A terrific restaurant

Back to Contents of Issue: August 2000


by Eric Gower

"Why is it that Japanese restaurants in the States and Europe never serve this kind of food?" This question has been put to me several times by foodie-inclined visitors to Japan who accompany me on eating treks in Tokyo. I never have a good answer for them; I usually mumble something about the fish being more varied and better distributed, or that many of the ingredients simply aren't available elsewhere, but the truth is that I have no idea.

I am sure, however, that a place like Miyashita would be packing them in were it transported to San Francisco, London, or New York.

Owner and chef Miyashita Daisuke has made a very strong debut with that most rare of combinations: extraordinary food in a relaxed, open-kitchen setting. It is an inspired harmony of walnut (a giant, 10-meter counter and the exquisite cabinetry and shelving behind it), concrete (the walls), and subdued light. The clientele are the very picture of Japanese urbanity in their gorgeously understated dress, yet it's hardly a place to "be seen." They're here for the food -- to savor it, to talk about it endlessly, and to watch Miyashita-san and his assistant work their magic.

It's hard to say exactly what kind of food Miyashita serves. It's basically kaiseki (seasonal cuisine) in that the courses keep coming in a defined order, but his choice of ingredients would probably disqualify him from the purists (one of the first courses on a recent trip was ribbons of beef tongue, steeped in a Korean miso blend), and the tension and kimonoed ladies associated with kaiseki are, happily, missing.

There is no menu -- the extent of your choice the entire evening is beer (Ebisu on tap, served ice-cold in a hand-thrown, Nanbanyaki cup) or sake (a broad selection is offered, and is served either in glasses or ceramic decanters).

The procession began with a shotglass of vinegared junsai, the slightly gelatinous and fern-like lily known as water shield, and a small ceramic cup of shirasu (tiny white sardines) brushed with sesame oil and layered in myoga, the Japanese ginger tips that are said to induce bouts of forgetfulness. With an order of Tamanoi, the wonderfully clean, dry sake with overtones of anise from a tiny brewery in Kochi, Shikoku, came the tangy beef tongue, along with a bowl of shiitake mushrooms, cucumber, and myoga, all dressed in a rich sesame vinaigrette, before we moved to more substantial fare.

One of the best parts of eating at Miyashita is that you can gawk at the chefs and their finely honed techniques, few of which involve the application of heat. The only heat source visible for a long stretch of time was the small blue flame of the steamer used in setting the custard of the lovely chawanmushi that came out next, the center of which contained a very rich piece of unagi (eel). Along with that came what were probably the best slices of squid I have ever had (layered with yet more myoga), and a juicy piece of makogarei (flounder) over a bed of salmon-colored grated daikon mixed with Japanese dried chilies. A plate of isaki, perfectly grilled whitefish in a light soy-based sauce, followed, as did a deep fried eggplant miso mixture, the only off-note of the evening. A ginger infused rice with homemade pickles and a bowl of seaweed miso with a giant clam closed the dinner, along with a small scoop of creamy black sesame ice cream.

A small tatami room is available in the back for private meetings, but the counter is where the action is. How Miyashita does all this for ¥6,000 fixed price is yet another of his many pleasant surprises.


Motoazabu A Bldg, basement, 3-12-1 Moto Azabu, Tokyo (across from the Austrian Embassy) Tel: + 81-3-3402-2655

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