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Like a Roomba, I Return to Ginza to Recharge My Curiosity

Mamiko Kume

GINZA SIX EDITORS Vol.94

I spend so much time on assignment abroad or outside major metro areas, my home/office has been transformed into a temporary storage space. Despite the fewer actual number of trips these days, my job seems to take me out of the city for longer periods. Busily buzzing from here to there suits me, but while being in tranquil villages or in the midst of nature calms the spirit, I have to stay on top of things in Tokyo, the frontlines of the food scene—or else I’ll be out of a job! But when curiosity or stimulation runs low, I can count on GINZA SIX for a recharge. It’s where my pilgrimage begins.

I head first to the Ginza Grand Premium Food Hall on the sixth floor, with its over 1,090 square meters of floor space and specialty eateries for sushi, eel, sukiyaki, beef shabu-shabu, chicken skewers, and deep-fried pork cutlets. Also there are the popular parfaits of Futaba Fruits Parlor, born of a produce store founded in 1941, and Ginza Modern Terrace, a café and restaurant offering Western-style food and sweets. As the name suggests, it’s like a food hall from a Showa-era department store sporting a contemporary upgrade. Yesteryear style pubs and taverns have been booming in recent years, and this successful revival of an erstwhile food format is quintessentially Tokyo’s Ginza. The elaborate plastic food samples on display in front are quite a sight!

When my stomach is empty, it won’t keep quiet. I immediately head out for a meal at the hall’s Korean Food Maestro Mi-Wol Yoon. Opening September 26, 2019, it’s the sister restaurant to Ginza Yunke, awarded two stars in the Michelin Guide’s Tokyo edition since 2014. It’s produced by owner-chef Mi-Wol Yoon, a traditional Korean food maestro, as designated by the Korean government. Korean food provides ample helpings of vegetables, plus plenty of soups and broth. It’s something you want to keep in your starting lineup when eating out.

On my first trip to Korea, seeking breakfast, I went to a place near my hotel. To my surprise, I was served the ishimochi (white croaker) combo meal –even before I gave my order! The breakfast menu had just the one option, it turned out, and it came with wakame seaweed soup and banchan (small side dishes). Feeling nostalgic, I found myself thinking, “Wow, sundubu must go awfully well with ishimochi…”

The flagship Ginza Yunke primarily serves full course meals. But here, Mi-Wol Yoon serves up popular fare mainly á la carte—namul and kimchi, of course, but also japchae and bossam, which is pork broiled in medicinal herbs. This time, I opted for the sundubu (soft tofu stew) combo (2,500 yen; all prices listed before tax). It’s packed with homemade tofu, clams, enoki mushrooms, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum leaves), and white scallions and flavored with Korean all-purpose seasoning dadaegi made from red chili peppers, beef tallow, and potherbs. The dried ishimochi is broiled and served with a sweet-and-sour condiment sauce. According to Chef Yoon, sundubu and ichimochi go very well together. I’ve just had one bite, and it’s a total trip!

The sundubu you find in Japan tends to be sweet. At Mi-Wol Yoon, it has sharpness and depth, my ideal taste sensations. Side dishes include bean sprout namul, Chinese cabbage kimchi, and cucumber and onion kimchi. This was dine-in only, but the restaurant in March will introduce an okamochi (take-out in carrying box) service that lets you eat at the tables in the middle of the floor as well. Such combination of whimsy and chic is always more than welcome.

My next stop is Café Experto on the Food Floor, the second belowground floor. It had caught my eye, and—wait, I think it looks a little different! I headed in for a coffee break.

“The coffee is from a special grove at the Blue Mountain Juniper Peak coffee farm, the first to receive the morning sunlight. Coffee is a fruit, so it’s gradually ripened until fully ripe to increase the sugar content. After receiving ample sun, the Blue Mountain mist sets in and cools the grove. In a word, this temperature difference makes a major difference,” explains the café barista, Miyazaki-san. I’ll have to use his impressive phrase, “Coffee is a fruit,” sometime somewhere.

On weekdays, there’s a special deal that lets you compare two different blends for 1,000 yen. I’m tempted, but I order the coffee of the day (starting at 750 yen). Wow—look at that focus of his! The barista holds his face right next to the dripper while allowing the hot water to drip at a precise rate. He carefully checks the ground beans and the aroma at the same time. Just studying this display of attention and respect for the coffee—there’s a lesson here, I think.

When I ask, it’s something about a change in the concept of acidity. Using a lot of coarsely ground beans makes it possible, I’m told, to create well-balanced, mild, and refreshingly delicious flavors free of excessive bitterness. To increase extraction efficiency, the coffee beans are first soaked in hot water. This process eliminates from the beans carbon dioxide gas produced by roasting, making it easier for the coffee extract to dissolve in hot water. When dripped completely through, the aroma from the beans is completely transferred to the liquid. And all this simply by dripping hot water at the right temperature…amazing!

“In Japan, people tend to focus almost entirely on roasting. Here, we also look at the production region, coffee farm, cultivation methods, and bean variety, among other things,” says Miyazaki-san. As I listen, I feel myself becoming more of a coffee aficionado. It’s not just important to taste, but to listen, too, it seems. GINZA SIX is a big place, but it’s amazing how you can interact with people at close distances, as you would on a shopping street or in an owner-operated shop. No matter how good the store, in my view, it’s the people that matter.

I’ve experienced a sharp increase recently in gift-sending opportunities. From casual, affordable gifts to the truly special, my information, and therefore story ideas, can’t keep up. But I’ve now found a most reliable option: Premier Cru Café (from 3,000 yen), the highest grade of coffee from the best groves. This flagship line offers only coffee meeting the most rigorous standards in all processes—grove selection, cultivation, harvest, sorting, transportation, and preservation. It comes in champagne bottles to withstand the internal pressure of the carbon dioxide, which has the added benefit of bottling up all of the aroma. Store this at room temperature. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, another draw. The package design is great, too; it’s like a painting. The charming wrapping is wonderful, too.

Lastly, I go to The Grand Ginza on the 13th floor, a restaurant floor where I normally don’t have the opportunity to dine. Measuring more than 1,650 square meters, the multiple-purpose space features a lounge, restaurant, VIP room, banquette room, chapel, and tea room. I’m headed to Ginza Kiwami, a luxurious chef’s counter, the Tokyo version of Kodaiji Kiwami in Higashiyama, Kyoto. It strikes me as a tantalizing hideaway, like a noodle shop secretly located in the corner of a hotel, or a bar hidden away in a department store.

“We use ingredients from around Japan, plus food from around the world. They’re prepared in the way we think ideal at that particular time. We stand here behind the counter—so, as we talk with customers, we also consider what they like and the circumstances. It’s basically French, but we add Japanese touches, depending on the ingredients, for a type of French fusion. We’re pretty flexible in this regard.” So says Chef Hayato Saito. The ability to play things by ear and draw on ample resources in doing so is the sign of a true professional!

The cold appetizer on one day is white trevally lightly salted with kombu, Hokkaido sea urchin, and caviar. Underneath are concealed sheets of red, green, and black daikon. A Shiso sauce, balsamic vinegar, and finally a citrus dressing are dribbled over this dish sprinkled with yuzu zest. The ultimate chef’s course consists of 10 dishes (20,000 yen). It starts with a shellfish or seafood amuse-bouche, which goes splendidly with the minerality of the champagne served for the toast, then proceeds to hot and cold appetizers, soup, a foie gras dish, seafood dish, a crab or lobster crustacean dish, the main dish, and dessert. The course can be truncated for customers without much time—they’re quite flexible.

The beef served as the main dish is cooked slowly at a low temperature until tender. It’s flambéed right in front of the customer to finish. The roasted surface is aromatic. Even with the juices seeping out, I want to eat it hot, a masterpiece I simply can’t resist.

“Kazusa wagyu beef, seasonal vegetables, and aroma of truffles.” There’s an inn in the same corporate group in Sawara, Chiba Prefecture. Today, local Kazusa beef is roasted, then flambéed to finish and spiced with Italian truffles. Sometimes you’ll be served beef from Mishima cattle, an official Natural Treasure, or l’agneau de lait, of which only 50 are shipped annually.

Selected by service manager and sommelier Masahide Takahashi, the wine is Y by Yoshiki, a full-bodied red created through a collaboration between a music artist Yoshiki and Napa Valley winemaker Rob Mondavi Jr. Having a sommelier means getting to learn about an otherwise hard-to-find label.

Lastly, I try the famous Ginza Maxim strawberry mille-feuille currently being served in the lounge, thereby completing my four-hour tour of GINZA SIX. I’ve made some delicious discoveries, but the major takeaway was meeting a number of true professionals. I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good charge, but nearly everywhere I look, my appetite for more threatens to rear its head. I’ll leave the fun for next time and make a fresh start another day.

Text: Mamiko Kume Photos: Kayoko Ueda Edit: Yuka Okada

editors_kume

Mamiko Kume

Writer and editor. Previously deputy editor-in-chief of Tokyo Calendar and Cuisine Kingdom; currently works freelance. Researches and writes mainly on restaurants and food culture, regional Japanese food, and travel here and abroad. Currently pens columns on gastronomy old and new for Brutus and on commemorative dinners and other topics for Shukan Shincho.

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