Esaki delivered a meal after which I felt like I could go for an intense workout if I wanted. And not because I was feeling guilty about all the calories I just consumed, but because the meal was so light, my body could handle a workout immediately after a multi-course meal.
Whenever I’ve had multi-course French meals, I feel like the chef is slowly bending me into submission with fat, salt and yummy meats. This meal was a study in the opposite direction — how to coax the most amount of flavor out of the ingredients while minimally touching them and keeping the whole thing light. Even though the preparations look simple, it takes true skill to accomplish this feat.
The menu for the day, next to a single flower that decorated the dining room. We had a private dining space, and the staff kept on slightly opening the door to monitor our progress. It was kind of funny how they tried to be inconspicuous.
First dish: Sauteed asparagus, wilted greens, sazae (a kind of sea snail) in abalone-liver sauce. I’m normally wary of the bitter taste of shellfish liver, but the sauce was balanced by sesame and tasted more savory than bitter.
Sashimi course: Catch of the day (a kind of sea bass). The truly innovative part of this dish was the assortment of string vegetables on the side. Usually sashimi is served with daikon radish cut into thin strips, but Esaki updated that with cucumbers, myoga (a flower that tastes like a red onion) and daikon. It gave the dish an extra punch that was most welcome. As with most of the meal, I became more interested in the vegetables rather than the meats.
Soup: This might be one of the most intriguing soups I’ve ever had. The waitress explained to us that it’s a concentrated version of Ayu (a freshwater fish eaten during summer) where the whole fish goes into the mix. Guts, flesh, head bones and all. This gets triturated into a creamy soup that tasted like concentrated fish. It was borderline salty, but delivered various notes of fish along the way (first salty, then bitter from the guts and finally a touch of sweet). The garnish were fried ayu scales in sesame oil with parsley puree.
Main dish: Steamed sea bass with seasonal vegetables in a fresh green sauce. Again, the fish was well cooked but forgettable for me. What was really interesting were the slow-roasted carrots, the melt-in-your-mouth roasted radishes and crunchy snap peas.
Traditional Japanese meals end with rice and miso soup. The rice was cooked in dashi, and the miso soup was the chef’s own blend of various miso pastes, which tasted borderline salty but quite delicious.
The dessert was a bit unusual, and more like a “fusion” dish. The outside was a just-baked custard, with a center of sweetened red bean paste. When the dish arrived, I thought that the three lonely pine nuts on top looked out of place, but they totally made the dish, integrating the rest of the ingredients.
Tea service: This was my least favorite part of the meal. Esaki has their own blend of herbal tea, for which they dry and reconstitute 10 plus plants. It includes myoga (red-onion like flower), burdock root, shiso and many other things. It tasted like licorice to me, and not too good (but probably good for your body).
3-39-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.