Monday, November 2, 2009

Ume no Hana

When a fellow food-lover friend told me he'd be visiting Tokyo for exactly 48 hours, I asked what his priorities were: sightseeing? Karaoke? Clubbing? Sushi? Kaiseki? I was thrilled when he informed me that it was all about food for him, noting that if he wanted to learn about the culture, he could read about it on Wikipedia. Which left me with a blank slate to plan (my second favorite thing to do after eating). I asked if he liked tofu, and he responded: "I'm a good Chinese boy, of course I like tofu."

After calling Tofuya Ukai (a Michelin-starred tofu kaiseki restaurant) again and again and finally reaching a reservationist, I was told that they were completely booked for every single meal during the weekend for the next 4 weekends. But determined to try tofu kaiseki, I made a reservation at Ume no Hana in Aoyama/Gaien Mae.

The lunch kaiseki courses start at around 5000 yen (~$55) and consist of about 10 different tofu, yuba or wheat gluten based dishes. It's the perfect meal to take a vegetarian visitor, but I think tofu kaiseki is a terrific experience for omnivores as well - the meal is beautiful, served in a private tatami dining room and every course was delicious. We had just spent about $300 each at Ryugin, the much hyped two Michelin-starred modern Kaiseki restaurant, the night before, but I honestly thought that our tofu kaiseki meal at Ume no Hana was much better bang for buck.

Fresh tofu wrapped in yuba skin, cooked tableside and served with sesame-soy dipping sauce that you prepare to your taste

Milk/cream tofu with green sauce (looks so simple but was so delicious), yuba skin in broth, spinach gomae salad

Tiny sashimi, chawanmushi (egg custard with gingko nut, shitake and other little surprises - Ume no Hana's is one of the best chawanmushis I've ever had)

Fried gluten mochi and deep fried tofu tempura

Tofu gratin

At most kaiseki meals (and other meals in Japan), rice and soup is the penultimate course, right before dessert.

Soybean milk ice cream and azuki jelly

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: several, but I went to the one in Aoyama/Gaienmae located in Aoyama M's Tower
Average price for meal for two (lunch): 10,000 yen (~$110)

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