I am not a food critic, and I don’t go out of my way to find new restaurants to judge for Mesubim readers. I am not interested in critiquing restaurants and asking my readers to sit back and wait for my next review.
It’s a windy night as we walk into Uchitsu restaurant in Tokyo, I had some second thoughts about the decoration but I gave the food a chance. A mix between good taste, and bad taste, a little like the chef’s cuisine, a mixed bag.
The restaurant is two stars Michelin, and if you could compare to other Michelin stared restaurants and ask yourself the whether it’s all worth it, it is. My host after a night of drinking revealed the cost of $200/person, including plenty of sake, which I thought was a fair price for a Tokyo high-end Michelin restaurant that serves food until you cannot take it anymore.
The cuisine setting is elegant and one of the major selling factors is Uchitsu’s over-sized window looking into a garden with plenty of greenery. It is impressive and takes away most of your words as you stare into the garden.
His choice of raw materials are excellent, the chef selects the finest available for tempura searching across Japan to please his clients with shimonita neggi, or by using a Kochi-ken nori. Chef Takahisa Uchitsu begins the course of many with a shrimp head and a shiso leaf filled with sea urchin.
The fish was glistening, he uses some fish I had never tried and I found that interesting. The one fish was named Kue, a large-toothed grouper fish of more than a meter. For the most part the chef is multidisciplinary and he cuts raw fish and serves foods that are all very good, yet miss the mark somehow. My view is he requires some direct constructive criticism, something difficult to do in Japan. The fish tasted from gas and its my guess he doesn’t use charcoal to grill his fish. The quality of the fish was above average yet his cutting board is stained white with some kind of white wash. I am not sure why but it the first time I had seen something like that, and found it strange.
That night I was anxious to try more tempura, a food I eat less and less although I like it. For most fried foods are a “no-no” yet when it comes to using refined techniques, such as cotton seed oil and sesame mixed it dampens the blow.
Now why is tempura not considered unhealthy by many people? The answer is many frying oils are chemically treated, hydrogenated or just poor quality and packed with saturated fats. However Uchitsu uses mostly cotton seed oil is 70% unsaturated fat and that’s an important factor. But having said that, the technique of cooking in oil is cloaked in kitchen myth, and many believe that deep-fried foods are inherently greasy and unhealthful.
Some might argue that given cotton seed oil is so cheap, in fact that it costs producers next to nothing to manufacture. Because cottonseed oil is nothing more than a by-product of industrial waste produced during cottonseed processing. Oh no!! One of the world’s most well-known products, Crisco is a product pioneered by Procter & Gamble. Sadly Uchitsu’s foods do seem greasy, at least to me, and his oil looked very dark, something I hadn’t seen before, however maybe it was just my angle – all very confusing anyway.
But greasy foods are the faux pas of any chef and it doesn’t have to be because it’s all a matter of technique. The frying technique of tempura is whereby the oil affects only the surface of the food, and it doesn’t penetrate much below the surface. Heat cooks oil as it does the ingredients, and the way that oil changes during heating has a profound impact on whether the food is appalling or appealing.
Intuitively Japanese Tempura cooks know that small or thin pieces of food are better suited for deep-frying than large thick pieces are. When frying, it’s the ratio of how readily heat moves from the oil into the surface of the food to the rate of conduction of heat into the center of the food. If this ratio is very small then the food conducts heat very rapidly and both the center heats nearly as fast as the surface. This is the case with the shrimp and not with a carrot, greasy versus non greasy.
I was astonished why any chef would use ninjin (carrot) as a vegetable because the surface becomes a bottleneck through which the heat can pass only slowly. Food can be a poor heat conductor that anything except thin slices of food heat faster at the surface than at the center. French fries are the best example of contrast between a crispy crust and a light fluffy center.
Chef Uchitsu should very well know that when foods are too large, uneven heat transfer from the surface to the center becomes a problem. It takes so long to raise the temperature at the center of the food that the intense heat of deep-frying overcooks the outside or, worse, burns it. I did like his nabe with seaweed, it helped sooth the meal as it continued on and on.
I appreciate when a chef maintains his respect for clients and makes it affordable although some would argue he is overpriced, but I didn’t think so. This chef is skillful and moves his hands in a way that would give you the impression he has practiced for years.
Now 12+ courses later regrettably I was over full and found the tempura batter slightly too thick and not as crispy enough. The last dish was ochazuke, and his noodles which I tried and shared.
It appears that the chef has purposefully decided to cook at a higher temperatures than I expected. His actions seem contrived as he waved his hand in an upwards and downwards motion to relieve the fish from too much grease. The Chef certainly works very hard to please his clients, and has his own ways. I guess it wasn’t what I am used to.
Shibuya-ku Hiroo, 5−25−4,