An Elegant Gourmet Experience at Chez Taka, Higashi Azabu

By Ai Faithy Perez
September 11, 2015
Food & Drink

If I had to describe my food experience at Chez Taka in just two words, it would be elegantly sumptuous. Nestled in the quiet neighborhood of Higashi Azabu, it stands out with its glorious tall windows and a lone proud tree, branches outstretched over the mini courtyard, welcoming all.

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Upon entering, we were immediately greeted by a respectful maître d’ who led us to the chef’s table. Chef Taka is a warm, jovial man who has worked in kitchens all around the United States, Canada and Europe before finally returning to Japan. His food journey started when he was just a boy, growing up near the sea in Hamamatsu to yaoyasan (greengrocer) parents. Having the vegetable influence on his diet from a young age helped him develop his love of greens. Now, his métier is vegetables, but meat eaters fret not—a hefty aging beef hangs nicely within arm’s reach. At three and half months old on our visit, the spectacularly grilled beef was simply divine. But we’ll get back to that later.

The atmosphere of Chez Taka is cozy but exquisite, with the bar (open from 5:30 p.m.) on the first floor and the main dining area on the second. We sat at the chef’s table, next to the small rosemary garden in the kitchen on the first floor.

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Our meal began with a delicately placed amuse-bouche of cauliflower mousse topped with salmon caviar and a tangy olive oil, accompanied by a pork pate with pickles to cut through the fattiness and add bite.

Appetites suitably primed, we moved on to a complex array of vegetables, seafood and citrus sauces. Among the many types of veggies were micro tomatoes, ice plants, sugar snaps and lotus roots, along with some abalone, crab, shrimp and scallop. But the star of them all was the beet—steamed with some salt and pepper, it had a rich texture with a lovely crunch.

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Next was Chef Taka’s interpretation of a bouillabaisse, with soup to die for. Pan-fried sea bass with crispy skin and flakey flesh, potatoes boiled in saffron, mussels steamed in white wine, and a sexy prawn with its red body and luscious fragrance. Sage, dill and chervil adorned the dish along with a crunchy crouton topped with a rouille—the rouille that caused the kitchen to stand still for a moment as all the chefs got on Google to tell me how to spell it. It was adorable and very sweet.

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And then came the aged beef… Just take a moment to imagine the smooth, creamy texture of the meat. From Saga, Kyushu, the beef was grilled to perfection and covered with a madeira black pepper sauce. Next to it sat a grilled baby eggplant, amanaga (Japanese sweet chilli), stuffed cherry tomato with rosemary from the garden, apios americana (also known as the potato bean or hopniss), and a sweet pecoros onion. According to chef Taka, Japanese beef is generally fatty and needs a spicy sauce to bring out the sweetness. No arguments from me.

“Peach, Peach, Peach” was the very descriptive name for our dessert. A tower of different tastes and textures designed to excite the palate—a pate a feuille proudly adorning a light peach sorbet on a round peach mousse disc. Beneath that, peach compote, surrounded by a pool of peach jelly. What else can I say about this delight but that it was “simply peachy”?

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As is tradition, we ended this sumptuous food melody with a coffee. Chef Taka had one last surprise for us—the generous accompaniment of a mini pistachio macaroon and a lemon peel and vanilla bean madeleine.

Chef Taka is a well-traveled, cultured man, and he certainly knows—and is happy to talk about—his food. If you’re curious about his menu, his impressive background, or his history as an Iron Chef competitor, just ask. And to all the vegetarians and vegans out there: chef Taka would be delighted to cater to your needs if you’ll just let him know a few days in advance.

The Deets

Address: 1-20-3 Higashi Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-5797-7687 (reservations can also be made online here)

Open: Daily, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 5:30–9 p.m.

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