Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ryugin (龍吟) - Tokyo's Top-Class Modern Kaiseki

On the third night of our Japan Trip, we were able to get reservations for a much-talked about place on Chowhound: Ryugin, in Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan. I had never experienced Kaiseki before this trip, let alone Modern Kaiseki, so I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I had heard Ryugin was also a Michelin 2 Star-rated restaurant, and after having been to Sushi Mizutani the night before (3 Star), I figured I knew what to expect here.

Nothing could be further from the truth. From the moment we stepped into the small back street entrance, we were treated to one of THE most professional, classy and all-around amazing culinary experiences I've ever had in my life.

We both opted for the full Chef's Tasting Menu - Gastronomy Course B - wanting to fully experience Chef Seiji Yamamoto's culinary expertise and we were not disappointed. The first thing that struck us was the beautiful, yet simple / classy ambiance. From the table settings to the custom glass / dishes that accompanied each course, it exuded "class." In addition, the service was *outstanding*: True White Glove service with the waiter or waitress serving each course (1 plate at a time, per person) wearing white gloves. When they removed the plates, it was also 1 plate at a time (no stacking of multiple plates to clear the table). They were always quietly in the background but would always refill our glasses when they were low, and attentive to our every needs. The service was truly the best I've experienced.

The first course was the Chateau Ryugin 1970 with Kashimanada 'Hamaguri Clam' served with Whitebait Kosen-yaki.

One thing that was apparent from the very first dish is an old adage that gets overlooked so often for eating: You eat with your Eyes, Nose and Mouth. This is so true here as visually, with each plate, Chef Yamamoto engages you visually with the food, and then the wonderful smell hits you, and finally the taste. It's subtle and most of the time it's taken for granted, but here it was especially apparent.

The server opened up the bottle of the Chateau Ryugin and explained to us that it was a broth of Hamaguri Clams, and proceeded to pour it into the small shot glass with a type of seaweed and other spices. The broth was fragrant and paired nicely with the Whitebait Kosen-yaki. The little fish were fried up perfectly and the texture and crunch were nice. It was also laid out with some Sakura petals on the plating, in celebration of the Sakura season that was occurring at the same time.

Next up we had the White Asparagus Tofu Salad, Served with Puree of Dried Shrimp Stock:

Absolutely gorgeous plating and presentation. The two kinds of Asparagus played off each other nicely and the flavors melded wonderfully with the Tofu Salad & Puree.

Next up was the "Sakura" Sea Bream, Early Cherry Blossom Presentation, Served with Fuki and Celery in Soy Sauce:

Another simply gorgeous presentation! In honor of Sakura season, the plating is meant to give you an image of "Sakura," and it was stunning (the pictures don't do it justice). In addition, more so than the dishes (which also were excellent), the beautiful waft of Sakura Flowers hit you immediately! It was an absolute pleasure to smell fresh Sakura before you even began to eat the dish! The Sea Bream was nice (good texture), but I felt there was just a touch too much soy sauce in the marinade for the Celery, but overall a great dish.

Next up was the Kuzu-Tataki Rock Trout Rice Bowl, Served with Spring Vegetables with the Aroma of Japanese Pepper Buds:

Here was another nice presentation. A gorgeous "Rice Bowl" with ornate designs, and once you opened up the lid, the wonderful light steamed broth and scents of the Rock Trout came pouring out. Also the way he cut the spring vegetables makes it look like a Dragon's Tail (or at least we thought so :). The combination of the fish with the light spring vegetables was perfect.

Next was the Assorted Sashimi Plate, Ryugin Style: Consisting of Ika Topped with Beluga Caviar; Tai; Ohtoro; and Lobster Sashimi.

It's hard to see in the photo, but the glass plating was amazing! A beautiful sheet of glass with real "bubbles" beautifully spaced throughout.

The Ika (Squid) with Beluga Caviar was amazing. Just as tender as Mizutani's Ika the night before, but we both noted that this Ika was chopped up (to help with the creaminess), whereas Mizutani's Ika was pure mastery of knowing his Ika and cutting us the right part. The Beluga paired very well.

The Tai was one of only two missteps by Chef Yamamoto for the entire evening: You can't see it from this angle, but he left the skin on the Tai (just a sliver), which added to a beautiful presentation, but made for total chewiness when you got to the skin.

The Ohtoro was also a disappointment, with this piece having a small bit of "tendon" in the cut, whereas most top-notch Sushi places would have presented a completely tender, tendon-free cut, especially for Ohtoro.

Lastly we had the Lobster Sashimi which was amazing! Chef Yamamoto gave us 2 pieces of each fish, and this one came paired with a Yuzu-infused Sea Salt (so that we could try the traditional Wasabi, and this Sea Salt pairing). Both matched well and the Lobster was spot on perfect.

Next was the Steamed Abalone and Matsuba Crab, With Seaweed and Apple Vinegar Jelly Served "In a Can":

Another creative and cute plating design: Custom Glassware, shaped like a "can" being cut open, complete with a piece of metal that looks like a can opener. :) The Steamed Abalone and Matsuba Crab melded nicely together with the Jelly.

Next up was the Crispy Chargrilled Akamutsu Perch from Choshi, Served with Warm Vegetables and Truffles and Premium Mullet Roe:

My camera wasn't able to capture it that well, but one of the highlights of this dish was the image of the Akamutsu (Blackthroat Seaperch) on the plating: That entire fish image is made out of Miso Sauce for you to apply to our Akamutsu fish! That was definitely something out of Iron Chef. :) The Seaperch was wonderfully crispy and tasty, and when applied to the Miso Sauce (fish image) it was even better. The Mullet Roe was also nice and combined well with the fish.

Next up was the Miyagi Gyu (Beef), Cooked at the Low Heat of 45 Degrees using a Gastrovac, Chargrilled Superior Beef, Sprinkled with Black Truffles.

So with the vacuum cooking process, they explained that the beef should be more succulent and tender, with a good full-bodied flavor, and that certainly was the case here. The beef was very tender, although we couldn't really taste the black truffles.

Next up was the Bamboo Shoot Rice, Containing Sea Scallops and Sea Urchin (Uni):

This was such an interesting and fun riff on the idea of the classic Japanese Breakfast, only done up with extreme sophistication. The traditional Rice was the highlight, with the Scallops topped with Uni that melted wonderfully and combined together in a beautiful merging of flavors! The Tsukemono (Pickles) were done up nicely here as well, with very fresh and crisp pieces pairing nicely with the rice. And the Miso Soup was wonderful: Rich and vibrant. The cutest part of the presentation was that after we finished the rice, the waitress politely asked us "Would you like seconds?" ("Okawari ikagadeshouka?") (^_^) This is usually asked in a more informal atmosphere, and the idea is that in a traditional meal like that, additional helpings of rice are commonplace, only here, it's rice with Scallops and Uni(!). We didn't ask for any more since by this time we were already getting pretty full.

Our dessert courses began at this point, and we were started off with a "Pineapple Tea."

At first when the server mentioned this to us, I thought incredulously about getting some tea that was full of overly sweet "Pineapple Flavor Powder" or some such thing (as seen in Boba Teas, etc.). But instead, the Pineapple Tea showed off another area that Chef Yamamoto has a personal interest in: High Quality Teas, with amazing infusions of Scents. The Pineapple Tea was amazing! It had the *scent* of Pineapple Fruit, but when you tasted it, it was pure, clean, high-quality Tea (with no sugary taste)! It served as a nice palate cleanser.

He then served us a Pineapple Coated with Coconut Sherbert Dessert:

It was simple and clean. The Pineapple fruit wasn't overly tart, and it worked nicely with the Coconut Sherbet.

Next up was the Caramel Tea:

Like the Pineapple Tea, this showed off more of Chef Yamamoto's expertise. This Caramel Tea had all the *scent* of a rich, creamy Caramel, but when you drank it, it was pure, clean, high-quality Tea with no sweetness! It was pretty interesting, and it made for a wonderful drink because you get the *smell* of Caramel without filling up on sugary taste of Caramel.

Next up was the Strawberry Rice Cake with Hot Azuki Beans:

Basically his take on a traditional Mochi, but spruced up with Strawberries and a nice texture from the nutty grains. The Plating was immaculate as well, setting off the Strawberry dessert nicely.

He then brought out a nice Strawberry Tea:

This was like the previous ones. Uniquely different from each other, but also with the wonderful scent of Strawberry without any sugary additives. Very nice.

We then got one of the coolest dishes of the night: "Ryugin Specialty: Minus 196-Degrees Candy Apple."

This was a stunning and cute presentation: A vibrant little "Apple" served with chunks of fresh fruit. The waiter instructed us to crack open the Candy Apple with our spoon (just a light tap), and it cracked open to reveal a sub-zero-like Snowy "Ice Cream Powder"(?). I didn't ask the waiter what was inside, but it tasted so light and airy and wonderful.

We ended with one final special Tea, brought out with a special type of Honey (the name escapes me):

Ryugin provided one of the most memorable, enjoyable meals we had during this Japan Trip. The total bill came out to be ~Y30,000 (~$300 U.S.) per person, and it was worth every Yen of it. Chef Yamamoto and the staff at Ryugin showed off impeccable Service, Hospitality (no pretentiousness), and Excellence in Modern Kaiseki Japanese Food. When I asked to see Chef Yamamoto, he immediately obliged, coming out from the kitchen to thank us, and bowing to us humbly and seeing us off(!).

As a point of reference, Providence in Los Angeles, is one of my favorite places back home, and there was simply no comparison: The level of Service, Plating, Pacing, Food Preparation, and general Excellence exceeded Providence in every way. Ryugin is truly Top-Class Modern Kaiseki cuisine.

Rating: 9.7 (out of a Perfect 10.0)

日本料理 龍吟
港区六本木7-17-24 サイド六本木ビル 1F

Side Roppongi Building 1F, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan


Elee said...

Fantastic report and great pictures ExileKiss! Almost feels like being there. Question...I'd love to visit Ryugin when I travel to Tokyo in June, but I don't speak you think one can get by at this place? What about Sushi Mizutani? Many thanks!

ExileKiss said...

Hi elee,

Thanks for the compliments. (^_^)

Ryugin: Yes, you definitely can experience the great cuisine at Ryugin even if you don't speak Japanese. For Reservations, I would recommend having the Concierge at whatever hotel you're staying at call and arrange it for you (or if you know anyone in Japan, have them call for you). Once there, they had wait staff that spoke English (to explain each dish) and they had an English Menu as well (but you only need to choose one of three Courses anyways :).

Sushi Mizutani: I think you can enjoy Mizutani for the food just fine. Mizutani-san doesn't speak any English, but his assistant that was helping him spoke a little, so that was cool. If you go by yourself, you can still enjoy the amazing Sushi and cuts of fish and knifework he has, and if you go with a companion, you'll have a conversation partner so that'll be fine as well. Like Ryugin, I'd recommend getting someone to help you make reservations ahead of time.

Enjoy! :)

Elee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elee said...

Thanks for the tip ExileKiss...wish you good eats and happy travels!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the post! I am planning a visit to Tokyo, as well and am hoping to get a reservation. One question regarding photography: what is the proper ettiquette? I'd love to document the experience but am always cautious about taking photos at establishments that are not particularly casual (and where there is a potential language barrier.) I'd be extremely appreciative of any tips or suggestions! Thanks, again for the fabulous report.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi anonymous,

Thanks! :) Ryugin has people that can speak English, so you can ask politely if it's OK.

One thing for sure is that you should NOT use Flash while taking photos at Ryugin (it's really romantic, moody and intimate). Otherwise, they should be fine with taking photos (I asked them nicely in Japanese and they were totally OK with it :).


el said...

Thank you for the great post. I am researching for my trip to Tokyo. I definitely want to try out Ryugin. However, how did you make reservation? Do you speak Japanese? How about attire? Is it like jacket required place (like most fancy places in the US)? Thank you.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi el,

Thank you. :) Ryugin usually has someone on staff that can speak some English.

They should also have an e-mail addy that you can try e-mailing them to confirm.

Lastly, feel free to have your Concierge at your hotel make the call for you and ask them to arrange it ahead of time.

The dress code is business casual (so "no" you don't have to be in a Suit and Tie, just a Dress Shirt and Slacks is fine).

I hope you have fun! :)

Lu said...

Just wanted to drop a note to say that the pictures from your meal looked SOOO amazing, we ended up going to Ryugin during our trip to Tokyo for our Anniversary dinner. It was amazing and all of our dishes were different than yours, but the plating was very similar. We also got to meet Seiji Yamamoto. Thanks again for blogging about this place. We also live in LA, so will continue to check out your blog. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Lu,

Thanks for your report back. I'm so glad to hear your Anniversary dinner at Ryugin went well! :)

It's a special place and I can't wait to go back. :) Thanks.

Lukas said...


Very good review. I am going to Ryugin again on Saturday, after not having been for quite some time, and your review has reminded me of how good it is.


Exile Kiss said...

Hi Asomaniac,

Thank you. :) I hope you enjoy your latest visit. I can't wait to go back; I miss Ryugin so much.

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