Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tokyo: Imperial Gardens and Bento Boxes

Kutani at the Ritz TokyoThere is a stark beauty in nature during the freezing winters. I had some time during my last day in Tokyo, so I used it to visit the gardens of the Imperial Palace. We left the modern cityspace outside as we entered the old palace area. This was the heart of the Shoguns empire during earlier times. The ramparts of the old fortress are still visible within. The East Gardens are a wonderful mix of orchards, wild grass, bamboo groves and cherry blossom trees.

Like most palaces, the entire Imperial Palace is surrounded by high walls surrounded by a moat. There was a serene beauty in the winter morning. I can only imagine how pretty this place is in spring when the thirty different varieties of cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. The winding paths, the water bodies and the wooden bridges add to the magic.

I returned to my hotel in time to sample the famous afternoon tea at the Ritz. A Mont Blanc dessert with a pot of perfectly brewed Assam tea. The tea is meticulously created with loose tea leaf. They leave an hourglass at the table, and when the sand runs out the tea is ready for tasting. Where better to enjoy a British tradition but in a historic hotel's Tokyo outpost. :)

Bento boxes are an uniquely Japanese tradition that is ubiquitous in this city. Bento boxes are single-portion lunch boxes with food items tastefully arranged within. Soba noodles, tempura prawns and a rice set were neatly arranged in mine during working lunches. The best ones are black lacquered, called shokado bento. Apparently, these bento boxes inspired the design of IBM Thinkpads.

Before I left the wonderful environs of the Ritz, I also had the most awesome Teppanyaki lunch at Kutani. Teppanyaki Chef Junichi Yoshida conjured up a multi-course meal for me as I watched. This restaurant-within-a-restaurant is a elegant and intimate affair. Only 12 seats at the bar as the chef Junichi demonstrates his culinary skills combining the best beef, seafood and about 20 different local vegetables into a lunch experience I will remember for a long time.

Kutani at the Ritz Tokyo
Kutani at the Ritz TokyoChef Yoshida created a fantastic starter of Hokkaido duck on a thick miso sauce and a slice of radish. This was paired with a small dish of crab meat in jelly and some pickles. So much flavor and taste! An organic salad followed next with local greens.

Kutani at the Ritz Tokyo
The chef then put a Hokkaido scallop and white fish on the grill right in front of me. It was great fun watching him go through the intricate grilling, seasoning and plating process right in front of me on the counter. I was salivating by the time the dish was ready; it was as good on the palate as it was on the plate.

Kutani at the Ritz TokyoNext came the main course. The fillet of beef tenderloin with Japanese vegetables grilled to perfection. The meat was seasoned with local spices with a very light hand before being sliced and presented to me on a slab of rock salt. I followed the chef's recommendation: put a little wasabi ON the meat before rubbing it on the rocksalt and directing it into my mouth. Heavenly. I have to say this again: Japanese steaks really rock! Chef Yoshida has earned the sobrequet of 'beefmaster' in Tokyo and I can see why.

Kutani at the Ritz TokyoBy the time, we got to the rice set, I was feeling full. However, the chef made a show of creating even the ordinary garlic rice so very stylishly. So, it was with a very full stomach and a satiated feeling that I walked out of this excellent restaurant.

Kutani at the Ritz TokyoPrevious post in this series: Tokyo: Shrines and Izakaya Dining

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Oh my gosh your post is really making me hungry :-0. I was intrigued by that bento box, though. the ones we see here are all so small and that is quite large? I thought portion control was part of the bento tradition?