Hedonist Dinner One, Château Robuchon, Tokyo, Japan

One of the highlights of my trip to Japan was the opening of Joël Robuchon's luxury restaurant in Tokyo called Château Robuchon. Ten years ago Joël Robuchon was considered by many to be the greatest French chef in the world (and I couldn't have agreed more). When he announced his retirement prior to age fifty, it was a shock to everyone familiar with his cooking. But, he is a perfectionist genius, and the responsibility of trying to create a perfect meal for every diner in his restaurant twice a day, five days a week simply became too stressful. Ten years later he has come out of retirement with a bistro styled restaurant in both Tokyo and Paris, each called L'Atelier, as well as the re-opening of his classic Parisian restaurant now based in Tokyo. Apparently he has also been convinced to open a restaurant in Las Vegas, but I have no details on that.

In any event, the idea was to create a meal billed as "the dinner of the millennium." Robuchon said he would only cook for a maximum of twenty-two people, and he wanted seventeen courses with seventeen or more wines. The cost was one million yen. Because of the huge demand, Robuchon and my Japanese publisher asked if I would participate in a second dinner, since they wanted to accommodate as many people as possible. Consequently, we ended up scheduling two of these dinners, with different wines but the same menu.

In short, this was the single greatest meal I have ever had, and anyone who has read some of my culinary reports on this Hedonist Gazette knows, I am probably as privileged as any person in the world in terms of the number of great restaurants in which I have had the good fortune to dine. At the same time, it is gratifying to see the number of great chefs who show their respect for what I do by giving me 110% of their efforts in the kitchen. It's one of the most gratifying perks in my job, and since I'm an avowed hedonist, I couldn't feel luckier. I have known Joël Robuchon for a number of years, and he has been extremely kind to me and gracious in his praise in the French press of my work, which is a wonderful compliment coming from a man who is, along with Freddy Girardet, who retired a number of years ago, and Daniel Boulud, the greatest French chefs I have known.

The courses were nearly all home runs. Of the seventeen courses, there was only one that I didn't understand. We started off at such a high level that I said to the beautiful young Japanese girl on my right, "this is as good as heaven can be. I wonder if I have died, and this is it?" We started with his famed creation, the Gelée of Cavier in a Cream of Cauliflower. On paper, that sounds terrible, but when you have this combination in a martini glass or short demitasse coffee cup (as he often serves it), it's to die for. One of the most extraordinary culinary creations I have ever tasted, it worked magnificently well with a limited cuvée of forty magnums of 1988 Le Mesnil Blancs de Blanc selected by myself and Joël Robuchon. We then moved to another brilliant course, an incredibly elegant dish of tomatoes layered with crab and tiny vegetables, drunk with the 100% old vine Marsanne cuvée from Chapoutier, the 1999 l'Ermite. This was another magical combination to die for. The same can be said for the sea urchins served in a cappuccino style with an emulsion of sea urchin juices with chunks of meat at the bottom of the emulsion. It was accompanied by the 1989 Haut Brion Blanc, which is dominated by Semillon with a good percentage of Sauvignon. We next had a concentrated shrimp dish with a beautiful, fully mature, still intact 1969 Montrachet from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Its light gold color is accompanied by an extraordinary nose of crème brûlée, caramel, honeysuckle, poached pears, and butter. Full-bodied with vibrant acidity, it worked magnificently well.

We next had a flight of four of the greatest Bordeaux from the 1990 vintage, three of which were perfection on this magical, never-to-be-forgotten evening. The 1990 Montrose was served with a beautiful stuffed cabbage dish. It was a spectacular performance, with a dense purple color, earthy, leathery richness, extraordinary wealth of fruit, an amazing texture, and a remarkably full-bodied, opulent personality. Like all these 1990s, it is just beginning to move into adolescence. Certainly the 1990, along with the 1982, are the finest young Bordeaux vintages over the last 20+ years. I am hoping that some of the 1996 Médocs, 1998 Right Banks, and Graves, and 2000s will approach the level of these extraordinary wines. The next course was one of the greatest I have had in many years, an ethereal tart lathered with onions and bacon that was completely covered with sliced black truffles. It was divine with a bottle of 1990 Petrus. This young wine is rich and unctuous as well as extraordinarily elegant and precise.

At this point, the meal could have ended and it would have been one of the greatest meals I have ever had. However, there were more than a dozen courses coming up in addition to some amazing wines. The next course was a lobster dish drunk with a 1990 Cheval Blanc. It always amazes me how a chef can take a shellfish that one would think requires a white wine, and serve it in a sauce that works wonders. The Cheval Blanc 1990 is the greatest Cheval Blanc of the last twenty-five years, even eclipsing the 1982. It remains to be seen if the 2000 will ever be this remarkable. I would not hesitate to decant it for several hours in advance and drink it. While it may last another two decades, it is absolutely majestic at present. We then moved to an extraordinary dish of foie gras with truffles in a smoky broth served with a young, primary, not-ready-for-prime-time 1990 Château Latour. This impressive wine is undeniably outstanding, but it is somewhat monolithic, and never seems to quite sing at a first-growth level. However, my instincts suggest it only needs time. Another prodigious dish was the cappuccino of confit of canard and white rice, the bomba, accompanied by an extraordinary, decadent, earthy 1989 La Mission Haut Brion. This was another extraordinary marriage of wine and food that splendidly demonstrates the genius of Joël Robuchon. I could have eaten five or six servings of this dish (I could say the same thing about every dish that emerged from the kitchen).

With the next course, we hit the first glitch, not in terms of the cuisine as the wonderful caramelized little bird with Robuchon's famous buttery mashed potatoes was extraordinary. The1989 Clinet was an off bottle, revealing a touch of TCA as well as rustic, coarse flavors. It was not a great example of this wine, which can be perfect. A brilliant performance was offered by the1989 Le Tertre Rotebœuf, an extravagantly decadent, rich, hedonistic wine that was delicious with the chunks or marrow in a ragout of white truffles, served in the actual bone. This was another great dish. A beautiful lamb creation worked marvelously well with the complex, cedary, crème de cassis, full-bodied, concentrated 1989 Lynch Bages, one of the finest wines from that vintage. Flirting with perfection, but still a young wine (actually younger than any of the 1989s or 1990s), was the 1982 Mouton Rothschild. Deep ruby/purple to the rim, it offered up classic crème de cassis, earth, cedar, and spice box notes. It was served with a beautiful dish of lentils from France's Puy region, which accentuated the wine's texture. A slice of Japan's famed Waygu beef with an emulsion of shallots was stunning, especially when served with a complex, opulent1982 Certan de May, a wine that has been stubbornly backward and youthful since it was bottled.

We were all brought back to reality by a bizarre bottle of 1982 Le Pin. This was served with a rabbit dish, which was the only dish I did not care for ... and I love rabbit. As the Japanese girl to my right said, "this is Japanese rabbit," and perhaps it just has a different flavor and texture. One of my requirements for this meal was that all of the wines, including the ancient vintages, be authenticated by their respective château. There are a lot of fraudulent bottles floating around in the marketplace, and the 1982 Le Pin is one that is often suspect. This was a real bottle, but it had obviously been mistreated somewhere during its life. When first decanted, it seemed maderized. The maderization element improved considerably in several hours, but the wine never really came through, and was disappointing if only in the context that this can be an extraordinarily rich, flamboyant effort. We finished with a classic, the 1982 Léoville Las Cases, which was one of the greatest bottles I have yet had of this cuvée. It was accompanied by an amazing risotto with white truffles from northern Italy. All of these wines were decanted 2-3 hours in advance, and that aeration seemed to help this amazingly youthful, backward 1982.

I decided that the really ancient wines should be served alone, without any food, and decanted immediately prior to serving. We had a magnum of 1900 Château Margaux authenticated by the château as well as two regular bottles of 1900 Château Margaux that had been bottled by the négociant Barton and Guestier. The magnum was extraordinary, a great example of a 104-year old wine that remains elegant, with abundant fruit and complexity. It was a honor and privilege to drink. The two B & G bottlings both revealed several flaws that did not dissipate even after an hour in the decanter. Both possessed residual sugar and re-fermentation characteristics. While one can work around that, they were flawed, particularly when served next to the pristine magnum. We ended with perfection, an extraordinary 1929 Château d'Yquem. While the color was a medium amber, the wine was incredibly rich, revealing notes of crème brûlée, orange marmalade, caramel, and honeysuckle. This magnificent bottle concluded the greatest meal along with the greatest wines I have ever had in my life.

A million thanks to my Japanese publisher, Ernie Singer of Millesimes, for always accepting the challenge of accomplishing what appears to others as ... impossible.

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