L.A. 'Hound reports back: Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo [LONG REVIEW WITH PHOTOS]
Nihonryori RyuGin is regarded as one of the Top 50 restaurants on earth. Chef Seiji Yamamoto's inventive interpretation on seasonal and traditional Japanese cooking is unparalleled. We were lucky enough to have a chance to try his Autumn Kaiseki Menu in November.
Inside, the "Dragon" motif reigns supreme in the decor of the restaurant. No detail is overlooked. Napkin holders carry the RyuGin emblem, and are folded perfectly. Chef Yamamoto collects dragon plates from Keitokuchin (Sichuan) in China for display at his restaurant.
Chef Yamamoto is also a tea enthusiast. He personally selects each tea served in his restaurant, including some fascinating (and extremely refreshing) iced green teas! Chef Yamamoto's Special Selection Tea is from his private reserves of green tea. One doesn't always need wine to be paired with food in order to bring out another dimension in taste. This challenges the traditional paradigm, and opens the palate to new opportunities!
Starter: Ebiimo: A slice of yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam) is fried like a potato chip, and ebi (shrimp) tartar with caviar is placed on it, with stripes of sweet miso. Unbelievably fresh, and the combination of textures and flavors provide an incredibly appetizing way to begin our culinary adventure!
The next dish is presented in a simple hot bowl... Hot "Turtle Tofu" with Soft "Rice Cake" and "Green Onion" Oil. The turtle is so tender! And the rice cake has an indescribable soft-yet-chewy texture, while everything is permeated by the fragrant green onion oil! Again, the interplay of texture and taste is overwhelmingly wonderful!
Another cold dish is presented, with Japanese maple leaves, to highlight the autumn theme: "Watari Blue Crab" with "Matsutake Mushrooms" refined style Fragrance of Mitsuba... The delicate meat of the watari-kani (blue swimmer crab) from Takushima Prefecture is in symphony with the highest-grade matsutake and eringi mushrooms, while the fragrance of mitsuba (a Japanese herb similar to parsley or angelica) accents the dish perfectly!
A hot lacquerware bowl is presented next... Ichiban Dashi Soup, with "Seaperch" Grilled on Charcoal and "Deep-fried Turnip" with "Matsutake Mushrooms". In Japanese cuisine, the dashi broth is fish-based. Sea perch (from Chiba Prefecture) is a great candidate for this soup, and the matsutake mushrooms, at the height of their season, provide synergy to the bowl! Again, Chef Yamamoto offers a contrast in added texture by deep-frying the turnip (the turnip is usually boiled in dashi broths)!
Today's Assortment of Sashimi, RyuGin Style. Cucumber sunomono, seaweed, freshly-grated wasabi, a slice of yuzu, and sea salt are all presented to help season the sashimi:
Hirame (halibut)... Supremely fresh; the perfect "bite" !
Slightly seared saba (mackerel), with fried garlic chips on top... Sublime!
Surumeika (cuttlefish), with baby corn and ponzu... This was utterly fantastic!
Autumn Colors in a Plate: Sanma Fish (Pacific saury): Steamed and gently brushed with sweet miso glaze, then stuffed with grilled eggplant, this was a new fish for me, and one that I will miss in L.A. Ginkgo nuts in "RyuGin" style: Pureed shiitake mushroom on the bottom, with furikake & sea salt on top - Now, this is THE way to enjoy ginnan (ginkgo nuts)! Persimmon with sesame sauce! What a great combination! Grated daikon radish and generous amounts of uni (sea urchin roe, from Hokkaido) and fried ikura (salmon roe) are provided as a topping to accompany the grilled eggplant. A gastronomic revelation: Eggplant goes GREAT with uni!!!
Hot Dish: Assortment of Small Simmered Preparations. In this takiawase, eight different Autumn food items are each painstakingly prepared separately, each in a different way, then brought together to simmer in this communal chicken stock! It is Chef Yamamoto's ultimate take on traditional Japanese oden (Japanese cold weather stew)!!! Beef tendon, yuba (tofu skin), tako (octopus), uzura tamago (quali egg), too many ingredients to mention... Comfortable, yet luxurious - Delicious! Sweet miso, with diced scallions, offer a welcome tinge of color and complexity to the dish! Simmered tako (octopus)... So achingly tender! Terrific! Deep-fried tofu with fish cake... Sughoi!
"Kuroge Wagyu Beef Filet" in Sukiyaki, with Deep-fried "Matsutake Mushrooms" refined style and "Premium Poached Egg". The kuroge (Japanese black-haired cattle) beef filet itself, from Hokkaido, is simply heaven. It is simply one of the best bites of beef a human can have in this lifetime. It's made even better with the addition of a huge piece of deep-fried matsutake mushroom! Frying really "locks in" the unmistakable flavor of the matsutake mushroom! Perfectly poached egg, with dried seaweed on top... The yolk, and the beef together harmonize the taste buds perfectly! Japanese eggs yolks are much more intense than the eggs in other countries - Tasty!
Simmered "Sea Eel" on "Shaved Chestnuts" Rice, and "Shrimp Broth" Red Miso Soup. The shaved chestnuts are a decadent augmentation to the traditional anago-don (see eel rice bowl). This rice is also of the highest quality - Just an absolutely delightful presentation! The crunchy baby kinusaya (pea) stalks in the yuba roll, cucumber with shredded simmered fish, and the mentaiko (cod roe) cut roll (with six pickled vegetables) are great partners to this overall dish! The red miso with shrimp sauce warms up the body, and prepares it for the cold weather...
A refreshing hot tea is served... Dessert time!!!
RyuGin Specialite: -196 Degree Celsius "Candy Pear" and +99 Degree Celsius "Pear Jam"... Simple and beautiful to behold, yet this one dessert is so, so complex to prepare. So creative! An entire pear shell is literally frozen to -196 degrees Celsius with liquid nitrogen, while the inside of the pear is cooked to +99 degrees Celsius! When the frozen outer shell is cracked open with a spoon, the hot pear compote/jam spills forth!
Hot hojicha (roasted green tea) is served...
RyuGin Signature Dish: "Roppongi Pudding": This dish is Chef Yamamoto's homage to Spanish cuisine. Chef Yamamoto takes yearly sabbaticals to Spain, where he exchanges ideas and recipes with other great chefs from Catalunya and the Basque region.
Matcha (Japanese frothed green tea)... An exquisite end to an exquisite meal!
The bill... Not cheap, but worth every yen. We feel very privileged to have gotten a chance to experience this level of fine dining, at one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Chef Yamamoto gave us a signed copy of the evening's menu! Chef Seiji (he likes to be called Chef Seiji rather than Chef Yamamoto) is very humble and friendly! He was also gracious enough to pose for photos after dinner. Gochisosama deshita!!!