Dave Jones’ Cafe Beat

Food & Drink - December 23rd, 1988

Hiramatsu—for lovers of good food & fine art

Restaurant Hiramatsu is a study in elegance, a paradigm of refinement in food, service and decor.

When you enter what you think is the lobby on the ground floor and sec the pictures on the wall, you do a doubletake. For they include works by Monet, Renoir, Picas­so and Chagall. You ask what they’re doing there and that is when you find out the first floor and basement comprise an art gallery operated by the brother of the restaurant own­er, Chef Hiroyuki  Hiramatsu.

Out of curiosity only, as I don’t have anything like the record-breaking budgets of the art-mad Japanese department stores. I asked the price of the most expensive. It was ¥3 bil­lion which comes to about $24 million or about 3,000,000 times what I could afford to pay. I decided to stick with wines and not go into art-collecting. They’re much cheaper.

Spending little time looking at the paintings gets one in the mood for the elegance of the restaurant. But before the restaurant you go to the intimate and comfortable lounge on the second floor for that drink to excite the gastric juices and expand the appetite. On the way up I spotted what looked like a Renoir on the wall.

I had a kir in the lounge but forgot to tell the waiter to make it dry. I found I didn’t have to. For he brought me a kir just the way I wanted it. with enough white wine to neutralize the sweetness of the cassis, which in turn masked the wine’s acidity.

After that, you go up another floor to the restaurant proper, elegantly furnished with white tablecloths, an occasional painting on the wall and tables far enough apart to instill a feeling of comfortable privacy. In a moment a waiter is handing you a menu — in my case, to my pleasant surprise, it was Headwaiter Jiro Nagasaka, whom I knew when he was at the Okura Hotel’s La Belle Epoque.

As I was studying it, a lady entered and stopped by the table closest to the door to chat with the couple there, Nagasaka told me she was the wife of the chef-owner, Mrs. Keiko Hiramatsu.

I saw she was greeting each table, which I thought was a nice touch. It is a practice one sees in most good restaurants. It reduces the awesomeness of reputation to a more intimate and enjoyable level.

I decided to begin with a Foie gras au chou sauce truffe or foie gras on cabbage leaves in a truffle sauce, ¥3,500. For my main course I chose Noix de St. Jacques grillee sauce ‘Pinot Noir,’ or grilled scallops in a sauce made with red wine, ¥5,000. Both dishes impressed me with the re­markable ingenuity of Chef Hiramatsu and both were first-timers for me.

The truffle sauce added the unusual flavor — woody, per­haps one can call it — of the fungus to that of the goose liver and, combined with the cabbage leaves, cut down its fattiness. As for the grilled scallops, the wine sauce added an extra dimension to the flavor, already improved by the addition of garlic and spices.

When I ordered the dishes, I knew I had a wine problem. Foie gras and scallops? I solved it with the easiest solu­tion I  knew: champagne. But since a bottle of champagne would have been too much for me, I settled for the house champagne, a Bruno Pailliard, at ¥1,800 a glass.

I regretted not being able to take full advantage of th wine list, which is most impressive, with representatives from the best vintages of Bor­deaux and Burgundy. My eye was taken by a Chateaux Margaux, 1937, and a Ro­manee Conti, 1959, but the prices were discouraging. The Bordeaux was ¥150,000 and the Burgundy ¥250,000. I sup­pose if you can afford to buy some of the paintings in the art gallery, you should be able to afford those wines.

An excellent addition to the wine list is a separate one listing half-bottles, ideal when two are dining. It was the first time I had seen the smaller bottles given a listing all their own. Usually, half-bottles are hard to find. I counted seven white wines, including a muscadet, a Chateau de Chasse loire, at ¥3,000: and 19 red, the cheapest a Chateau Talbot, 1981, at ¥6,000, a good price for a classified Bordeaux.

If you are more inclined to the table d’hote course, there is a very reasonable one at ¥4,000, which includes Bisque de Homard, or lobster bisque; Cuisse de Poullard de Bresse, Braise an Vin Rouge or chicken thigh braised in red wine; dessert and coffee. (Note: I use the spelling from the menu.) There are also a ¥6,000 and an ¥8,000 menu.

Chef Hiramatsu studied four years at restaurants in France, moving around quite a bit to get an eclectic culinary educa­tion and to hone up basic skills; then opened a restaurant in Nishi Azabu in 1982. He operated it until May this year, when he moved to the present location, about a two-minute walk from National Azabu Supermarket, across the street from Hiroo Towers. Re­servations are recommended. Address is 5-15-13, Minami Azabu. Telephone is 444-3967. Enjoy your meal.

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Hiramatsu restaurants