When last we left off, I was on my way to my third sushi meal in a row, this time at famed Sushi Saito located across the street from the American embassy in Tokyo.  Tucked away in a back corridor of a non-descript office building, it’s a tiny, modest-looking place that nevertheless serves some great sushi.  On the day I went with Jessica, we had a lunch of about fifteen pieces, all beautifully presented, all delicious.  A few selections…

It’s interesting to note the difference between the various sushi-ya’s, say the recently visited Sawada and this place.  At Sawada, lunch was a three hour feast, much more varied but at roughly three times the price.  Saito’s set lunch was, thankfully – as I couldn’t handle another marathon session – much more restrained but very good all the same.  However, I did notice a couple of differences in the preparation of the nigiri.  Sawada’s rice was markedly saltier (Stefan wasn’t a fan) while Saito’s chef was a little more heavy-handed with the wasabi.

After lunch, Jessica surprised me with a little macaron-off.  As most of you know, I’m a huge fan of macarons (they’re the highly of any trip to Tokyo) and, especially, Pierre Herme macarons.  Well, Jessica decided to test my palate by purchasing five chocolate macarons and five pistachio macarons from five different patisseries.  She mixed them up, then presented them to me for a little taste test.  We found a nice secluded park bench and got to it.  She took the first bite, I finished it off, then we marked down our impressions.  Once we were done, we compared notes, chose our favorites, and, finally, checked the results.

The chocolate candidates…
And the pistachio candidates…
Guest judge Jessica

So?  Did by professed love for Pierre Herme macarons bare out?  Well, for starters, I was surprised by the similarities in our respective takes, right down to our likes and dislikes lining up in terms of tastes and textures.  As a result, we were in agreement on both the cellar dwellers AND our top picks.  The verdict?  Our favorites: Pierre Herme and Henri Charpentier (who, according to Stefan who spent time in Paris, doesn’t exist in France and is, in all probability, a Japanese product with a fancy French name – but a pretty damn good product nevertheless).

Following the macaron-off (and I have to say, it was incredibly sweet of Jessica to go through the trouble), I headed back to the hotel where I decompressed, then caught a cab to my final big Tokyo dining destination: Yamada Chikara.  The taxi driver dropped me off at a corner and pointed me toward a building before motoring off.  Sound familiar?  I walked inside, looked around, and found no sign of the restaurant.  After ten minutes of wandering the neighborhood, I finally found the place thanks to the help of an elderly convenience store owner who pointed me in the right direction.  The restaurant, it turned out, was located on the next block and just around the corner.

I walked in, took my shoes off, and took a seat at the tatami table.  Then, after some consideration, decided I had best wait outside for my dinner date, Tomomi, lest she experience as much trouble as I did.  Unfortunately, by the time I got back to the vestibule, my shoes were gone.  Either a staff member had put them away for me or someone had liked them enough to make off with them.  I was standing there in my socks, considering my next option, when the front door slid open and in walked Tomomi.  I decided to file away the shoe issue for the time being and we grabbed our seats.

It was a magnificent meal.  The chef spent two years in Spain working at El Bulli, the epicenter of global molecular cuisine, and his experience there was certainly displayed in the menu items.  “So, foam and spoons?”asked Stefan the following day.  Well, yes and no.  Yes to both but no to the intimation that it was little more than smoke and mirrors because, the inventiveness of the dishes aside, the food was very good.

We kicked things off with a selection that would normally conclude the traditional Japanese meal: rice and miso soup, with some oyster.  Then followed with a cocktail called a Fir Tree that, not surprisingly, possessed a striking fir flavor.  After that, a beautiful sashimi assortment – tuna, prawn, ankimo, abalone, salmon roe – that Tomomi particularly praised.

Next – the spoons: Yamada Chikara’s version of ham and melon. We were instructed to pop the ham in our mouths and, as we were savoring, follow up with the melon. The ham was good and the melon was spectacular – a burst of melon flavor contained in a gel with a yolk-like consistency,

After that came their version of the traditional Chawan-Mushi (containing uni and assorted other surprises), then a Spanish Omelet served in a cocktail glass (the foam to accompany the earlier spoons).  We enjoyed some wonderful taro gnocchi, then –

Foie gras soup. The broth is hot, the powdered foie gras on the side cold. We were told not to mix them but to take a sip of broth, then follow with a spoonful of foie. The reaction between the two components was amazing.

At this point, I was fading fast.  Tomomi requested the kitchen scale back the portions for the rest of our meal and they were happy to oblige.  We had an incredible anago (sea eel), then moved on to the mains – beef for her, chicken for me – both excellent.  We followed with a bowl of udon, then ended the meal with a refreshing sorbet and fruit.  As we sat back and enjoyed our tea, the head chef, Yamada Chikara, paid us a visit.  And I was shocked.  He’d been serving us the occasional dish throughout the evening and I’d assumed him to be a part of the staff.  We chatted for a while, him in Spanish, me in Italian, and I thanked him for a fantastic dinner.

It was a little past ten p.m. but I had to head back to the hotel to finish packing.  But not before receiving a little something from Tomomi…

My take-home dessert, compliments of Tomomi.

The cab ride back to the hotel was an interesting one.  My driver clearly relished the opportunity to impress me with his command of the English language and, while he was admittedly quite good, he sounded like he had learned to speak the language from listening to those automated operator messages.  His speech was punctuated by weird pauses, murmurs, and exclamations: “I hope you…LIKED…Tokyo…it IS a very GOOD country…I…LEARNED…to speak English in…UNIVERSITY!”

Another sleepless night (I never sleep well the night before I fly) and then it was off to my last lunch.  I cancelled my reservation at a high-end sushi-ya for something a little more laid-back with friends:barbecue!

Sachi and Stefan
Camera-shy Jessica. The lengths she’ll got to to avoid having her picture taken. She actually had to eat through the eyeholes.
Ready for more eats.
Akemi strikes a Japanese pose.
Some of my Tokyo pals: Akemi, Satchi, Stefan, and Jessica. Sniff. I miss ’em already.

After lunch, I headed back to the hotel where I checked out and boarded the shuttle bus to the airport.  I looked out the window as the bus started to pull away and felt a lump in my throat at the sight of many familiar faces – part of my extended Tokyo family – standing outside waving goodbye: the head concierge, the cute bellhop, the older gentleman who used to stand by the entrance and greet me every morning.

The flight back was uneventful and, as expected, I slept approximately 9 of the 10 hours in the air.

For all the wonderful food I enjoyed on this trip, I look forward to finally settling back to a diet of blander, simpler fare.

Starting tomorrow.  Tonight, I’m off to check out the newly rebranded Fuel: ReFuel!

37 thoughts on “December 9, 2009, Part II: Final Feasts and Fond Farewells

  1. *shakes head*. Joe, Joe, Joe…have mercy on the poor cabbie…he was struggling to remember words. My German sounds like that, and there are rare times when my Spanish hits a mental block.

  2. Poor Sheik Mallozzi…he had to leave his little harem behind in the care of his trusted eunuch, Stefan. 🙂

    Speaking of Stefan – I have to say, for me he was the best part of the trip. I love spending time with someone who knows stuff, AND wants to share it. He seemed a wealth of knowledge and I appreciated the little tidbits that he shared with you, and that you – in turn – shared with us.

    I’ll leave it at that – been a big day for me, and I’m sure, for you, too. Have a good evening, sir! Enjoy your dinner! We DO expect a report back on this one, too! Very interested to know what ReFuel is like!

    das

  3. Welcome back to the familiar. Good luck on catching up on any remaining sleep deficit, and VERY eagerly awaiting the new Fuel report.

  4. Welcome back Joe, It will take a bit to unwind and get back in your routine, or maybe you are already there, since you went back in time to get home or was it forward oh whatever.. welcome home! 😎

  5. I can’t believe that the first thing that you think of after eating your way through Tokyo is a trip to Fuel2.

    New Macbook – anybody know where the delete key is?

    Susan

  6. Thank you, Joe, for spending what must have been countless hours of your holiday time to create those entries. I’ve learned so many new things about food and Japan in general, it almost feels like I was there myself.

    Also great to see Stefan’s yellower-than-yellow scarf for one more time. Goodbye, Stefan. Goodbye, yellow scarf.

  7. Welcome home, Joe! You do have a cast-iron stomach. I could never eat two large meals a day once, much less for two weeks!

    Just curious: do you fly coach or spring for business class so you can get some sleep?

    So are we doing BotM Club this week? No pressure, just checking.

  8. Personally I think it’s good that Japanese people are interested in english, it really does show how much the culture has grown, to a point where a portion of Japanese actually want to learn a language beyond that they are born with.

    As a society in my opinion they are more accepting of outside culture.

    Anyways sounds like you had a great time in Japan, glad to hear Joe.

  9. And working out in the gym is next on your list. Or do you have a metabolism that can handle all that food? You must.

    Did the dogs miss you when you were away or did they even care? My cats always let me know when I come home from a long trip.

    Almost caught up with SGU. I know, bad viewer that I am. The acting is amazing on this show.

  10. I’m glad your return was otherwise uneventful. Unless you’re saving the horrors of baggage claim for another day, which is cool, too.

    Hey, my birthday is today (Dec. 10). A shout out, while ultimately unncessary, would be just swell. You might refer to me as the frequent lurker and occasional poster of pseudo-pithy remarks.

  11. Hi, Joe!

    Welcome home!

    Thank goodness my SSDI check came today. Now I can visit my favorite Japanese place in town – Taro’s – for some sushi. You’ve increased my craving so much I must appease it!

  12. Hi Joe:

    Wow! That cabbie who was practicing his English on you, learned it in university! I must say that Japan has a much more educated taxi service then we have in Canada.

    Congratulations to Alaina Huffman on the birth of her little boy, Charlie.

    Patricia

  13. Coucou Joseph!

    ça va bien?

    Des macarons en sachet O_O..quesqu’on ne va pas inventé …XD..mais si cela est bon c’est ce qui compte!

    Oui, ça doit être triste de quitter tous ça, surtout que vous aviez pris vos habitude, mais bon comme on dit..Toutes les bonnes choses ont une fin 🙂

    Gros bisou, à bientôt 🙂

  14. Wow! Great presentation on the BBQ. Although, it doesn’t look like Memphis BBQ.

    Gilder: Thanks for mal ojo comment, cool fact to know.

    Das: liked your break down of SGU from a few days ago. I really enjoyed Justice and hope there are more episodes like that.

    Tiger is up to 11 women now! It reminds me of Bill Clinton. A lot of people in Arkansas knew about his affairs. The staff at the governor’s mansion saw interesting “ladies” being escorted out at random hours. No one told the media, or the media decided not to report the news? Gasp, a biased media, who would have thought?
    Anyway, there were a lot of people who knew about Tiger being a “horn dog” before this implosion. I don’t really care much about it but I feel sorry for his wife and kids. Was the family just a front to get endorsements? Sad. I’m hoping she gets a lot of mula out of it. It is reported that he makes 100 million per year, just for endorsements!

    Have a great day Mr. M. I hope you get back on a regular sleep schedule soon.

    T

  15. Hi Mr M!

    Wowsers! That last meal sounded like a blast. Glad to see you bumped into an El Bulli chef.
    (You may recall I sent you on that article about the “ultimate dining experience”)

    Your companions all seem very knowledgable foodies. I am intrigued by Stefan, who seems to be a Globe-Trotting Foodie…Has he done the “El Bulli” experience? I bet he has!! I also suspect he was not that impressed by it….
    I am also amused that he finds Paris to be the quintessential dining city….A belief I have held for years. Will this tempt you France bound??

    And finally…Fuel or Re-Fuel..Please pass on my best to Tom, Rob and all the staff.

    Best from Ireland

    S’n’T

  16. Phew. Thank goodness you’re heading home, Joe. Reading about all that amazing food was starting to wear out my envy gland. (Want. Awesome. Sushi. Now.)

    I have to ask, though, did you not make it back to Ice Cream City after all? I was kind of looking forward to another round of Weird Food Purchases. Then again, having gone back to watch last year’s video, I can understand if you decided to forgo it in favor of more macarons. Those sound absolutely scrumptious. I don’t suppose you know where to get them in New England?

  17. @Randomness… it is good when people take a proactive interest in other cultures. I do hate to burst your bubble, but English is a mandatory subject in junior high school. Everyone has to take it! Many Japanese people do continue their studies to improve their skills, and practice every chance they get. Which is why my Japanese stinks, my neighbors all spoke English to me as practice. They wanted to hear me speak, I have one of those “network” non-accents, very desirable I suppose.

    Oh, OT ramble: compulsory education is Japan ends at 8th grade. Or did when I was there. High school attendance required entrance exams and tuition. Not everyone gets in, not everyone tries. That’s why I don’t credit comparisons of US and Japanese educational models. They have no bottom percentile like our public schools do.

  18. Mornin’, sleepyhead! 😀

    @ Tammy Dixon – Thanks! I knew it would get lost in the trip journal, but just had to get it out while I was in the mood, and things were still fresh in my mind. Now that this one is over for the time being, I can crawl back to my Wraith, if they’ll have me…

    das

  19. @Arctic Goddess

    Ahem. It’s a new baby girl with name Charley-Jane for Alaina Huffman.

  20. Hi Joe!

    Welcome back to N. America! 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your cultural and gastronomic adventures. I really enjoyed the food pictures and descriptions.

    How are Fondy and pups??

    Do we reaaaalllly gotta wait til April for new SGU? (d’oh.) You left things a little up in the air, one might say.

    I think SGU is great – really strong. Despite my initial reservations, I like the new style and characters. For me, it was like watching the renewed Dr. Who and then watching Torchwood. There were a couple of “Oh my Ged!” moments over the sex and language, but I settled in fine and enjoy both shows for what they are/were.

    Pssst, Arctic Goddess! Alaina had a baby girl Charley-Jane.

    eddy

  21. Welcome home Joe, Although I too love to travel, I always get the warm fuzzys to be back in Canada!

  22. The Thruth Joe…as much as you love to go to restaurants and eat good food you gotta be tiping the scale at the least…..say 200..?

  23. Welcome home Joe! Glad you’re home safe and sound.

    I, for one, am both stuffed and exhausted from your trip! I’ll need a week to sleep it off.

    Are you heading to Montreal for Christmas? If not, Edmonton would be happy to share some snow with YVR to make things more festive for you. (Though thanks for putting the snow back up on the blog – this I love!)

    Off to teach a class, then home to back yet another batch of cookies. Have a great day 🙂

  24. @PoorOldEdgarDerby: Happy Birthday!

    @Arctic Goddess: Alaina Huffman’s baby is a girl 🙂 Cute name, though!

    @Das: Tuckered out, right. Food-induced catatonic state, I say 🙂

  25. Man your trip looked awesome!!!!I’ll bet the dogs were happy to see you when you got home!!!

    Must dash..I’m grading for my blackbelt in TaeKwonDo tomorrow!!!(sat) so have to study !!

    Wish me Luck!!

  26. Here in Perth they’ve been building up the anticipation of SGU. The ads are really enticing (hot kissing scene included) and at last, it’s being broadcast next Monday at 9.30pm.

    A good time slot. Channel 10 is the most popular channel in Aussieland so CARN SGU (‘carn’ is the lazy Aussie way of saying ‘come on’!!!).

    I bet you’re all sushied out by now. I know I would be.

  27. P.S how do you think the pugkids will react to Daddy coming home. Multiple choice –

    1 – Will they pee themselves in excitement and attempt (note attempt) to jump all over you?
    2 – Excitement followed by anger because they realised you ‘abandoned’ them?
    3 – total indifference… ‘hi dad – now where’s the food’?
    4 – Annoyance – you get your part – albeit it pitiful real estate – of the bed back?
    5 – Annoyance (2) you won’t spoil ’em as much as Fondy does (or do you)….?

  28. Trust me, Stefan is not a eunuch, despite two divorces.
    Time spent with Joe was a great experience for me as well.
    Stefan

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