There’s a lot to be said for leaving your fate in someone else’s hands. More often than not, it means you’ll suffer less research, preparation, and planning with the added bonus of having somebody else to blame if something goes wrong. Conversely, those who choose a more proactive approach have the satisfaction of knowing that they are masters of their own destiny. But if it all goes to rat shit, they have no one to blame but themselves and, really, when you’re suffering the after-effects of a bad decision do you really need the added guilt?
The Hong Kong portion of our trip was the one I least researched, planned, and prepared for. I decided that we’d play it by ear, selecting our restaurants by what happened to look good in passing, and leaving the tour recommendations to the concierge. Even our hotel, The Hotel Shangri-la, was a crap shoot in that I based my spur of the moment choice on a single online review. As it turned out, our stay in Hong Kong was spectacular. The hotel was very well located above the enormous Pacific Place mall which offered some terrific restaurants and a nice variety of shops. Tony and Claude, our concierges (conciergii?) did a great job of recommending tours and, once we’d made the call, making the proper arrangements. The only outing to disappoint was the Lantau Island tour (Oh, Tony. What the hell were you thinking?), but, in retrospect, it wasn’t all that bad. Overall, our one week in Hong Kong was a fantastic mix of local culture and conspicuous consumption. The Toky leg of the trip, on the other hand, was the one I’d researched extensively, weighing a number of choices before settling on the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, printing up a rundown of each area of Tokyo with its respective highlights and potential dining targets in addition to some possible all-day tours to Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone. Unfortunately, we didn’t fair as well. To begin with, the Park Hyatt is not exactly well-located though, in all fairness, it really depends where your interests lie. If, for instance, you’re interested in buying a BMW or in switching your stay to the Washington Hotel then, by all means, the Hyatt is the place for you. Otherwise, consider the Imperial Hotel or the Hotel Seiyo. Coming down with that bug also put a bit of a crimp in my plans, throwing us off schedule, forcing me to dismiss all full-day excursions for fear I might breach a cultural taboo by vomiting in somebody’s onsen, and keeping me within easy reach of my hotel bathroom (at least for those first few days). Sadly, Japan was a bit of a disappointment this time out. Still, the eating has been pretty good…
We went back to Tsukiji this morning where we feasted on toro and I sampled the mentaiko “cod roe” maki which proved a little too “intense” in flavor for my taste. During the walk back to Ginza, I snapped some pics of the locals. One of the things that struck me was the number of people we passed wearing surgical masks. It was a little disquieting at first (Did they know something I didn’t?!) but my initial fears were allayed when I learned that they wear these masks as a courtesy because they don’t want others to catch their cold. I also passed a monk sitting in an internet café (no doubt posting his scathing review of Irresponsible on Gateworld) and later caught the same monk begging for alms on busy Ginza dori. Later, I snapped a shot of a fortune teller prepping for business, a hot girl on her cellphone for Alex, various city shots, and even got a picture of Japanese superman.
Tonight’s dinner was Fondy’s call and she chose to go back to Tableaux for our final dinner in Tokyo. After playing musical cabs (hopping in and out of three different cabs when the drivers admitted they had no idea where the restaurant was located) we were finally on our way in lucky cab number 4. I understand Tokyo is a confusing city to get around but, seriously, when even the cab drivers won’t take your fare for fear of getting lost you figure something should be done to alleviate the problems. Something like, say, STREET NAMES and ADDRESSES! When we arrived at the restaurant, we were welcomed back by the staff and seated at a nice corner table. Eddie, the restaurant’s manager and full-time greeter slunk over and introduced himself. Even though he wasn’t English, I got a real Malcolm McDowell vibe from him (More Gangster No. 1 Malcolm than Tank Girl or Entourage Malcolm) as he told us a little about himself (a former actor in LA who moved to Tokyo 23 years ago to open a restaurant and now owns shares in 71 different eateries worldwide). He recommended the pork chops. Alas, like Fondy, I had my heart set on the uni spaghettini. What to do? What to do? Well, there was no reason I couldn’t have both. I started the meal with a good (but not particularly remarkable) seared foie gras while Fondy enjoyed her Caesar salad. Our first main course was the uni spaghettini and it was as delicately sweet, rich, and thoroughly enjoyable as the first time we’d had it. Our second main course was the pork chop, a nice, tender piece of grilled chop served with a mushroom and white truffle puree and crisp kale and carrot. A side of mashed potatoes with garlic chips (another dish to make Fondy’s “best I’ve ever had” list) accompanied the mains We finished our meal with dessert: apple tart with vanilla ice cream for Fondy (score yet another best ever!), and a good chocolate soufflé with a liquid chocolate center and a scoop of pistachio ice cream for me.
We were back in our hotel room with plenty of time to start packing for our return flight to Vancouver tomorrow night.
Well, this brings the travel portion of this blog to a close for now but chances are I may continue my daily installments once I’m back in Vancouver. There are still plenty of meals to showcase, stomach conditions to detail, and portly men in ill-fitting body suits and capes to photograph.