illusion, because there is no actual poached egg here! The "poached egg" is really soy milk gelee, with a mashed kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) "yolk" interior! The "bacon" is also not really bacon; it is actually dried slices of jamon iberico de bellota (acorn-fed ham) from Spain! Cubes of makomodake (young bamboo shoots) and popcorn complete the presentation. This whole imaginative concoction is then given a drenching by potato soup - The taste combination is wild and so good!
Powdery Dressing (2006): A salad is presented, topped with saba (mackerel) and Inca no Mezame (purple potato). Balsamic dressing is subjected to extreme freezing with liquid nitrogen, then the sub-zero dressing (in powder form) is then immediately poured cold onto the salad! Marvelous! The balsamic powder "thaws" shortly thereafter, and the dressing's taste is "seared" into each bite of the salad... Interesting and inventive!

EZO - Venison Tar Tar (2010): Plated onto a mirror plate, this dish is gorgeous. Venison from Hokkaido, with fried garlic biscuit, with uni and white truffle on top... The venison was not gamey at all! Velvety texture, with the crunchy garlic cracker. Fantastic. Lots of truffle, too!

A 2010 Muscat Bailey A, from Nagano, goes well with venison!

Coffee Jelly with FOIE GRAS (new): Again, an illusion! There is no real coffee jelly here; instead, a kotake mushroom broth was cooled into jello cubes (resembling coffee jelly), then put into the jar with foie gras mousse! All this is then served with a white wine & mushroom "cream" poured over it! So rich! Smells so earthy and delicious! The aroma is amazing. The kotake mushroom broth cubes really do resemble coffee jelly! The white wine & mushroom "cream" alone would go great with any pasta by itself!

Hot Balloon (2008): A culinary plastic bag is used to make a rich seafood and mushroom broth. Gomahata (a type of grouper), and at least 5 different types of mushrooms are all mixed into this bag, which is stewed without losing any of the original juices. Chef Takazawa came over to our table and personally cuts the sealed bag open! The released aroma is overwhelmingly delightful! Black truffle, white truffle, tree fungus, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms... The broth is just incredible and so rich! And the gomohata grouper is among the tenderest bites of fish we have ever had. Fluffy flakes of perfectly cooked fish just melt in the mouth! So delicate!

Chef Takazawa starts grilling some beef…

For the next course, we chose a cabernet & merlot blend: A late harvest 2006 Chateau Mars from Yamanashi...

Dinner in the Forest - WAGYU (2009): Saga beef, chestnuts, fingerling potatoes, ginnan (ginkgo nuts) and a gooseberry branch, all served on a piece of hollowed-out cork tree, covered in flame-blasted cypress branch for a strong smell of a coniferous forest! This dish appealed to so many senses! The cypress branch is then removed, revealing the yummy morsels underneath! Chef Takazawa wants the diner to envision foraging for (exquisite) food in the wild - If only camping was like this! No utensils, please. In the forest we dine with our hands. Roasted chestnuts, seared Japanese beef, fingerling potatoes, and ginnan (ginkgo nuts) with salt. Roasted autumn chestnuts with mined salt - Marvelous! Fingerling potato! Cute! Actually this is mukago, a baby yam from the vine of the yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam). The wines go very well with the each bite, and adds further dimensions to the flavors.

Dessert time!!!

A Yamabe Winery 2007 Niagara L'altitude de 700 sweet wine starts us off in our dessert journey - Tastes a lot like ice wine!

Saint-Maure (new): Another food illusion by Chef Takazawa! This is supposed to resemble Sainte-Maure de Touraine (a French goat's milk cheese with a black-grayish rind). But instead, it's actually not cheese, but rather Hokkaido goat's milk ice cream, coated with charcoal chocolate cake powder! Served with a demi-grape and berries, it is a wonderful dessert!

Takazawa's Special Camembert (2006): Resembling Camembert cheese, this dessert is, in actuality, a truffle cheesecake! This is served with a New Zealand Manuka honey ice cream and berry confiture. The truffle cheesecake is light and airy - Delicious. Manuka honey is made by bees which solely visit the manuka bush, and is only found in New Zealand. It is thought to contain some very powerful antiseptic properties. I just know it's really tasty as ice cream!

Aronia de Takazawa carries their own selection of special-blend teas! I chose something with lemongrass in it. Our server Akiko-san said I chose their "Hardworking" variety of tea. Hardworking, or hardly working?! The tea is well-brewed and very refreshing!

Petit fours! We actually got four petit fours! Each one is housemade, of course. Matcha (green tea powder) Cake, Coconut Meringue, "Salt & Pepper" Chocolate & Yuzu Marshmallow.

Even the restroom is photogenic here! Microsoft-billionaire-turned-mad-food-scientist Nathan Myhrvold, author of "Modernist Cuisine", gave a copy of his 5-volume tome to Chef Takazawa as a gift when he visited Aronia de Takazawa a few years back. Of course, with much humor intended, Chef Takazawa decides to put this seminal publication in the bathroom, as reading material. Grant Achatz, Chef at Alinea in Chicago, has also visited Chef Takazawa for inspiration!

Even the way the bill is presented is well-conceived...

It should be noted that service was FLAWLESS during this meal. An amazing experience, all in all... Chef Takazawa is so humble, and even signed the menu for us afterwards! "Gochisosama deshita, Chef Takazawa!" This was a life-changing meal!

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  1. J.L. RE: J.L. Dec 7, 2011 12:04 AM

    Oops forgot a photo of the Hot Balloon... Suimasen.

    1. c
      cocobinga RE: J.L. Dec 7, 2011 10:41 AM

      Your experience looks and sounds absolutely incredible. I would love to go here but its format is not really friendly to the solo diner.

      Thank you for your report!

      1. shekamoo RE: J.L. Dec 7, 2011 06:01 PM

        The chef's kindness and humility is truly amazing. He offered to take a picture of us at the door, and almost got run over by a truck in the process. we were so embarrassed! easily the best meal of my life. our dinner had only two courses in common with yours. My wife insists that she will never again visit Tokyo if a visit to Aronia is not part of the plan. We had the recommended Japanese wine pairing, which was also fantastic.

        11 Replies
        1. re: shekamoo
          Teffub RE: shekamoo Dec 7, 2011 07:49 PM

          Amazing review! Thank you so much for sharing. I was wondering how your trip went as you can see from the other thread lol!!

          I have a reservation there in February, and am a bit apprehensive since I do not eat pork or onions...I asked the concierge to let the restaurant know, but even still, I am wondering whether there are onions in the ratatouille, for example, and wondering what the chef will do to substitute or work around his usual serving of rillettes de porc...

          I am kinda freaking out....lol...Anyone have any comforting words, or should I seriously consider dropping my reservation based upon my food issues...

          1. re: Teffub
            J.L. RE: Teffub Dec 7, 2011 11:11 PM

            Thanks for reading the review! Yes, I will be posting more feedback on this great food trip on another thread, if I ever find the time...

            Chef Takazawa can DEFINITELY work around food preferences! You can email the restaurant directly, and ask Akiko, Chef Takazawa's wife, Manager, and translator (Akiko speaks near-perfect English!) if your food preferences are acceptable to Chef Takazawa...

            They only serve 2 tables per night, so service is very personalized. You should not miss this opportunity to dine there!

            1. re: Teffub
              VCB133 RE: Teffub Dec 9, 2011 07:21 PM

              My partner also does not eat onions, and Chef Takazawa simply did not use onion in her portions. I imagine it would be quite easy to do the same with pork (which is typically only an accent instead of a main course -- although the "bacon and egg" sounds amazing). I have been there 3 times over 3 years, and each time was life changing. Although we speak Japanese poorly, as noted Akiko is wonderfully bilingual.

              1. re: VCB133
                Teffub RE: VCB133 Dec 9, 2011 07:31 PM

                Thank you both, J.L. and VCB133, for putting my mind at ease!!!

                1. re: Teffub
                  Ninisix RE: Teffub Dec 13, 2011 03:10 AM

                  A good French menu, but without good red wine, welll, it would be a no-no for French !! i am sure white wine will be correct, but will it be OK for you for the whole meal ? The course looks fantastic, and my reservation 3 years ago was delayed due to changes...

                  1. re: Ninisix
                    J.L. RE: Ninisix Dec 13, 2011 04:52 AM

                    As someone who has actually dined there, I think Chef Takazawa's cuisine defies categorization. I suppose if you must pigeonhole it, the closest his cuisine resembles would be French, but even that is a far stretch.

                    In any case, the Chef recommended Japanese wines for our meal, so I put myself in his hands, in the truest "omakase" sense... It was a great meal, regardless of wine choice.

                    And by the way, we DID have red wines with the meal: A lovely Muscat Bailey A, and a solid Chateau Mars (cab/merlot blend). I suppose it's what you define as "good red wine". I thought these 2 reds did the job very well. Hope you get to try Aronia de Takazawa in the future!

                    1. re: J.L.
                      Ninisix RE: J.L. Dec 14, 2011 01:46 AM

                      And my red Margaux ? But, but, I have to admit his culinary way like the colorful ratatouille is very tempting...   

                      1. re: Ninisix
                        davew666 RE: Ninisix Dec 14, 2011 08:45 AM

                        good review. I loved Aronia too, although I had a bit of a shock when the bill came as I hadn't expected a service charge or to be charged so much for tea!

                        The truffle cheesecake is something I will remember for a very long time.

                        (a very anal point here - they can do three tables, as they did when I ate there)

                        1. re: davew666
                          Teffub RE: davew666 Dec 14, 2011 04:54 PM

                          How much was tea?! lol

                          1. re: Teffub
                            davew666 RE: Teffub Dec 15, 2011 05:12 AM

                            i can't remember. I just had thought it was probably free (maybe naively) but it certainly wasn't!

                          2. re: davew666
                            kersizm RE: davew666 Dec 15, 2011 03:43 AM

                            I loved Aronia too and the bill was a slight shock - however, less than Australia's top restaurants and several steps above!

                            I just came back from Tokyo yesterday and my trip included Aronia. It was a very similar meal to J.L.'s.

                            Our meal was:

                            Vegetables Parfait - which I thought was kinda boring. Whizzed up vegetables with uni just doesn't cut it, for me.

                            Powdery Dressing - This was maguro cooked on the outside with a blowtorch and served with a yuzu dressing which had been chilled with liquid nitrogen.

                            EZO-venison Tar Tar - The best dish I have ever eaten. Thankfully, it was too rich for my girlfriend and I got to have the best 1.5 dishes of my life ;)

                            Coffee Jelly with foie gras - Great stuff, agree with JL.

                            Early spring - Fish with spring green vegetables. I thought the fish was slightly lacklustre however, the broad beans, peas, other greens and the soup that it was served with was divine!

                            Grated cheese ? - Apple puree that looked like parmesan cheese. Fun and a good little palette cleanser but meh?!

                            Takazawa's special blue cheese - Cheese cake that looks like blue cheese. This was fantastic and I'm not much of a dessert person.

                            The salt and pepper chocolate in the petit fours was insanely good.

                            A superb meal... not quite life changing.. but 95% there!

            2. s
              Steve RE: J.L. Dec 15, 2011 10:00 AM

              Fabulous photos, great report!

              Cost without alcohol?

              27 Replies
              1. re: Steve
                Ninisix RE: Steve Dec 21, 2011 01:37 AM

                ..Cost for the Japanese wine ? Well, with euro at 101.-yens (and dropping), i might as well end up bringing 2 bottles of Margaux to complement the meal... Good food is, err, good, but with good wine to go with it, i find it far more enjoyable. Same goes for dessert, i do not count it as an option on a French menu.

                1. re: Ninisix
                  Steve RE: Ninisix Dec 21, 2011 07:45 AM

                  Sorry, I mean to ask what is the cost of the meal without wine.....

                  1. re: Steve
                    davew666 RE: Steve Dec 21, 2011 10:47 AM

                    16,20 or 24k depending on 7,9 or 11 courses (beginning of 2011 prices)

                  2. re: Ninisix
                    kersizm RE: Ninisix Dec 21, 2011 12:37 PM

                    The wine list at Aronia is fairly pricey, however I enjoyed the matched Japanese wines and believe it is something they should persevere with.

                    1. re: kersizm
                      J.L. RE: kersizm Dec 21, 2011 04:59 PM

                      Agree with kersizm. These occasions allow gastronomy to evolve out of certain pre-set notions.

                      Also will reiterate that Aronia is a cuisine unto itself, not necessarily defined as French.

                      1. re: J.L.
                        davew666 RE: J.L. Dec 22, 2011 04:09 AM

                        it is certainly not french IMO

                        1. re: davew666
                          Ninisix RE: davew666 Dec 26, 2011 08:42 PM

                          I don't think I can let that one pass ! Seriously: foie gras, ratatouille terrine, bread with pork rillette, what is not French ? Ok, there is the twist with the pasta... But so what ?

                          1. re: Ninisix
                            davew666 RE: Ninisix Dec 27, 2011 03:54 AM

                            They may use some french ingredients, but that certainly does not make it French cuisine. I go to France several times a year (I only live 50 miles away) and I have never seen anything remotely like Aronia there!

                        2. re: J.L.
                          VCB133 RE: J.L. Dec 27, 2011 07:28 PM

                          Agree with JL and Dave here -- this is most definitely not French cuisine. The words on the menu may seem French, but it is not ratatouille at all, just a play on multiple vegetables (he could have just as easily called it futomaki). The wine list is French or Japanese, which is pretty common across most of the upscale restaurants in Tokyo. I have been here 3 times -- it is not French, not wholly Japanese, not entirely molecular, etc. It is a bit sui generis.

                          1. re: VCB133
                            Ninisix RE: VCB133 Dec 28, 2011 12:12 AM

                            So, molecular culinary do you qualify it only molecular or french (=Thierry Marx), or Spanish (=Ferran Adria) ?
                            In an interview by the Washington Post, the chef Yoshiaki Takazawa attributes his culinary as 'new French'...

                            1. re: Ninisix
                              davew666 RE: Ninisix Dec 28, 2011 09:48 AM

                              I do not know of any restaurants in France which serve food like you will find at AdeT. Assuming this is correct, how could it possibly be a "french" restaurant if it is one of a kind?

                              The chef may well use french cuisine as inspiration, but so do countless other chefs all over the western (and eastern) hemispheres.

                              If I had to classify the cooking here I would probably call it Modern European. I don't believe it can fit into a specific country's cuisine as the style is too new to have a home, if indeed it ever does.

                              1. re: davew666
                                kevin RE: davew666 Dec 28, 2011 06:51 PM

                                How much does it cost, roughly, in US dollars?

                                $300 per person?

                                $500 per person?

                                $800 per person?

                                1. re: kevin
                                  kersizm RE: kevin Dec 28, 2011 10:20 PM

                                  The whole meal or the wine?

                                  My meal of 9 courses, with matched japanese wine and a glass of champagne was about $450/person.

                                  1. re: kersizm
                                    kevin RE: kersizm Dec 29, 2011 07:05 PM

                                    Whole meal, with no wines, just a couple sodas and maybe some coffee?

                                    I'm presuming without the alcohol it was no more than 300 per????

                                    Thanks kersimz

                                    1. re: kevin
                                      kersizm RE: kevin Dec 29, 2011 08:05 PM

                                      They don't do coffee only tea.

                                      It would be about $300 a head yeah.. unless you are adverse to alcohol, I'd say do it with the wines.

                                      1. re: kersizm
                                        kevin RE: kersizm Dec 29, 2011 09:09 PM

                                        Problem is I'm prolly going to be doing quite a bit of drinking at the izakayas anyhow, and I'll have limited time in Tokyo, otherwise, I'd so be down.

                                        I guess the price for food alone is not too bad, considering the quality of the ingrendient's, the chef's expertise, and that he's only cooking for me and like three other people.

                                      2. re: kevin
                                        prasantrin RE: kevin Dec 30, 2011 08:07 PM

                                        The Y24 000 meal for two with water came to something like Y52 000 in total when I went. The water was, I think, about Y2000. The tea was included in the meal. I don't think they have soft drinks or hard alcohol, but I could be wrong about that.

                                        1. re: prasantrin
                                          kevin RE: prasantrin Dec 30, 2011 08:09 PM

                                          what would the meal of 24000 yen be in dollars????

                                          Sorry, I don't know what yen would be in US dollars.


                                          1. re: kevin
                                            prasantrin RE: kevin Dec 30, 2011 09:48 PM

                                            I'm sure yahoo currency or some other currency exchange calculator could figure it out for you

                                          2. re: prasantrin
                                            davew666 RE: prasantrin Dec 31, 2011 01:12 AM

                                            If I remember correctly, the tea was Y1000 per glass when I went - at least that is what they charged me

                                            1. re: davew666
                                              prasantrin RE: davew666 Dec 31, 2011 08:02 AM

                                              When I went the tea was served by the pot at the end of the meal. I'll look for my receipt (I still have it somewhere). Maybe I was charged, but I'm pretty sure I was only charged for water above the cost for the meal.

                                              1. re: prasantrin
                                                davew666 RE: prasantrin Jan 1, 2012 01:16 PM

                                                i had a cold tea with the meal, I think it might have come in a bottle, but I can't quite remember.

                                                1. re: davew666
                                                  prasantrin RE: davew666 Jan 1, 2012 03:21 PM

                                                  Ah, that's different from what I was talking about. I was talking about the tea service at the end of the meal, the same one J.L. writes about above. If you had cold tea during the meal, did you also have the tea service at the end of the meal?

                                                  1. re: prasantrin
                                                    davew666 RE: prasantrin Jan 4, 2012 02:18 PM

                                                    yes, we did also have the hot tea

                                                  2. re: davew666
                                                    akated RE: davew666 Jan 2, 2012 10:34 PM

                                                    i had the cold tea too, served out of a glass bottle that resembles a wine bottle. and then a cup of hot (herbal) tea at the end of the meal. i believe the cold tea was not part of the cost of the meal. can't remember about the cup of hot tea.

                                      3. re: davew666
                                        Ninisix RE: davew666 Jan 5, 2012 08:41 PM

                                        It s not really up to me to decide the French character of chef Tazawa's cuisine. My few observations: He himself defines his cuisine as 'new French' in an interview at Wall Street Journal. Base ingredients are typically found in French cuisine (yes, including pasta - i would not say about not spagetti, but there are pasta specialities in south of France ...), and prepared in a way to taste French, and to look like French cuisine in Japanese (kaiseki-style). Hence my conclusion ... and my remark that the only 'missing' bit was the French wine.
                                        As for 'molecular' cuisine, you have fine French representatives (for ex. chef Thierry Marx), but also other cuisine, like for ex Spanish (Il Bulli). 
                                        Categories seldom fully identify the cooking - especially as we speak about human activity, with overlaps, approximations, and chefs trying new ways of cooking that fall outside a simple 'French', 'Molecular' , 'Modern' designation.  

                                        1. re: Ninisix
                                          davew666 RE: Ninisix Jan 7, 2012 10:16 AM

                                          I quite agree that chefs are always looking to cook outside the simple categories. That applies here, and it why it is not French cuisine. If you said "French inspired" cuisine, then we would be in agreement.

                          2. k
                            kevin RE: J.L. Dec 26, 2011 09:20 PM

                            Only four seats tops??? This is even more intimate and exclusive than Urasawa. Obviously different types of cuisine though.

                            How much was the meal per person? About $500, not including tax and tip, considering there are only those four seats?

                            Thanks. Great read. And a definite vicarious thril.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: kevin
                              davew666 RE: kevin Dec 27, 2011 03:55 AM

                              more like 10 seats

                              1. re: kevin
                                akated RE: kevin Jan 2, 2012 10:36 PM

                                i read somewhere that they do a maximum of 10 seats on a maximum of 3 tables. no single tops.

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