Osaka

Today, we took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka, riding (and eating) in comfort as the scenery whizzed by.

All aboard!

It was quite comfortable (surprisingly roomier than any airline I’ve ever flown), with reserve seating and food vendors who stroll up and down the various cars, offering up everything from ice cream and coffee to katsu (pork cutlet) sandwiches. 

The view from my seat.

I’m thinking that, in the future, this might be the way to see more of the country.  I could start in Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern area, and wind my way south by train, getting off to explore some of the cities along the way.  I could spend a couple of nights in Kyoto, Nara, Okinawa, Kobe, Kyushu…

Before boarding, we loaded up on supplies – in the form of snackables.  Since we arrived at Tokyo Station early, we had to wait some ten minutes for the shops to open.  And, at exactly 8:00 a.m., they did – right on schedule.  Check it out:

I picked up three of those mini pork burgers (they come in both lean and not-so-lean), a bento box, and some macarons for dessert:

My travel bento – a little bit of everything.

I also had some of the chocolates my friend Tomomi gifted me the previous night:

These wicked little morsels of chocolate decadence are highly addictive. They’re like super-dense/moist/rich brownies laced with just a touch of salt. They’re from a place called Chocolat Chic in Minato-ku

Speaking of Tomomi, I promised to provide the details of the incredible meal we enjoyed…

L’Effervesence

It was a spectacular dinner and the culinary highpoint of this trip so far.  The restaurant, L’Effervescence, is located in a quiet side street steps away from the Chokokuji Temple.  It has only been open about two years but has already earned itself a Michelin star thanks to its young, innovate Chef Shinobu Namae.

I arrived early (because I assumed I’d get lost – and did), and relaxed in the sleek lounge while I awaited my dining companion.  Tomomi arrived right on time, looking as gorgeous as ever, and we were escorted to our table, tucked away in a cozy, semi-private section.

In the mad scramble to pack for Osaka, I misplaced the menu, so bear with me as I attempt to tap my spotty memory and recall what, exactly, we ate:

First up were six imported olives.  Three were regular, and no less delicious, olives while another three had been laced with a hint of blood orange.

Their version of kinpira (burdock and carrot) with a touch of yuzu, topped with a foam confrere and accompanied by some yuzu ice.  Apparently, very natsukashii.

Next up was the apple pie which – hey, check it out! – looks a lot like the hot apple pie I used to get at McDonalds when I was a kid.  Chef Namae’s version is made with braised beef cheeks and Japanese sweet potato.  And, yes, kind of tasted like apple pie.

This dish was a masterful marriage of subtle flavors, highlighted by some beautiful Spanish mackerel.

The restaurant’s signature dish is a daikon (Japanese turnip) that has been slow-cooked for some four hours – yet, surprisingly, still retains its firmness and a certain crunch.  No idea how they pull it off but it’s damn impressive. 

The sea bass was perfectly cooked and easily the best I’ve had.  Our waiter described the arduous preparation process that involved switching the fish off from varied heated environments to achieve that perfect textural balance.

Foie gras with fresh chestnuts, chestnut puree, and black truffles.    The foie gras chestnut combination has been a revelation on this trip.

Interesting.  Sipped on the left, the oolong tea is cold.  Sipped on the right, it is piping hot.  Sipped from the middle and you are treated to a swirling combination of the two.  The most unique palate cleanser I’ve ever had. 

The main course was a perfectly prepared piece of pork (Yes, they can serve it pink in Japan because of the type of pork they source) accompanied by some outstanding mushrooms.

I had the cheese course but should have joined Tomomi on the salad instead – made up of 27 different vegetables (out of the 40 in season). 

A pear dessert featuring cauliflower ice cream.  Hmmmm.  Interesting, but I actually think the ice cream would have been far more successful as an added element to a savory course.

Chef Namae’s take on tiramisu.  We were instructed to eat the coffee capsule on the spoon first, then crack the crunchy chocolate top and scoop out the cream and cake to complete the experience. 

We ended our meal with various small sweet bites, among them some pop rock chocolate pops – 

And lemon curd in a tube.  We were also gifted a take-away treat that, frankly, I was to full to eat – which Akemi likened to an incredibly moist caramel pound cake.

Akemi’s breakfast.

Once we were done, Chef Namae came by to introduce himself.  I told him how much I enjoyed the meal and greatly appreciated, not only the execution of the various dishes in terms of the complexity of textures and tastes, but also the amount of creativity and hard work that no doubt gone into their conception.  At some point, Chef Namae had to come up with the inspired idea, then he had to figure out a way to achieve it on the plate, coming up with a game plan followed by a trial and error approach that eventually yielded the sought-after results.  And all I did was show up and eat it!

Highly recommended.

Whew.  Got the first full day of Osaka under my belt.  It’s, uh, quite the unique city. Tomorrow, I’ll take you all on the guided tour.  Make sure to wear your comfy shoes!

And, finally – a some heartening news from sis who has decided to hold off on the difficult decision.  Although he’s not going to get better, Aspen appears to have bounced back and is in much better spirits.  Great to hear!

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Ponytail
Ponytail

That is an awesome Bento box! All the pictures are awesome. Would the Japanese people buy restuarant or travel books about Japan? You could write those while living there.

When they say “these are imported (olives)” do you ask, from where? Maybe they get them from America or Canada.

Glad your sister will have more time with Aspen. I’m sure many hugs and smooches will abound.

Deborah Rose

glad to see Aspen doing ok, and able to enjoy the companionship of his person and his buddy. On an unrelated note, the neighbor’s dog had 6 puppies, number 5 being delivered in the front yard as I watched. She had come out to take care of some business, and boom…new puppy. Puppies and mom are doing fine…
I am really glad you are seeing more of Japan than just Tokyo, and sharing your experiences with us. And that tea sounds fascinating. Looking forward to the walking tour tomorrow. I hope the trip continues to be a pleasant and safe one.

gforce

As the doors rise on the shops, at what point are they considered “open”? Do you have to wait until they completely rise? I suspect in N. America, people would be ducking under them if they thought it would save them those oh-so-important 10 seconds.

The meal looks amazing of course, but I think I would agree that that cauliflower ice cream would have too subtle a flavour as a stand-alone. Of course, I don’t really know what I’m talking about!

Good news about Aspen! Hopefully, his rally will last for a while.

sylvia
sylvia

Very nice to hear a positive aspect on Aspen. Sis has a cool routine for doling out the ice cream. The cone makes for a nice ice cream scooper – well at least while the cone is still crisp.

Your travelblog makes for good natsukashii. Some sights and occasional sounds bring back the memories of reading a particular blog entry and your descriptions of said sight/sound.

Enjoying it all….THANKS.

sg1efc

Roxy and Aspen look great in that video. smile

The one building in the Osaka skyline looks like a billiard table to me. Great pics, thanks. smile

People in Japan know what trash cans are used for, unlike Americans in a lot of U.S. cities. Don’t think I’ve seen even one piece of trash in any of your Japan street pictures.

JeffW

Yeah Aspen! I’m praying his spirit remains high.

On the cold/hot oolong tea: any idea how Chef Namae pulled that off? I would have thought convection currents in the tea would have destroyed the hot/cold boundary fairly quickly.

dasndanger
dasndanger

Okay, that just put me off of ice cream for a bit. razz

And pink pork??! Joey’s gonna get WORMS!!!! grin

das

Dave

Shinkansen is the best way to get around as a visitor. You can buy at JR Rail pass, which is a major steal. Residents are not eligible. http://www.japanrailpass.net/

Japanese have more food and travel books than you can shake a stick out. I’m going to Kyoto with the family this week, and the in-laws have been planning the trip around (basically – aside from a high school reunion and grave visit) food. And there are quarterly magazines sold just for that purpose.

Also, next time I’m in Osaka I want to go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gate_Tower_Building

Airelle
Airelle

What a wonderful presentation of food, Congrats to Chef Namae. and to you Joe for the pictures. And the tea thing is of course magic.
Better news for Aspen, bless his heart. and hugs to all. Thanks Sis for sharing.

Randomness
Randomness

If you need a suggestion on where to go Joe, try Sanrio Puroland, its a theme park in Tama, Tokyo. Akemi would probably enjoy that. It’s all about Hello Kitty and is probably the most fluffiest place around that area.

Lol. Said il’d suggest somewhere.

Tammy Dixon
Tammy Dixon

Oh my, another round of pictures that make me drool… Too bad you couldn’t get the recipe for that Carmel Pound Cake or the brownies. That sounds very good and it would be something I could “actually” make. I can definitely see why you are considering a move there!

Have you seen any Segway’s there? Japan seems so tech friendly. Just wondering.

I’m very happy that Aspen is rallying. I hope it lasts through the holidays.

Remember that guy that jumped into the polar bear den? Well, this story brings chills to me BUT I hope they don’t try to blame the zoo for this person’s …incompetence?, ignorance? , carelessness? There are so many words to describe this event: http://news.yahoo.com/wild-dogs-kill-2-old-boy-pa-zoo-073255010.html

DP
DP

The 2 year old seemed to have negative assumptions about those dogs, “doggie mean”, “doggie hurt”, until I gave her ice cream, then she was best friends. She tried to give them a spoonful, but, nah, no drippy ice cream hovering over my keyboard, thanks.

Remember, Remember, Osaka Day #2. It doesn’t have that ring to it.

DP
DP

If it wasn’t just jealousy, she might’ve thought the dogs were stealing the ice cream. Her grandparents’ dogs sometimes try to steal her food and she almost likes the drama of someone coming to her defense.

Maggiemayday
Maggiemayday

Yay for Aspen!
Yum on the bento box. I have so much catching up to do here, just got back from Cancun. Completely different world from the border Mexico I’m used to visiting, the food was amazing. I could have blogged about it but we had little connection to the cyber-world. Fine by me.
My favorite was tikin xic grouper on the beach, or maybe the tamrindo shrimp, or well, almost everything I put in my mouth while on vacation. Even the poolside snacks were tasty! That could have bee the freely flowing margaritas talking though.
My 11 year old cat sitter did a better job than the other house sitters I’ve had over the last two years. Go figure.

Sis
Sis

Today I am extremely grateful.

I am grateful for my supportive family members, who have helped guide me and support me over the past few extremely difficult weeks. You have been there for me when I felt I couldn’t move forward, and you have stood beside me at the most difficult times.

I am grateful for the kind words, well-wishes, and prayers bestowed on us by my friends, my colleagues, and my brother’s blog followers.

I am grateful for the most incredible vet in the world, who’s caring, compassion and expertise has helped many of my animals when nobody else could. She is like no other vet I have ever met.

I am grateful for Aspen’s extended family at his home-away-from-home for treating my baby as if he were their own, and for committing to continue to care for him, with all that entails.

I am grateful for little Karma the puggle and her Mom, whom I met at the vet today. Karma displayed such a love for life and charismatic energy despite her handicap. Karma’s continued zest for life is only made possible because her Mom who believed they could get through this, where others may have given up the fight.

Most of all, I am grateful for my big boy, Aspen. He has fought hard over the past few days, and has shown me the will he has to continue enjoying life. He is eating again, playing, running and jumping. His eyes are bright and full of mischief and he is active and loving once gain. Way to go boy… you are my hero.