Dinner in the Countryside Near Mt. Fuji at Yashima

This restaurant not far from Mt. Fuji is considered one of the finest of the traditional styled Japanese restaurants. Shoes are removed and there are no tables as guests sit on straw mats. However, they provided a table and chairs for me and a few French guests, which I certainly appreciated. The food included some dishes that were alien to my palate. Yet this cuisine was very interesting as well as beautifully prepared, proving that great food has a universal characteristic as long as your mind is open, even when there is no frame of reference for what you are eating. The Shanghai crab with black vinegar was an amazing dish, and the famed poisonous globefish, fugu, was good, but not as strikingly flavorful as I had hoped. I suspect part of the allure in eating this fish is the danger associated with its poison glands, which have to be properly removed by the chef for fear of paralyzing the diner. I didn't even get a lip buzz or numbness as some diners anticipate. One of the finest miso soups I have ever had was served with tofu, bamboo shoots, Japanese radishes, and fish. I also ate liver of abalone along with plenty of fish ovaries (which were not on the menu). At first, its distinctive flavor and texture gave me a shudder, but I settled in and began to develop a weird fondness for the unusual smell and texture. The extraordinary sukiyaki of Koshu beef was superb. The chef, who is renowned for making Japan's finest and purist rice, served an amazing transparent white rice. There was something ethereal about it that made me realize I had never had rice this fine.

As for the wines, it was an extraordinary performance for a number of them. The Champagnes were good, but we had three fabulous white Burgundies, led by the magnificently youthful, still powerful, perfumed, elegant 1989 Jadot Chevalier Montrachet Les Demoiselles. This spectacular white hit all the sweet spots on the palate. Almost as good was the Comtes Lafon 1989 Meursault Clos de la Barre, a beautiful wine offering loads of tropical fruit. It is young and vibrant with impeccable purity. Slightly more controversial as well as more interesting was the 1989 Meursault Narvaux from Leroy's Domaine d'Auvenay. Roasted hazelnut characteristics intermixed with loads of fruit, high glycerin, and powerful alcohol made for a large-scaled, impressive wine with plenty of life ahead. One of the greatest red Burgundies I have tasted is the still youthful 1990 Comtes Lafon Volnay Santenots. This fabulous effort is the kind of red Burgundy that makes one lose all sense of proportion and begin spending money like a spendthrift in search of those few red Burgundies that do seem to represent the Holy Grail of wine. This wine is still an adolescent, with a good 5-10 years of upside. I can't imagine how profound it will be when it finally attains full maturity. The color is a deep ruby to the rim with no signs of lightening. The extraordinary aromatics combine with an amazing texture and fleshiness, all presented in an authoritatively powerful yet elegant style. It is the stuff of legends. We then had a magnificent bottle of 1982 Léoville Poyferré that seems to go from strength to strength. Even though I thought it was an outstanding wine twenty years ago, it is now a great, great wine. Two maderized bottles of 1982 l'Evangile had obviously been heat damaged before they made it to Japan as all of these wines came out of a cold, perfect cellar. We rebounded with a very young, vibrant, inky/ruby/purple-colored 1982 Mouton Rothschild. Gorgeous crème de cassisnotes intermixed with hints of mint, licorice, and cedar emerge from this 1982, which remains a baby at age 22. We finished with one of the most monumental and extravagantly rich sweet wines of Bordeaux, the 1996 Doisy Daëne l'Extravagance, a limited cuvée that is virtually impossible to find as it is commercialized one bottle at a time. Kudos to proprietor and oenologist Denis Dubourdieu for making this marvelous wine.

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