Gourmets and would-be gourmets should bow their heads in reverence when they pass the Sony Building in the Ginza. For down in its third basement is the restaurant which took Tokyo and, with it, the rest of Japan out of gastronomic provincialism and made it a world-class city for epicures.
That was in 1964. For the first time a real French restaurant was establishing itself here.
I remember the occasion well. On hand for the opening was the late Louis Vaudable himself, the venerable owner. Heading the kitchen staff was chef Pierre Troisgros, whose restaurant at Roanne in France is a mecca for gastronomes.
Troisgros headed a list of chefs who, over the years, were to help spread the reputation of Maxim’s de Paris in Tokyo throughout the world of fine dining. Interestingly enough, though the chefs have changed, the Maxim’s taste has remained the same, although the menus vary where the chefs express their individuality.
The latest in the line is Daniel Martin whose extensive career qualifies him for the position held by so many great chefs in the past. If there is any doubt, try his food. You’ll sec. Among other great restaurants, he has worked at London’s Connaught Hotel, one of the best in that city; Maxim’s in Paris; the Hotel Ritz in Paris, where some of the glamor of the august Auguste Escoffier still lingers; and finally here.
As I said earlier, though the Maxim’s taste doesn’t change, each chef adds his special touch to the menu. Those dishes ae marked by stars. The suggestion of Rene Cavallo, Maxim’s genial general manager, our group of four decided to try some of Martin’s special creations.
Two of us, including me, took a Foie Gras chaud aux Pommes et Calvados or Sauteed fresh Goose Liver with Apples and Calvados sauce, ¥5,500. The foie gras had just been flown in from France. Combined with stewed slices of apples and the calvados sauce, it was an excellent concoction, for calvados is the soul of the apple. The sweetness of the sauce took care of the richness of the goose liver, just as a Sauternes or Bommes wine would.
But the wine was a problem. The other two had chosen Cassolette d’Huitres a la mousse de Cresson or Oysters, Watercress mousse with another of Martin’s creations, white wine sauce gratin, ¥4,000. Their dish called for a Chablis; so we of the foie gras graciously gave in, though expecting the sweetness of the calvados sauce to bring out the acidity of the wine. To our surprise, it did not. It must have been the slight tartness of the apples added to the sauce that made the happy wedding.
For the second course two of us took Delice de Sole au Champagne Rose or Fillet of Sole with Rose Champagne sauce, ¥4,500; the other two chose Tronçon de Saumon aux Concombres au beurre d’Aneth or Roast large cut of Salmon with Cucumber, Anise butter sauce, ¥4,000. The champagne sauce brought out the flavor of our sole, giving a tasty moistness to a dish that could have been dry. Our companions were delighted with their salmon.
For our main dish two of us selected Magret de Canard aux Pamplemousse et au Gingembre or Sauteed Breast of French Duckling with Grapefruit, Ginger, Bigarade sauce, ¥6,200. Bigarade sauce is what accompanies Duck a l’Orange. Our companions took Rosette d’Agneau en Venaison or Sauteed fillet of Lamb with Venison sauce, ¥6,500. Venison sauce is better known as Grand Veneur sauce, usually sweetened with berries.
I am partial to duck of any kind, but that particular dish made me even more prejudiced toward the fowl. I particularly liked the very subtle flavors that were blended yet still slightly detectable in the sauce. They helped the dish match up with the St. Emilion, the Canon-la—Gaffeliere, 1981, whose Merlot grape dominated its flavor and provided a residual sweetness which would have overwhelmed the lamb had not the Venison sauce protected it.
Of course, the old standbys are there on the menu of Maxim’s de Paris: Bisque de Howard or Fresh Lobster Bisque, ¥2,000; Sole braisee Albert or Sole cooked in French Vermouth, ¥4,400; and my old favorite, Carre d’Agneau roti Persille aux Trois purees or Roast Rack of Lamb with three kinds of puree, ¥6,600.
So Maxim’s de Paris in Tokyo offers something new and something old in its menu today, as always. Whatever it is, you may be sure that what you order will rouse the gourmet in you and send him back afterwards completely satisfied.