At the foot of Tokyo Tower is a 100-year-old reconstructed sake brewery nestled in a beautifully manicured garden. Tofuya Ukai, a restaurant that focuses on tofu, calls this place home. Everything about this places emanates the Japanese culture-- grace, nature, delicate foods.
Our experience with the food and service at Tofuya Ukai are flawless from start to finish. We check in with the very pleasant hostess and on the way to our private dining room, she explains to us that the building is a former sake brewery. We remove our shoes before entering our private dining room and walk in. The hostess helps us take our coats off, folds and places them inside an open box that is laid on the tatami covered floor. Finally she covers it up with a piece of floral cloth. Once we are settled in the room, our shoes outside the room are kept away and traditional Japanese slippers are placed on the steps outside. The slippers are to be used when we go to the restroom.
Kaiseki [kai-seh-ki], known as a traditional multi-course meal, is where the skills and techniques of the chef are greatly showcased. Each course is delicately and exquisitely prepared. Some even describe kaiseki as the haute cuisine of Japan (Note: kaiseki originated from Kyoto). At Tofuya Ukai, the kaiseki is focused on tofu. Lunch is a good time to dine at Tofuya Ukai as the lunch prices are almost half the price of dinner. Two lunch options are available; two of their dinner options are also made available at lunchtime. We decide on the Matsu lunch with the difference between this and the cheaper option being that the Matsu option comes with an extra course of spanish mackerel.
We begin our lunch with some sake served in a beautiful ceramic bottle poured into delicate drinking cups. Each time a course is served, our server slides open the door to our dining room, brings the tray of food in, carefully places them in front of us, and gracefully leaves the room again while sliding the door shut behind her. She leaves us to enjoy our food and we do that while enjoying the view of the beautifully manicured garden outside.
1. Boiled quail meatball, pumpkin
The pumpkin mochi stands out with its perfect texture without being too chewy.
2. Deep fried tofu with sweet miso sauce
The thin slices of tofu are so perfectly crisp that we can hear us biting into the pieces.
3. Assorted sashimi
Yellowtail, amberjack, and tuna
4. Simmered crab, fried tofu ball
5. Ikura (salmon roe) and turnip, shrimp covered with rice crackers, and mushroom and green vegetables
6. Tofu in seasoned soy milk
The highlight of the meal is the soy milk soup made from fish stock resulting in an incredibly amazing soup with a savory-umami flavor that is usually not expected of soy milk. The server recommends enjoying it with a dash of shoyu (soy sauce) and dried kombu (kelp). Shoyu helps bring out the complex flavor from the combined soy milk and fish stock.
7. Spanish mackerel grilled with yuzu citrus
8. Steamed rice with sweet potato
9. Sweet azuki beans soup, sesame crusted mochi
Sweet and (very subtle) savory flavors surface on our taste buds at each sip and it doesn't feel odd to have a combination of sweet-savory for dessert.
At the of our meal, we are served a pot of hojicha (roasted green tea leaves resulting in brown colored tea). Our server asks how we enjoyed the meal and T says to her "Oishii" (it's delicious). She sincerely looks very happy to hear that, sits on her knees on the tatami mat, takes a deep slow bow with head almost touching her knees, and says "Arigato gozaimasu" (thank you very much). She leaves the room, brings our shoes, and places them outside the room for whenever we are ready to leave.