What with all of the focus on the higher end dining in Tokyo, I thought it might be nice to take in something a little more simple like, say, tempura.  Of course, not just any tempura but the high quality offerings served at Fukamachi in Kyobashi where I lunched with two other people: my fellow foodie and traveler Stefan, and fellow Canadian (teaching English in Japan), Miriam.

Fukamachi is a small place by North American standards, but positively spacious in comparison to some of the other counter restaurants I’ve frequented in Tokyo.

The chefs make use of only high quality sesame oil.
I'm not quite sure what these were but I have a sneaking suspicion H. R Giger may have drawn inspiration from this place.
I've been doing a lot of gingko on this trip and have absolutely loved it.
A perfect scallop.
Alas, no English spoken by the chefs so, as far as I know, this was a piece of fish.

And green tea for dessert.

Each item came crisp, hot, and perfectly fried.  No doubt the best tempura meal I’ve ever had.    Still, I have to admit that tempura is not high on my list of favored menu items.  It falls roughly somewhere in the middle.  Having said that, if you like tempura, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better.

Miriam flashes the traditional Japanese photo sign while Stefan flashes his yellower than yellow scarf.
Since we were in the neighborhood, we had to go to Hidemi Sugino's for sweets. This is a place that people line up for prior to its eleven o clock opening. No pictures are permitted inside. There are certain creations available for take-out and others that they will absolutely not allow you to leave the store with for fear that travel time will cheapen the flavors. "No! No sweets for you!"
I think this is a print ad for a hair loss treatment center?
The fact that they have to put these signs up suggest this happens a lot. Coincidentally, I was cabbing it back to the hotel one day just before dinner, peeked out the window, and spotted four guys outside a tavern. Three were standing chatting with the fourth lying flat on his back in front of the entrance, waving his arms about. By the time I grabbed my camera, however, my taxi had moved on.
Bicycle row! We took a stroll through Asakusa in search of a specialty knife shop Stefan had read about. And a pair of ninja shoes - also for Stefan.

Okay, you see a lot of crazy things in Japan, but this was a first for me.  I witnessed the arrest of a cartoon character…

The giant rabbit is escorted across the street by the policeman.
Note the cop's arm. That giant rabbit aint going anywhere.
Note the look of sheer horror on the other cop's face. Maybe he owned the stuffed version as a kid.
The giant rabbit is ushered into the police box.
What were the charges? Drunken and disorderly conduct? Inappropriate touching? I was left to wonder.
Wait - is that a...giant sweet potato?

We strolled through the temple area after about an hour of walking around, looking for that damn knife shop.  We finally found it.  It was the size of your bathroom.  We walked in and found the owner sitting on the floor, sharpening knives.  He didn’t so much as look up at us or even acknowledge our presence (a simple grunt would’ve been nice).  Needless to say, Stefan didn’t pick anything up.  Nor did he find his ninja shoes.

Apparently, whale is an acquired taste.
I stop by the new Haagen-Daz shop in Ginza that turned out to be a HUGE disappointment. There were some intriguing looking items (ie. ice cream macarons) but these were only available for take-out. The upstairs cafe menu offers about a dozen ice-cream-related items, none particularly tempting. Still, I was there so I ordere the above. Don't recall what it was called. Let's just say that the ice cream portions of the dish were very good - and leave it at that.

For dinner, I headed off to La Bombance in Nishi-Azabu.  It’s a small, basement level restaurant comprised of a large room with one long table, and a recessed area capable of seating four.  I was early and took a seat, waiting for our spots to open up.  While I was waiting, a beautiful Japanese girl in her mid-twenties stepped into view, smiled and apologized for keeping me waiting, and proceeding to put on her coat, chatting with her O.S. (that’s film-speak for Off Screen) companion the whole time.  I wondered “Girl’s night out?”.  Not quite.  Her companion turned out to be a silver-haired gentlemen easily in his late sixties.  Anyway, I thought it was really nice of this guy to take out his grand-daughter on what was, no doubt, some special occasion.  You don’t see enough of that in North America.

I was seated and, eventually, MY dining companions showed: Stefan once again, and Jon, a Chicago native who has been living in Toyo for five years.  Jon arrived a little late because his boss decided to call an impromptu 6:30 p.m. meeting, right before quitting time.  We had a great time discussing office work in Japan.  Apparently, Jon gets into the office at 8:15 a.m. and works until 7:00 p.m., demonstrating a seriously wanting work ethic when compared to his boss who usually stays until 11:00 p.m.

“Check out the menu,”I told Stefan.  “Let me know if there’s anything you don’t like.”

As it turned out, he had no objections – mainly because our menu was written in kanji.

Unfortunately, the lighting in the room was poor so many of the pics didn’t turn out so what follows are the highlights.  Our first dish was comprised of mizuna (?) greens, tofu, crab, and, fugu.  Again with the fugu!  Jon informed us that the chances were infintesmally small, but we were at greater risk of being poisoned by fugu at a high-end restaurant than one of the many cheaper fugu eateries in town because the cheaper places make use of farmed fugu that has had the poison bred out of them.  Something to think about the next time I’m hankering for some fugu.

Our next dish was an assortment of tasty treats: some of the cleanest-tasting ikura (salmon roe) I've ever had served with yuzu, and shirako (by now I'm sure you recognize cod sperm).

…some grilled meat, fish, and what I initially took to be lotus roots that turned out to be some other root vegetable I’d never heard of before.

Next up a salad with shaved black truffles - and, hidden underneath those leaves, foie gras and mozarella wrapped in thinly sliced beef and flash-fried. An interesting dish but I wasn't entirely sold by the foie-cheese combo.
Then...more fugu! Jon and Stefan really enjoyed its texture. I was less than blown away. Also included was a generous portion of fugu sperm as well. In response to the look Stefan threw me, I told him: "I ordered the all sperm menu. I thought you wouldn't mind."

We followed up with some nice grilled chicken, served with chestnut and pressed roe.

Then, the best course of the night, a stew of mizu-na(?) greens and assorted goodlies. A simple dish but the most pleasing.
Following a vegetable plate comprised of mizu-na(?), lotus root, cabbage, sweet potato, and the mystery root vegatable chips, we had MORE FUGU in the form of a finishing soup.

For dessert, a black sesame sherbert that proved far too granular, and a far more successful white coffee pudding-ish offering that, mercifully, contained no fugu.

After we had completed our meal, Chef/Owner Makoto Okamoto (who’d been serving us throughout the night), poured us each a glass of liqueur.  I’m not a huge drinker but managed to finish mine first – which resulted in Makoto-san refilling my glass.

Chef/Owner Makoto Okamoto

We talked food with Makoto-san and, after chatting about that mystery root vegetable, he gifted each of us with a bagged sample.

The room. See that hobbit-sized door on the left? That's the door to the bathroom. I'm not kidding.
Foodies night out. Me, Jon, and Stefan.

Apparently, La Bombance will be moving in January of 2010, just a few blocks up the street.  As we were discussing the move, Jon asked the chef if he had a map.  The chef disappeared into the back and then returned to continue the discussion.  Some fifteen minutes went by at which point Makoto-san assured us that he had dispatched the waitress to fulfill Jon’s request.  “He sent the poor girl out to find me a map,”said Jon.

Well, we waited and waited.  And we didn’t get a map.  But, we were served this…

A cheese plate.

And suddenly, it dawned on Jon and I at the same time.  I turned and asked him: “Did you ask for chizu (a map) or chiizu (cheese)?” By way of a response, we never did get that map.

Chef Makoto-san was a wonderful host and saw us out and the three of us trekked back to Roppogni station, by some poor guy trying to corral his staggering, inebriated girlfriend, and this interesting establishment…

Yeah, the one at the top. Could be a bar. Could be a hair salon. I have no idea.

Another memorable day and I am now officially past the halfway mark of my Tokyo trip.  Besides the many restaurants, there’s still much ground to be covered like the giant gundam in Shinjuku, maid cafes, and, of course, Ice Cream City.

35 thoughts on “December 2, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day #8 – Fukamachi, La Bombance, and Fugu me once, shame on you. Fugu me twice, shame on me.

  1. Wow…Stefan would possibly like the yellow blazers from the tradeshow. Did he by any chance share why he carries his own salt?

    Awww, was there no sweet potato tempura?

    Thanks for another great day – on this side of the world, it is way past my bedtime, but I had to wait up for your new post. Awesome!

  2. Coucou Joseph!

    Comment allez vous aujourd’hui?
    Je vois que vous avez encore passé une exelente journée! Oui ça fait déjà 8 jours ça passe tellement vite!

    C’est vrai que les japonnais sont bizarre, mais c’est ce qui fait leurs charmes, lol j’adore les photos du lapin arrété.

    Moi je suis impatiente de finir mon stage car mon tuteur est très dur avec moi…aller plus que 2 semaines!

    Passer une bonne journée!
    Gros Bisou!

  3. OOOh, fried food, yummmmm. Thank you again, Mr. M.

    Das: After my nasal surgery the ENT told me to use Afrin for bleeding. He also told me to take lots of hot showers and use a humidifier. I don’t know if any of that helps or not.
    I’m glad your dad is better.

    I hope you are sleeping well Mr. M.!


  4. 1. “Fugu me once, shame on you. Fugu me twice, shame on me.”

    Best. Title. EVER! 😀

    2. @ Ponytail – In New Jersey, minimum wage for waitresses is $2.13, and other states are just as low, as you can see from this chart:

    Tips are a supplement to their wages more than just a nod to good (or bad) service. Many people don’t realize this, and feel that they don’t have to tip a waitress because ‘the restaurant should be paying them enough’. The thing is, many restaurants do NOT pay enough, and oft times a waitress is a mother struggling to make ends meet. As you can see, some states have a much higher minimum wage for tipped employees, but many are well under the national minimum wage, which in and of itself is so low many people can’t survive on it.

    Aware of this, I will tip good service 20%, great service 20%+ , average service 15% (it has to be pretty average), and less than 15% for poor service (it has to be REALLY poor – a combo of bad attitude and lack of attention to my dining needs). I’m not rich (we’re basically paycheck to paycheck people), so I can’t leave a $50 tip for a glass of wine. But I try to give just a little more when called for and possible, and we just don’t eat out if we can’t afford to tip.

    And I think that’s the most important thing. If you can’t afford a $5 tip on a $25 meal, then just stay home and cook for yourself. Always factor in the tip before you go out, based on an approximation of what your bill will be (some people tip on the cost of the food only, sans tax; I usually tip on the bottom line (it’s just easier for me); and don’t forget to tip on comped meal, drink, or dish. Some people think that because the meal or drink is free, the server doesn’t *need* to be tipped. But they do – they still provided the service – and you are tipping them for that.

    3. I just wrote so much, I forgot what #3 was! 😛 OH! I remember!! JOEY – DON’T GO SWIMMING!!


    Watch to the end of the video – there’s FOOD! 😀

    Have a good day, sir! No, wait…have a good NIGHT!



  5. Joe,
    I just want to let you know I’m enjoying reading about your culinary journey through Japan, im looking forwrd to the rest of journeys post, I find the cultural offerings interesting. Keep up the freat work!

  6. Hey, that isn’t a giant sweet potato, that’s The Flame of the Spirit which Resides in the Heart of Kirin Beer! I have taken the very same photo.

    Mmm, tempura, But yes, it has to be good to be uh, good. Although the little leggy things look too much like gejigeji for me. Google it in images. We had the critters in the house. Not as mean as mukade, but creepier.

    I’ve never passed out on the subway platform, but Dunkin Donuts? Oh yeah, maybe, no really, officer, I was just taking a little nap. One of my skills is using the floor toilets in the Roppongi subway station while maneuvering heels and pantyhose while drunk as a sailor on liberty. Which I was. Good times, good times.

    I had sailor friends, both male and female, who worked on the weekends as dinner escorts. Their dinner dates were fairly innocuous, unless they went drinking, then there might have been a bit of grab and tickle. No one ever was pressured to provide services. That’s a different phone number.

  7. Could be a bar. Could be a hair salon. I have no idea.

    Dog groomer, maybe?

    I have to say, reading your entries from your foodie trips always makes me very envious. Some friends and I are planning a trip to Italy in the Spring and I can’t wait to have some similar experiences of my own. 🙂

    (We went to Morimoto in NYC a couple months ago and it was amazing. Also totally expensive, but worth every bit.)

  8. Not to be a nag or nitpicker or anything…but Day 6 still has a dollar sign instead of a number sign.

    Yeah. I take that back. I am a nag. Blame my OCD. 😛


  9. Hi Mr M!

    WOWSERS! You really are going all out re: the foodie experience for this trip!

    Great photographs and even better descriptions.

    I bet Stefan’s salt is Sea Salt?


    @Das : Check out last years trip Joe took, he mentioned the Tippu Tippu girls. These were girls who did a little song and dance number after Mr M tipped them. I think it was the same day he went on the game show….not sure.

    Keep up the great commentary. Makes me hungry AND gives me itchy feet to travel….

    Best from rainy Ireland.


  10. Ha, being a (conversational-level) speaker of Japanese myself, I remember running into 地図 vs. チーズ when I was learning. My favorite one to tell people about, though, is 病院 (byouin, or hospital) vs. 美容院 (biyouin, or beauty salon). Those are two you don’t want to get mixed up in time of crisis.

  11. Your travels are an education, Joe. I bet if I did try and taste some of that food, I would surprise myself and find that it is good, (one never knows until one tries) but I draw the line at the cod sperm and anything that will land me in a hospital. But seriously, when you’re not feeling well, what’s your comfort food? Be safe.

  12. Das: I’m not sure if this is nationwide in the USA but waitresses here get taxed on tips-based on what they should have gotten tipped.
    So if the waitresses gets stiffed on the tip, she still has to pay taxes on what she should have received. Sucks doesn’t it? That is why we always tip here.


  13. I would like to know more about the dinner escort thing, what the job entails.

    Other than that wow joe looks like you had some good times.

  14. Still loving the culinary adventrue! Mind you, I don’t think I could stomach half of what you’ve tried… fugu sperm?… but the desserts look amazing. Hope they taste just as good.

    Anywho, keep on keeping on and we’ll seeya next time the merry-go-round stops!

  15. You have to admire that level of customer service. Had you said chiizu AND chizu no doubt the dairy products would have been laid out to illustrate the area you wanted the map of. Thanks for continuing to share your adventures.

  16. @ Alexander… an escort in Tokyo must be decently good looking but not overly so, well dressed and well groomed, with impeccable manners. You must laugh at their jokes and pour their drinks. Men should treat the women with utmost courtesy and attention. Oddly, speaking Japanese is not a must.

    My favorites to mix up are Shujin and Shujiin. Husband and prisoner, although at the moment I fail to recall which is which.

  17. I see ya have the snow again, at least I know that I wasn’t seeing things this year! FLORIDA people, remember Sat. Noon TU TU TANGO, Orlando, FL. Be There!! Joe , I miss the mailbag, can’t wait for you to get home!! Sheryl.

  18. Thanks for sharing yet another day of your adventures. I think the dogs have been busy making it snow on the header, making you want to come home to see them, however that works..
    I like tempura,generally, some depends on what you put inside. The scary critters don’t really look like I would like it, dipped in anything..

  19. I am totally enjoying reading about this year’s trip to Tokyo. Each year its such a treat for me, since I know I’ll probably never be able to afford to go.

    After looking at the photographs I was thinking that what you perceive to be a giant sweet potato might indeed be the roof of the restaurant that served that “all sperm” menu.

  20. OMG, the sweet potato, let me tell you….

    I went to Japan in 2005 and that site was on our tour. That sweet potato was actually supposed to be a giant golden flame, but it violated building codes so they had to set it on it’s side (I for one, thought is was a giant golden sperm).

    The building to the left is a beer company’s headquarters (I want to say Asahi), which is why it looks like a giant mug of beer.

  21. Wow Universe just keeps getting further and further from what the essence of “Stargate” really is.
    I think the word Stargate shouldn’t even be in the title anymore. Just leave it Universe. It’s a totally different show now. I’ve watched all the episodes run so far and the only thing in common with the previous shows is the actual stargate which seems to be used more as a lighting prop than actual passage way. And where is the humor from the show? That’s the main thing that set this show apart from all the other sci-fi shows. The “Time” episode really seemed to be just a recycled story. You guys gotta come up with something more original. Time loops, and parallel universes are waaay over done people. I mean come on. You’ve done it in SG-1 and Atlantis as well. Does it really need to be done again in Universe as well? It was also so randomly placed as well.
    It’s sci-fi. Endless possibilities. Come up with something better if you’ve been in this business for so many years.

  22. @ Das – I hear you. The US does not pay servers very much base salary. That is why we tip. Maybe overseas, especially in extremely expensive restaurants like Joseph is visiting, those servers are regarded with value and their base pay is good. I was just thinking maybe that is why they get insulted when they get a tip…”don’t feel sorry for me, I am paid well” attitude. I don’t know. It was just a thought. (my 2 cents, worth 1 cent in this economy)

    I am a waiters dream. I smile at them constantly, always say thank you to them, and don’t ever complain (and leave a nice tip). I was recently out to dinner with about 8 family members. My ex-sister-in-law and her husband were picking up the tab. I watched at the end of the meal my ex-SIL grab both hands of our waitress, look her straight in the eyes, and in a low voice, tell her how much we appreciated her service tonight, and how she felt the waitress went above and beyond keeping each of us happy, and how extra service like that was not so common any more. My ex-SIL told her she was a very special person and added “God bless you”, all the while having a tight grip on her hands. Well the waitress was almost in tears. You could tell she did not hear that everyday and was a little surprised. Heck, I was almost in tears. I’m going to try that sometime when appropriate.

    Joe, what is it with you and guts and sperm. Yukky!

    Oh and hey Joe! I once ate at a restaurant so nice that they came by toward the end of the dinner to brush the crumbs from your lap. That’s right mister! Anybody done that for you yet?

    I’m telling ya Joe, you need to write a travel book. Why don’t you ever listen to me?

    It’s snowing again! How lovely!

  23. And the time of year where I get sick. My mother almost drove to my little college town to take me to the hospital, but I managed to convince her I do not have the swine flu. More like pneumonia, actually. 🙁

    I hope everyone else is staying healthy!!!

  24. Today’s Blog is brought to you by the letter “B.” 😀

    Thanks for the signs, Joe!

    Ya know, no time of day is safe enough to look at all the yummy food photos, sushi day in particular!

    Joe, I may have missed it, but what do you eat for breakfast in Tokyo?

  25. Oh, good, I’m glad to read other people’s comments and see that it’s not just my computer making it snow on Joe’s blog.

    Man, oh man, it takes a loooooong time to load all those images and videos! But oh so worth it!

    Joe, you’ve GOT to go investigate that Holy Bitch place! I’m dying to know what it is. Just poke your head in and report back to us. I’m betting on brothel.

  26. Laughed almost to the point of crying over you telling Stefan that you ordered the all-sperm menu, figuring he wouldn’t mind. The supremely snarky one-liner still has a smile on my face. (Now I’m wondering if a gig as a fugu chef could be called a “blowfish job.” — Should stop there. . . Will print your write-up for the people at work, and see what results. Hehe, should be a fun day at the head shop.)

    Your blog-entry title made me chuckle as well, but while reading, it sounded to me like you got fugu’ed all day. Now, either the diet agrees with you, or you’re sleeping better — in the pic of you, Jon, and Stefan, you look a lot better rested.

    Um, moving on, still very much enjoying your very personal travelogue. That was really interesting about the sweets shop where taking photos isn’t allowed, and the shelf-life for some of the flavors is apparently pretty short. Although. . . nah. — Have fun at the maid cafés and Ice Cream City!

  27. I didn’t get a chance yesterday to read your blog so I’m at work and having a gander and see the pics of the cartoon character being arrested and bursted out laughing causing some coworkers to doubt my sanity when I tried to explain.


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