by Christine Cunanan-Miki

Upon learning that City Club of Tokyo had hired a new executive chef for its Japanese dining room Subaru, and was again opening its doors to the public from September 1 to October 31, I recently visited the club to check out what was cooking for dinner.

The Subaru has changed little since I first started coming here years ago. It’s simple, small and quiet, with lacquered black tables, fine bamboo blinds and shoji-type screens for privacy when needed. You get the feeling that you’re in some newly-constructed ryokan rather than in a restaurant—which is probably appropriate, as this is a private club.

To sample the talents of Osamu Kuribara, the new chef, we ordered the eight-course Seseragi dinner, which is not as hefty as it sounds. Everything comes in an assortment of small portions that will delight—rather than intimidate—your stomach.

To start, we were given a set of appetizers arranged on a wooden palette, too pretty to eat and probably very tedious to make. Salmon meat was pureed and then placed on a tiny gourd shell to resemble a mini­ature watermelon, seeds and all. Beside it was the most delicate beef tongue sandwich imaginable—the chef had placed slivers of tongue in between paper-thin slices of pressed white loaf bread. There was also a tasty grilled scallop, half a shrimp wrapped in cheese, and a clear cup of kudzu jelly with eggplant and sea urchin.

Next came a delicious clear soup filled with various delicacies, including a hefty slice of pike conger with a dab of plum sauce, a slab of grilled tofu, and two large pieces of matsutake mushroom. The amount of actual food in this clear soup was a welcome surprise, considering the usual “less is more” philosophy of Japanese chefs.

An ice wonderland of assorted sashimi followed, looking like someone’s souvenirs from a trip to the North Pole. Choice slices of grouper, flatfish and Pa­cific saury were enclosed in a tabletop ice igloo for each of us—so our two igloos on the table probably made quite a sight. These were wonders to see and eat out of; so when the chef briefly came out of the kitchen, I could not help asking him how—and how long—it took him to construct these little ice worlds. With the help of balloons, he apparently created these in about three hours. Meanwhile, of the three fishes that day, I most enjoyed the oily Pacific saury (known as sanma in Japanese), accompanied by soy sauce and ginger.

Then we had a grilled fish plate with an excellent piece of fatty tuna belly that was seared with teriyaki sauce so that it almost resembled a tender cut of meat, and an equally tasty bonito topped with ginger. For the finale, we were served a dish of shrimps, powdered fish, and quail eggs simmered in the hollowed gourd of a mel­on, followed by snow crab tempura in a fine bamboo bas­ket. To end, a beautiful triangle-shaped grilled rice cake arrived, with flecks of salmon inside and green tea poured over it—the Japanese version of comfort food.

It was a relaxing and delicious meal that might best be described as the less elaborate version of a fancy ryokan dinner. It’s kaiseki-style but it’s so casual and comfortable that you’ll soon be looking for your yu-kata and futon. Moreover, City Club has always been known for its fish, and its sushi restaurant has a long list of serious devotees. If you enjoy seafood, this is the time to take advantage of the very brief period that the club is open to non-members.

The City Club of Tokyo
Place Canada B1F
7-3-38 Akasaka, Minato-ku,
Tel. 03-3401-1121
Fax. 03-3404-8550