The birth of molecular gastronomy - the science of physically and chemically analyzing culinary arts - led to the proliferation of avante garde yet elite restaurants around the world, such as Catalan's renowned 'elBulli'. Here in Japan too this new culinary approach has taken root; but even within this wild-spirited group, 'élan vital', with its mixing of molecular-gastronomy and 3-D projection mapping into a spectacular performance of playful projected-on dishes, stands out.
'élan vital''s head-chef, Naoto Fukasaku, is a veteran of mixed origin; originally trained at a Japanese restaurant in Ginza, he then after 7 years switched crafts, opting to learn French techniques; "The common saying is that 'Wa-shoku' is a minimalistic diet of subtraction, and French is its opposite in layered addition; I was particularly attracted to the diverse nature of French cuisine" says chef Fukasaku. After climbing to head-chef at a Nishi-Azabu French location, his prior job description, he decided to go it alone, and opened 'élan vital' in 2016.
The restaurant's title, 'élan vital', means 'creation and evolution'; with a concept of '5-D', a total sensory experience encapsulating all 5 senses, the projection-mapped surprise is merely further 'spice' enhancing the guests' enjoyment. "In Japanese cuisine, each season will entail different colors and textures in dishes; however, as western cuisines mainly use white tableware, I decided to consider this my canvas. My thinking was; wouldn't it be interesting to have different images, from art pieces to fireworks to natural scenery, that fit the theme of the dish being served, to be projected on it?" adds Fukasaku. His 'élan vital', true to his words, is brimming with immersive events, like adding the finishing touches to a dish yourself.
Take, for example, the restaurant's specialite 'fois gras monaka'; the dish it self is a japanese paper-wrapped monaka (thin-cracker like exterior), but it is filled with not just the customary red bean paste but a concoction of fois gras terrine, balsamic vinegar, and whipped cream. To complete the dish, guests first wipe their hands with a Japanese-Cypress infused napkin; this way, the two delicate aromas combine at the mouth, and give the guests the engaging, mouthwatering experience of adding the last touch to the dish themselves.
The course meal offerings at 'élan vital' are structured to tell a continuous story, and designed to be paired with a drink alcoholic or otherwise. The seasonality of pairings offered, for example a drink infused with volatilized distilled peach extract, shows the minute attention paid by the staff at 'élan vital' to each and every moment of their guests' time present.
The interior of the restaurant is themed on a 'cinema'; designed simply and without the customary decorative plants and ornamentation, it allows guests to concentrate on the food and projections. With a mere 10 table seats available, including a semi-private room for 3-4, the nouvelle-French restaurant is a lucrative destination for couples, families, and foreign visitors alike. Do visit, for an ineffable sensorial experience full of surprise and wonder; it surely will be a once-in-a-lifetime time for you and yours.
* The availability of an English version of this page does not guarantee that the restaurant can provide services in English unless otherwise stated. Please be aware that, even if stated, there may still be days when English speaking staff are unavailable.
■5-minute walk from Kitasando Station (Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line)
■5-minute walk from Yoyogi Station (JR Yamanote Line)
■5-minute walk from Yoyogi Station (JR Sobu Line)