Highlighting the Best of Toyama’s Rich Mountains, Water and Sea

Located in a bay of the same name, Toyama Prefecture is a land of ocean and vast green fields with stunning, rugged, snowy mountains rising behind. The highest peaks in the Tateyama range are over 3,000 meters high, with the top peak, Mt. Oyama, one of the three most sacred mountains for Shinto, Japan’s native religion. The snowmelt from those peaks rushes down rocky rivers, but also feeds the fields of rice and vegetables on the plains below, then flows into Toyama Bay, a body of water famous for unique and highly prized seafood. In this remote part of Toyama lies Toga village, home to restaurant and inn L’évo.

Photo of chef Eiji Taniguchi

Chef Eiji Taniguchi, outside his restaurant and inn, L’évo.

Despite its beautiful scenery, Eiji Taniguchi, the owner-chef L’évo, wasn’t all that impressed with Toyama on his first visit. However, Taniguchi realized, when visiting the village to pick wild vegetables, that it is a charming place with untouched nature and beautiful Japanese landscapes. The sansai, or wild mountain vegetables, are widely gathered by the Japanese both as a traditional harbinger of spring, but also for their unique, delicious flavor. They also kicked off a change in Chef Taniguchi’s thinking.

“When I say I wasn’t interested in Toyama, I really mean I didn’t know anything about it,” he explains. “But about two or three years later, as I built a network with some of the local people, I started feeling closer to the area. I really enjoyed cooking, but I realized that I had never thought about how vegetables were grown. Toyama is close to both the mountains and the sea, and there are many traditional products, such as glass and pottery, that are produced here.”

So he decided to relocate to Toyama in 2010, and prepare dishes using the best of the local ingredients. He opened a restaurant that year, won his first Michelin star in 2016, then relocated to Toga Village in 2020 and opened L’évo as an auberge, which combines both dining as well as an option to stay in L’évo’s three guest cottages. He has since been named Chef of the Year in the Gault & Millau Tokyo & Hokuriku (in 2017 and 2022), and gained a second Michelin star in 2021 for Toyama and Ishikawa.

Photo of L'évo surrounded by dense forests and mountains in the village of Toga

L'évo is set amidst the deep forests and mountains of Toga village.

Photos of private cottages with clean and modern design in L'évo

L’évo includes three private cottages, with a clean, modern design that also reuses locally produced or used furniture and fittings.

L'évo has become not just a restaurant serving amazing cuisine, but one that also beautifully highlights the superior ingredients that Toyama Prefecture and the Toga area produce, including the wild game that is gaining in popularity and abundantly available in the forested mountain region. “We basically don’t use pork or beef in our restaurant,” he explains. “We use wild boar, bear, deer, pheasant, even tanuki (racoon dog), which I purchase from local hunters, then process myself. I want people to enjoy all the real flavors of Toga.”

Another important point for Chef Taniguchi and L’évo is the network he has built, including artists and craftspeople, as well as local producers of superior quality ingredients: fish, goat cheese, local wines, beer and sake.

Toyama Bay is known as one of the best sources of seafood in Japan, including some products found only here. “People might be surprised when they come here, because we are deep in the mountains, to find that we use not only local materials but also ocean fish,” Chef Taniguchi says. “The quality of Toyama seafood is outstanding. I work with Kurosaki Fishmonger in Toyama City, a fish wholesaler that provides us with buri (yellowtail), white shrimp—which is unique to Toyama, and really good—and hotaru ika (literally, “firefly squid,” another very local product).” The tiny squid are brightly bioluminescent, live in deep water for much of the year but rise to shallower depths during the spring mating season, and are a tourist attraction at this time as they light up the ocean. And, it should be added, they are a delicious Toyama delicacy. “As a chef, I want to cook a dish that brings out the best qualities of the fish,” Taniguchi says.

Photo of Kurosaki Fishmonger

Taniguchi purchases fresh fish from Kurosaki Fishmonger because, he says, they can provide the seafood that will match his needs.

Another local producer in the L’évo network is Y & Co., a producer of goat cheese in the Kurobe area, along a river of the same name. Goat cheese is not widely produced in Japan, so this is a unique opportunity for the chef. “I think it’s really delicious,” he says. “It’s the first time that I heard about cheese being produced in this area. When people eat it, they’re quite surprised that it’s locally produced goat cheese, but they also enjoy it.” The goat cheese, it should be noted, makes use of salt made from seawater extracted from deep down in Toyama Bay, and has won several domestic and international prizes.

Photos of one of Y & Co.'s goat's milk cheese series. Caprino Black

Caprino Black, one of Y & Co.’s series of goat milk cheeses. The addition of bamboo charcoal at the correct stage of aging produces a fine texture and a touch of acidity.

Great food deserves to be paired with excellent beverages, and Taniguchi has close local connections here, too, to provide a complete Toyama taste experience. Wines are provided by local Says Farm winery; but since this is Japan, a selection of good sake is also a must.

“My favorite is Kachikoma,” Taniguchi says, referring to a sake brewery in Takaoka City. “And Masuizumi, which is the main sake at our restaurant, goes together very well with our food. I also like and use Sansho Raku (from Nanto City, not far from L’évo). It’s made in the traditional way, so it’s a very beautiful sake, and very powerful—it has a good impact.”

Photo of junmai daiginjo style sake from Sansho Raku brewery.

A junmai daiginjo style sake from Sansho Raku brewery.

One of the secrets to top sake is, of course, water—sake is just water, rice, yeast and a mold called koji that turns the starch found in rice into sugars that the yeast can then use to produce alcohol. With its tall, snowy mountains, Toyama has an excellent supply of high-quality water—and water is a key factor not just for the sake but in fact for all of its dishes. “The distance from the top of the mountains, down the river to the sea, is quite short,” Taniguchi says. “The water has a good balance of minerals in it, and a lot of that flows out into the sea. We use a lot of water in our cooking, and I know that the water we use makes a huge difference in the way we cook, and the flavor of what we cook. So it’s very important to us.”

Photos of Mr.Taniguchi

Taniguchi says that the combination of fresh Toga village ingredients and preparation with the excellent Toga water is what makes his dishes special.

So, what might you find on the table at L’évo? In the right season, it could be dishes featuring the sansai that originally brought Taniguchi to this area, perhaps dried, perhaps garnishing other locally produced spring vegetables such as asparagus. There also might be locally harvested game meats, topped with local herbs, sea urchin roe or other ingredients. All of it is cooked in a simple fashion, using the high-quality water and in a way that does not waste food—all things, he says, inspired by his experiences here in the mountains of Toyama.

“My style is originally French, and I do like European culture,” Taniguchi explains. “I used to think that the more I learned about techniques, the better the cooking would be. When I came to Toyama, my way of thinking changed completely. The more I knew about the ingredients, the better it was. The cuisine that has been passed down in the area has to be the starting point for the chef.”

Photo of a dish of grilled venison combined with dried radish and nobile, a type of wild shallot

Venison grilled to perfection, matched with dried black radish and nobiru, a kind of wild shallot.

Photo of live hotaru ika squid are roasted and accented with nabana flower petals and leeks.

Live hotaru ika squid are roasted and accented with nabana flower petals and leeks.

“The biggest thing is that we want to convey the charm of the mountains and the region,” Chef Taniguchi explains. That is why the design of the buildings is unique, created by the members of the network; the plates, the silverware, even the tables and decorations are by local people, using local materials.

It's also a unique combination, one certain to be appreciated by visitors both Japanese and international: a beautiful, remote rural setting; striking architecture; distinctive decorations and place settings; and most of all, world-class cuisine from a highly regarded chef, using the very best ingredients of this region in unique, delicious combinations. The experience is well worth the trip way up into the Toyama mountains.

He may not have been impressed with the area at first, but Eiji Taniguchi and his L’évo are now ambassadors for all of the best to be found in Toyama Prefecture.

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