Wednesday, June 9, 2010

California Grill Yoshi

Yoshi's is just a small, second-story room on one of Azabu-Juban's back streets, but it may be one of the best restaurants I've visited in Tokyo. It's certainly one of the best deals. For just under 4000 yen (about $40), they offer a multicourse prix-fixe menu that includes your choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert from the full menu, as well as the seasonal amuse-bouche, soup, and vegetable of the day, and an after-dinner tea or coffee. The first time I went, we got petit-fours with the check, but last time that final touch was missing - although I was so full by then that I didn't regret the loss all that much. The cooking is uniformly delicious, California-style minimalist with a focus of fresh ingredients, with the Japanese accent of local ingredients and some Asian-inspired flavors. There's an extensive selection of wines, beer on tap, and delicious coffee. And with only about five tables and cheerful tomato-soup-colored walls, it's an intimate setting where you can really feel looked-after.

The first two courses, which we didn't get to choose, were an oyster grilled in the shell with a maitake mushroom and pesto sauce and a mysterious pale-green soup, served cold. For our appetizers, I chose the avocado and pumpkin gnocchi salad, and my mom got the Caesar salad with grilled chicken and prosciutto. As pumpkin with avocado is probably my favorite flavor combination at the moment, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. The gnocchi were extremely light, with a very thin skin and creamy interior, not nearly as chewy as the potato version. The avocado was perfectly ripe, and attractively served cut up in its own shell. The peppery daikon sprouts mixed with the lettuce gave it a nice contrast of textures and flavors.

Next came the seasonal vegetables, which were beautifully arranged on a rectangular plate and drizzled with a buttery sauce. The presentation was like a modernist still life, and wouldn't have been out of place on a museum wall. The baby turnip, bamboo shoot, fiddlehead fern, and endive were all very springlike; the eringi, enoki, and shiitake mushroom were lightened with a vinegar marinade; and the slice of orange pepper was a bit out of season but gave the composition a dramatic shot of color. Everything was tender and delicious.

My main course was the grilled salmon, which came with more fiddleheads, a spoonful of creamy potato, and a loose sauce made with seaweed and sprinkled with crushed pink peppercorns. Mama got scallops (she was initially horrified that they were just barely seared - practically sushi!!!) adorned with botarga caviar and endive leaves. My salmon was reassuringly pale-colored (I'm always wary of artificial color in the very red kind) and very juicy. The seaweed was so mild that I would have thought it was spinach if I hadn't read the menu.

For dessert, we chose the creme brulee and the Manhattan cheese cake. Though I never get creme brulee, a bite of my mom's made me think I should give it another chance - it was very thick and smooth, with a strong vanilla flavor. My own cheese cake, though, was even better, though I don't think any Manhattanite would acknowledge it. Its dainty size and creamy texture were nothing like the thick, artery-stopping version we know in the US, and instead of being smothered in fruit sauce it was served with just a spoonful of strawberry jam on the side, along with vanilla ice cream and a few mint leaves. Our delicate desserts were nicely complimented by the chamomile tea, which was very mild and not at all bitter. We left feeling very full and happy.
California Grill Yoshi
Azabu Juban 2-7-2, 2nd Floor
Minato-ku, Tokyo

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