Tofu-ya Ukai, housed on what used to be a sake brewery, sits on a huge parcel of beautifully landscaped land right in the center of Tokyo below the specter of the Tokyo Tower. Rather than one dining room, the restaurant has 50 private tatami rooms, all done zashiki style – meaning spare and beautiful, with exposed beams, tatami floors and genuine beauty all around. Though diners must sit on the floor, removing their shoes first, there is a foot-well so no one has to fold their legs unnecessarily. All of the servers and hosts are clad in kimono and skilled in the art of fine service. The food is done kaiseki style, consisting of multiple courses mostly comprised of fish and tofu.
Today was an exceptional day to go to Tofu-ya Ukai because Tokyo had the largest snowstorm of the past 40 years just this past weekend and the juxtaposition of the lingering
snow with the persistent blossoms painted an extraordinary picture of Mother Nature’s joy – or sense of humor, depending on your view of the situation.
We had a menu of eight courses – only in Japan can eight courses be small enough to just be a taste of everything yet big enough for diners to feel full and not overstuffed. Each course seemed to linger and depend on the one coming up in that the quality and complexity of the courses created a crescendo of taste
and texture. The fried tofu had a satisfying crunch, while still being smooth. The sashimi and other prepared fish exploded in a bloom of freshness. Everything was presented with grace and beauty, from the pouring of the sake, to the dishing out of the soy milk with two perfect pieces of tofu floating in it. The mixture of seasonal: tastes, sweet and savory, salty and fruity, all combined to make an exquisite dining experience.
The pictures barely do it justice – the food or the surroundings.
After lunch, Marlene, Tomoko and I took a short walk through the Japanese gardens where we
saw the small out-building where chefs were hard at work frying tofu, as well as plants, rocks and lanterns that traditionally make up a Japanese garden.
It was a beautiful day.