Food & Drink

Chef Rachel Dow's fresh take on 'new American' fare at Tableaux

by Austin Freeman

Contributing Writer

Tableaux, a longtime presence in Daikanyama’s restaurant scene, is revitalizing itself with American chef Rachel Dow at the helm, bringing a modern touch to the originally European-inspired restaurant.

Although Dow is new to Tokyo, she’s hit the ground running by bringing what she calls “new American” cuisine to the restaurant. While so-called “American” food is far from difficult to find in Tokyo, with everything from fast food chains like Carl’s Jr. to sit-down restaurants like TGI Friday’s having carved a space for themselves, Dow aims to give people a more realistic taste of what makes American food, well, American.

The term “new American” is enigmatic enough to pique my curiosity, so I sit down with Dow in the restaurant to get a better understanding of who she is as a chef and where her inspiration for new American cuisine comes from.

City girl: Before moving to Tokyo, Rachel Dow honed her cooking abilities in Chicago.
City girl: Before moving to Tokyo, Rachel Dow honed her cooking abilities in Chicago. | COURTESY OF TABLEAUX

Prior to her move to Tokyo, Dow, a Kansas City native, accrued 11 years of cooking experience in Chicago, working her way up to the position of sous-chef at Michelin Guide-listed Avec and later as executive chef at The Betty in Chicago’s West Loop.

Dow says she’s always taken an interest in Japan and Japanese culture, even studying Japanese in college. On a trip to Osaka in 2017, she met chef Bunny Ranga Khus who recommended that Dow, with her tattooed look, try cooking in Tokyo. Only then did she set her sights on cooking in the metropolis.

When I ask how she defines new American cuisine, Dow says, “In the U.S., everyone comes from different backgrounds. We’re lucky we can take from whatever culture we want when cooking. It’s not necessarily a fusion or a combination, it’s refined without being fussy.”

Dow credits her time as a chef in Chicago for opening her eyes to the possibilities of food: “Chicago is very diverse; we have Irish, Latino, Polish, Thai, African, pretty much everybody. You can’t live there and not be exposed to tons of different food.”

The most amazing ketchup: Chef Rachel Dow
The most amazing ketchup: Chef Rachel Dow’s duck breast is topped with tangy dollops of umeboshi (pickled plum). | COURTESY OF TABLEAUX

Dow emphasizes that this diversity within food obviously applies to Japanese culture as well, and many of her dishes, such as the aged duck breast with cranberry, umeboshi (pickled plum) sauce, forbidden rice and sweet potato puree, incorporate traditional Japanese ingredients. The duck’s presentation is admirable — the slices of breast create a spiral-like tower, each piece dotted with the tangy umeboshi — and the bright purple puree adds an unexpected pop of color.

“Working with Japanese ingredients has been a lot of fun. When I was experimenting with umeboshi I thought wow, this is the most amazing ‘ketchup’ ever,” she says.

Local staple: Tableaux blends European decor with an American menu.
Local staple: Tableaux blends European decor with an American menu. | COURTESY OF TABLEAUX

Another of Dow’s surprising menu choices is a patty melt, which she makes with a mix of aged Japanese beef and U.S. skirt steak, topped with cheddar cheese and caramelized onions on house-made rye bread. While a patty melt may not seem to be the most luxurious item, Dow is excited to share her version to those unfamiliar with this American classic.

“I’ve talked to a lot of Japanese people here, and many of them weren’t familiar with a patty melt,” she says. “Coming from Chicago, I knew I had to have this on the menu.”

Whether you’re looking for something elegant and photogenic, or a fresh take on something simple, rest assured Dow’s multicultural new American cuisine will not disappoint.

For more information about chef Rachel Dow and Tableaux, visit tableaux.jp.