Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Tour de France...May 2010...Part 1, Aida Japanese Restaurant

We got to go on several amazing trips last year.  I’m pretty good at coming up with reasons of why we should go.  Our trip to France in May was because my cat of almost 15 years passed away, Hubby was so sweet to take me on a fabulous trip to Europe to help me get over it :o)  In September, we went to Maui for a long weekend to celebrate our 10th anniversary and then in December, we went to the Galapagos, Amazon Jungle & Quito in Ecuador to celebrate Hubby’s 50th b-day.  Not having kids allows us many getaways! We had some delicious food on all our trips! 
I try to plan out many of our meals before we leave for our destination.  Some of the restaurants in Paris are “hot ticket” places and are hard to get in.  I now just email the Concierge at the hotel we will be staying at and ask them to make the reservation for us.  What’s so easy about that is you don’t need to worry about the time difference or the language barrier.  Amex Platinum used to be a good source, but they don’t have access to all the restaurants, I used to go through them, but it’s much easier using the hotel concierge. 
I wish I had thought about that about 12 years ago when we went on our first trip to Paris together.  I was gung ho on going to Restaurant Taillevent.  Back then they were a 3 Star Michelin restaurant.  In my broken French, I wrote a letter requesting an evening reservation and faxed it to them.  I got a response back in English from the owner stating that they were completely booked for dinner, but they would be happy to accommodate us for lunch.  I replied back in broken French again that, no, I was not interested in lunch, wasn’t there anything they could do for us for dinner on any night of our stay.  Reply back in English…no!  My brother said that he could try to get us a reservation through his Amex Platinum card and voila, easy-peasy, we got in! 
I didn’t realize what a small place it was and at that time I didn’t know I was communicating with the owner, Monsier Vrinat, he has since passed on.  I thought it was like here where you communicate with a hostess or reservationist.  I’m a little embarrassed by the whole fact now, but I was just so excited that we were able to get a dinner reservation!  When we arrived, our table was set almost in the hallway…lol  It was partially in the dining room and partially in the public area, I think they just grabbed a table and fit it in since I was so pugnacious about getting the reservation!  The waiter was a little cool towards us at first, but then he gradually warmed up.  It may be because I was trying very hard to order in my broken French;o)  France gets such a bad rap for being rude to Americans, but I believe if you try to fit in and at least try to speak French they are a lot nicer to you!  We almost always get good service in France.  One of my own little games is to try to get a waiter to smile when I know they are known for their grumpiness, I almost always win!  The waiter especially became very friendly when I ordered the seared Foie Gras and ended up eating the whole thing…it was a huge lobe, I can’t believe I didn’t get a heart attack after eating it all!  He even offered to split our appetizers for us, so we could try each others.  When we told him how hard it was to get a reservation and were so grateful that we were able to get one, he handed us his business card and told us to call him next time! We’ve never gone back :o(
One of our funniest experiences of a rude American in Paris was at Brasserie Lipp.  It’s another one of those love it or hate it type restaurants and we love it!  It’s the type of place where the tables are right next to each other and you are almost dining with the neighbors sitting next to you.  They need to pull the table out to get you seated.  We had already sat down for dinner and down the banquette from us we could hear and see another young  American couple.  THEY were the ones that were so obnoxious!  First, in English, they ask for an English menu which they do not have, then second, they ask if there are sandwiches and the waiter tells them no, then the American guy says loudly  “We’re outta here!” and the the waiter pulls out the table and let’s them out.  The waiter comes to us to take our order.  I order Steak Tartare, he sneers at me and asks how I would like that cooked…lol  I look at him and say…ummm, raw….he then smiled and warmed up to us;o)
A question I get asked often is where do I think the best restaurant is, but I don’t see “restaurants” as best, I see particular dishes as best.  But Restaurant Aida in Paris is an exception!  Their food and service is phenomenal!  They are the first foreign restaurant to get a Michelin Star in Paris and they are a very small Japanese place.  I rarely write restaurant reviews, but I wrote one for Aida on Chowhound.  They are one of my favorite foodie sites.  You can get restaurant recs, read people’s restaurant reviews, home cooking advice and read just about anything that pertains to food! 
It's been a while since I've re-read my review.  When I read it now, I can actually taste the food in my mouth and it's making me salivate, that's how obsessed I am with food!
This is my Review of Restaurant Aida on Chowhound…May 2010
Wow, the dinner at Aida was amazing! I’m not sure why this restaurant gets no love on this site, well, I guess I do understand a little bit…you go to Paris to eat French cuisine, not Japanese :)
My husband and I went a couple of weeks ago during or trip to France. The chef is very sweet and talented. I had a very nice conversation with him throughout dinner. I do speak Japanese, so it was easier to communicate with him, but he is fluent in French. He’s lived in France for over 10 years. He was very kind and patient answering all my questions about the food. It’s a very small restaurant. There are only about 9 counter seats, about 6 table seating and a private tatami room which I didn’t see. When people think of Japanese food they always think sushi. He only served one course of sashimi and cooked most everything on the teppanyaki (hot griddle). And it’s nothing like the teppanyaki at Benihana! This is very refined cuisine. You have a choice of either a course with or without Homard (lobster). We picked the one with Homard and was not disappointed. If you don’t want the Homard, you will get some sort of fish course instead. Our seats were right in front of the chef at the counter and I would recommend that this is THE best place to sit if you are interested in watching your food being prepared. There are  a few dishes that come from the back. I imagine there is a sous chef in the back kitchen. In front is only the Chef and his one assistant and the rest of the wait staff.
On to the food…I only wrote down the courses after we got back to our hotel room, so my memory may be a little hazy…
Amuse…Homard with a pea puree. So delicate and delicious! Most all of his base is dashi stock (Japanese fish/seaweed stock) which was very delicate and flavorful. It’s actually hard to make a dashi that is this good!
The next course was very simple and light. I think a large part of Japanese cuisine is the presentation and portion control. On one plate there was…½ small Japanese turnip that was soaking in dashi, 1 small cauliflower floret also in the dashi stock and the most amazing part of this course was Couteau de Mer. I thought the Couteau de Mers was mushrooms when I saw him grilling it, I had to ask him what it was and he only knew the French and Japanese name…he could only tell me that they were a type of clam that meant knife in French. I finally looked it up on my iPhone and figured out it was a Razor Clam which we can’t get in LA. The only other place I’d had it was in London. We were both very happy that I was able to figure out the English translation…lol All the ingredients of this plate were prepared on the teppan. The aroma was lovely, you could smell the lightness of the vegetables mixed with the dashi. The turnip was served with a small dab of miso.
Next was slices of squid which also was prepared on the teppan, but I don’t remember much about it, but that it was good. I’m not much of a squid fan, but I did like this. The sashimi course was also squid which I didn’t care for that much because I guess I just don’t like squid, especially when it is raw…it’s too slimy for me. I know anybody else would love the dish. It was served with fresh grated wasabi. He also served a little “salad” to go with the sashimi. It was very thinly sliced cucumber, myoga (Japanese ginger bud) and Shiso (Japanese Basil/Perilla). You have to have great knife skills to be able to make this combo! I figure if I didn’t like THIS raw squid, I just don’t like it. It was such a huge portion too, but I ate all of it because I didn’t want to insult the chef…lol I guess it’s a Japanese thing :)
Next was plain cabbage in a sauce pan on top of the teppan in dashi stock. The component that made this course amazing was the small clams and it’s broth that he served it with.! Before you even tasted the broth with your mouth, you could taste it with your nose…so amazing! He added a very tiny piece of the cabbage to go with it. Yes, plain cabbage….not even napa cabbage…I had to ask him twice!
Next was Veal Sashimi/Carpaccio & Scallops in a Yuzu Gelee. Delectable!! I’ve never had raw veal, but this was delicious!! It went very well with the scallops and the slight taste of yuzu (Japanese citrus).
The highlight of the meal was the Homard. They are alive and he cuts them in half and serves ½ per customer. The assistant takes the empty shell and squeezes out all the innards from it and mixes it with sake and makes a sauce out of it. The chef puts the tail on top of the teppan with a little water and covers it for a few minutes. He then adds the tomalley sauce to the lobster and cuts it up in bite size pieces then serves it in the shell. The Homard is perfectly cooked and the flavor is very unusual, but very Japanese:)
The last course is Chateaubriand. It’s cooked in a very traditional teppan style. The beef is aged and the cows are from somewhere in France…I can’t remember where he said… He puts the whole steak on the grill and then cubes it before serving. He also slices garlic very thinly and puts it on the teppan until they get crispy like potato chips! The steak is served with a soy/ponzu sauce and a sesame sauce, the garlic, a bowl of rice and a bowl of miso soup. I love rice with my beef! Again, very Japanese :)
For dessert he made 2 different strawberry ice creams. One was creamy, he adds avocado to it to make it creamy! It also had some kind of green specks in it, but shoot, I can’t remember exactly what it was…this was our first dinner in France on our 10 day trip… The other was more like a sorbet. They both were so delicious! It reminded me of strawberry desserts from when I was a child in Japan!
I really enjoyed the restaurant and would highly recommend it. It was like being in Japan. I wish we had a restaurant of this caliber here in LA. I’d be going often! They also have a very nice wine list.
The cost for the course with the Homard was 160 euros and I think without would have been around 130 Euros.
Unfortunately, I was too busy talking to the chef and eating his food that I forgot to take any pictures:(


  1. Hi Kay!
    In June, we'll take a cruise barge down part of the Danube. Starting in Prague, ending in Budapest. On the way to and from Europe, a day or so each way in Seattle (staying next to Pike's Place) Any restaurant recommendations (local food, few tourists, somewhat kid friendly since there will be 4 kids ages 6-13) for any of these places? Mahalo! Rex

  2. Hi Rex, Sounds like you are going to have a wonderful trip in June! Unfortunately, all the places you've mentioned, I've never been to. Sorry I'm of no help on this trip :o(