UPDATE: Although Akasaka Tantei is still in business at the same location, they no longer offer the fantastic lunch deals they once did. Lunch now begins around ¥4000, while dinner runs at least ¥10,000 per person.
Although I have spent three of my five years in Japan on the island of Okinawa, I must admit that it’s unique cuisine didn’t really win me over. The staple vegetable – goya or bitter melon – truly does have quite the bite to it and I never did get over my dislike of eating piping hot Okinawa soba on 100F degree summer days.
But when I stumbled across the website of a restaurant in Tokyo that serves kaiseki cuisine (those exquisite meals of 8-10 courses that focus on seasonal foods) with Okinawan ingredients, I admit my curiosity was piqued. When I dropped by on a holiday weekend earlier this year and was apologetically turned away for lack of a table, I quickly remedied my mistake for my next trip and booked a lunch time seating.
Akasaka Tantei’s kaiseki dinners start at around the $100 price range (per person) but their mini kaiseki lunches are ridiculously affordable. My friend and dining companion was kind enough to offer to split two lunches straight down the middle, so we ordered a small kaiseki lunch for ¥4500 and a “tea set” for ¥1800.
Personally, I found the tea set more visually stimulating. It came as a selection of bite-size morsels arranged on a large banana leaf. Cauliflower with red pepper flakes, sweet potato simmered in dashi stock, and wakame seaweed salad were just a few of the tastes on offer. The meal came with a soup, a salad, pickles and some fantastic starfruit and would have been enough of a meal on its own for me.
But I had stubbornly chosen the pricier set for one reason – the rafutei. Sure the peanut tofu and the mozuku seaweed were reminders of things I missed from my former island home. But the rafutei, which is pork belly (Okinawa is known for its native pigs) that’s been simmered until it melts on your tongue was particularly divine. And indeed, Akasaka Tantei’s rafutei did not disappoint …
… though the small portion left the perfect amount of room for the restaurant’s unique dessert, a light cheesecake made with tai-imo, a type of yam that’s grown on the island. I could have eaten three helpings of that cheesecake alone, but I do seem to have a bit of a sweet tooth. 🙂
Akasaka Tantei’s lunches are filling enough that I don’t feel the need to fork over three times the money for dinner. Better still, their reservation system is online through the English language booking service of Open Table. So now, with a little advance planning but minimal fuss, you too can enjoy an Okinawan kaiseki lunch on your next adventure to Tokyo.