Saturday 28 December 2013

Day Trip to Sapporo - La Vie Photography and Moliere

M & D were going to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary over the New Year, so to commemorate the occasion, M wanted to get us all dolled up for a set of family portraits. Follow Me Japan got in contact with a photography studio in Sapporo for us, and helped us set up an appointment. On the itinerary, we only had an evening to spend in Sapporo, which wouldn't give us enough time, so we decided to use one of our free days at Rusutsu Resort to take a day trip to Hokkaido's largest city. FMJ reserved seats for us on the Donan Bus to Sapporo, and in the early morning our tour leaders Pauline and Yuki walked us to the bus stop just by the main entrance of the North Wing, staying till we'd safely hopped on the correct bus and waving us off. 

The ride took a little over 2 hours, during which we napped quite comfortably. When we reached Sapporo Station, Risa-san was there to greet us, and brought us straight to La-Vie Photography's studio on the 2nd floor of Renga-kan, located within the sprawling Sapporo Factory complex. It was straight to hair and make-up for me, and I got to sit back and enjoy getting fussed over. I marvelled at the ease with which my make-up artist slicked on my eyeliner. (On my own it usually takes three tries and a great deal of things going awry.) A simple crown of pearls was then worked into my hair before I was helped into my dress.

Risa-san helped to pick out my dress, a pretty mint-green confection that was much simpler than all the glitzy dresses La-Vie had on hand and a lot more to my taste. It was wonderfully swishy thanks to the crinoline lining and the long train, and I had an absolute blast swanning around in it. 

La-Vie specializes in wedding photography, and they have 9 studios located throughout Japan, not to mention the ones in China, Hawaii and LA. It was way too cold for us to even contemplate an outdoor shoot, so we chose to do an indoor shoot instead. M was decked out in a lovely ivory dress with a faux stole, while D & BB were trussed up in tuxes and looked quite dapper indeed. 

Our photographer for the day was Saito-san, who had the task of getting D & BB to smile for the camera without looking abjectly miserable.

"What is your favourite sushi?" he asked.
"Ootoro!" I really couldn't help but say.
"Good. Everyone, think of sushi and give me your Ootoro smiles please."

And it worked, for the burst of laughter that it got out of all of us. 

A whole series of photos were taken amid different backdrops, but even with the comfortable environment Saito-san created, after a while D & BB started to flag ("I'm smiling so much I can't feel my face anymore" - D) and we had to nix the idea of individual portraits ("Aargh, it's too much" - BB). Still, we managed to get a lot of good pictures together, and M was well pleased by the time we were done, which was the whole point really. 

Saito-san showed us what he was doing with the colour touch-ups once we'd changed back into our own clothes, and after we ooh-ed and aah-ed over our pictures a little, we left him to the rest of his work while we caught a cab to lunch, the highlight of my day. 

We were back at Moliere, exactly a year and a day after we'd first visited. Restaurants with three Michelin Stars are considered to serve exceptional cuisine worth a special journey, and we certainly fulfilled that with our pilgrimage all the way from Rusutsu. 

When we went inside, we found that there had been a mix up in the reservations, and ours hadn't gone through. Normally, this would have been where we were shown regretfully to the door, but it just so happened that two other tables from that afternoon had made last-minute cancellations. It was fate. Ken-san, the sommelier who'd so helpfully talked us through our meal last year did some careful shuffling around, and we were very quickly shown to our seats, where we exulted in our good fortune. We ordered the lunch menu as we'd done last year, and a round of drinks - I had a very tasty champagne to start, and I'm now quite miffed I forgot to take down its name. 

We started our meal with cups of Burdock soup. "It's piping hot" we were warned, so all of us took very careful sips so we didn't burn our tongues. Burdock is considered to have medicinal properties including blood cleansing, and has been a staple ingredient in Japanese cuisine, used in salads or thrown into soups. Here, the soup was smooth and creamy, settling in my stomach with a lovely warmth. In between small mouthfuls of soup, I ate slices and slices of their wonderfully soft bread, generously slathering on the butter until we had to ask for another pat. 

Next up was an Octopus Carpaccio, dusted with fragrant bits of yuzu. It was so lovely to look at, the clean cream-white and rosy purple of the octopus in stark contrast with the deep green herb dressing. The octopus was astoundingly tender, and seasoned with bits of salt that I chased around with my tongue. Octopus is freshest in December and January, and incorporating it into the winter menu was a delightful nod to the season. The herb garnishing was especially fresh, and somehow highlighted the taste of the sea as I chewed on the succulent bits of tentacle. 

The Warmed Winter Vegetable Salad came with at least 28 different kinds of herbs and vegetables, as well as the welcome surprise of a fatty sliver of duck ham nestled at the bottom of the colourful pile. The roasted cherry tomato at the side had its crisp skin twisted upwards, like it was dancing in the wind. We were encouraged to mix everything up and let the flavours work together. Since BB wasn't going to touch his vegetables, I had two salads to work with, and deconstructed the first to make a list of what was in it, and to taste the freshness of each of the ingredients on their own.

Pansy, Carrot, Alfafa, Quinoa, Sesame, Okra, Leek, Snow Pea, Cauliflower, Cherry Tomato, Some excellent yellow (root?) vegetable, Balsamic Mushrooms, French Bean, Courgette, Baby Corn, Shallots, Celery, Sugar Snap, Turnip, Parsley, Aubergine, Another Root Vegetable, Another Kind of Radish, Lotus Root, Shiso, Broccoli, Ginko, Beetroot

The other salad I mixed, as encouraged, until it began to resemble a Jackson Pollock. If I thought eating the salad bit by bit was excellent, this completely blew my mind. Each forkful was an utterly unique burst of flavours, the most memorable of which was when I had the turnip with some of the balsamic mushroom and a bit of duck, the mixed dressings glazing everything. 

After the salad came a perfectly cooked bit of Cod, crusted with Red Japanese Pepper and served with Salty Bacon and Brussel Sprouts. The whole thing reminded me of Totto-Chan, and the lunchbox rules at Tomoe Gakuen, which required everyone to have "something from the ocean and something from the hills". The first thing I did was taste the crumbly brown bits nestled in the sprouts that looked like soil. They were gloriously salty and familiar and good, but somehow I just couldn't name what I was eating. I later found out they were dried olives. The firm, sweet fish went so well with the bacon and onion sauce, and when sprinkled with the salty olive crumbles, there was an extra oomph. 

Our palate cleanser before the main course was the same refreshing lemon tea sorbet that we had last year, with an eye-watering bit of William Pear Brandy hiding at the bottom of the glass. 

Our main course came in a pot, from which the beef was ladled out along rich a rich, thick broth onto the bed of leek and mustard-covered daikon that had been set in front of us. 

The soft beef cheek gave way easily under my fork, going well with the tender leeks and soup. But a better combination was with slivers of daikon and spicy mustard, bringing out the savoury flavours of the beef. There was also a bit of oxtail with a more powerful and earthy taste to it, which I gnawed on for a bit. 

The beef came with a side of Moliere's signature Potato Dauphinoise, lightly caramelized and everything I'd dreamed of for the past year. If it didn't meet with screams from M & D every time I did it, I'd have licked the plate. 

Dessert No. 1 was Moliere's take on the Vacherin. Usually a meringue filled with Creme Chantilly and fruit, this was crumbled meringue with bubbly Pineapple, Coconut, Freeze Dried Strawberries and a dollop of fresh vanilla ice cream below. It was decorated with a sheet of gold flakes and a little meringue snowman, which I brutally beheaded, to M's mounting horror (Mostly because I was eating so much sugar). It was a somewhat more sophisticated meringue than we'd had the last time - the strawberries added an interesting burst of flavour that fit very well. 

Dessert No. 2 was a tiny pot of Chestnut Creme Brulee, with an astoundingly even, thin layer of charred sugar on the top. The custard was lush and surprisingly not as sweet as I imagined it would be, and even though I tried to eat it slowly, it was gone in three spoonfuls. 

Grand Marnier Marshmallows signalled the end of another thoroughly-enjoyed lunch at Moliere. The visit was made even more memorable when D checked the bill as we were halfway to the subway station, and found that Ken-san had given us a massive discount on drinks. We pretty much skipped the rest of the way to the station after that. (Ken-san, if you ever see this, we're massively appreciative, and will visit again as soon as we can.)

Risa-san went out of her way to meet us at Sapporo Station as we exited the subway, and walked us to the Donan Bus Station for our 4.20 pm journey back to Rusutsu. The pick-up point was a ways away from where we'd alighted, and without her around we would probably have missed the bus in our confusion. (Thank you Risa!) The two hours back passed in no time at all, and we were glad for our little family adventure. 

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