There was a lot to celebrate this weekend. For one, the #RoyalWedding kept us (ok, mostly me) glued to the TV and then cell phone as I kept track of all the updates. But more importantly, it was my birthday!
This year I wanted something really special and most certainly Japanese, so after vigorous research, the choice fell on Oniku Karyu, a kaiseki restaurant tucked away in Nihombashi neighborhood.
This traditional and luxurious Japanese cuisine typically features seasonal ingredients (our refined dinner at 2* Akasaka Kikunoi is a good example), however, the menu at Oniku Karyu is predominantly meat-centered. Think 11 courses of banquet dishes featuring black wagyu ranked A4 and A5 expertly cooked in a variety of ways. The top-quality beef is used in everything from the appetizer to the last dish. For a carnivore like myself and a huge fan of Japanese beef to boot, this place is an epicurean heaven. The chef and restaurant owner Haruka Katayanagi has helmed the restaurant since 2006, but it was not until 2016 that the place, its concept, and the menu got a fundamental facelift which earned Karyu its first star from the Michelin gourmet guide.
The restaurant is quite small, accommodating 16 guests and features understated yet refined design with the clean tones of unvarnished wood and touches of nature and Japanese Zen philosophy all around. My dear Japanese friend Yoko helped me make the reservation and made sure that we had a table in the private room. Although, I’d imagine sitting at the four-seat counter would be equally thrilling since you have the opportunity to observe the chef as he demonstrates various cooking techniques, and also interact with him directly.
As expected we started the night with drinks, wine pairing for Justin and a premium sake for me. I was excited to see it served in Kagami crystalware. Regular readers know I had a chance to visit their factory in Ibaraki last year and interview Mr. Hidetoshi Mochizuki, Executive Director and President of the company. Kagami Crystal is the longest established name in the Japanese crystal industry and an official supplier of the Imperial Family. But I digress.
Our feast started with a cold appetizer: delicate slices of beef were covered with smooth tofu and sesame sauce, as well as asparagus jelly which had a very pronounced delicious flavor.
The second course served hot in a small white pot, revealed a single portion of beef tongue stew. This seemingly simple dish had a rich taste and deep flavor which kept us coming for more. The meat melted in your mouth and had a very homey taste.
Third course – the specialty of chef Katayanagi – was equally excellent. The lightly seared chuck wagyu was wrapped around the sweetest sea urchin from Hokkaido and topped with freshly grated wasabi. An unbelievably delicious morsel which I can easily have every day.
We proceeded to a warm and light beef broth which featured delicious sesame tofu in the center packing nutty flavor and pairing so well with asparagus and white truffle.
And just as we thought it could not get any better, we were served yet another of my Japanese favorites: simmered thinly-sliced sukiyaki beef from Nakamura Farm in Yamanashi served with the perfect golden egg yolk from Mount Yatsugatake. This made my tastebuds sing with the smokey flavor and buttery richness of the wagyu that just melts on your tongue.
For the sixth course, we devoured thinly sliced beef cooked shabu-shabu style and served with eggplant, tomato jelly, and okra. It looked simple yet packed layers of flavors: sweetness from the eggplant and tomatoes, a touch of zest from yuzu and a bit silky texture from okra.
Next, the smoked roasted beef fillet was served alongside a light salad, yuzukoshi and ponzu sauce. The rich smokiness (if that’s even a word) of the beef was simply aphrodisiac – very deep flavor but not overwhelming the palate.
Perhaps the culmination of the dinner was the eighth course: a classic chateaubriand steak from Kagoshima prefecture cooked to perfection and served ever so simply with sweet grilled corn (which by the way was out of this world!), ginger and salt. It was unctuous and flavorful and melted in your mouth. So so good.
If you think this was the end of the beef courses you are utterly mistaken. The chef served us the nabe clay hotpot sizzling with oxtail, innards, eggs and mushroom stew. SO many flavors in this one which all came together beautifully. We were also served a number of smaller morsels on the side including tender sweet beef that resembled a jerky, but it was incredibly tender; miso soup with tofu skin; white rice and pickled vegetables.
This utterly obnoxious feast ended with simple Japanese dessert: kuzuke noodles, black honey and kinako powder. We most certainly couldn’t have handled anything heavier.
This was undoubtedly one of the best Japanese meals I have had in Japan. It most certainly is a perfect place to enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine and sample top quality black wagyu in Tokyo. The best part is that it was quite reasonably priced considering the excellent quality of the food: 12,000 yen excluding drinks. Unfortunately, I do not know if they accept reservations in English or not. I recommend asking your Japanese-speaking concierge to help you out and book four weeks in advance to be safe.
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