Here’s something interesting I discovered over the course of my first four days here: Tokyoites are notoriously shy and unlikely to engage in spontaneous conversation but, given the opportunity to open up, they can be incredibly friendly and loquacious. Westerners either visiting or living in Tokyo, on the other hand, are, with very few exceptions, fucktards operating under the delusion that being in Japan makes them a class unto themselves, not quite Japanese but certainly no longer natives of their country of origin who, in order to maintain their cherished imaginary status, must shun all eye contact with fellow Westerners at the risk of shattering the illusion. “Oh, yeah,”my fellow diner Yuka informed me the other night, nodding in commiseration. She knows all about it. Many Westerners in Japan, it seems, are essentially the equivalent to the schoolyard loser, fraught with self-doubt yet so fueled by a desperate desire to fit in that they actively discourage any connection that reminds them of their otherness. I’ll let it drop for now but this is a topic I’ll no doubt revisit before the end of my stay here.
My 3-star Michelin tour took me to L’Osier last night, the chic French eatery located in Ginza’s Shiseido building. This one was a feast for the eyes, from its lavish décor to its equally opulent food presentations. Taking advantage of the white truffle seasonal menu, I enjoyed magnificent ravioli stuffed with ricotta, parsley, white truffle, and topped with white truffle shavings and parmesan foam, then a wonderful milk-fed Chiba roast piglet served with creamy truffle polenta. From there, we moved onto a myriad of desserts: first a complimentary selection made up of a half-dozen macarons, sorbet, gelees, and brulee, then the “official dessert”, a “chocolate hamburger“, and finally more complimentary from the rolling dessert cart stocked full of homemade goodies like chocolates, nougats, and lollipops. Service throughout was impeccable.
The bars were letting out as I was making my way back to the hotel, releasing hordes of drunken office workers to catch the last subway home. Hostesses in evening wear dotted the sidewalks outside the various drinking establishments, bidding them a fond farewell. I walked behind two middle-aged salary men who could barely walk a straight line. One kept staggering off and back while his heavy-set body continually wiped his face and forehead with the sweat rag he had conveniently had the foresight to bring with him.
Between the non-stop walking and eating, I tend to be wiped by 10:00 p.m. And, by the time I hit my bed at 11:00 p.m., I’m out. It’s been weird having the entire bed to myself, not having to contort my body around four sleeping dogs. Still, I am sleeping deeper and longer, averaging an unheard of 8-9 hours a night!
Today, I walked the streets of Shibuya-ku, strolling up Omotesando and checking out the neighborhood’s winding side streets and alleyways chock full of bizarre little clothing boutiques and ramen shops. I had first lunch at a burger place called Lotteria, opting for a simple cheeseburger whose quality far surpassed those of its North American counterpart. Then, I enjoyed a double dessert (a delicious meringue ball and rich gianduja) at Peltier. I ordered a tea that came with a little hour glass to let me know when it had steeped enough for me to start pouring, and a shot of some mystery light green liquid. I didn’t know whether to knock it back, pour it into my tea, or use it to polish my silverware once I’d finished eating so, in the end, I just let it sit.
I then headed out, paid a visit to my favorite Omotesando destination, Kiddyland, which is 5 floors of toys and fun. Then, over to Maisen, a tonkatsu restaurant for second lunch. That’s “tonkatsu” and not “tomcats” as my damn spellchecker would have you believe. Really nice, moist deep-fried pork cutlets served with various sides and sauces. On my way in, a helpful security guard helped me sheathe my umbrella. It’s the weirdest thing but every store has an automated umbrella sheather. Stick your umbrella in and it is instantly packaged in plastic for easy non-drip strolling. As you leave, simply whip off the sheathe, trash it, and you’re ready to go. Anyway, as I was leaving, the same security guard asked me how I had enjoyed the restaurant. “Totemo oishikatta desu!” (It was very tasty!) I told him. He seemed genuinely thrilled and we started chatting. He spoke no English and yet we managed a stammered conversation. My Japanese is apparently better than I thought.
I continued on my way, hit the Pierre Hermes boutique where I picked up some seasonal macarons, then caught a taxi back to the hotel. My driver was very friendly and we chatted about food and travel over the course of the ride, managing a pretty exhaustive conversation in halting Japanese, English, and French.
I had a half an hour to decompress before catching another cab to my next Michelin 3-star destination: Mizutani. The cab dropped me off on a street corner and, although the driver pointed to a building, there was no sign (well, no English sign anyway) that indicated where I should go. I consulted my map, then walked into what appeared to me a office building, and took the rattling elevator down to the basement level. I approached a door at the end of a hallway, opened it and peered inside. For an instant, I thought I had walked into somebody’s apartment. “Mizutani?”I asked the woman who poked her head out of the kitchen. “Irrashaimase!”she welcomed me. We stepped through another sliding door and into the restaurant proper – a tiny room with a sushi counter that could seat maybe 12 people comfortably. “Omakase?”asked the chef which roughly translates to “Chef’s choice”. “Omakase,”I nodded back. And so, I watched the sushi master at work as he would carve out a piece of fish, then reach back into a basket and pull out a handful of rice that he would shape with flick of his wrist and a press of his thumb like he was rolling dice, marry the fish to the rice, then set it down in front of me. Every time he set something down, he would make an announcement: “O-toro,”he would say. Or “Mirugai”. “Uni.” Once, he set down an almost translucent fish with a name I’d never heard of, but clearly it was something special because he threw me a knowing look and chuckled when he set it down in front of me. Again, another memorable meal.
On my way back to the hotel, I stopped in at the Pierre Marcolini Café and ordered up a chocolate parfait and ice latte. I ended up striking up a conversation with the gals behind the counter – Moro and Keiko – and held my own in Japanese for the greater part of an hour. Keiko is off to New York this weekend but if Moro is free on Tuesday, sheh as kindly agreed to join me on an excursion to Minato-ku. Ebisu Beer Museum anyone?
Tomorrow, I’m Shinjuku-bound. Pachinko, here I come!