Tokyo Blond Is Not Porn

Tokyo Blond is not a porn blog, about hair or even, as one pithy friend remarked, a micro beer or late 1980s glam metal band ("Dude, I just saw Skid Row and Tokyo Blond opened and played a killer set").

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my experiences in Tokyo - poignantly, visually, irreverently - for fun.

Anybody can tag along...that is if I like you. This blog will endeavor to be entertaining and honest and frequent enough to keep those following interested including me.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Benihana Who?

When you're American, as I am, and you think of Teppanyaki, as you do occasionally, you think of Benihana's.  You know, the dancing knives, the smoking onion volcano, the pocket jumping shrimp.  Until now.  Now my eyes have been open with a steel spatula and a polished copper pot.  Now I realize Benihana is just a cheesy side show.

Yes, they had the steel cook top. Yes, they had the chefs with the big hats and the sharp knives.  But the similarities stop there.   There were no parlor game tricks, no spinning rice bowls, just amazing chefs cooking exquisite dishes right in front of you in an elegant setting.  The service was impeccable and the wine list inspiring.  It was also expensive.  But what isn't in Tokyo?

And it's name is Ukai-tei Ginza.  

We started with champagne.  It seemed only right.  We couldn't decide on any one bottle so we just ordered a different glass of wine with each course.  I chose the Chef's menu and Russell chose the Early Summer menu.  This way we could sample each other's dishes.  Both our meals included the house specialty: abalone.  It's a good thing too because I don't think I would have shared that dish it was so amazing.

Our chef, call me "Kazu", was great.  An older gentleman with an infectious smile.  He patiently and indulgently explained each ingredient to us as he prepared our dishes.  He was teased by another, younger, English speaking chef named Sung Lee who had worked in San Francisco for a while.  Sung informed us that our chef Kazuhiro's specialty is the abalone.  From the taste of it I would agree with him.

The first sommelier who helped us was a bit stiff.  While exceedingly efficient; he exuded no warmth.  But the second sommelier (we seemed to have a team of wait staff) was quite charming and witty.  A nice surprise.  I'm always refreshed to find humor in the Japanese.  Not that I don't think they're funny I just don't think they tend to share it with foreigners.  His name was "Kazu" as well.  I wonder if that means "Bob" or "Steve" in Japanese.  It seems a popular name.

Each dish was more spectacular than the last.  

I started with the marinated crab and caviar killer combination and Russell had chilled sea urchin.   Sea urchin is something we usually avoid in the States.  But in Japan the stuff is simply ambrosia.  My hunch is the difference is freshness.

Next we had soup.  Mine was chilled creamed sea urchin. Delectable!  Russell's was chilled broad bean soup.  Refreshingly simple and pure.

Then came the abalone.  Bring it!  Oh my!  That was memorable.  First he brought out two live abalones relaxing on a bed of ice.  They were still moving.  Then he put them on the grill and covered them in seaweed and salt.  While they steamed he made two sauces: one of basil and wine and the other must be a secret because he didn't share the details.  The combination was astounding.  That was the highlight of the meal.  But there was more to come.

Since I had the Chef's Menu I received the better cut of meat.  As if you could tell.  Ok maybe a little.  What I mean is, the better cut of meat in Tokyo is always way better than the best cut of meat in L.A.  And I've been to STK, BLT, Cut and Texas so I know.  Russell's meat was served with garlic chips (yummy) and fresh greens (double yummy).  My tenderloin was served with sea salt and freshly shark skinned wasabi.  Super yummy!  Instead of a grater Japanese restaurants use shark skin to triturate their wasabi.  And unlike the wasabe in the U.S. which eclipses all other flavors with its ruthless bite, this wasabe was mild but wonderfully complementary to the meat, like adding a touch of vinegar or sugar to sauces to bring out the flavors.  

This was followed by garlic fried rice, made artfully in front of us without any knife gymnastics.

For dessert Kazu the sommelier escorted us from the Teppan grill to a lounge area for dessert.  I had the chocolate parfait and Russell had this amazing sweet, cheesy, creamy almost brulee like custard with museum quality cherries on top and a blush of faintly tart syrup.  Thank you sir, may I have another!?

It's a good thing we take the subway everywhere.  Walking and climbing stairs aids digestion.  After a meal like that you need a walk in fresh air to clear your head.

Sayonara Benihana!

Red carpet entrance.  Note the fork and spoon hosts.

The Teppanaki bar we sat at.

Look it's a napkin!  You never get a napkin in Tokyo.

What I had.

Marinated crab with caviar.  I love caviar.
And it loves me.

This is what Russell had - Chilled sea urchin. 
Yes, sea urchin.  It was amazing!

Live abalone.

They steamed it in seaweed and salt.

Then served it with two different sauces.

Yes, that's meat.  It's so perfect it's almost too good to eat.
But I managed to get it down.
The big root on the right is fresh wasabe.

Those are garlic chips on the left.
They should bag them and sell them at Subway.
Russell thinks I'm on to something.

The creamy, cheesy confection from the gods.
Oh and those are perfect cheeries on top 
and they're real, not out of a jar!

My chocolate parfait.  Yummy!

An ornate Symphonium. 
It plays whimsically beautiful music.
My grandparents had one less elaborate.

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