by Christine Cunanan-Miki
It’s a rather incongruous name for a modern Japanese restaurant run by Nadaman, one of Tokyo’s most traditional dining establishments—and particularly so since it’s decorated almost entirely in black, making it more somber than celebratory, as the name “Applause” would usually imply. This alone is a minor psychological barrier to initially phoning for a table or suggesting Applause for a dinner rendezvous; but those who overcome their reservations are in a for a delicious sensory treat.
Applause has an extremely wide menu of Japanese food, making it acceptable to almost everyone. It serves the full array of yakitori skewers (¥262 to ¥504), a decent variety of pub food-type appetizers, a handful of Japanese-Western dishes, and also proper ryokan (Japanese inn) meals arranged in the most beautiful pottery and lacquer ware. In fact, as we enjoyed dish after dish, my husband and I both agreed that this would be a good place for foreigners to sample fine Japanese food in a stylish way. It serves authentic local dishes with the expert artistry that Nadaman is known for, but there is almost nothing unrecognizable, or too exotic to make one squeamish, or too bland to be boring to the foreign palate.
Our seasonal multi-course menu (¥16,800) began with the dramatic arrival of a vermillion red lacquer tray adorned with a single green leaf and five appetizers in contrasting containers including sesame tofu in a tiny martini glass, mackerel sushi in a silver goblet, and roasted tuna belly in a black lacquer cup. The mix of colors, textures and tastes was pure delight.
Next came five kinds of sashimi on a bed of ice in a triangular lacquer box, and crab dumplings in a soup that reeked of high-quality dashi (bonito flake seasoning) served in a silver vessel atop individual green charcoal braziers. Meanwhile, our main course of charcoal-grilled Japanese beef sirloin steak came with a wasabi sauce and was wonderfully seasoned so it improved with each bite. And perhaps to acknowledge the foreign concept of steak, our meat arrived on blue-and-white Royal Copenhagen plates.
Just before rice and dessert, our waiter happened to mention that there were two Japanese-Western dishes on the a la carte menu that were especially popular with foreign heads of state and other VIP guests staying at the Akasaka Guest House. Of course my interest was piqued and I just had to order these as well. The sea urchin pudding with consommé jelly (¥2,310) came topped with caviar, in a wide cocktail glass on a silver plate ringed with lavender flowers. My first spoonful yielded only a slight sweetish flavor, but the succeeding ones brought out the kind of refined taste that grows on you. The tartare mille-feuille with fruit tomato (¥1,680), another favorite of presidents and royalty, resembled a cake of strawberries but was actually crab meat mixed with olive oil and topped with spicy tomatoes. While this may be more Western than Japanese, it was certainly tasty.
We ended our meal with another successful hybrid—crème brûlée with charcoal-roasted chestnuts, sweet red azuki beans and vanilla ice cream—that can only be described as the perfect Japanese-Western dessert. Who would have thought that azuki beans would complement and not clash with creme brulee? The Japanese ingredient certainly refreshed this classic French dessert.
It was only after our colorful dinner that we understood how the concept of Applause, with its theme of charcoal and its polished black tables, black filigreed curtains and textured black walls and furnishings, worked so ingenuously on us. Each dish jumped out precisely because of the lack of surrounding color, and heightened our appreciation. And this realization, along with the wonderful, creative meal we had just had, certainly made us want to clap our hands and shout “bravo.”
WHAT TO EAT
If you’d like to sample a proper Japanese ryokan dinner, order the seasonal menu (¥16,800). On the other hand, if you’d like a taste of the kind of dishes served at a state dinner, make sure to order the sea urchin pudding with consommé jelly (¥2,310) and the tartare mille-feuille with fruit tomato (¥1,680). And make sure to finish up with the crème brûlée with chestnuts and sweet beans (¥1,260).
WHAT TO DRINK
They have everything from reasonable wines at ¥945 per glass to super-premium wines costing over ¥5,000 per glass. We liked two very different whites: the Baron Philippe de Rothschild Vin de Pay D’OC (¥945) and the Corton Charlemagne 2003 (¥6,825).
HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
¥45,000 should cover a set course and several glasses of wine for two. However, those on budget will happily be able to find cheap options in the a la carte menu.
WHERE TO SIT
The window tables are considered the best the house.
WHO GOES THERE?
Nadaman regulars who want a more casual meal every now and then, Japanese corporate titans in their private time, and not enough foreigners save for hotel guests looking for Japanese food in a relaxed atmosphere.