Hello again world. My test went pretty well... at least, well enough to not take it again. I'm now on vacation in Tokyo with my dad, my grandma, and my aunt Agnes. We are staying here for another night, then taking the bullet train to Kyoto for another 3 nights of fun vacation activities (aka eating). As you might imagine, we have an action-packed eating schedule - with a total of 3 nights in Tokyo and 3 nights in Kyoto, our number of available meals is limited. But we're making do. :)
We had our first meal on Sunday night just after arriving into Tokyo. We weren't sure we'd actually be able to make dinner that night, so we didn't have concrete plans. In the end, due to scheduling requirements for some of our other meals (mainly - we could only get in to Sushi Mizutani on Tuesday night), we embarked on a quest for teppanyaki as it would be our only chance to eat it.
We decided on Restaurant Omae XEX, a Michelin 1-star member of the Y's Table family of restaurants. Formerly called Morimoto XEX (and actually listed as such in the Michelin guide), the restaurant started as a joint venture between the iron chef and Y's Table. Morimoto left this year, and Takeshi Omae has taken over as executive chef. We chose it largely out of convenience - it's open on Sundays, and open late - but it also seemed like a nice modern teppanyaki house to compare to the ultra old-school experience at Sazanka that we've tried before. And we were pretty confident that Morimoto's departure was more a branding thing than anything - surely Omae takes his craft seriously.
Tucked away on a tiny side street in Roppongi, Omae XEX has a sleek, modern entryway. The ground floor seems like the lobby of a swanky club or boutique hotel. The main dining room is down a funky spiral staircase, past a small wine cellar, a display case of various large pieces of meat, and a glass-walled prep area containing a meat slicer reminiscent of the one on the counter at Boccalone.
The main dining room itself consists of 2 large, round teppanyaki grilling counters, each capable of holding maybe 12 people. A few regular tables on the side and a private room are also available. The whole interior is dark and modern, with a cool lit-up pattern decorating the circular hood around the grilling areas. The place bumps everything from techno to Lil' Wayne, although the young Japanese clientele seems oblivious to the meaning of the lyrics being spat by Weezy F. Baby.
But anyway, on to the food. Omae XEX offers a variety of tasting courses which range from ¥10,000 to ¥15,000, with supplements and a la carte options also available. We opted for the ¥15,000 tasting with abalone, plus Kobe sirloin for an extra ¥3,500. Not cheap, but still about half of what we paid for the ultimate meal at Sazanka 3 years ago.
Quickly after sitting, we were brought this amuse of beef tartare. I'm not sure if it's intentional, but upon eating this I immediately thought "French Laundry salmon cone." The sesame tuile cone was almost identical, with a heartier mix of raw beef replacing the smooth salmon tartare in TFL's version. And if you can picture eating the FL salmon cone with beef instead of salmon, you can probably imagine how good this thing was. The prosciutto from previously-mentioned Boccalone slicer was top-notch, and went swimmingly with the mild white onions underneath it.
Next came this little seafood appetizer platter. Hirame and tako were both bouncy and clean. The little roll of root vegetables topped with gelee was refreshing, if not totally my cup of tea. The cod, glazed like the typical preparation, was actually served cold, and had a bit of a smoky flavor. Our teppanyaki chef admitted to us the oyster actually came from the Pacific Northwest, which isn't a bad thing considering the delicious kumamotos we have over on the left coast. The tofu was smooth but unspectacular.
While some Morimoto/Omae XEX reviews that I read mentioned a somewhat distant teppanyaki chef, our guy was jovial, friendly, and pretty good at English. He also stirred this abalone liver thing for literally 20 straight minutes before pouring them back into the shells, so I think that is worth an Arthur Hungry action shot.
Sorry for the exposure on this one. The manual labor mentioned above did result in the delicious, thick, stew-like concoction of abalone liver on the left. It had none of the bitterness that often comes with abalone liver, and instead had a rich foie flavor. The meat was tender and the white vinegar sauce cut both with a nice tang.
They must take their beef seriously here, as they prepped us with this plum sorbet. This had zero sweetness and just a very subtle plum flavor. Hardcore palate cleanser status.
Here's a before shot of the Kobe beef - great marbling all around, as you can see.
Here's another action shot of our grillmaster, slicing and dicing our Kobe sirloin. No Beninhana style over substance here - he was systemic in his deconstruction. There is no anticipation greater in this world than watching premium Wagyu being seared in front of you.
Here's the finished product. The meat was every bit as good as that pre-shot suggests. Tender, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The veggies on the side were nice too - the lotus root was very crispy and refreshing, and the onion, which seemed to have been roasted forever, had a deep, sweet flavor. Also not pictured is some chopped daikon in a vinegar sauce that served to cut the fattiness of the beef, and a rich horseradish-laced version of mashed potatoes. I can't say enough about Japanese teppanyaki - while I've had excellent Wagyu beef in various preparations in the US, I've still yet to have anything that can mirror the euphoric simplicity of the teppan-style grill.
Omae XEX does veer off from the traditional a bit. The fried rice is garlic-based, and omits the use of eggs. Here's an action shot of the rice prep, one of my favorite parts to watch in a teppanyaki meal.
They had a whole new twist on the rice. No eggs, and instead of fat trimmings, they topped it with some finely chopped beef tartare, which subsequently cooked a little bit from the heat of the rice, pho-style. The result was this excellent, hearty fried rice. The texture and separation of each rice kernel was excellent, especially considering there was no egg to bind everything.
In what appears to be teppanyaki tradition, we were then moved upstairs to a dessert lounge/bar area. I guess you're not supposed to ever eat dessert in front of the actual grill, as every teppanyaki place seems to do this. How the restaurant can support having a whole second room for all of its customers that doesn't get used until late into the night still baffles me. I always thought rent was one of the biggest costs in restaurant operation, but what do I know. Anyway, they had some pretty interesting ice cream flavors for dessert - the caramel was not sweet at all, and you could really taste the caramel itself. The vanilla/condensed milk was eggy, and tasted almost like a cake.
And so concludes the first post from Tokyo. Comparisons to Sazanka are inevitable, and while I will admit that Sazanka did seem to use a higher grade of beef and abalone, Omae XEX definitely held its own. The ingredient quality can be easily explained by the difference in price - Omae XEX was about half the cost! The Kobe was still definitely an extremely high level, and the result delicious. When you live in San Francisco, the beef tastes hella good anyway. :) Plus, it has a cool, hip vibe which is in stark contrast to the old-school tradition of Sazanka. It was a great meal all around and I recommend Omae XEX to anyone who is looking for a good teppanyaki stop in Tokyo.