What is it about fall this year that seems to warrant a dribble of Hollandaise sauce on every egg? OK, that’s, uh, an eggsaggeration, but I feel like Eggs Benedict or Eggs Benedict-”style” dishes have been maybe following me around, or at least popping up in more places than I can fit in this blog post. That said, I’m still going to fit a bunch, so if you’re in the mood for an emulsion, read on.
Most unfortunate: Lawson’s “Egg Benedict,” ¥320
Let’s just get this out of the way. While I appreciate the asparagus accent and the black pepper (less so the olive, but it was barely there), this 307-calorie package is not only strange, but also kind of yucky — confusing as it is convenient. Rather than nestling the egg on top of a half of an English muffin, Lawson gives you the whole muffin, which is itself sandwiching . . . cheese? Really? The sauce is (well, should be) made of butter so I don’t understand how cheese would improve things.
More vexing than the limp bacon, and the drizzle of creamy yellow, was another saucy aspect. It might have been something mayo-based, or maybe it was just the poached egg losing control of more than its yolk, but the fact that I couldn’t figure it out grossed me out to no end. If, for some reason, you do feel compelled to eat this, make sure it gets a thorough zapping in the microwave because you do not want to deal with this thing lukewarm.
Least eggy: Denny’s “Pancakes and Salmon Patties, Eggs Benedict-Style,” ¥940 (drink included)
A word of caution: you may or may not be able to get this for breakfast. It seems to be a positioned as more of a lunch dish despite the pancakes and egg. That egg! Thrown in as if a complete afterthought, and a thoroughly unnecessary one at that. This 476-calorie (is that all?!) meal wormed its tasty way into my heart by teaching me that Hollandaise goes better with salmon. Also, Denny’s managed to buck the trend of the fast-food versions I had had up to this point and be more of a sauce than a whip, with more lemon flavor, too. The scattering of white onions (or perhaps their preparation) was the perfect amount to accent the fish and citrus without overpowering them. While the sweetness of the pancakes might bother some people, I was pretty happy with it. As a novelty dish, this stood out.
Most . . . Hawaiian?!: Freshness Burger’s Salmon Egg Burger, ¥480
Back after a successful run last year, this burger may be trying to set the Hollandaise sauce x Autumn trend. Or maybe when it starts to get cold, Japan longs for the warm temperatures associated with this “Hawaiian Taste.” (If Hollandaise sauce is somehow Hawaiian, please let me know. Otherwise, perhaps we can say there is no accounting for advertising?) The 463-calorie burger showed up looking very “fresh” indeed, thanks to the mini-jungle of green, green lettuce. I was hoping for a repeat of the Denny’s lemon-salmon goodness, but the sauce in this case came across pretty sweet. Before I could get a good handle on it, though, the white onions blew any nuance of flavor away (and gave me sensational breath for the rest of the night).
Most Japanese: Eggcellent’s A.M. Eggcellent Benedict, ¥1,500
Opened just recently, Eggcellent is a cafe in Roppongi Hills, many of whose dishes feature a secret ingredient you’ll never be able to guess. What? How’d you know?! Not content with Original Eggs Benedict (scroll down) they’ve come up with a handful of newfangled concoctions like Bouillabaisse (that’s fish stew) Benedict and Texmex Benedict (daintier than you’re imagining).Where it starts to get really funky, though, is where they become the Mos Burger of Benedicts by doing away with the English muffin and busting out the rice. And in this case, the raw tuna. And avocado. And because plain old Hollandaise sauce would no longer do, a mugi-miso version. Wafū, wahoo!
Yes, it’s a bit wacky. I did polish them off, though. There is no unpleasant flavor, but there is the question of whether the flavors meld or not, and to me, they did not. The mugi-miso sauce, although tasty, feels unaccustomed to the egg, the egg feels weird around the tuna (especially once you pop it and the yolk oozes all over) and the tuna. . . Well, cutting it with a butter knife seems less than effective, so it’s basically a giant pink tongue sticking out at you till you eat it whole. If you want to ingest this selection of ingredients in one meal, enjoy a stacked-up visual presentation and can reign in expectations of cohesion, by all means give this a shot. It’s fun that it exists, but there are other, better and more lasting reasons to eat at this cafe.
Most Eggs Benedict: Sarabeth’s Classic Eggs Benedict, ¥1,400
Sarabeth’s is a New York bakery and restaurant that opened its first Japanese outpost in Shinjuku last year. Recently, another has sprouted up in Daikanyama, and since Eggs Benedict is an American breakfast, it seemed appropriate to sample their version. Note that it’s ham in there, not bacon. They also have a smoked salmon version, which in retrospect might have been more interesting. This version was delicious, just in an unmemorable way. I’m not sure if that means it transcended the classicism in its name and arrived in a realm where it is indistinguishable from some daydreamy archtype (“Oh yeah, Eggs Benedict, not bad.”) or if it was just average. The sauce did not stand out to me as either “Quite lemony!” or “Rather sweet!” It just was. Sarabeth’s gets best marks for presentation and I credit a lot of that to the stoutness of the muffin.
Shout-out to Bacon (Most . . . American?): Eggcellent’s Original Eggs Benedict, ¥1,200
I promise the reason I’m mentioning two from Eggcellent is not because The Japan Times is currently tied up with them and offering morning English seminars (consider this your disclaimer); as a breakfast-lover at any time of day, I’ve been staking out this place out since before they even opened. No, the reason they receive this special attention is because they have great bacon! It’s not fried crispy, but neither is it a wet noodle of pork fat — just solid and meaty. Maybe the exuberance of the lemon in the Hollandaise sauce is a frustrating if you’re more of a bacon person than a Hollandaise person, but nevertheless, bacon. It comes in some of their other meals uninhibited by the sauce, too.
Most DIY: “Grand Hyatt Tokyo Totteoki no Chōshoku Reshipi”
Intrepid Japanese-speaking home chefs may want to look into the new cookbook from (¥1,600 from Parco Publishing) that unveils the Grand Hyatt Tokyo’s Eggs Benedict recipe, along with other breakfast specialties. In the end, it might be that nothing beats a cozy brunch at home.
Here is approximate (and subjective, not to mention subject to my powers of memory — or lack thereof) ranking of the Hollandaise sauces in a range from sweet to lemony (*Mugi-miso and Grand Hyatt Tokyo are not listed):
- Royal Host [Bonus! I ate this before starting the project proper so I don't have a picture, but the Hollandaise sauce is sweet and has texture reminiscent of shaving cream.]
- Freshness Burger [It might be tied with Lawson, but is possibly sweeter, so I put it here.]
- Sarabeth’s [even-keel]
- Eggcellent [the bacony original]
All photos by Emily Balistrieri except book cover.