Last night’s stop on my Tokyo culinary tour was Kanda, another Michelin 3 star pick tucked away on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it side street. Given the luck I’d had with the local cabbies, I opted to leave a good forty-five minutes before my target time and ended up making it there with five minutes to spare. I took a seat at the counter and patiently awaited my dinner companion’s arrival. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. What the hell? Was I being stood up? Nope, just oblivious. I suddenly realized I had actually arrived 35 minutes early. Fortunately, Kanda’s chef and owner was an affable fellow – in contrast to the more, er, austere sushi chefs of other eateries – whose English was good but whose French was even better owing to the five years he had spent in France. So, we chatted for a while and, eventually, my guest showed up ten minutes early for the reservation – but twenty-five minutes after I did.
Despite being a Tokyo native, Kay spoke flawless English, having spent time in both the Philippines and the U.S. Full time worker and part time surfer, she was incredibly upbeat, all smiles, as she filled me in on her back story, then proceeded to educate me on life in Japan and the Japanese mindset, and particularly the rage for anything “new” and “hot”. She brought up the example of a new Starbucks that opened near her place of work. Because it was new, people lined up outside to purchase their coffees, sometimes waiting as long as half an hour – completely ignoring the other empty Starbucks only two blocks away.
Unfortunately, Kanda was the only restaurant that didn’t permit photography – which was a shame because it was a memorable meal well worthy of being document. Standout items included a “hairy crab” meatball, monkfish liver that possessed the texture and subtlety of foie gras (the chef soaks the liver in saltwater for two hours prior to preparation), and crispy shirako (aka – milt. Look it up. It’s an acquired taste.). Kay suggested that if I was feeling adventurous, she had the restaurant for me. I thought she was talking about the place in Shinjuku that sold whale sashimi. It turned out, nothing quite so mundane. She was referring to another place in Shinjuku that sold FROG sashimi. “It tastes like chicken sashimi,”she informed me. CHICKEN SASHIMI? She assured me that it was fairly common in Japan. It was just a matter of getting a hold of some really fresh chicken. So, okay, I’m a very adventurous eater, but there are certain things I’m even leery of trying. Frog and chicken sashimi for one. Pork testicle sashimi, another specialty of this Shinjuku restaurant, for another.
It was drizzling as we left the restaurant so the staff graciously gifted us an umbrella on our way out. We took a walk over to Kay’s favorite (twice a week) dessert place: Cold Stone Creamery where we ordered ice creams in chocolate waffle dishes. I paid for our purchase, then dropped a couple of coins in the tip jar. “Tippu!”called the girl behind the counter and, instantly, she was joined by two of her co-workers who joined her in a choreographed song and dance number complete with jumps and turns and exaggerated gestures. A woman standing at the counter, about to place her order, joined in the merriment, swinging her hips and bobbing her head to the beat. (Note: While most guidebooks will tell you that tipping is completely alien to the Japanese and generally frowned upon, but I can assure you from experience that they like it just fine and that it in no way offends their delicate sensibilities.)
I got back to the hotel at a fairly reasonable hour and turned in early. The next morning, I woke up, checked the bedside clock, saw that it was 7:00 a.m., and went back to sleep. I woke up a little later, checked the clock, saw that it was 7:00 a.m., and went back to sleep. I woke up even later, checked again, saw that it was still 7:00 a.m., and went back…Wait a minute! My eyes flashed open and I checked the clock again. Yep, 7:00 a.m. I checked the clock on the other night table. HOLY FREAKIN’ CRAP it was 10:30!!! I’d slept away my morning!
I showered, shaved, got done what I had to get done, then headed out. I met my lunch companion, Moro, outside Sushi Kanesaka in Ginza. We headed downstairs and were seated at a counter where we were served by another atypically upbeat and smiling sushi chef. I struck up a conversation with a Chinese couple who were in from Hong Kong to check out some restaurants and pick up a diningroom table (?). Soon after, we were joined by another solo diner, a fellow from France who, like us, was given a choice between the pricey, pricier, and priciest set menu. His decision to go for the mere pricey set led the woman from Hong Kong to ask “What’s the matter? Don’t you like eating?” Suitably shamed, he switched his order to the pricier set.
The sushi was excellent. And I’m glad because, as it turns out, I have reservations to come back for dinner tomorrow. I asked the chef whether the lunch and dinner menu were the same and he explained that, on a given day, the lunch and dinner menus are more or less the same – however, the menu changes from day to day as it’s entirely dependent on the freshest catch of the day. Seemingly to reinforce this point, seconds later he received delivery of a nicely marbled chunk of o-toro that he promptly sliced and served.
After lunch, Moro and I caught a cab to Hidemi Sugino’s Patisserie. This place is very popular and you have to get their early because they sell out quickly. We waited ten minutes for a table and then selected four pastries for sampling. One of the interesting things about this place is that the pastries are divided into two categories: those that can be taken out, and those that must be immediately consumed on the premises. Alas, no photography permitted inside the café which, again, is a shame because the pastries were beautiful. And delicious.
Our next stop was the Laduree café in Mitsukoshi. Another ten minute wait and we were seated. As we made our selections, I glanced around and couldn’t help but notice that the place was packed – and I was the only male in sight. We made five selections: some good macarons (but, again, Pierre Hermes is king here), an intriguing St. Honore made with rose macarons and lychee, a very good green tea éclair (Moro noted that, given my love for pistachio and matcha desserts, I seemed to possess an obvious predilection to green sweets), two types of ice cream, and a good chocolate-hazelnut dessert. Conversation with Moro was a bit of a challenge. She spoke very little English and I had forgotten to bring along my Japanese-English dictionary. Still, we managed and ended up having a terrific time. I told her about my experience with the singing-dancing tip-takers of Cold Stone Creamery and hoped I would see a similar display of gratitude at Pierre Marcolini, her place of work, tomorrow. She assured me I would not.
Before disappearing into the bowels of the Tokyo subway, she presented me with a little gift – an adzuki bean dessert to enjoy presumably whenever I could stomach yet another dessert.
I returned to the hotel and had enough time to wash up and change before I was out the door and headed toward yet another Michelin 3 star selection: Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon. The details on dinner at the chateau to follow…