A toast is called for as we enter 2014: and where better to start than at Cork?
The latest venture from the people behind the excellent L'As – owner-chef Daisuke Kaneko and manager/sommelier Kouichi Tanabe – Cork opened in late-November as a side-project adjascent to the newly relocated restaurant:
"After less than two years in their chic premises off Minami-Aoyama’s Kotto-dori, chef Daisuke Kaneko and his front-of-house partner Kouichi Tanabe have moved to a residential area at the far end of the neighborhood. More than just an expansion – though that was needed, given the continuing popularity of L’As – it is also an evolution. And it arrives with a separate new project added on: Cork, a wine bar with a difference."
The full story is in my latest column for The Japan Times. But the basic idea is that the wine at Cork is picked by Tanabe, and the food is all cooked by Kaneko and his team in the L'As kitchen, which is right behind Cork, with its own separate entrance but fully connected.
It's a great concept, and beautifully executed. Here are a few more images of one meal we had there last month.
The celebratory flowers were still in full bloom the first time we got there, just a few days after it opened. They added a welcome touch of colour to a space that is quite spare and minimal. Very Aoyama, of course.
The concept is brilliant. Instead of having to deal with a weighty multi-page wine list – in fact, instead of having to focus away from your partner and mull your choices – Tanabe has whittled the options down to a basic 1 bubbly, 3 white and 3 red. They all cost the same, but the food that comes with it will depend on which wine you order.
Ditto with the food. The pairings are all prix-fixe: 3 wines and 3 plates for ¥6,300; or 6 wines and 6 dishes for ¥10,500. Champagne is extra, as is dessert at the end.
This is the menu (you can double-click on it for slightly more detail):
It's a bubbly sort of place. And ¥1,450 is pretty good value, considering that you also get an appetiser for the price. Last month that was a large spoon filled with a tart-sweet compote of pear, along with a large dollop of almond-infused cream. Simple but sophisticated, like all of Kaneko's cuisine.
While you're sipping, you're asked to choose some wines. First a white, which will determine what your first hors d'oeuvres will be. And then your red – we had to agree on the same wine, since we were required to have the same main course.
It's not totally guessing in the dark: we were able to establish that the Californian Pinot Noir would be accompanied by chicken; the Bordeaux by beef; and the Spanish red by pork. That was the one we chose.
I chose the Ott Gruner Veltliner (Am Berg, 2012)...
…which came with slices of lightly smoked herring, on a bed of cauliflower cream, scattered with pistachio powder.
The other starter was a real beauty: a lovely 3-D swirl of zucchini "tagliatelle", served with soft-roasted zucchini flesh, and seasoned with a scattering of freeze-dried olive powder. That was accompanied by an Italian white, Ceretto Blange, from Langhe Arneis DOC (Piedmont). Great choice, Tanabe-san!
The second course is fixed, and will stay unchanged year-round. It's announced by the arrival of this bottle...
It's a cute pairing: to go with the Hungarian sticky wine, foie gras from the same country, on a crisp rusk drizzled with maple syrup. Wicked. Classic.
Finally it was time for the Guimaro. It's one of the rare reds from Galicia, and it's gorgeous.
And it went beautifully with pork, which was soft-cooked (sous-vide), then sliced and served with giant shimeji mushrooms in a rich reduction sauce, along with chickpeas and hazelnut halves. A very interesting dish, and another excellent pairing.
"At L’As, Kaneko’s genius is his ability to create modern cuisine that looks special, while keeping it affordable. At Cork, the same formula applies: good food, well-chosen wine and Aoyama style without the sticker shock."
I’ll raise a glass to that. And I’ll raise another to Kaneko and Tanabe. Great stuff.
We went back just before Christmas to the new L'As. I'm happy to report it's as good and as busy as it ever was at the old location.
Since the Japan Times hasn't given my column a map, the necessary coordinates are here…
And here's a link to my original post on L'As (at its previous/original location)…