It was really hard for me to start writing about our evening at Den. We had such high expectations before arriving here, but nothing could really prepare us for this mind-blowing, mouth-watering, once in a life time experience.
Jimbocho Den, owned by the talented chef Zaiyu Hasegawa, is a one Michelin star restaurant. The restaurant is really small, serving 8 seats on the bar across from which Zaiyu and his sous chef are cooking. There’s also a private room. This seating arrangements makes the dining experience to much more intimate and close – both with other diners as well as with the cooking chefs.
Add to this the fabulous Noriko – Zaiyu’s wife whose not only a great server but a great conversationalist. She was very knowledgeable about the food, but her kindness, openness and good heart are what really made our dining experience better by orders of magnitude. Noriko and Zaiyu’s warm and lighthearted approach to dining made the entire evening feel like we’re being hosted by old friends for dinner, rather than sitting in a stuffy upscale restaurant. While Zaiyu sometimes struggles with English, Noriko speaks perfect English and with each course she made sure to explain Zaiyu’s vision for every dish, including its background, ingredients and other interesting bits and pieces. Every Michelin starred restaurant needs a Noriko.
The restaurant is located in Chiyoda, 2 minute walk from Jimbocho station. It was pretty easy to find, as opposed to many other places in Tokyo. The entrance itself is very stylish and elegant. Since we came in a bit early we were seated in the small lobby, which gave us time to admire a cupboard full of interesting tableware. Later on we learned from Noriko how each and every one of those pieces were designed or created by one of the couple’s designer friends.
Den’s pre-fixed menu is constantly changing and is comprised of playful and fun dishes. Zaiyu is a funny guy his sense humor is often embedded in his dishes. This alone makes Den very unique and different from other Michelin restaurants.
Next we received the Dashi Soup with Yuzu and Tofu. The Tofu was delicious and completely unlike any other Tofu we’ve tasted. Inside the soup was also Purple Konnyaku Jelly shaped like a mushroom cutout. Konnyaku is a vegan gelatin-like substance made form the Konjac plant, native to Japan.
Plates were placed in front of us bearing the caption “Den Tucky”, foreshadowing what’s next to come.
What came next was Zaiyu’s most recognizable dish: “Dentucky Fried Chicken” stuffed with sticky rice and turtle meat, a gourmet take on an iconic fast food dish. Zaiyu personally serves each diner with a cardboard box which looks quite familiar.
Upon closer inspection though, diners will find Zaiyu’s picture on the box, as well as a pictogram of his face and a picture of his dog, Picu. Inside each box were surprises personally picked for each diner. We got a small flag of Israel and a rubber chick toy. Kawaii! The Dentucky Fried Chicken was placed alongside these tokens and was simply heavenly. Wish we could get a bucket of these.
From the looks of it, the Sardines with Liver Paste and Seasme Rice didn’t look too appealing but boy, were we wrong. After one bite – we were hooked. This was definitely one of the best dishes of the meal.
Pork with Root Vegetables and Lime was another smashing success. The taste of the tender pork went really well with the earthy vegetables, and the lime added an interesting twang on top of it all.
This is yet another signature dish – Den’s Salad. Don’t let the name fool you though – this dish includes 20 different ingredients, each prepared completely differently. For example, the tomato was marinated with Vanilla! This “salad” is unlike any you’ve ever tasted.
It’s full of fun little surprises.
The biggest surprise though was a stuffed ant. Who would have guessed that you can stuff an ant, but if anyone can – it’s Zaiyu. This tiny ant was packed full of sour and acid-y flavors.
The salad was served in hand made wooden containers, and was decorated with carvings made by insects which ate paths through the wood.
During our meal Zaiyu disappeared from the kitchen for a while. When he came back a bit later, he didn’t come empty handed. Noriko told us that he had just been at his friend’s which happened to launch their own box line of instant meals. We each got one of these boxes. What a nice surprise.
Before moving on to desserts this part of the meal was sealed with a trio of dishes from the classical Japanese kitchen, also known as Kaiseki – Steamed Rice with Tobiko and Ginger, Light Pickled Vegetables and Miso Soup. To make sure no diner still felt hungry we were asked to choose the size of the rice portion.
On the table a newspaper was set. The paper had some letters highlighted, which combined formed the phrase “See you soon”. Then the sou-chefs entered the dining area from the front door, each carrying hand shovels and working gloves. They folded the gloves into a form of bunny ears and placed them along with what looked like a muddy shovel speckled with dirt and moss. Noriko asked if we’ve seen the small garden outside the restaurant. To be fairly honest, it was dark outside and we completely missed it but the joke was not lost on us. The dirty shovel turned out to be Cheese Mousse with Green Tea, Charcoal Powder and Buckwheat. What a presentation! The taste was out of this world.
To top it all off Zaiyu served us what looked like a Starbucks cappuccino mugs. Only they didn’t say “Starbucks” but ‘Star Comebacks Den”. This is a nod to the fact that Zaiyu lost one of his two Michelin stars. True to the Den spirit this meal could not have ended with a simple cappuccino. Inside the mug awaited dessert Pudding with Sugar Cane and Black Truffle which not only looked like coffee but also had distinct bitter flavor tones very similar to coffee.
Before ending this amazing dinner, Zaiyu came out of the kitchen and introduced us to his cute dog – Picu.
As we started packing our bag full of gift and memorabilia Noriko made sure to throw in the toy duck as well. After taking this picture to remind of Noriko and Zaiyu hospitality, we headed out. As we were walking down the alley holding hands, contemplating this wonderful meal, we looked back to see the entire staff standing in line on the street and waving at us. We’ve done what any other person would do – continued walking away while jumping and clapping our heels. Den’s staff started laughing, jumping and clapping for us. What a memory.
We will be back.
Looking for unique culinary experience in Tokyo? Visit our other posts:
- An exceptional Teppanyaki experience | Ukai-tei, Tokyo
- Teach a man to fish – and he’ll probably have better luck than us | Zauo, Tokyo
- We were served dinner by Ninjas and the food was surprisingly good | Ninja Akasaka, Tokyo
- Kawaii Monster Cafe – Harajuku, Tokyo
- Tensuke Tempura – Koenji, Tokyo
- Commune 246 Street Food Market @ Tokyo, Japan
- Black buns, rice buns and cyanide colored float drinks – our experience in Tokyo’s fast food burger joints
Jimbocho Den Online:
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