Tokyo Takeover: Kanda

Michelin Starred Kanda Tokyo

There are no sample menus on Kanda's website, we chose it somewhat arbitrarily from Tokyo's three star restaurants, liking the idea of extreme seasonality and personalized courses. We were the first to arrive the night we went and were shown to our seats at the small bar which makes up the entirety of Kanda's dining room by the attentive yet unpretentious staff. Shortly after a group of three women came in and were seated to my righ and a bit after that a young Japanese man wearing rumpled linen everything was seated to Dan's left.

"Is there anything you don't eat?" the chef asked.

"No," we said in unison, shaking our heads. It's not exactly true, in normal life there's plenty I don't eat. I am a ridiculously picky eater, especially for somebody that has spent the first ten years of adulthood cooking for a living but I like to view tasting menus as an opportunity to challenge my assumptions. Inevitably, there is always something on the menu that I've never liked before that I suddenly see in a whole new light. This night it was a perfectly breaded fried oyster with just a bit of mustard that took me by surprise.

"She doesn't eat sashimi!" one of the three women next to me volunteered.

"No, no sashimi, I don't like it" another one says shaking her head.

The chef nods while I try to keep my judgement at bay. Who goes to a tasting menu in Japan and doesn't eat sashimi?

The same question is asked of the young Japanese man and the only thing I make out from his response is "wasabi".

We order sake and it comes in a large bowl sitting on a mound of crushed ice and we're presented with an array of glass and ceramic sake glasses to choose from. I want them all but settle on a ceramic one with a delicate floral design. Of course, the sake is delicious.

"You make take pictures of the food if you want but I think it is best to just enjoy the experience" the chef tells us. We had read that allowing pictures was a recent change in policy which I was happy about even though I often get too caught up in the moment and flavor to take them of every course.

Our first course comes. A small bowl of white asparagus in a bean curd puree and foam. It's not much too look at but the chunks of asparagus melt in my mouth and their sweetness contrasts with the extremely savory bean curd. We can just have ten more course of this, I think.

The women next to me try to watch a video on their phone.

"You can't do that here" the chef says gently.

Sake service at Kanda Tokyo

The women are shocked into silence for a while before the chef says "no, no you can talk, but you cannot watch videos".

The courses continue and the chef describes each dish and asks everyone where they're from.

I watch the expression on the face of the man to Dan's left as each dish comes, the way he eats a bite, carefully tries and considers each component on the plate and then happily wolfs the rest down. It is exactly what I do, even though my intense expressions of careful consideration often get me good natured teasing from my husband and friends, but I've never watched anybody else dissect their dish as obsessively as I do. It gives me an immense amount of joy to watch somebody else care about what they're eating as much as I do and I wonder, after months of living in a city where it seems food is mostly valued if it's fast or trendy, if I might actually start to cry.

The chef places a heavy looking tray in front of each of us on the counter and I watch him quickly but carefully form pieces of nigiri. He places one in front of me and one in front of Dan.

"Now you make take"

I start to lift the tray.

"No, no, just take the piece" he mimes lifting the small piece with his hands.

"You can use chopsticks if you want" the three women all chime in.

But I've spent months watching people cut up burgers and tacos with a fork and knife and I relish the permission to use my hands.

I thought I had had the best sushi of my life the night before but no, this was it, this was rice so warm and flavorful and fish so tender that instead of judging the woman next to me, I felt bad that she would never get to experience something this exquisite. Two more pieces followed and each one was the best sushi I'd had in my life. Maybe the best I ever will have.

I can see through the swinging doors behind the bar that the line in the back is a little more hectic but the chef and sous chef in front of us proceed calmly. Not slowly, but with the speed that comes from skill and confidence in your craft. I'm so happy I could burst.

I watch the sous chef tear up a sheet of nori and toss it in a micro green salad, something I never would have thought of that tastes absolutely brilliant. Two perfectly cooked cubes of steak melt in my mouth.

The final savory course is rice with a tempura of tiny shrimp, another food I don't usually eat, with a selection of lightly pickled vegetables. I eat the salty crunchy shrimp but the pickled vegetables are what I'm truly excited about.

Next it's tea all around before we're presented with a dessert of fresh mangoes suspended in gelatin sitting in a small pool of creme anglaise. It is simple and delicious even though I don't love mango or gelatin based desserts.

More tea is had before we settle up and head out to take a walk around Roppongi, extremely satisfied but not quite ready to head home.

 

Kanda is located at 3-6-34 Motoazabu, Minoto-ku, Tokyo on the first floor of a small apartment building. When we went last month we were required to make reservations through our hotel concierge and given two price points to choose from but it looks like you now must make online reservations here, and have an option of three price points.