Stunning presentation steeped in Japanese aesthetics and seasonal themes, this is an ‘evolution’ of Japanese cuisine taking to the extreme the concept of only this place, only this moment. Harmonious, delicious and incredibly memorable, the L’évo experience takes you more deeply into Japan’s myriad of seasons, on a journey through the bountiful local ingredients bestowed upon us by Toyama.
Totally off the beaten tourist path, a visit to L’évo will draw you into a beautiful part of Japan not seen by many. Toyama Prefecture is part of the Hokuriku region with a deep history of plentiful produce and meticulous craftsmanship, historically connecting Hokkaido and the Japan Sea with the imperial capital of Kyoto. Even so, L’évo is about an hour from the nearest major shinkansen station by train or bus, found within a boutique hot spring hotel on the banks of the Jintsugawa River, called River Retreat Garaku . L’évo guests will be delighted to know that a bonus of this unique location is the chance to enjoy a relaxing soak in the hot spring baths before their journey home.
There is an other-world vibe to this chic restaurant. But from the very local, small-town location to everything within, L’évo showcases Toyama. Pass through the dark passage into an open room with cool stone walls and large glass windows. Gaze out at the spectacular scenery, which exhibits the shifting of nature and puts in full view the pure water for which Toyama has become known. From the tables to the wooden chopsticks and the bread and butter plates, every item of wood has been made by artisan friends of the chef in Toyama. A water glass wobbles on an uneven base, but somehow never loses balance. Everywhere you look there are touches that catch your eye and draw you in.
Only one at L'évo.
The chef pours his heart and soul into unearthing the incredible stores of ingredients Toyama has to offer to create innovative cuisine built on a foundation of Japanese sensibility and classical French techniques. Guided by the seasons, you are invited to see, smell, touch and taste the beauty and deliciousness of Toyama.
To begin, a sharing platter arrives holding an array of morsels in tin, lacquerware, ceramic and wooden tableware, with decorative garnishes that speak of the origins and the season. It is so incredibly beautiful, it is almost too good to eat: a soup of charred corn and Toyama shrimp; a black sesame monaka rice cracker filled with sardine rillette; ayu sweetfish caught upstream in the river that flows past the restaurant; goat cheese gougere choux pastry; and a brilliant purply-red beet macaron filled with marigold leaf–accented chick mousse.
A herb blancmange with mozzarella cheese and gazpacho gelée is topped with a kick from frozen manganji pepper powder. This may be followed by hamo daggertooth pike conger from Yokata with a sauce based on the Provençal dish barigoule of artichokes in white wine broth. It also contains truly original and surprising components, such as yoghurt sauce infused with the aroma of firewood, and onion topped with silkworm larvae droppings, an ingredient rich in nutrients from undigested mulberry leaves.
Charcoal-grilled deep-sea whelks are topped with oka-wakame baby green leaves with a slippery texture like seaweed, and flavorful broth extracted from the whelks. It is time for the signature dishes. First, virgin egg – the first egg laid by a chicken. Poached and floating in rich chicken stock, with a sweet white wine foam, a slightly spiced sauce, and a sprinkling of goat’s cheese, this egg is simply sublime. And after the egg comes the chicken. Raised on a farm for 45 days especially for L’évo in the mountains upstream on the Jintsugawa River, the chickens eat a specially-formulated feed containing sake lees from Masuizumi, Toyama’s most prominent sake brewery. The chicken legs are stuffed with breast meat and a wild grass purée and marinated overnight in unrefined sake before roasting to such crisp deliciousness that you will be delighted the chef has made this a signature that you can meet again someday.
The amazing course of ingredients, many prepared in unconventional ways or never before heard of, continues with a spiny devilfish (okoze) brought into Iwase port on Toyama Bay, grilled and combined with grilled eggplant, purslane, oka-hijiki (land seaweed), and Iwagaki oyster, topped with a burnt butter sauce. And wild baby boar, trapped not hunted, is aged for a month before the back ribs are grilled and served with greens, beans and onions topped with boar jus. Finally, a refreshing dessert of compote and cooling jelly of white peach, using delicate shavings of the flesh.
Local production for local consumption – this is the guiding principle for sourcing ingredients at L’évo. And one that is possible because of Toyama’s rich natural environment. With rivers, the sea, plains and mountains, Toyama has it all. The chef grows his own vegetables and collaborates with farmers for produce; he forages in the mountains for wild greens; and even fetches spring water from the Tateyama Alps. As much as possible, all the proteins also come from Toyama, including many Toyama Bay fish not caught anywhere else in Japan. Intimidated by nothing, the chef tries his hand at everything to fully understand the backstory of all the components the restaurant relies on.
L’évo’s tableware collection includes many pieces made by artists of wood, metal, lacquerware, and ceramics. The common thread is that all the artists are based locally in Toyama. Taniguchi visits various studios and kilns and talks with the artists to understand their process and philosophy. He requests pieces without a single demand beside size, because he feels that conveying his own image interferes with the artist’s free creativity. Sometimes the artist has a certain dish in mind; other times the chef takes inspiration from a piece to conceptualize his dish. The tableware is such an important piece in the whole experience that Taniguchi feels the fusion of the skills of the artists and chef creates unlimited possibilities.
Taniguchi has deep respect for the work of the artists he works with, even putting on gloves to remove one item from its protective box. He strokes the concentric circles of the strikingly chic, bulbous design, clearly in love with this piece. Like Saturn and its rings or a pond of water after a single drop of rain, this incredibly unique glassware was made by Yukako Kojima, who constructs her work from layers of glass which are then polished back for the desired effect. For this piece, starting with seven thick layers of aquamarine glass, Kojima first created the inner bowl and then used polishing agent in six different iterations, with finer abrasion each time, until she reached the perfect balance of color, transparency and shape. The result is breathtaking.