Japanese kaiseki, remixed with a witty twist
Claim to fame: Puchi JR, the chef’s pet Chihuahua-cum-mascot
Reason to go: Tokyo’s warmest welcome
To look out for: The Dentucky Fried Chicken
The son of a former geisha, Zaiyu Hasegawa has old-fashioned hospitality in his blood. But the food at this creative kaiseki restaurant in off-the-beaten-track Jimbocho is far from traditional. Hasegawa keeps the form of Japan’s codified haute cuisine intact, while drawing on flavors and influences from around the world and stirring in his own brand of quirky humor. The clever tasting menu is a postmodern mash-up of old and new, highbrow and pop culture.
Take the monaka, an iconic Japanese confection of sweet bean paste sandwiched between crisp wafers made of mochi. Hasegawa’s version typically comes layered with foie gras and dried persimmon, a combination that nails the trifecta of creamy, crunchy, and sweet, with a hit of piquancy from the dried fruit. The Dentucky Fried Chicken is a succulent stuffed chicken wing, nestled in a cheerful red-and-white box that references KFC (The chef has a dad-like fondness for puns). The salad, another house signature, is a Gargouillou-inspired bounty of vegetables grown locally by Hasegawa’s sister. Individual components are subjected to a jumble of preparations; grilled, steeped, fermented, and fried, as well as raw, and tossed in a light vinaigrette spiked with shio kombu salted kelp. The star of the show is the rice dish, cooked in a clay pot and topped with seasonal delicacies: in summer, deep-fried anago sea eel; in winter, jewel-toned ikura salmon roe, house-cured in soy sauce and sake; and when you’re lucky, decadently marbled wagyu beef, marinated for several days and then slow-roasted.
The wine list offers choices mostly from France or Italy, but you want to drink sake at Den. The ever-changing selections are curated by Hasegawa’s kimono-clad wife, Emi, who provides thoughtful pairing advice. The warmth and attentiveness of the staff are unparalleled, you’ll walk away with an understanding of the spirit of omotenashi that defines Japanese hospitality.