Sant Pau, Tokyo, Japan,
tasted on December 15, 2005 — Given my love for foreign
cuisines interpreted in Tokyo it shouldn't surprise you that I was
up for Spanish food. Sant Pau is a famous restaurant in Barcelona,
Spain and part of the Relais Chateaux high end restaurant and hotel
association. I didn't realize that they were part of Relais Chateaux
before I went. On the one hand that pretty much guarantees a
particular type of high end dining experience. On the other hand,
sometimes you wonder if the definition might be too narrow. Either
way I was open minded and excited about the meal. European
transplant it might be, I think the influence of Japan is hard to
ignore no matter what tradition you bring with you.
I was escorted from the front door up to the dining
room. Passing by the
entire Spanish ham waiting to be carved was a positive omen. It was
like seeing some sort of symbol of good fortune hanging over the
door of an environment you're about to enter. In other words,
Serrano ham in the house means good things are coming.
Sant Aniol sparkling water graced my
sunny window-side table in the beautifully designed room. The water
was filled with super fine but sharp
carbonation. I loved it. The dining room was gorgeous and everything was covered in wood and
leather but in an
were super crispy and crunchy. At first I thought they might have been
cheese sticks from the looks of them.
olive oil, and
salt also helped as I waited for my first course. That said, I
didn't have to wait long for the meal to start off.
Monkfish with Cream of Turnip and Basil Foam
started things off. It was a warm and
soft "bite" with an al dente veggie dice and a creamy turnip foundational
sauce. This was comforting and savory and slightly salty in a good way.
Next up was
Quail in Vinaigrette with Almonds and Raisins. This
wasn't quite as flavorful as the first dish. And the bone made it hard to eat especially as
they had taken my finger towel. Don't worry, I found a way.
I was really excited by the
Confit and Brandade of Cod Mixed with Cream.
The dish was beautiful and I always love it when a soup or sauce is
applied tableside. There's just a freshness about the experience.
There was also a crispy
plane wrapped around a pate. The pate was also made from the from sausage.
There was also a gelee of parsley inside a gelee of piquillo pepper. The
soup poured into the dish was a garlic and bread soup. As refined as
this dish was I could imagine eating it by
a warm fire on a cold night. The three items each had starring roles but didn't compete
with each other.
There was harmony between the confit which had a buttery and subtle
cod flavor, and the sausage which was hearty and had deep flavors but in a small and unobtrusive
way. And then there was the soup itself which bound the other flavors
together. The brandade and gelees
contributed color and texture but couldn't hold up against the other
flavors. That said, the dish was excellent.
After the cod came the
Kinki with Puree of Zucchini and Punpkin with Fresh
Tomato Foam and Bean Sprouts. Two sauces graced the plate. One was a
light colored reduction based on fish
bones. The second was the same with the addition of raspberry. As I
finished he dish I received Ceylon tea with raspberry
with a fish stock base used instead of water. This dish was a journey through disciplined but gentle
alternating warm and bright tones on a soft textured bed. There was surprising
acidity (subtle though) in the dish even before I hit the raspberry
accented reduction. Really a marvel. The kitchen at Sant Pau is filled
with painters. The tea was interesting if not enjoyable. It didn't add
anything for me. It wasn't bad per se but wasn't exactly enjoyable either.
This next dish was a superstar -
Cauliflower Viole, Potato and Broccoli Puree, Pork
Truffle with Font de Veau. Aside from the sauces, this entire
concoction was deep fried. While I usually don't talk tons about
presentation, this may have
been the most beautiful dish I've ever eaten. They aren't just painters
in the kitchen, they are master painters. Wow! When I cut into the ball
and the the
deep red/brown veal sauce started flowing I almost
lost it. The outside was crusty and perfectly deep-fried. The meat was
rare and delicious. The sauce was overwhelmingly tasty with that bright wine-like savoriness
and depth that only comes from a very well made
veal stock. I almost forgot to really linger and taste the bites
properly as the dish was so distractingly beautiful as I
ate it. The vegetable purees were light and creamy and provided a lovely base for the
dish. Did I mention the sliver of black truffle perched atop the dish?
Dessert was a
Ganache with Milk chocolate mousse and Lime and
Pumpkin Seeds with Salt and Milk Ice Cream. The salt and acid spikes of
the lime and seeds with their pumpkin seed
overtones made the dish special. These flavor spikes were like fireworks on the pure vista
of the velvet chocolate and the smooth ice cream. The
pistachio and chocolate petit fours
were excellent as well.
After dinner I lingered briefly outside looking through
kitchen. Much to my surprise one of the chefs came out to
offer me a homemade lollipop and a tour inside. I was running off to
the airport as this was the last meal of my trip to Asia, but I couldn't
help myself and got to check out the kitchen for a bit before I took
dual clocks showing the time in Tokyo and Barcelona were a nice
representation of the Spanish food brought to life in Tokyo with local
ingredients and aesthetics. Really beautiful.
mentioned that this is a European transplant. Three key players from
Barcelona are leading the staff in Tokyo.
chefs (partnering with a third
Japanese chef if memory serves) and the
talented woman running the front of the house. Even in the brief
talking I did with them I got a clear sense of the camaraderie as well
as the focus they brought with them to their Japanese outlet. Whatever
the reason for it, Sant Pau was fantastic. I can't wait to compare it to
the original in Barcelona.