Sunday, June 7, 2015

DEN ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

DEN was the biggest surprise of my trip.

It was almost impossible to get a reservation, even my hotel concierge couldn't get me in. But through a semi-frustrated "it's so hard to book at your restaurant" comment that I left on Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa's instagram (hahaha! So bratty, I know!) and a quick exchange of email, I was able to secure a very last-minute seat for dinner at 9:30pm. I love Instagram!!! And I love Zaiyu even more!

Den is located away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo,
 in the quiet neighborhood of Jimbocho. Except for a tiny sticker
in that mailbox, the restaurant has no signage. Look for this gate.

The lovebirds logo welcomed me into the unassuming restaurant
where I had THE BEST MEAL this trip, and easily all of 2014.

The moment I entered the 8-seater bar was one of the many moments I felt so very lucky to be 
traveling alone. I wouldn't have scored this reservation had I been with a group or a plus one.
Moral lesson: Single bird gets the worm! ;)

Love the non-traditional napkin

A glass of Berlucchi Cuvee '61 Franciacorta sparkling wine 
to get things going

That is THE Zaiyu Hasegawa. Watching him work in the kitchen felt like watching a little kid play
 in the park. His wit, humor and playfulness were evident in every dish of the 11-course meal.

Dinner started with "monaka," a traditional Japanese wafer snack that is usually filled with 
red beans. It was also thoughtfully packaged in a Den branded wrapper.

A bite revealed what was probably the most unique foie gras dish I have ever had in my life. 
Inside the wafer was foie gras marinated in white miso for 10 days, dried Japanese persimmon,
 and smoked pickled radish. BOOM!

I also have to mention that the plates and cups at Den were marvelous. Zaiyu uses 
handcrafted wares by local artisans who have become his friends.

The second course was inspired by the rainy season. Resting on the lotus leaf was 
fruit cider vinegar that symbolized raindrop. How brilliant!

I was asked to fold up the leaf and let the raindrop slide into the bowl which contained 
a seasonal type of water lily called junsai, passion fruit, basil seeds, tomato jelly, 
and flying fish roe.

Every spoonful was an explosion of flavors!

 Even the water at Den was not the ordinary.
 It was spring water from Niigata and served in an even
more extraordinary water glass!

The most exciting part of dinner was when Chef Zaiyu 
reached over the counter to hand me a box 

It was a KFC takeout box, but instead of Colonel Sanders, it was him in the photo! Hahahaha! 
He called this the DFC, as in Dentucky Fried Chicken. This guy is absolutely hilarious!!!

This whimsical message greeted me as I opened the box

And underneath the greeting was the cutest thing I've ever seen in a dish in all my traveling and
  dining life! With my fried chicken wing came a rubber duckie and a handmade Philippine flag. 
How truly special is that??!

The chicken wing stuffed with shrimps was full of umami 

My favorite dish of the night was this one called "Uni on the Beach." 
Fresh uni and grilled uni on rice served in sea urchin shell and topped with wasabi and sea grapes. 
The dried leaves were seaweed chips that you can crumble on top of the uni.

Even the "sand" was edible. It was made of dried little sardines.


Felt like a creamy hug to my tummy

The fish was masterfully cooked and an excellent play on flavors and textures

Just when I thought things were starting to become a bit serious, I was presented with 
the most adorable salad that made me go AWWWW. Inside this bowl were 20 different 
kinds of vegetables and flowers harvested from the chef's sister's farm. Each of the veggies
 was prepared and dressed differently. Check out the baby carrot covered in hojicha soil
and the cutest carrot emoji!

Zaiyu then teased us with the sight of Hokkaido Kuroge wagyu on top of takikomi rice

The beef had been slow-grilled for 7 days and the result was 
ridiculously tender and flavorful meat, like a newborn baby.
It was served very simply with freshly grated wasabi and
did not need anything more than that.


Miso Soup

Zaiyu asked who wanted more serving of the wagyu and I raised my hand right away!
Hahaha! Just check out that marbling!

DFC box-signing for his many fans

When it was time for dessert, a page from newspaper was set on my table.
Alphabets were encircled and they read "see you," signaling dinner was about to end.
A wave of sadness took over me.

And then this comedian suddenly appeared beside me, fumbling with a 
garden glove until he shaped it into a bunny! I believe I squealed
in delight like a little girl.

Ta-da!!! Dessert was served on a garden spade and looked like 
wet soil covered with moss

Turned out to be bamboo charcoal cheese pudding covered in green tea, brown tea,
barley tea, and buckwheat tea. Roasted soba nuts also dotted the pudding.
Everything on the spade was edible, including the leaves!

My coffee came in a mini Starbucks mug, but upon closer inspection it actually said 
"Star Comebacks." I was a bit confused about the name and my super sweet server Noriko
explained to me that Den lost one of its two Michelin stars and therefore wishes for 
a star come-back. This guy's sense of humor is really something! 

 "Coffee" was actually custard pudding and sugarcane that had been cooked for 8 hours into 
 sweet caramel goodness and mixed with… wait for it… black truffle!!! 
It was the perfect cup of joe to end the meal.

To this day, my dinner at Den overshadows many of my 3-Michelin star meals. I've never experienced anything like it before. The food was exciting, delicious, and perfectly executed. Zaiyu was serious about his craft, but he was also having fun. Noriko spoke excellent english and gave genuinely warm service. It was certainly one of the most memorable meals I had to date. So much heart, so much passion!

And definitely one of the highlights of dinner was meeting CB and Mutsumi! 
You see, it was CB's blog that convinced me to go to Den and guess who were
seated beside me that night??? The man himself and his beautiful wife!
(The Japanese lady in white is our fabulous server Noriko)
CB works for Marvel Comics and it was awesome what Chef Zaiyu 
surprised him with. Check out his post here: 

We were the very last guests to leave that evening and Zaiyu prepared wagyu onigiri balls
for us to bring home

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa and his biggest fan. 
Literally and figuratively. Lol.

The meal ended at way past midnight and the last train just left when I got to the platform at Jimbocho station. I walked for an hour back to the hotel, over bridges, through tunnels and dark alleys. The whole time sporting a big smile on my face.

Thank God for Zaiyu's thoughtfulness. I had one onigiri for a late-night snack, 
and another one for breakfast the next morning.

Den is easily my favorite restaurant in Japan. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Den: 2-2-32 Jimbocho, Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81 3 3222 3978

DEN Website

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