Thanksgiving and Christmas are two holidays I associate with home and comfort. If at all possible, these days must be spent with people you love most, in a place you love most. That’s exactly why, when it came to choosing a restaurant for our Christmas dinner date we immediately craved to revisit one of our favorite spots in Tokyo –L’Effervescence. The pleasant ambiance, impeccable service of the staff, the entertaining stories about each dish from Maitre d’hotel Zac, outstanding meal – everything about this restaurant is welcoming and comforting. The head chef Namae-san expertly marries French cooking techniques with Japanese traditions of handling premium local ingredients to create a truly remarkable modern cuisine. We had quite a remarkable dinner here past May celebrating my birthday and you can read in a greater detail about the cooking philosophy of the Chef in my previous post. One of the biggest assets of 2 Michelin-starred L’Effervescence is its unpredictability. The menu changes with the season and availability of fresh produce, which means you can never tire of revising the restaurant (although I would gladly keep returning to a few of his dishes). Among the 12 courses we savored, it was very hard to pick the favorites. Almost every dish stood out with bold flavors and quite memorable delicious taste. Not to taunt you with too many words, let me go through our tasting menu of the night. Zac welcomed us with a warm sake drink which felt particularly good considering it was quite chilly outside. And then the feast started.
1st course: Awakening – a delightful layers of kawahagi (filefish), cherry vinegar, porcini mousse on the left; and kujo-negi (Japanese green onion from Kyoto) and yuzu prepared using liquid nitrogen on the right. The latter packed a flavorful punch and served as a palate cleanser of sorts. As we waited for the next course we eagerly devoured restaurant’s signature spread (which is also one of the best on the planet!) – sour cream, tofu cream and olive oil. 2nd course: Just Like the Apple Pie #26 –corresponding to the number of recipes used since the day one. The rich, buttery and perfectly flaky little pouch was filled with persimmon and monk fish liver cooked with mirin and topped with artichoke. It was a perfectly balanced mélange of sweet, earthy and umami flavors. 3rd course: Reminiscence – Tribute to Olivier Roellinger, the famous French chef who currently runs his own spice shop with his wife. In fact, the most important ingredient on this vibrant platter was the spices generously sprinkled around on the side of the dish. During his work with Chef Roellinger, Namae-san was inspired by the pairing of Neptune spice with the big piece of fish they worked on together and he was inspired to recreate it upon his return to Japan using local ingredients. The flavors of the sea coming from the spice elevated otherwise simple barracuda sashimi and petals of pumpkin and dried carrot. I also loved the touch of acidity coming from the green lime vinaigrette artfully dabbed on the plate. I also opted for the non-alcoholic pairing to go with the dinner and my barracuda dish was paired with pumpkin juice with orange mikan juice and a little bit of bonito fish dashi stock. I think it was one of my favorite parings of the night as the drink highlighted the vibrant umami flavor of the fish.
4th course: A fixed Point. This signature dish of Namae-san stays on the menu year-round. The preparation remains the same, but the conditions of the growing season impact its flavor, making it sweet in winter and spicier during the warmer months. Compared to spring version, we could taste the delightful sweetness coming from the succulent turnip, and I couldn’t have enough of that beautiful char on it which gave a wonderful smoky flavor. I am a greedy carnivore, but if I had to pick one vegetarian dish – this would be it. The course was smartly paired with daikon and dashi stock cocktail. 5th course: A Snowy Day – gently poached tilefish topped tangy fermented celeriac and whey puree, and olive oil base. The fish was absolutely heavenly, perfectly flaky and tender. It was complimented with multitude of complex flavors including a touch of acidity and sweetness from the celeriac as well as a hint of ginger. The latter was also highlighted by the juice pairing of celeriac dashi stock with ginger flavor. 6th course: When The Wind Blows. If Namae-san had this dish on his regular menu I would probably visit at least a month to eat it. The flavor combination blew me away. It was soul-warming and an absolute perfection. Velvety sweet potato soup (cooked using a snow crab shell dashi stock) was topped with snow crab meat and roe, as well as slightly fried shirako. The dish was completed with a touch of wild boar caramel and small slices of salt preserved lemon rinds. I have tried shirako a few times, both raw and cooked, and I think this was by far the most scrumptious version. Crispy from the outside and soft and creamy from the inside with a touch of smoky flavor. It created firework on my palate when paired with the sweet creamy soup enriched with umami from the crab. 7th course: Grandma’s Taste – served as a light interlude before the main course. Tiny chawan-mushi, shijimi clam and mushrooms consommé complimented with chives and fresh grated wasabi. 8th course: The Heat of the Hearth – we had a chance to try a rare breed of duck, which had less gamey delicate flavor. As you can see, the duck was cooked to perfection using hearth fire which resulted in perfect temperature, divine juicy texture and smoky flavor. Before moving to the dessert we opted for a selection of cheeses among which the blue cheese was my favorite (to my big surprise since I am not fan of strong cheeses). We ended the evening with two delightful desserts, both light and utterly flavorful and a glass of peanut milk.
Dessert #1: Silent Night – baba infused with mulled wine and topped with fromage blanc snow, chestnut ice-cream and nuts. Dessert #2: Slow down – butternut squash and mandarin. Although, there was one final part of the dinner I was particularly looking forward to – Zac rolling up a tea cart next to the table and whipping up an amazingly frothy cup of matcha tea for us, served with a selection of migrandises. I even got a little lesson from Zac on how to properly whisk matcha. And as a Christmas treat, we were sent out with a slice of stollen which I gladly devoured next morning with… you guessed it right, home-made matcha tea! Couldn’t ask for a better ending. The dinner was every bit as wonderful as we expected it to be, and then some. A perfect evening for a special dinner. I cannot believe another year almost came to an end. Hope everyone had Merry Christmas and will have a joyous New Year!
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