Authentic eggs Benedict ooze into Tokyo
In 1894, legend has it, stockbroker and debonair ladies’ man Lemuel Benedict shuffled through the lobby of the Waldorf Hotel on Fifth Avenue and into the restaurant where he had coffee every day before heading to Wall Street. Nursing a hangover on this particular morning, Benedict skipped his usual order and asked for two poached eggs served over ham and toast, smothered in rich Hollandaise sauce. Maître d’ Oscar Tschirky took note of the concoction, substituted Canadian bacon and English muffins and put it on the menu.
Although this origin story has oft been refuted, what is undeniable is that by the time Mr. Benedict died in 1943 the eponymous dish was a New York institution. And after decades of scarcity, it has become popular in Tokyo in recent years as Japanese warm to the concept of brunch. Perhaps too popular: it even appears in bastardized form on convenience store shelves. So we were excited to learn that Lower East Side hotspot Clinton St. Baking Company had opened a location in Minami-Aoyama, bringing true brunch to Tokyo.
We went one morning before work (to beat the lines) and having come to the restaurant for one specific dish, we knew exactly what we wanted to order. The eggs benedict (¥1,600) was presented as neatly as is possible for a dish known for being runny. The Hollandaise was rich and not too lemony, the eggs were firmly poached and we were pleased to discover actual smoked Canadian bacon rather than the perfectly round slices of processed ham that most places try to get away with. But the best part of the dish was buried at the bottom. The English muffins were dense and somewhat sour, closer to buttermilk biscuits than to the light, air-bubble-laced variety available at supermarkets. This makes them perfect for soaking up egg yolk and sauce, which of course is their function in the carefully constructed dish.
The dish is also served Montreal style, with smoked salmon filling in for the bacon (¥1,900). Wanting to explore the menu, we also ordered huevos rancheros (¥1,900), a whole-wheat tortilla topped with beans in a spicy salsa and two sunny-side-up eggs. Separate scoops of jalapeno-infused sour cream, guacamole and pepper jack cheese allow the diner to decide how much of the spicy toppings to use.
Although we were tempted by the “spiked” section of the drink menu—which includes mimosa (¥1,200) and the Clinton St. Bloody Mary (¥1,100)—we ordered a cappuccino (¥600) and a con leche, which is coffee with warm milk (¥550), both of which are made with the same roast used in the New York location.
As with any place in Tokyo that’s new and serves eggs, hundreds of people want to try Clinton Street. Now that the hype from last August’s opening has died down a bit, it’s become a relaxing breakfast spot. Given its location in one of Tokyo’s fashion and business districts, we like to think Lemuel Benedict would approve.