Nattõ aside (see item below), Japan’s restaurant scene has suddenly eclipsed those of London, Paris, and New York—at least when it comes to those coveted Michelin stars. As Tom Downey notes in WSJ. Magazine, “In the latest [Michelin] guide, 247 of Tokyo’s restaurants have stars—almost four times the number in Paris, and more than the total number in London, New York City and Paris, pointing to the spectacular appeal of this city to foreign palates. (And it’s not just Tokyo: The Kansai region also has more starred restaurants than those foreign cities combined.)”
What’s going on here?
By keeping their spaces small, their staff skeletal and their selection limited, they have the chance to develop their cuisine without the financial pressure of a larger business. Even when these ventures succeed, as Quintessence most definitely has, their aim still isn’t to serve hundreds of guests a night. All of which indicates something different—and better—about dining in Japan: Whereas Gordon Ramsay and other superstar chef brands seek to expand and conquer the city, the country, the world, the goal here is to connect a chef with the people he’s feeding.
Even the bartending is supposed to be superior despite the fact that, according to Downey, “about 40 percent of East Asians lack the enzyme to process alcohol.” (I am not in that 40 percent, although I once drank 10 Dewar’s on the rocks at a friend’s wedding and felt a little off the next morning.)
“The Japanese,” writes Downey, “animated by the principles of perfection, specialization, craft and obsession that they have long brought to their own culture, have applied the same standards to Basque cuisine, Rhum Agricole cocktails, American-style outerwear, and almost everything else wondrous and obscure from the rest of the world.”
I think these are good areas to channel those sorts of cultural obsessions, as opposed to …