When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother what will I be. She didn’t mention anything about reviewing restaurants in Tokyo, which just goes to show how life’s set menu can turn up some interesting ingredients. Recently, on a quiet Ginza back street near Shimbashi station, an unexpected array of flavors was presented to me at Que Sera Sera.
The restaurant is a stylish jigsaw puzzle of materials sourced from all over Japan, which blend together under warm, atmospheric lighting to produce traditional décor with a modern sheen. One wall is tiled with Japanese roof slats from Kishu, another is white marble threaded with black. The ceiling is ribbed with bamboo canes, and the counter, at which we sat, is one solid piece of gingko wood.
Prices are not cheap, but in Japan paying a bit more tends to assure you are treated like royalty and fed as if your innards were made of priceless gossamer. It was with this spirit that we chose the premium seven-course osusume set menu (¥12,000 per person without drinks)—though other options go down to ¥7,500, which exchanges the meat course for baked fish.
In immaculate kimono and adorable apron, the okami-san Yuriko fulfils the traditional role of maître-d, hostess and sometime server, bestowing the space with a relaxing, homely quality. For those having trouble with the Japanese menu, don’t be fooled by Yuriko’s reticence in English—her culinary vocabulary is second to none.
Our initial appetizer was a gorgeous swirl of homemade yuba (tofu skin), with seaweed and sweet shredded crab. Five seasonal tidbits followed, whose perfect arrangement would have made the Rain Man blub into his poker chips. The star of these was a slice of seared wagyu sushi (a hint of the broader beef experience to come) accompanied by those peculiar Japanese roots that seem to have been foraged from underneath a magic toadstool: a cube of implacable taro, a not-particularly-giant giant butterbur, mini-potato-like koimo, and a chunk of moist scallop. As I was working out how to eat them while still preserving the aesthetics of the dish (that could easily be included in an avant-garde sculpture exhibition), the sumashi soup arrived. Miso soup’s clear and more stock-like cousin, this particular sumashi contained some Japanese greens, an artistic carrot and a divine dumpling of minced quail. As was intended, the soup and assorted knick-knacks combined to create a harmonious balance.
At the counter I was able to watch chef Norikazu—advised at Que Sera Sera by a former executive chef of Conrad Hotel Shiodome—slicing open limes that were not limes. Nor were they oranges. This was to be the defining ingredient of the night: the daidai. The flavor of this Asian citrus (no, it’s not yuzu) lies between lime and orange, and the taste still tingles on my tongue.
Our first experience of this Eden-like fruit was in the homemade ponzu sauce into which we dipped the delicacy-of-the-day—anago sashimi. This was the first time I’d eaten freshwater eel raw, and my nervousness was eliminated by its tender white meatiness, laced with a succulent line of fat.
Then came the masterpiece: 120 grams of seared wagyu beef, buttery in consistency with the perfect rare center. A daidai wedge was provided which I squeezed liberally over the meat, to eat piece by juicy piece. À la carte, the dish costs ¥6,000, and I have to say it’s worth every yen.
Pickles arrived to clear the palate, and the traditional finisher of liquidy rice-and-egg, zosui, which was taken a giant step up with several shelled oysters. The dessert of homemade “golden sesame blancmange” left a sated, elated feeling, and the warm goodbye from the okami-san painted some sunny Doris Day optimism on the cold night outside.