On a nondescript, narrow back alley in the Akasaka district of Tokyo lies a discreet white door. Tiny letters etched on the silver door handle read: “Aronia de Takazawa” (the restaurant's former name). This is the only advertisement you will find for the off the radar, but increasingly recognized Japanese-French restaurant with only four tables. Even as the restaurant’s renown has grown, the chef, Yoshiaki Takazawa, has intentionally kept its scale small, desiring to emulate the traditional style of a Japanese tea ceremony, in which the host serves tea to a very small, intimate collection of friends. As a result, it has taken some reviewers (e.g., Matt Rudd of The Sunday Times) over 18 months to be able to secure a reservation.
Like many high-end Japanese restaurants, the interior is simple and blanketed in astonishingly beautiful teakwood. Some of the wooden walls have tiny door handles, and open to reveal servingware storage facilities or the bathroom (which prominently displays a copy of the molecular gastronomy bible, “Modern Cuisine”, which was given as a gift by author Nathan Myhrvold). The room is dramatically lit, with the focal point being an enormous stainless steel cooking island with the name of the restaurant emblazoned on its front and, in another nod to molecular gastronomy, science lab-style test tubes aligned on the top. It’s like a stage, which is appropriate given the theatricality of the food and the presentation. Takazawa’s English-speaking wife handles most of the service, creating an atmosphere of deep intimacy and fun.
Diners are given a choice of three different menus (¥16,000, ¥20,000 and ¥24,000) with 7, 9 and 11 courses, respectively. What ensues is one of the most elaborate, imaginative, whimsical, delicious meals of your life. Takazawa cares deeply about aesthetics and presentation of the food, relishing the opportunity to playfully mimic a familiar dish with other ingredients that, in fact, bear no actual resemblance to the original model, but which are so artfully and creatively arranged that you could easily mistake one for the other. Good examples are the “Bacon and egg?”, now known as "Fake Egg" (a soy milk mousse with a kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) filling that looks exactly like a poached egg), the “Candleholder” (kumquat jam served in an aluminum tea light holder with foie gras crème brûlée) and Breakfast at Aronia de Takazawa, which looks like a bowl of corn flakes and a glass of milk, but is in fact a bowl of potato flakes, a perfectly poached guinea fowl egg and shavings of white truffle from Italy in a rich, creamy guinea fowl soup. Some of these stunts are audacious and, in less capable hands, they would cloy. In Takazawa’s, the showmanship is pure magic. That’s because he backs up the culinary pyrotechnics with astonishingly delicious food.
Part of the power of Takazawa’s food comes from the purity of the ingredients. Every spring and fall, Takazawa pays a visit to his suppliers and searches for new ones: "Farmers won't send you the best lettuce if they barely know you. I want them to want to send me the best, knowing how I will treat it,” he has been quoted as saying. And part of it derives from the ingenuity of his conceptions and the virtuosity of his execution.
The meal began with an amuse bouche of Iberico ham, a daikon radish playfully encrusted with breadcrumbs to appear as if it had just been pulled out of the ground and potato soup balls.
The first course was one of Takazawa’s signatures: It is called “Ratatouille”. But it is, in fact, a mosaic of 15 different types of vegetables that have been individually prepared to achieve the optimal flavor and texture for each. They are then cut into cubes and wrapped together in red cabbage with a small fermented black bean and a piece of crystal salt from Spain at the front of the spoon. It takes the chef about half the day to prepare. You are instructed to consume it all in one bite, allowing a divine sequence of flavors and textures as varied as the colors of the vegetables to wash over your palette.
The second course was “Vegetable Parfait” – not an actual parfait, but a layered concoction with tomato water on the bottom, followed by an orange tomato gazpacho, green tomato gazpacho, parmigiano reggiano cream (an evocation of whipped cream), cucumber, fried black cabbage, caviar and a kale chip (sometimes served with a fried basil leaf). Again, we received instructions: scoop from the bottom so as to mix everything together, and use the provided straw at the end to suck up any remaining, recalcitrant parfait collected at the bottom of the glass. It was then that we realized that although this restaurant exuded urbanity and was, of course, highly expensive, it was not fussy. It was somewhat anomalous to see a plain black straw served alongside the other accoutrements of high-end dining. But they were right: we wanted that last little bit and were grateful they had not stood on ceremony.
A nutty corn toast with pork rillette using Agu pork from Okinawa follows. The bread was perfectly baked and delicious.
The third course was “Powdery Dressing”. It’s a composed salad with buri sashimi (a fish resembling yellowtail). Takazawa comes over himself and proceeds to add the yuzu-flavored dressing by cascading smoky, powdery liquid-nitrogen on top.
The fourth course was "Bacon egg?", not known as "Fake Egg". Although the dish appears to be a poached egg, it is in fact a soy milk mousse with a kabocha (a Japanese pumpkin) filling, which resembles the egg yolk. On the evening we dined, it was served with asparagus, crispy bacon (actually jamon iberico) and an artichoke soup.
The fifth course was “EZO-Venison Tar Tar”, which consisted of venison from Ezo (an older term for the Hokkaido region like Edo for Tokyo), uni, generous servings of truffles, and a crispy galette on top. All of this is served on a gorgeous mirrored plate.
The sixth course was “Candleholder”. You remove the candle’s glass lid and find that it is filled with foie gras crème brûlée. The candle is kumquat jam served in a metallic tea light holder. Homemade fig-nut bread is served alongside. The marriage of the three flavors is delicious.
The seventh course was Breakfast at Aronia de Takazawa. The dish appears to be a simple bowl of corn flakes and a glass of milk. The bowl is actually filled with potato flakes. This comes with a perfectly poached guinea fowl egg and shavings of white truffle from Italy on top in a rich, creamy guinea fowl soup. You are instructed to pour your “cereal” into the “milk” and mix it all together.
The eighth course was a new dish (the menu comes printed with the year in which Takazawa conceived of the dish) entitled “Early Spring”, an homage to the great Ozu film. The dish features a fish called Sawari and vegetables from the Kyushu area in West Japan, which is known for the quality of its vegetables. The fish was outstanding – so outstanding, in fact, that we neglected to take a photo of it before consuming half of it.
The ninth course was “Dinner in the Forest”, a dish in which you can particularly appreciate Takazawa’s love of the theater of preparation and presentation: he assaults you from all sensory fronts, with a mixture of smells, sights, tactile experience and taste. The first thing you notice is the smell. When you look over to Takazawa’s work station, you discover he is standing there with a blow torch, setting branches of pine needles ablaze, which he will then use to top the delicious seared Wagyu (from Hakata, Kyushu prefecture), deep fried chestnuts, gingko nuts and new bamboo shoots that he has set atop a “plate” of pine bark. This is truly dinner in the forest, as you are not provided any utensils, but instructed to use your fingers. Thoughtfully, they provide you a hot washcloth beforehand, which starts out small and rolled up on a plate, but then grows vertically as they pour hot water on top. The towel has been scented to evoke the sensory experience of having just returned from foraging in the forest – thus, when you bring your hands to your mouth, you can smell on them the wildness of the forest floor.
The tenth course was a palette cleanser entitled “Grated cheese?” Nothing at Takazawa is as it seems and the question mark should by now be a sufficient indication that no grated cheese was actually involved. Instead, it was a spoonful of frozen cooked apples that had been grated.
The eleventh course was “Takazawa’s Special Camembert” – not camembert cheese, but a black truffle cheesecake with Manuka honey ice cream and pear jam. It was impossibly light in texture and rapturous.
Lastly, we were given a choice from 12 different teas, each with a description like “Beauty Tea”, “Slimming Tea”, “For the one that works too hard”, etc. You are given an additional, small glass with which to share some of your tea with your companion.
Delicious petit fours included a yuzu marshmallow, a green tea cake, salt and pepper chocolate, and some exotic variety of meringue.
The restaurant serves almost exclusively Japanese wine. We’ll be honest: We were skeptical. It is indisputable that France and Italy have the greatest wine heritages and still make the very greatest wines. When one is paying in excess of a thousand dollars for a meal, one generally wants at least the option of pairing a wine with an illustrious pedigree alongside it, regional authenticity aside. So it was with some trepidation that I found myself ordering a 2006 Tsungane Beau Paysage Chardonnay from the Yamanashi Prefecture. The wine was a revelation: almost impossibly rich, floral, oaky and complex. I found myself unable to order anything else for the rest of the evening. I realized at once my error: If a chef is capable of conceiving of and serving food at this level of virtuosity that Takazawa is, you’d be a fool not to also entrust him with making responsible decisions about wine pairings.
We noticed that as each dinner party got up to leave, the chef would run over to personally escort them out, holding the door for them, thanking them for coming and watching attentively until they were out of sight. That kind of humility and hospitality explain a lot about the restaurant’s success notwithstanding its lack of advertizing.
In 2007, Departures magazine profiled Yoshiaki Tokazawa. "How long can you keep this up?" Joshua Cooper Ramo asked the chef, who often works 18- to 20-hour days. “I am not sure, truly,” he replied. Ramo concluded: “Part of the urgency of people flying from all over to eat at Aronia is the feeling that what is happening in this restaurant is sort of like watching Ali box or Liszt play piano. You know it can't last.” If you can, go now, while you can.
Sanyo Akasaka Bld. 2F 3-5-2
+81 03 3505-5052 6pm-9pm
- Yoshiaki Takazawa, Chef
- Best Decor
- Best Service
- Tasting Menu 11 Course Tasting Menu: ¥24,000 9 Course Tasting Menu: ¥20,000 7 Course Tasting Menu: ¥16,000