Two years ago, on our last trip to Asia, I brought along a jar of vanilla hand cream. Long after we’d returned, whenever I used that particular hand cream my mind would drift back to the time we spent in Hong Kong and Tokyo. I could close my eyes and instantly be transported back. I’ve heard it said that more than any other of the senses, the sense of smell is the most effective at awakening memories and so, for this trip, I picked out two colognes – one for Hong Kong and one for Tokyo – two different scents that would hopefully forever stir memories of two different cities. Unfortunately, it turns out that the scent I chose for Tokyo is much sweeter than I remember. Sickeningly so. But I suppose, all things considered, it was a good choice.
Still not feeling one hundred percent, but I decided to forge ahead regardless. We woke up late and lounged around the hotel room for a while before getting ready. It’s amazing how traveling to a different country will force you to relearn some of the routines one takes for granted in one’s daily life. Simple things like: ironing, taking a shower, and using a toilet. Don’t believe me? I snapped a pick of the armrest of the toilet in our hotel room. Adorned with buttons and flashing lights, and given to sudden and inexplicable beeps and whooshes, I became as enamored of this little guy as I did of R2D2 the first time I saw Star Wars. It would probably take me the better part of an afternoon to figure out its various functions – but that was a project for another day. Today, we were off to Ginza.
First stop: Fondy’s favorite casual restaurant – Gonpachi, better known as the place where George W.Bush vomited and passed out in the middle of a state dinner with the Japanese PM. George’s review notwithstanding, this place has never disappointed. Fondy ordered her favorite house dish: the spinach salad with “baby sardines”. We ordered various grilled items (excellent chicken, lamb, pork, green peppers) although one stood out above the rest: the sirloin-wrapped foie gras. We ended the meal with a nice coconut-pumpkin pudding (?) topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through Ginza, focusing our efforts on the basements levels of the Matsuya and Mitsukoshi department stores which are a sugar addict’s nirvana. I can’t begin to describe the vast selection of high-end chocolates, pastries, puddings, and sweets of all shapes, sizes, and colors these places have to offer. We picked up a few items and headed back to the hotel.
And so we had dessert before dinner, but I suppose that’s to be expected given that we’re in Tokyo, the greatest dessert city in the world (sorry Paris). Fondy had a hunk of strawberry shortcake, another “best I’ve ever had” candidate. I enjoyed a few bites of the chestnut pastry I picked up – a decadent mix of chestnut paste, chestnut cream, and whipped cream. And, since dinner was only an hour away, I limited myself to one café au lait-cream-filled mochi (a Japanese rice cake).
We had intended to go to Nobu, one of our favorite restaurants on our last trip here. Unfortunately, when we tried to make reservations through the concierge, we were informed that Nobu had closed down in October. The concierge recommended another restaurant called Tableaux which he assured us was excellent. And so, we hailed a cab outside our hotel and headed out to dinner.
It took us a little longer than I suppose it should have because the driver had no idea where he was going – this despite the fact that the hotel had provided him with a map. More than once he pulled over to consult the it, muttering to himself in Japanese and casting bewildered glances out the back window. I offered a hopeful “Hoka no chizu ga arimasu”, pointing out that there was a second map he could consult. Big mistake. I have the verbal skills of a very polite 3 year old Japanese boy and the comprehension skills of the same polite 3 year old, provided he is deaf. But given my obviously masterful delivery of Japanese, our driver assumed I was fluent and immediately launched into an agitated, thoroughly-baffling monologue. In the end, I thought it best to pay him, get out of the cab, and try my luck on foot.
One of the annoying things about Tokyo (and I assume Japan in general) is the cavalier disregard for addresses and street signs. I had no idea whether we were headed in the right direction, or whether we were even the right neighborhood for that matter. Fortunately for us, our cab driver was in the right ballpark and even though we weren’t able to locate the address, we were able to spot the name of the restaurant.
Tableaux is a nice little restaurant with décor reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century Parisian bordello. The food is Italian-French-Japanese fusion, what could in less-accomplished hands be a total disaster. But Tableaux makes it work. We had a phenomenal spaghettini with uni, garlic, basil tomato sauce. Fondy had duck breast with a dark cherry and red wine reduction, while I went with the beef cheek – two great entrees. In fact, the meal was so good that we made reservations to return Friday night for our final dinner in Tokyo.
Surprisingly, my “play with pain” strategy isn’t seeing the success I thought it would as I’m still fighting off the effects of that nasty snake-soup bug. Hopefully, tomorrow’s visit to the Jiyuagaoka Sweets Forest should start me on the road to a full recovery.