Page 2 of 3
I would have thrown my fork at him, but I was using it to spear a few plump escargot dripping with jade-green parsley butter. My friend Bob wished our appetizer of unclad snails and sliced mushrooms had been served with cocktail forks and noted that the dish was one of the least garlicky versions he'd ever tasted. "But look at the crowd," he whispered. "We're the youngest people in the room."
Except for our beautiful young waitress, Charlotte, who hurried out with a steaming crock of French onion soup. Its top bubbled with cheese, and the robust brew was thick with long-simmered onions. And as an appetite stimulant, no salad works quite as well as the icy collection of greens tossed in Arai's punchy house dressing, a tart vinaigrette of soy, egg, oil and rice vinegar.
When I first dined at Tatsu's twenty years ago, I fell madly in love with his signature supreme de poulet teriyaki, a juicy hunk of sautéed chicken glazed with a slightly crispy, caramelized crust. Over the years, Arai gave in to the anti-fat contingent and replaced the succulent dark meat, cooked in its skin, with three pallid medallions of skinless breast barely splattered with sweet sauce. I found it to be a cruel sacrifice for good health. Bob indulged himself with a perfectly grilled slab of beef tenderloin drenched in a shallot-and-red-wine reduction -- it's one of the best steak deals in town, better (and less expensive) than the same cut at one legendary local steakhouse.
A few nights later we returned with jazz singer Queen Bey in tow. She had never eaten at Tatsu's, but the idea of a French restaurant owned by a Japanese-born chef appealed to her, particularly when she heard that Arai had once worked at Maxim's (OK, it was the Chicago Maxim's) and knew his way around an oxtail.
"Honey, I can't tell you the last time I had a good, meaty oxtail," Queen said, giving the crowd the once-over. "I'm glad I dressed up. Everyone here looks good."
That night, a beautiful young couple sat among the wrinkle set; it was as if a spotlight were shining on their table. Queen buttered a piece of baguette and informed our server that she'd have the potage de crab au sherry. "And not too heavy on the sherry, dear."
It was a luscious soup, silken in color and texture, with a mound of fresh crabmeat floating in the center. Bob and I shared an order of golden sautéed oysters, then delighted in our salads until dinner arrived. Queen's oxtail was the pièce de résistance of the night, a glossy shank of beef, braised and baked until the meat all but tumbled off the bone. "Honey, I'm having an orgasm, it's so good," she said.
The biddy at the next table cringed, so I was more discreet in raving about my sliced, roasted duck breast, tender and pink and dripping with a creamy peppercorn sauce. Bob chose another longtime Tatsu's favorite, supreme de poulet sauté aux herbes, plump chicken-breast medallions doused in a lemony butter sauce.
He considered the dish, served with steamed broccoli, carrots and potatoes, light enough that he could indulge in the restaurant's most extravagant and expensive dessert, the Grand Marnier Soufflé. Our server brought the gorgeously light puff of sugar and stiffly beaten eggs to the table directly from the oven while it still stood proud, then expertly divided the frothy cloud and poured a ribbon of orange-flavored liqueur over each portion. Because Arai started his restaurant career as a pastry chef, I gave in to temptation and also ordered his chocolate mousse torte, a tidy little square of ganache and satiny mousse dusted in cocoa and served with wedges of pink grapefruit, orange slices and circles of fresh kiwi. In a word, divine.