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Nov 16, 2012 02:33 PM

Takazawa - Roadtrip inside a chef's imagination

After a few days discovering Japanese gastronomy at random, Mrs. Yeti and I went to our first reservation. We had booked 3 months in advance by email at Takazawa.

Some people say proudly that Chef Takazawa refused one or more Michelin stars when they came knocking at his door. I don't know if this is true, but I wouldn't be surprised as this restaurant doesn't seem to care if it's modernist or classical, Japanese, French or even Mediterranean, it doesn't mind being too pretentious or too friendly...
So the stars, well, they are in the chef's wife, Akiko's eyes. Every time she brings a dish, it is with as much enthusiasm and warmth as the cooks have concentration.

Somebody once said "doing things seriously without taking oneself too seriously". This motto could be the restaurant's, although Takazawa-san might find it a bit lacking fantasy...

Amuse-bouche - Prosciutto and melon gelée
Refreshing and somewhat amusing (mixing the well known tastes of cured ham and melon), I have trouble finding the reason why this fruit and pig's leg should be transformed in this manner.

Amuse-bouche - Salmon eggs with yuzu zest
The chef doesn't buy his salmon eggs already separated, washed and cured like the common people (including restaurant professionals). He buys them in their membrane and takes care of all the dirty work himself. I don't know if this anecdote actually changes the quality of the dish, all I know is that those little pearls burst brilliantly in the mouth, letting go of their thick and salty liquid which melted into the yuzu note. The pillow of rice was calming the atmosphere and added a comfortable texture to help keep our feet on the ground.

Amuse-bouche - Grand canyon
A chip made of scallops and dried algae, fish and shrimps. Behind it's Anselm Kiefer painting look hid a perfect texture, crispy but not dry with intense but elegant marine aromas. The company who will manage to sell those chips in a one pound bag will have my deepest affection.

Amuse-bouche - Parsnip spherifications with summer truffle
I've tasted "spherifications" a few times, those liquid balls holding together inside a thin alginate shell have become the symbol and also the cliché of modernist cuisine. They bring a touch of surprise the first time, and then what...? The answer is clear with this dish. Without this little trick, the parsnip soup would have drowned the truffles, whereas putting the thin slices of fungi over the solidified spheres allowed for the truffle to stay raw until the very last moment. The hot soup mixed with the fresh tasting truffle brought the dish to another dimension.

Ratatouille (2005)
The mythical dish of the restaurant. A dozen of vegetables cooked separately, differently, with precision, then married under the shape of a terrine. Served as a single slice to be eaten in one bite, this ratatouille kept all the essence of the Provençal dish, but with a freshness and intensity increased tenfold. Here is the perfect example of an idea one might find anecdotal which turns out to be magical.

Vegetables Parfait (2011)
A lot of dishes (usually desserts) take the name "parfait". But few of them actually manage to near any form of perfection... This yellow tomato gazpacho, sprinkled with diced vegetables, flowers, herbs, and the little vanity: caviar, unveiled itself powerfully. You take a sip in the straw and everything twirls, each mouthful is original but the symbiosis works from beginning to end (even the Parmesan Chantilly had it's say). Perfect.

Bouillabaisse with Beet ? (NEW)
Various seafood served with a bit of aïoli and supposed to remind us of bouillabaisse once mixed with the "beer", which was in fact a cold fish consommé with a tomato foam. On the boxing ring every shell had a go at it, but the consommé was bland and the whole dish turned out to be boring pretty fast.

Powdery Dressing (2006)
Mackerel so tender it will make you cry, served with matsutake mushrooms over slightly to big quenelles of potato and pumpkin. And then you get a powder of vinaigrette dressing, chilled in liquid nitrogen, and it smokes and it melts in the plate. I would have been happy without the magic trick, but not without that mackerel.

BIEI Salad (NEW)
Reminding of Michel Bras' "gargouillou", this Japanese version had only vegetables from Biei, Hokkaido. Some crunch (mini beet, mini cucumber), some softness (carrot purée, tofu and edamame cream), some crisp (zucchini flower tempura) and some weird like this "oyster leaf" which was served with mayonnaise and bread-crumbs and tasted like... oysters !
Not much else to say about this plate which lacked a bit of focus. Oh yeah... the cherry tomato was excellent !

Candleholder (2007)
Akiko always seems so amused at her husband's ideas (even when they date from 2007), it's therefore with a big smile that she brought a candleholder with a lid on. When we opened it, we found a candle made of mango and chilly (with a little rosemary leaf as the wick). Under the lid was hiding a foie gras crème brulée.
The cream was too heavy and the mango too spicy, but together the balance was found. The paper-thin toasts with raisins added a touch of welcomed texture.

Breakfast at TAKAZAWA (2008)
Still with trouble hiding her smile, Akiko gave us a weird breakfast. On one side there was a bowl of cornflakes (actually really light savory chips) and on the other an egg mollet, slightly overcooked, covered with summer truffle. The egg was nothing like a morning egg, and the chips only worked as a joke. The humor seemed to prevail the attention brought to the dish, and unfortunately it didn't really make me laugh.

Surrounding Tilefish (which had its scales puffed up like rice krispies) a composition was made around the color red ; beets, bell pepper, tomatoes, radish, tapenade, and green jalapeno for the contrast. The flavors swung between Mediterranean and Mexico. Maybe with just one sauce the plate would have worked better, too much diversity sort of drowned the fish. However, my taste buds were delighted by so much attention, and I didn't grow tired of it one bit.

Dinner in the Forest - WAGYU (2009)
Let's forget the production (a burning branch for the mood), let's forget the decor (a fake log, kitsch as can be), let's forget the joke (a cube of sweet potato disguised as charcoal), let's also forget the supporting act even though the various mushrooms, ginkgo and nuts would certainly have stolen the show in another plate...
Let's focus on the meat. Marbled, soft, succulent, slightly gamey, intense, smooth, my dictionary of adjectives is forfeiting ! Probably the best meat I have ever eaten.
I beg you farmers from France and from the world, let your beasts roam free, give them good things to eat, massage them, make them drunk with your booze, I beg you...

Déjà-vu ? (NEW)
The "parfait" again ? Oh yes, yes, please ! No ? Haha what a joker this Takazawa...
This sweet version of the parfait was made with peaches, sprinkled this time with various fruits, flowers and gelées. Very fragrant and harmonious, it wasn't its model's equal but it introduced the desserts with groove.

Takazawa's Special Blue Cheese (2011)
At the end of the meal my zygomatic muscles were tense by a puzzling mix of real culinary happiness and forced reaction to the mischievous plates of the master of ceremony. So when Akiko came with the last joke of the day, I surrendered: "What do you mean it's not really blue cheese ? Ho ho ho. A cheesecake with pistachio ?" Anyway...
Like the foie gras this cake was dense by itself, but when eaten with the exquisite fig jelly or the refreshing port granité, it became light as a feather.

Chef Takazawa is a perfectionist, he constantly tries new things, is very meticulous and renews his menu regularly. He fluctuates between the marvelous and the damp squib, often because of humor that slightly misses the mark. Some dishes of this dinner were nonetheless outstanding, so I'm willing to put on a fake smile here and there if it comes with an euphoria punch of that intensity.

(For the review in French and photographs of all the dishes : )

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  1. "Some people say proudly that Chef Takazawa refused one or more Michelin stars when they came knocking at his door."

    My understanding is that Michelin stars can't be refused. I'm aware some places have tried to avoid inclusion in the guide by rejecting requests for an interview and photos, but they were listed anyway.

    The rumors that you have heard may just be a case of people talking up their experience by bragging that the restaurant has too much integrity to be included in Michelin - and therefore inferring that their dining experience was somehow more special/authentic than others. Or, it could be a story that a business savvy restauranter prefers to neither confirm nor deny because it makes for good publicity.

    I'm surprised you didn't ask Akiko-san about it.

    1. Common people, restaurants, and others can and do pretty easily buy sujiko (salmon roe) to cure themselves. It's not really that uncommon and it's cheaper than prepared ikura.

      1. Great review, thanks. It brought back good memories of my time there.

        1. wekabeka
          A few restaurants throughout the world are said to have refused stars, some places even "gave back" the stars afterwards and weren't included in the following guide... Maybe they're all rumors as it does seem hard to find any "official" information about it. Anyway, it was just my way of introducing this restaurant, and I am saying it is a rumor which in its essence could be true or not. As for asking Akiko-san, I was too busy enjoying my dinner and company to think about Michelin at the time !

          This is how Akiko-san presented the dish, I can't remember the exact words she used, but she did stress the fact that it wasn't that common... I'm sad to hear she may have exaggerated her statement. (or maybe it is just uncommon outside of Japan, and since she deals with a lot of foreigners she emphasizes on the "home made" ikura).

          Lost Squirrel
          Thank you. :)

          1 Reply
          1. Re: Michelin, wekabeka is right. You will see that a number of restaurants in the Tokyo guide do not contain pictures (in particular, unagi and sukiyaki places, if I remember correctly). Those are restaurants that refused to cooperate and did not want to be included in the guide. There were included against their will, but obviously were free to refuse permission to take photographs inside.

            In any event, the Takazawas would not refuse Michelin stars. They have worked very hard to create the best restaurant they were capable, and like being recognised for it. They are very proud of the mentions they get in various magazines and newspapers.

            It is interesting that Michelin have overlooked them. You could argue about how many stars they deserve, but I think it is difficult to argue that they don't deserve even one star, given the many very average restaurants that have stars in the Tokyo guide (no way that many of them would ever get stars in France, for example).

            Perhaps Takazawa just sort of falls through the cracks - it is neither "properly" French, nor is it Japanese. Hard to label, though I would have thought that the Michelin inspectors should be flexible enough to reward ingenuity, if the quality of the food is good.