September 11, 2008
Celebrate tofu in all its glory in Yoyogi
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2008
Nobuyuki Hoshino knows boutiques. The 44-year-old entrepreneur made a name for himself in the ’90s as a hairstylist and makeup artist, splitting his time between his three beauty salons around Tokyo. Hoshino also designs women’s dresses for his Chocolate label, which enjoys a cult following among Daikanyama’s fashionistas. His most recent venture is a two-man tofu operation that he opened six months ago along Yamate Dori, near the picturesque Yoyogi Hachiman-gu shrine.
Otofu Bijin (“tofu beauty”) is open six days a week for lunch (¥980 for a 10-item course) and for dinner by reservation only. The kitchen sells its own tofu and natto, which have become hot commodities among the neighborhood’s housewives and older folks. “In the evenings it’s mostly the obachan crowd,” admits Hoshino with a chuckle.
We recently enjoyed a private dinner (sans the grandma brigades) for which Hoshino and a smiling assistant churned out eight courses (¥3,800), beginning with tofu-pumpkin soup and ending, two hours later, with no less than three delectable desserts: standard tofu with anko, matcha-flavored soy ice cream, and a single chestnut served in a glass of grape juice.
In between these stellar culinary bookends (“cookends”?), we enjoyed dishes ranging from plain, fresh tofu topped with white or black sesame paste to an elaborate platter of chewy age-dofu with asparagus, mushrooms and purple sprouts; a seasonal stir-fry of mushrooms, onions and green beans served campfire-style in aluminum foil; and homemade black soybean natto with ume dressing—perhaps the tastiest spoonful of the evening.
But what followed was Otofu Bijin’s dinnertime masterpiece. Hokusai had his “36 Views of Mt. Fuji.” This is Hoshino’s “Seven Views of Tofu Sushi.” The serving tray itself was a work of art, with an indentation for soy sauce and small piles of green onions, myoga, ginger and wasabi. Sitting elegantly on top were the mini-delicacies, all with tofu in rice’s stead. The standard lineup is baby shrimp, sea urchin, tobikko (flying fish roe), dried seaweed, spinach and sesame paste, and the kitchen can substitute vegetarian options if given a day’s notice.
Hoshino says he found Otofu Bijin’s street-level property while out walking one day. He also designed the interior, and did everything from varnish the five-meter wood table to paint the walls with big, swirling brushstrokes.
Halfway through our meal we noticed that the restaurant also has a back room, accessed through an Alice in Wonderland-sized doorframe. Hoshino explained that one time a group made a reservation and he couldn’t seat them all in the front, so he furnished the extra space—in two days, by himself, for just ¥60,000. He also designed the kitchen’s compact tofu-making machine.
That brought us to our final query: what’s next for this Renaissance man? Nobuyuki Hoshino says only that his eyes are on New York.