Someone looking at my blog will say that during my time in Japan I’ve spent the better half of my time (and pay-check) eating out and indulging in the local gastronomy. And they won’t be wrong. From high-end French and Japanese fusion restaurants to low-key mom-and-pop shops and all the trendy brunch spots in Tokyo, I have been there and done that. What can I say?! I live to eat, not eat to live. My American southerner friends know what I’m talking about.
There is one reticent part of Japan’s food scene, however, that I haven’t managed to break through despite my desperate attempts: the high-end Japanese specialty restaurants (sushi, tempura, kaiseki, etc.) that either request reservations two months in advance (and since they typically seat only 8-12 people, getting a spot is incredibly hard), take reservations exclusively through hotel or private concierge services, or allow only regular Japanese customers and people they invite. The only high-end sushi restaurant I was miraculously able to get into was Sushi Ya in Ginza and it was worth all the pain.
But food Gods have been generous recently and I was given a second chance to tap my foot into this evasive culinary world: dinner at Tokyo’s renown tempura mecca Takiya helmed by Tatsuaki Kasamoto. Chef’s resume includes multiple years of training at Osaka Kitcho followed by a position of the head chef of Hinokizaka Kaiseki restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo. He opened the doors of Takiya in 2015 and quickly won over the hearts of local gourmands currently ranking as one of the top tempura restaurants in Tokyo on Tabelog (Japan’s equivalent to Trip Advisor).
Upon arrival, we were ushered into a bright room clad in blond wood with beautiful pottery and copper tempura grills accenting the decor. Kasamoto-san immediately stood out as a very welcoming and easy-going chef who likes to chat with his customers and shares his love for food that he puts in front of you.
Thankfully, he speaks English so we could inquire more about ingredients and dishes we enjoyed so much. I was thoroughly impressed by the depth of complex flavors and beautifully contrasting textures of every morsel, be it tempura or otsumame (snack dishes).
Since we already stepped into fall, the feature of the menu was matsutake mushrooms – a rare and highly-prized local specialty that is Japan’s answer to black truffle – which was cooked in a variety of ways and beautifully tied the entire meal. Most importantly, I was amazed by how superb the quality of tempura was: light and thin as paper, complimenting the subtle flavors of each ingredient rather than taking away from it. Among numerous incredible morsels we had during the 20-course feast, the ones that stood out the most were uni tempura and wagyu tempura. Although, picking favorites is truly hard because the meal altogether was phenomenal.
The meal began with an attractively presented tray of seasonal appetizers some of which included cold matsutake mushrooms with Hokkaido crab, yuzu-flavored ikura, smoked eggplant with black caviar, and mountain vegetables. Mind the autumnal motifs present not only through seasonal ingredients but also decorations with maple leaves.
I couldn’t help but notice that the traditional radish accompaniment for tempura sauce, normally put as a heap on the side of the sauce to mix in, was presented as a perfectly smooth sphere which demonstrates how the chef cares about even the tiniest details of the experience.
The tempura meal sequence started traditionally with a fried ebi prawn, sweet flavor with an excellent texture. The deeply impressive prawn head was served next alongside gingko nuts tempura, a contrast of crunchy and smooth to compliment each other. We then ate Japanese whiting which had a delicate flavor with a hint of sweetness and a perfectly flaky moist flesh.
We continued on to one of the highlights: premium bafun uni (sea urchin) from Hokkaido delicately wrapped in seaweed and fried to perfection in ultra-thin batter. As one of my favorite seafood, I’ve tried a lot of sea urchin and this was most definitely the best quality. Maitake mushrooms were next, precisely cooked and without even a hint of chewiness, also moist and creamy.
Two brilliant pieces followed next: matsutake mushroom wrapped in amadai tilefish and abalone served with a phenomenal sauce made from its liver. Typically a bit chewy, the abalone at Takiya was tender, and the sauce was completed by a little ball of rice. It was so good I was tempted to forget my manners and just lick the entire plate. Don’t worry, I didn’t do that.
Tempura sequence was interrupted by a 10-ingredient salad complete with a variety of flavors and textures from vegetables, runny egg and even crackers from shirasu (Japanese tiny white fish).
The chef then showed off the moderately marbled cuts from the tenderloin filet of Kagoshima beef neatly rolled in a shiso leaf. The texture and flavors of the final tempura were indeed outstanding, no wonder it is one of the most famous pieces at Takiya.
We closed off the menu with one more piece of ebi, before moving on to the last two savory courses that centered entirely around matsutake mushrooms. The intoxicating earthy aroma filled the room as the chef started chopping mushrooms. We couldn’t wait to see what magic he would put in front of us now.
One plate was served in the form of tendon: deep-fried mushrooms drizzled with delicious piquant sweet sauce and served atop rice, with clear mushroom soup and pickled on the side. The other plate was almost the same with mushroom soup being right in the bowl. Sadly, exact Japanese name escaped me. Both very extremely flavorful and incredibly delicious.
The meal ended with two beautiful desserts: fruit jelly and warabi-mochi powdered in ginako (baked soybean powder). This was most definitely one of the meals I will always remember fondly. The service, the presentation, a warm and welcoming attitude of the chef and remarkable food at Takiya deserve all the accolades it has earned, plus so much more.
Sadly, in this case, I cannot be much of a help to those trying to obtain reservation as I was invited by a friend who’s a regular here. As always, going through your hotel concierge or elite concierge service are safe options. Remember, you have to book places like these two months out.
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