Japan- Aoyama Esaki- ✪✪✪

Situated below street level in a quiet office block of a tasteful, artisanal-store-heavy neighborhood not far from Tokyo's new Olympic stadium construction is Aoyama Esaki. I found the restaurant to be much like the neighborhood around it- interesting, understated, pretty. For less than $100 (with champagne!) this place also turned out to be one of the best deals of my whole trip. 

 Aoyama Esaki Main Entrance

Aoyama Esaki Main Entrance

TOKYO, JAPAN

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 7.0/10

PRICE PAID: $95 PP (INCLUDING CHAMPAGNE- LIST PRICE IS ~$55)

VALUE/MONEY: 9.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

 Aoyama Esaki Seating

Aoyama Esaki Seating

 Aoyama Esaki Interior

Aoyama Esaki Interior

The seating areas are separate from the two private dining rooms, and the tables and chairs are underwhelming but nicely spaced. 

 Place Setting

Place Setting

 Menu

Menu

Both the food and drink menu are (almost) entirely in Japanese, and language skills are, shall we say, highly goddamn mixed so make sure you bring your Google Translate app or someone with at least a Middle-Schooler-level understanding of Japanese.

 Course 1: 10 kinds of Japanese Vegetables, 9/10

Course 1: 10 kinds of Japanese Vegetables, 9/10

First up, a delightful collection of 10 varieties of Japanese fruits and vegetables including rose hips, brussels sprouts, oranges, water chestnuts, deep fried flowers, radish, carrot, grilled onion, and black beans, all prepared differently. The flowers taste surprisingly rich, and overall this is a stunningly great and diverse set of flavors. 9/10.

 Course 2: Sashimi, 8/10

Course 2: Sashimi, 8/10

 The Fish Book

The Fish Book

Striped jack- or shima-agi- sashimi- had a soft and delicious texture. Paired with some delightfully briny seaweed. 7/10.

I thought this was incredibly sweet- rather than try to explain the fish's name and qualities to me, our server ran and got a Japanese fish reference book, which she offered for a photo or for casual perusal as we enjoyed our sashimi. Charming that they both have such a reference tool on hand and that they offer it so freely. 

 Course 3: Clam Soup. 8/10

Course 3: Clam Soup. 8/10

This clam soup was almost perfect- a really enormous clam was served in its shell with a small garnishment of veggies on top. Rich and salty. 8/10.

 Course 4: Sea Bass, 8/10

Course 4: Sea Bass, 8/10

Out comes the fish book again, this time without having to ask. We are told, once again quite charmingly, that the fish we are eating might be any of the handful depicted on a given page that we were directed to. Three or four fish were illustrated, and I must say that they looked pretty similar, so rather than ask for more detail I thanked her profusely.

Sea bass perch with "Orange Queen" Chinese cabbage - the fish is excellent and brought out nicely with a buttery sauce. Peas are bright and sweet. 8/10. 

 Course 5: Rice + Mushroom Soup, 8/10

Course 5: Rice + Mushroom Soup, 8/10

Next, some delightful rice and mushroom soup. The soup had almost a peanut butter note on the nose, and tasted like forest floor in the best possible way. The rice was hearty and satisfying. 8/10. 

 Coffee, 8/10

Coffee, 8/10

Mostly because I was so thrilled to have it (it was seldom on offer in Japan,) a lovely hand-brewed up of Brazilian coffee. 8/10. 

 Course 6: Yam + Lychee Ice Cream, 8/10

Course 6: Yam + Lychee Ice Cream, 8/10

Though this wasn't my favorite dessert in Japan, the starchy yam paired really perfectly with the lychee ice cream to make this beautiful dessert. 8/10.