After our ‘lunch’ at Les Créations de Narisawa, I had to rush off to a concert. But Dan had a little surprise in store for us later that night. He told John, Oki and I to meet him at Azabu-jūban station after our gig and he would take care of the rest.
We arrive around ten-thirty. He whisks us off to meet his parents and Oki’s family friend, Furukawa-san, who are waiting at a bar. Then we walk a block or two.
Sleek, unlabelled, nondescript exterior. I sense a pattern.
But if Narisawa was a modern take on modern design, this is a modern take on traditional. A small entryway where we remove our shoes; light-stained matte wood paneling; sliding doors; individual tatami rooms with a sunken space for legs; and the servers, women in kimono. There are touches of modernity inflecting the traditional design: ambient lighting from recessed wood panels, a smooth bar of three or four seats at the end of a short hallway; and, of course, the cuisine, which is in itself the focal point, the piece of master pottery pedestaled and lit.
‘This is Kadowaki,’ Dan says, as we are ushered into our room, seven of us leaning back and tucking our legs under the table. ‘One of my favourite places in Tokyo.’
We are, as they say, in for a treat.
Hot towels, hot tea. This is a beautiful ritual, the gate before the plunge.
The flight begins. Shrimp, gomae, garlic, and sea grapes (海ぶどう), a type of magnificent seaweed eaten in Okinawa. It looks like green caviar, tastes marine, chlorophyllic, slightly sweet and tart. Really an amazing thing. I want to find this again.
Rice with sakura shrimp (桜えび). I don’t know if this is the variety of shrimp, or what. I ask questions and note whatever I can; but this is not a meal to deliberate too much over. At least that’s what Dan, across from me, insists. His mother, to my left, thinks my note-taking funny and fascinating. Either way, the texture is incredible.
Snapper sashimi (たい), with snapper roe, okra, and the most delicate of bean sprouts, like fluff. The roe gets caught in the little nest of sprouts as we take it up into our mouth. The okra is crunchy. Unlikely and pleasing.
And then there is wine, of course. Mr. and Mrs. Shiramizu have this friend with this vineyard and this friend makes them their own wine. Mr. casually pulls out this magnum of the stuff and asks the server to serve.
‘And what are we drinking, Shiramizu-san?’
‘Why, here’s the bottle.’
The label says ‘Cuvée Nicolas Rolin, Côte d’Or, 2007 Beaune, Hospices de Beaune Premier Cru’. I will not refuse.
Tobacco and charcoal on the nose, red berry and apple, medium body, and almost this cactusy thing on the finish, like nopales. And such a beautiful light crimson colour. Just insufferably perfect.
The food continues. Whole soft-shell crab fried in egg, with small fish (あゆ) and sudachi (すだち), a sort of Japanese lime. Fish testes (と玉子). Both strange and completely intuitive. Revelatory. And then, the best dish, I think, of my life.
Fig; crab; truffle sauce; shaved white truffle.
At this point, my notes say: “SOOOOOO OMAGOD. sweet, savoury, ocean, salty, umami,” and then become completely illegible.
The dish is a shallow bowl, white-off-white just barely towards blue-grey. There are two prolate fruits, oblong, softly golden, absolutely tender to the touch, a variety of Japanese fig (いたじく), larger and longer than any I’ve seen. One perfectly intact length of crab meat, tapering at either end, pearly white and tinged with rose. A sauce of white and black truffle, silky, ethereal. It is finished with a few wise shavings of white truffle.
I have had the feeling of ‘I could die now, I have lived everything I’ve needed to live’ a few times in my life; this is one of them.
My notes for this one finish with ‘this is a revelation. I will remember this dish for the rest of my life.’
Yup I guess so.
There is still more. Fish cake with kinmei, junsai (じゅんさい), kuro-shichimi (黒七味), green onions (ねぎ). Also my first time trying junsai – slightly mucilaginous, with a flavour almost like juniper but sea-like. The shichimi is black, and spicy.
Eggplant and sprouts.
Nori (のり) and pickles (おしんこ) – onions (玉ねぎ), cucumber (きゅうり), eggplant (なす), burdock (ごぼう).
And then, the truffle rice.
This is what Dan raves about, all week. The reason, I suspect, we came.
Kadowaki-san enters our room, bearing a heavy ceramic pot of cooked rice, steam trailing out from underneath the wooden lid. He exchanges greetings, sets the bowl down at the end of the table, and lifts the cover.
His trusty truffle shaver in one hand, and the beautiful fungus in the other, he begins deftly showering the rice, anointing it with a thick blanket of the noblest of spores. It becomes almost another landscape, a forest or plain of another world where the snowflakes fall thick and fast, one by one, each a parachute of uncultivable aromatic bliss.
The room smells entirely of warm truffle. It is disorienting, a gastronomic opiate. This, I think, is why they design the rooms close.
And then, after what seems like hours enraptured in the shaving, the folding in begins.
Bowls are passed.
A silence settles about the room. We return to our little islands.
I am given a second mound. It is, I’m told, my duty, my contribution to the cause.
Truffles and rice. Who knew. But really, it makes just the most sense. Probably simplest yet most exultant blend of ‘East’ and ‘West’, ‘High’ and ‘Low’, etc.; which is to say, a perfectly category-dissolving dish.
Miso soup. Sake.
Pause. Contented rest.
Iribancha (いりばん茶), a special type of tea from the legendary Ippōdō Tea Company in Kyōtō. It has a deep colour, and a smoky flavour, almost like lapsang souchong but more delicate, with hints of first-flush freshness.
Kuzu with plum wine jelly (梅酒ゼリー), red bean paste (あずき), and matcha. ‘all the best parts of Japan at the same time’.
More sake, quietly. I have no idea now what it tasted like because at this point the only notes I could take say ‘the most delicious sake’, and then, ‘this tea’.
Kadowaki-san comes back out to chat. I am enthralled and speechless.
We make our way to leave; he accompanies us to the door; the server holds us out our bags; there are thank yous and greetings; I shake his hand, and look into his eye, and for a moment, I think, ‘this is what I want’.
He sends us off, with a wave of starched kitchen whites, into the night.