November 23, 2017: This ‘n That!

Quick, get in!  Next stop = Slumber Land!

Hey, if you’re thinking of making our dogs new outfits, Akemi offers up the following doggy measurements.  I think she does a fairly good job of capturing Suji’s trademark wide-eyed wonder, and Lulu’s general furtiveness.

Who feels like kaka for dinner?  Pardon me?  Happened across this sign for a new Japanese restaurant a little while ago.  Debatable name aside, not sure how a restaurant that has yet to open can claim to be the “No. 1 rated all-you-can-eat sushi in Toronto”.  Who voted?  Time-traveling nigiri-enthusiasts from the future?

I’m sure we can all agree that, next to politics and religion, there is no subject more controversial than marzipan.  Its mere mention will incite a tirade so impassioned from my former writing partner you’d think almond paste had somehow played a role in the tragic passing of a loved one.  I, on the other hand, love the stuff, so you can imagine my delight the other day when I happened upon a Danish Pastry House pop-up and discovered the above pictured delicacy – some unpronounceable North Germanic confection comprised of marzipan, chocolate, sliced almonds, and assorted umlauts.  Delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends.  May you be as generous as the Mark Sanchez-led Jets offense, and as thankful as the New England Patriots defense five years ago today.

October 24, 2016: My Writing Process!

The other day, I was asked to describe my writing process.  My first instinct was to say I didn’t have one but, upon further consideration, I realized that I do follow certain patterns when writing a script.

Step #1: PROCRASTINATE

I’ll do anything to avoid starting a script – surfing the net, doing my taxes, writing this blog – sometimes going weeks steadfastly distracting myself until, finally, fed up with my no-can-do attitude, I’ll capitulate and begin!

Step #2: LAY THE GROUNDWORK

I’ll open up a new file page, put my name, the date, and the title on the cover page, then set up the headers and, finally, write TEASE at the top of the first page. This always gives me a great sense of accomplishment and, satisfied with work well done, I’ll take the rest of the day off.

Step #3: OPENING WITH A GLACIAL PACE

The first scene of the episode is crucial and, for that reason, I will agonize over it for days, constructing the entire scene in my head before writing it down.  After several rewrites, I’ll set it aside and come back to it the next day, throw out what I’ve written, and take another stab at it.  Eventually, I’ll have a scene that I don’t love but honestly don’t hate as much as previous versions and, besides, I’ve got to get moving.  And so, the following day, I’ll rewrite the scene, then forge ahead and, usually, complete the tease.  This offers another great sense of accomplishment as I convince myself that 1/7th of the script is complete (tease down, next five acts and the tag to go!  That’s technically 1/7th – if you don’t take page count into consideration).

Step #4: CREATIVE DRIVE

The beginning of a script is always tough as I’ll re-read and rewrite those early scenes endlessly in the hopes that racing through them will give me the momentum to carry me through the rest of the act.  Instead, I usually stumble and crash half a page into new territory.  Fortunately, the cure for my writer’s block is only an elevator ride away.  Once I’m behind the wheel of my car, far away from the distractions of the internet and the chocolate in my fridge, I can finally focus. In fact, I’ve done some of my best writing while driving.  I’m not sure why it is but the 20 minute drive to work is golden time, allowing me to run and refine dialogue so that, by the time I get into the office, I’m ready to write!

Step #5: PUSH!  PUUUUSH!

That’s it!  Don’t let up!  Lock your door, ignore the distractions, and keep at it! You’re almost there.  Yes!  Yes!  You’ve done it!  Congratulations! You’re the proud parent of a Tease and First Act!  It may not be much to look at now but, like any mom and dad, you’ll grow to love it.  Or get used to it.

Step #6: RINSE! REPEAT!

Completing the first act is a HUUUGE accomplishment.   Believe it or not, the hardest part is over.  Now it’s simply a matter of repeating the techniques and superstitious  rituals that got you here.  Re-read, rewrite, go for a drive, lie awake into the wee hours playing scenes in your head, drink some sake, seek out positive reviews, comments or messages to remind you of your salad days and motivate yourself to achieve the perception of unparalleled visionary heights, you sad, creatively-spent has-been.

Step #7: RIDE THE WAVE!

At some point in the writing of the script, amidst the seemingly endless hours agonizing over turns of phrase or Rubik-like plots, you’ll get into a groove and the words will start to flow, smoother and faster.  And suddenly, all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place and you can do no wrong.  You’re in the zone and it’s glorious!  Great characters moments, tight dialogue runs, clever developments – it’s as if some future you has traveled back in time to give you all the answers. Sadly, this inspired burst is fleeting, usually lasting 5 to 15 pages before dissipating and leaving you the shattered mess you once were.  But the key is to recognize the wave and ride it as long as you can.  Just last month, I rode my best wave ever on Dark Matter Episode 304, blazing through a record 32 pages in a white heat.

Step #8: FEAR THE DEADLINE!

By this point, I’m hopefully at least halfway through the script.  I can often rely on a late closing burst as all the story’s narrative points converge in those final pages of the fourth act, giving me the momentum to  drive through another modest chunk.  If that doesn’t work, then the prospect of a looming deadline will be enough to spur me forward.

Step #9: CAP IT WITH SOMETHING SPECIAL!

Beginning a script is tough, but ending one can be just as hard UNLESS you’ve got the Holy Shit conclusion already in your head.  And you should!  Start strong, but end even stronger.  Yes, it’s important for the viewers who will no doubt be blown away by your inspired moment, but it’s equally crucial to your creative mental well-being capping the episode with an ending YOU know will blow them away.  The shocking reveal at the end of the show’s very first episode, the reveal of Jace Corso in Episode 3, TWO being blown out the airlock, the Android going down in Episode 12, the captured crew being escorted off the ship by the G.A. with SIX revealed as the mole in the season one finale, the bloodbath in the palace in Episode 212 – all deliciously devious moments I envisioned for ages and saved for script’s end, like a decadent bite of dessert you look forward to at the end of a long and exhausting dinner party.

Step #10: IGNORE IT LIKE AN EX THAT SPURNED YOU!

Once the script is complete, I’ll set it aside and move on to other things.  Resist the urge to give it any attention.  Don’t you remember the difficult times?  The frustration?  The thankless hours and days spent trying to make it work?!!  Play hard to get.  Ideally, I give it a few days before I pick it up and give it another read and another pass.  After that, it’s someone else’s problem…

Until they give you notes.  Then it’s your problem again.

November 20, 2013: Tokyo Day #15!

This is what I've bee reduced to: whiling away the afternoons in my hotel room eating $3 bananas.
This is what I’ve bee reduced to: whiling away the afternoons in my hotel room eating $3 bananas.

The old adage is true.  You never truly appreciate something until it’s gone.  Like, say, your appetite.  Or even the ability to eat something without having it transform your stomach in a raging maelstrom.  At the beginning of this trip, I was on the top of the world, assuming I’d get to try anything and everything.  The bechamel-laced gratin croquette from Tokyo McDonalds.  The ice cream waffle sandwich from Ginza’s Manneken.  A casual lunch-time visit to Pizza Seirinkan in Naka-Meguro.  I figured there’d be time.  But there wasn’t.  Instead, there was a banana and sliced bread and a manuka honey throat lozenge Akemi picked up at Mitsukoshi department store the other day.

Not even a final drink at Star Bar or a return visit to Butagumi for their delicious braised pork appetizer.

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.  I don’t fly out until 6:05 p.m. tomorrow evening.  Maybe there’s still hope?

We started our Tokyo trip with lunch at Sawada sushi and ended it with a dinner there.  As always, excellent.  On last night’s visit, we ended up befriending some of our fellow diners and retiring to Star Bar for a nightcap – cocktails for them and a medicinal stomach-settling amaro for me.

New friends!
New friends!

So, we fly back to Vancouver today.  By the time you read this blog entry, Akemi and I will already be thinking about eventually heading to the airport to catch our flight back to Canada.  Unless, of course, you read it much later in which case we’ll already be in the air.

Random shots:

Me in happier, hungrier, more hopeful times at the beginning of my journey.
Me in happier, hungrier, more hopeful times at the beginning of my journey.
The zen garden outside the hotel.  I'm tempted to crawl in and attain some inner peace.  Especially so far as my stomach is concerned.
The zen garden outside the hotel. I’m tempted to crawl in and attain some inner peace by quelling the inner turmoil. In my stomach.
A beautiful day in Ginza
A beautiful day in Ginza
My awesome new t-shirt from that NHK show I don't watch but should.  It look awesome.
My awesome new t-shirt from that NHK show I don’t watch but should. It look awesome.
A pre-wedding snap
A pre-wedding snap
Akemi all dressed up
Akemi all dressed up
The green "health juice" Akemi made me drink.
The green “health juice” Akemi made me drink.
Avoid swimming in this without a certified lifeguard present.
Avoid swimming in this without a certified lifeguard present.
Fresh orange jelly.
Fresh orange jelly.
Tokyo is the worldwide home of individually-wrapped items.  Like, for instance, bananas!
Tokyo is the worldwide home of individually-wrapped items. Like, for instance, bananas!
Warrior woman at the Robot Restaurant
Warrior woman at the Robot Restaurant

Thanks for coming along!

P.S.  I am NOT looking forward to that 90 minute shuttle bus ride to the airport.

November 19, 2013: Tokyo Day #14! Back on the horse! Oden! A return to an old favorite! And, of course, desserts!

I think I actually put on some weight on this trip.  No.  Really.  Upon my arrival in Tokyo, I had a choice between two notches on my belt – the first, a little tight; the second, a little loose.  I opted for the latter and, fourteen days later, that loose notch is actually kind of snug. Wha- happened?!  I thought all the walking I was doing would burn off the extra calories.  Okay, granted, I have been eating a lot – but no more than on previous visits.  I even took a bit of a break today, not so much out of a desire to curtail my culinary spree as it was the fact that I just wasn’t hungry after “the ramen debacle”.  I was up most of the night and into this morning nursing a sore stomach and I simply couldn’t do it today.

But that didn’t stop me from trying.

For lunch, we went out for oden, a traditional Japanese “comfort food” consisting of daikon radish, fish cake, boiled eggs, and konyakku, a flavorless potato noodle with a consistency like jelly.  It’s all served in a dashi broth and is beloved by many here, including Akemi.  Me, not so much, but I didn’t mind.  If Akemi was willing to eat deep-fried pork tonkatsu with me, I was certainly willing to eat a giant steamed radish for her.   True love, huh?

Following the line of customers into the restaurant.  The joint is jumping.
Following the line of customers into the restaurant. The joint is jumping.
Akemi's oden lunch setto, minus the daikon that has yet to arrive.
Akemi’s oden lunch setto, minus the daikon that has yet to arrive.
Karashi, a Japanese mustard that is about a thousand times hotter than what we have back home.  I'm going to have to pick up a jar to bring back with me.
Karashi, a Japanese mustard that is about a thousand times hotter than what we have back home. I’m going to have to pick up a jar to bring back with me.

Otakou: 2-2-3 Nihombashi, Tokyo

After lunch, I was feeling surprisingly “not terrible”, so rather than head back to the hotel, I accompanied Akemi on a stroll through Nihombashi.

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I wonder how hot it gets in there in the summer.
I wonder how hot it gets in there in the summer.

Although I still wasn’t hungry by the time we returned to Ginza, I figured I had to get back on the horse, just like a real athlete plays through pain.  With only days to go before my departure, I have a lot of ground to cover after all!  So we started off easy, sharing a meager two dessert snacks that we picked up at the Peninsula Hotel and brought back to our room:

Chocolate hazelnut cream cake and a mango pudding.
Chocolate hazelnut cream cake and a mango pudding.

One of the desserts Akemi was dying to tru was the famed Peninsula Hotel mango pudding, purportedly THE BEST mango pudding ever. So, I had to try it as well.  And the verdict?  It was pretty damn good mango pudding!  I never thought I’d ever say those words.

1Akemi also surprised me with a box of assorted chocolates from Madame Setsuko, an Osaka legend.  She gifted me a similar box after our first date way back in 2009, dropping them off at my hotel on her way to work the next morning.  Sweet, no?

Well, with time winding down on our trip, we’re making the most of our last few days by paying second visits to some of our favorite haunts. Last night, it was L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon for another excellent dinner:

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P.S. In retrospect, that Hattendo fresh cream bun before bedtime was huge mistake.  I was up all night!

November 16, 2013: Tokyo Day #11! Esquisse! Kushiage! Star Bar!

I have at least one revelatory dining experience every time I visit Tokyo and, on this trip, it was the dinner I had at Esquisse, Tokyo’s hottest French restaurant.  Located on the 9th floor of the Royal Crystal Ginza, Esquisse has only been open a year and a half but, in that short time, under the stewardship of the Head Chef Lionel Beccat, it has made a name for itself amongst a host of culinary luminaries.

How great was our meal?  Well, it was so good that Akemi, who had hitherto proclaimed herself “not a fan of French cuisine”, did an about face and has now declared herself very much a fan.  At least so far as Esquisse is concerned.  “The best meal I’ve eaten on this trip,”was what she said.  And we’ve had A LOT of terrific meals on this trip.

Every dish was a visual marvel, and the intricacies of its textural and flavor combinations nothing short of incredible.  Descriptions would not do any of them justice so, instead, feast your eyes…

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1Flawless.

Chef Lionel Beccat
Chef Lionel Beccat

If you’re making plans to visit Tokyo, put this one at the top of your To-Do list.

Esquisse: Royal Crystal Ginza 9F, 5-4-6 Ginza, Tokyo

Overall, it was another of good eating.  We were out the door fairly early this morning so that Akemi could check out one of her favorite chocolate shops, Chocolat de H, which had relocated to Shibuya’s Shin Q department store.  We walked the basement food section and I snapped some surreptitious pics.  For some reason photography is not permitted in the building so, if you report me, I’ll deny any knowledge of the photos or this blog…

Joel Robuchon baked goods
Joel Robuchon baked goods
Sebastien Bouillet popsicle-shaped cheesecakes.
Sebastien Bouillet popsicle-shaped cheesecakes.
Sebastien Bouillet owl and ladybug cakes (contain no actual owl or ladybugs).
Sebastien Bouillet owl and ladybug cakes (contain no actual owl or ladybugs).
The bread spread
The bread spread

We picked up a few desserts (for later) and had just enough time to cram them into our hotel fridge before heading downstairs to meet up with Akemi’s old friend and co-worker, Nihei, who took us to lunch.

Don't see many of these in Canada.
Don’t see many of these in Canada.

We walked the five blocks over to Kushino Bou, a terrific kushiage restaurant.  For those not in the know, kushiage cuisine offers an assortment of panko-crusted deep-fried favorites.  We were seated at counter and were instructed to simply tell them “Stop” when we’d had enough.  And then it began, skewer after skewer after skewer after skewer…

Saddle up to the counter at Kouji Bou
Saddle up to the counter at Kushino Bou
Two types of kushiage: beef, shrimp and shiso
Two types of kushiage: beef, shrimp and shiso
Prawn
Prawn
Shitake mushroom?  I think.
Shitake mushroom? I think.
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Skewer receptacle

Akemi maxed out at around twelve.  Nihei and I managed about twenty.  Apparently, the restaurant’s average repertoire includes anywhere from 40-50 different skewers a seating, so if you’re planning to “sample a bit of everything”, make sure to skip breakfast.

After lunch, we strolled over to Akemi’s former workplace, Pierre Marcolini, where we picked up some thank-you chocolates for Nihei.

Akemi and Nihei, our affable host
Akemi and Nihei, our affable host

We bid our host a fond farewell and burned off lunch with a little walk so that we could return to the hotel room and sample the desserts we had purchased that morning…

Clockwise from left to right: chocolates from Chocolat de H, cheesecake from Paul Basset, chocolate mousse cake from Sebastien Bouillet, and chocolate and pistachio mousse from Toshi Yoroizuka.
Clockwise from left to right: chocolates from Chocolat de H, cheesecake from Paul Bassett, chocolate mousse cake from Sebastien Bouillet, and chocolate and pistachio mousse from Toshi Yoroizuka.

Not a bad one in the bunch.  The cheesecake was particularly intriguing – not overly sweet and a touch salty.

In the afternoon, we did a little advance Christmas shopping.  Among the notable sights:

What kid wouldn't want this?
What kid wouldn’t want this?
Former employee of the Robot Restaurant, now reduced to working retail.
Former employee of the Robot Restaurant, now reduced to working retail.

And we capped off our night at….where else?…Star Bar.  Check out Master Kishi-san doing his thing.  He’s a machine!

Star Bar: 1-5-13 Ginza, Chuo

November 14, 2013: Tokyo Day #9 Part Two! Studying robotics in Shinjuku!

Being a huge fan of science fiction, I have always been fascinated by the world of future tech: nanotechnology, faster than light travel and, of course, robotics.  Last night, I was afforded the chance to explore the latter at one of Tokyo’s hottest night spots, the Robot Restaurant, a place where science and spectacle converge in a flashy, sonorous, dizzying – and informative – display.

Located in the hear of Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood, the restaurant was opened a couple of years ago at a cost of an astounding $10+ million and has been packing them in ever since.  The price of admission (about $50 per person) gets you an unremarkable dinner (we ate before we came) and a seat at THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH!

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The streets of Shinjuku
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Right down this side street…

As we walked along in search of our destination, this caught my eye –

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We already had plans for the night but, being a military buff, I thought this would be an equally educational opportunity for some other time. But I was surprised to discover that said Tank Girls make up part of one of the acts I’d be watching that night.  Robotics AND military history!  I actually felt myself getting smarter!

We purchased our reserved tickets (There are a couple of shows each night so make sure to book in advance), selected our meals (you have a choice between meat or fish), then walked across the street and into…well…let me show you…

Once downstairs, we were ushered into the showroom and over to our assigned seats.  With ten minutes to go before the commencement of the festivities, we were free to walk around, check out some of massive props on display, and grab a drink.  The crowd was, perhaps not so surprisingly, mainly made up of foreigners, ranging in age from tiny kids to grandmothers.

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My bartender, Neko-chan.
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Unfortunately, these massive set pieces.
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Dinner.  I can say with certain confidence that of the $10 + million spent on the Robot Restaurant, very little of it went to food costs.

The audience settled into the seats flanking the stage area and we were instructed to remain seated during the show as there was a danger of being clipped by moving set pieces.  Also, I imagine that every so often one of these robots gains sentience and runs amok, necessitating prompt action by trained professionals who don’t need innocent bystanders getting in the way.  Photography is permitted, but big cameras (?) are frowned upon.  Also frowned upon = touching the robots or dancers.  sad

The show kicked off with an impressive choreographed taiko performance involving two groups of women on two moving stages, massive wadaiko drums, a moving omikoshi and its dancing bearers, a slew of oni (Japanese demons), colorful costumes, flashing lights, blaring music, smoke.  Here’s a taste:

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Omikoshi and bearers

Following a five minute intermission, it was time to start the next act – which ended up being my favorite.  And, speaking of favorites, as much as I loved the headlining robots – especially the goofy dancing samurai-bot – I ranked this performer as my #1 draw:

Another five minute intermission and then we moved onto the third act which was weird and my least favorite, but no less entertaining.  This one actually told a story and involved a fearsome black samurai and his two underlings who looked like rock ’em sock ’em robots dancing around and talking trash.  They are confronted by a panda and his two tiger buddies.  The robots kick the crap out of the panda but are in turn beaten up by the tigers who end up getting their asses kicked by black samurai.  Enter a warrior woman armed with Thor’s hammer and Captain America’s shield.  She takes on the robots.  And loses.  She retreats, but another champion steps into the fray: a woman riding a dinosaur wielding a giant iron ball on a chain.  She battles black samurai and is forced to retreat.  At which point this giant spider woman makes a grand entrance, battles the black samurai, and captures him with her webbing before dragging him back to her lair. Hurray!  The day is saved!

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Panda makes his grand entrance.

Another five minute intermission.  We are all handed glow wands and instructed on what to do.  Alas, all the instructions were in Japanese – but I got the gist.

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Signaling flight #302 in for a landing.

And the show goes on with another wild performance, this one involving roller-skating robots and warrior women.  Also, towering robots programmed to serve humanity.  And dance!

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Robot hearts you!

A break in the action affords us the opportunity for a photo op:

1A goodbye to the robots…

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Sayanora, robo-san

And then it was time for the capper, a performance highlighted by more costume clad women, loud music, laser lights, and a technicolor tank…

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Wow.  What a production!    I was impressed – not just by the scope and scale of the production, but the talented performers as well.

On my way out, I bought a souvenir Robot Danger Dance & Mechanic Crew t-shirt.  The fellow at the counter informed me that they had received some mighty impressive guests from overseas  in recent months (Anthony Bourdain, JJ Abrams, The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus) and suggested I check out the website as the performances were always changing.  A return visit is a must!

Highly recommended.  If you’re in Tokyo, not to be missed!

Japan Robot Restaurant – ロボットレストラン

http://www.tokyoweekender.com/2013/07/robot-restaurant/

November 14, 2013: Tokyo Day #9! Wherein we check out Akemi’s old neighborhood and I eat way too much. Again!

Yesterday, we took a day trip to Akemi’s old stomping grounds, catching the Chiyoda line from Hibiya station to Yoyogi Uehara where we transferred to the Odakyu line and finally arrived in Seijogakuen-mae.   In short, just a little easier to get there than it is to pronounce…

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Working on our tans at Yoyogi Uehara station.

Once we arrived the first thing we did was go on a tour of the places Akemi used to frequent – like, say, the local grocery store…

Canned pork belly
Canned pork bellies!  They beat sardines any day!

Then, we took a stroll through the area.  Akemi offered insight throughout the tour.  “This is where you can come and get your shirts dry-cleaned,”she would helpfully point out as we’d pass a dry-cleaners. And “This is where you can get your hair cut” – as we’d walk by a barber shop.  “And this is where you can buy your insurance.”

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I stopped to contribute a little to help the poor cats and dogs displaced by the tsunami.
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It’s actually a quaint little walking neighborhood.
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Very homey
Sun-dried bottarga
We walked by this restaurant courtyard where two tables of bottarga were being sun-dried.
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The food is great but apparently the service is an issue.
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“Colonel Sanders Fried Chicken”as Akemi calls it.  CSFC
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A beautiful view of the area I took well away from the edge of the balcony with my zoom.

Akemi had a hankering for soba (buckwheat noodles), so we had lunch at a soba restaurant called Akatsukian.

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I ordered a lightly battered vegetable tempura.  The maitake mushrooms were outstanding.  In fact, this trip has given me a newfound respect for the humble fungus.  Who knew they could pack so much flavor.
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My soba broth was incredibly rich, imbued with a deep, sweet smokiness from the duck and charred green onions.

For dessert, we headed over to another one of Akemi’s old haunts: Seijo Alpes…

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“This is perfect!”I said – only to be informed it was a sample tray of that’s day’s selection.

Akemi had a chestnut dessert that I found not sweet enough and texturally kind of strange – but she loved.  “Very Japanese taste,”she said.  I, on the other hand, had a decadent hazelnut taste.  Very Joe taste.

And the overall verdict?

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Two big thumbs up.

As we walked through the area, Akemi kept mentioning what a great neighborhood it was and how wonderful it would be to live there. I was unconvinced until I came across these guys…

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Potential buddies for my crew.

We continued our exploration of Seijogakuen-mae with a little tour of the local bakeries.  We picked up a few samples for…well…sampling.

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Clockwise from upper left: almond and walnut bread, custard cream bun, cream cheese danish, curry bun, chocolate bun, sweet potato bun.  Loser = chocolate bun due to its solid chocolate center.  Winner – custard bun due to its deliciousness.

We eventually wrapped up our tour and caught the subway to Shinjiku where two girls complimented me on my awesome Attack on Titan cell phone cover, and we walked some more…

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The streets of Shinjuku
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I’m not usually one for salad but…
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Inspired curry.

It was a great day – but little did I know that the best was yet to come.  Our evening was so awesome, I can’t properly do it justice in the tail end of this blog so what I’m going to do is give our outing its own special blog entry later in the day.  Consider it a bonus blog entry.

Now, I don’t want to say too much and spoil the surprise, but here’s a sneak preview…

Damn.  Ivon is going to be SO jealous.

November 13, 2013: Tokyo Day #8! A day packed full of jam! And whisky!

Kanpai!
Kanpai!

Akemi: When I was a kid, I had big eyes.  Like everyone in my family.

Me: Why?

Akemi: I’m not sure.  Maybe because we eat a lot of meat.

Well, just a little meat for me yesterday – but a lot of whisky.

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The open kitchen concept at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

We joined Akemi’s family for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, a place that offers terrific high-end value for your money.  If you’re looking to sample Michelin-starred cuisine without breaking the bank, this is where you should come.

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Creamy pumpkin soup with ricotta cheese gnocci
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Pan-fried duck liver and parmesan cheese risotto
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Dark chocolate ganache served with cocoa sherbert and bitter biscuit powder.  Super rich and decadent!  You’ve been warned!

This was my third visit to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and I can honestly say that not only have I never had a bad meal here; I’ve never had a bad dish here.  That’s damn impressive.  So much so that we made dinner reservations for next week.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon:  6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato

We exited the restaurant and just happened to stumble upon (okay, I had this scoped out days in advance) the Roppongi Hills Whisky Festival showcasing a bunch of Japanese blended and single malts.

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Hey, check it out!  The Whisky Festival has kicked off at Roppongi Hills.
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The menu
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It’s Whisky and Photobombing Chihuahua Day at Roppongi Hills!
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We made two new friends – three if you count the dog – while sampling whisky.  Alas, we didn’t get their names.  Except for the dog.  His name was Coco.

I sampled the 18 year old Yamazaki (at one third the price of what it cost me for a shot in L.A.) and the 21 year Hibiki.  I’ll be coming back for the Hakushu and Kaku.

After the whisky-tasting, I was feeling nostalgic and melancholy – so I figured a trip to the Mori Art Museum to check out the Charles Schulz retrospective was just the thing.  We filed through the packed rooms and checked out Peanuts arts ranging from early sketch work through the various decades (Akemi: Snoopy went to war?  Me: Yeah.  He killed thirty nazis!).

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Akemi: “Charlie has a humungous face.  How does he support his body?”

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1Ah, good times.  My sister was a huge Snoopy fan – and still has a soft spot for the lovable beagle.  Maybe I’ll bring her back something nice from the gift shop for minding my dogs while we’re away in Tokyo.

Mori Art Museum:  6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato

While in town, I’m thinking of checking out a Japanese movie:

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Didn’t love the manga, but the movie looks suitably creepy.  If I have time, I may check it out.

We returned to the hotel to gather our strength for the night ahead.  A little downtime, a little snack:

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The choux creme from Creme de la Creme at Roppongi Hills.

And we were ready to head out once again:

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One outfit change later and Akemi was ready to go.

We had dinner reservations at Fook Lam Moon, a Chinese restaurant with branches in Hong Kong, Ginza, and Marunouchi.  Akemi and I arrived early so we killed some time…

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Akemi and I killed time by taking a ride on the Disney balloon.
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Tokyo in Christmas mode.
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Interesting art work
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With the release of the new Thor movie, it’s all about the Marvel heroes in Marunouchi.

We dined with Akemi’s family  – mom, dad, brother, sister, and new brother-in-law – and had another great meal.

The Aota clan
The Aota clan

A couple of the highlights:

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Crab meat and bright orange guts

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Pictured above: the siu long bao.

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The waiters prepare the Peking Duck: carving the meat and trimming the fat.

Fook Lam Moon: 36/F Marunouchi Building, 2-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku,

Despite all we had accomplished on the day, it was still early so we had one more stop to make before turning in for the night.  We headed to Ginza and my home away from home: Star Bar.  It was great to see the old gang!

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Master Kishi-san
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It’s been a year since my last visit but I didn’t even need to order.  I sat down and, a couple of minutes later, this was presented to me.  Perfect.

Yamazaki-san does his thing:

Rounding out the crew is Yoshida-san who recommended a terrific bourbon: Rowan's Creek.
Rounding out the crew is Yoshida-san who recommended a terrific bourbon: Rowan’s Creek.

Star Bar: Sankosha Building B1F, 1-5-13 Ginza, Tokyo

Whew.  What a day!

November 12, 2013: Tokyo Day #7! Noisy cell phones! Kamakura! Beware of Kites!

It would seem that my mother’s opinion of Japan has taken a drastic u-turn after she watched the Tokyo episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.  I assured her that not all – in fact, I’d venture to say very few – Japanese women choose careers as skimpily-clad performance artists in robot theater.  Also, I had no imminent plans to join any sadomasochistic rope-binding clubs.  I’m not sure I convinced her though.  Yesterday, instead of ending our phone conversation with her customary “Have fun!”, she opted for the infinitely more foreboding: “Be careful!”.

Somewhat along the same lines…Did you know that it’s impossible to take a discreet picture with your cell phone in Japan.  The other night, my dining companion, Tomomi, expressed nothing short of awe at my ability to snap photos of the food without making a sound.  I explained that all she had to do was switch her phone to silent mode but, apparently, there is no such thing as silent mode in Japan.  When it comes to taking pictures on your cell phone anyway.  This fact was confirmed the next day at lunch when one of our fellow customers tried taking a photo of her sushi – and ended up drawing the attention of the entire room when her phone emitted a sound akin to a sound effect for fairy dust being sprinkled.  What gives?  Well, according to Akemi, perverts ruined it for everyone.  Isn’t it always the way?  Apparently, upskirt photos became pandemic that the authorities stepped in and passed a law to stem the flow.  Now, if you’re going to snap a photo of someone’s panties riding the escalator one floor up, someone is gonna know!  Unless, of course, you have one of those stealth phones.  Like I do.

Well, yesterday I spent the day with my friend Moro-san visiting Kamakura, a small and quaint city in Kanagawa Prefecture notable for its temples, shrines, giant statue, and the exact same chocolate cake with a side of whipped cream that is served at every restaurant and cafe in the area.

Four subway transfers later, I arrived!
Four subway transfers later, I arrived!
We had lunch a tiny Italian restaurant.  Check out the menu.  Decisions, decisions.
We had lunch a tiny Italian restaurant. Check out the menu. Decisions, decisions.
Ojizo-osama.  According to Akemi "Statues with different meanings.  Usually good luck thing I guess."
Ojizo-osama. According to Akemi “Statues with different meanings. Usually good luck thing I guess.”
The temple grounds.
The temple grounds.

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According to Moro-san, they're especially fond of creampuffs.
According to Moro-san, they’re especially fond of creampuffs.
According to Akemi, this gets turned the 18th of every month.  Why?  "I don't know."
According to Akemi, this gets turned the 18th of every month. Why? “I don’t know.”
Kamakura.  View from the hilltop.
Kamakura. View from the hilltop.
That's what SHE said!
That’s what SHE said!
The giant bronze Buddha
The giant bronze Buddha
All aboard the party bus!
All aboard the party bus!

We stopped off for a pre-dinner snack where I enjoyed a very beery beer ice cream and a bite of Moro-san’s lavender ice cream that tasted like that time I was accidentally sprayed in the mouth while cutting through my local department store’s women’s perfume section.  Then, about an hour later, we had dinner.

We capped off our day with drinks at a bar called En in Yokohama. Owned and operated by master mixologist Endo, it’s a small place and homey watering hole with an astounding selection of booze.  We were the first ones in and, over the hour and a half we were there, a half dozen other clients made their way in – all regulars.  Moro-san introduced me and I ended up chatting with all of them, alternating between English and Japanese as I knocked back 12 year old Yamazaki and Four Roses Single Barrel.

Bar En: 4 Chome-180 Motomachi, Naka Ward, Yokohama.

Yokohama by night.
Yokohama by night.

By the time I got back to my hotel in Tokyo – a little over an hour later – I was exhausted.  But Akemi was on hand to greet me in her very special way.  With a welcome back hug?  A kiss?  Even better!  Check it out –

A Hattendo cream bun.
A Hattendo cream bun.

The perfect way to end my night.

5 Heartwarming Soldier and Dog Reunions in Honor of Veteran’s Day

October 8, 2013: Celebrating in the grand American tradition! In Canada!

To the casual observer, Canadians and Americans are practically indistinguishable from one another.  I mean, sure, there are the odd physical disparities (ie. our eleventh toe, the fact that our hearts are located approximately three inches lower than that of the average American’s) but, for the most part, it’s very hard to pick a non-sandal-wearing Canadian out of a Taco Bell line-up.  Closer scrutiny, however, reveals notable cultural differences between the two countries.  Our money is more colorful, for instance, providing a more level playing field for near-sighted pickpockets and inspiring such uniquely Canadian terms as “She’s as blue as a fiver” or “Pink as a fifty!”.  Our professional footballs are fatter, given that they were originally modelled on a pregnant woman’s abdomen, and thus easier to kick blindfolded.  In Canada, ambulances are called “hospital limos” and their sirens are only half as deafening as their American counterparts because, let’s face it, they don’t need to be THAT loud.  Most interestingly of all are the slight variances between our respective national holidays.  Whereas our southern neighbors commemorate Arbor Day by planting trees, we commerate Armoire Days by cutting down trees and using their wood to build ornate standing closets.  Rather than celebrate the politically incorrect Christmas Holi-(Holy/Holly)-days, we celebrate the less offensive religious/gender-neutral Gazpacho Days.  In the U.S., Americans give thanks on the fourth Thursday of every November, a day called Thanksgiving.  In Canada, Canadians give thanks on the second Monday in October, a day called Thanksgiving as well.  Also, Sorry Monday.

Yes, Canadian Thanksgiving is next Monday, so I thought I’d do something special to mark the occasion, something that would incorporate the traditions of both countries.  For starters, instead of celebrating October 14th or waiting for November 28th, I decided to split the difference (more or less) and celebrate on Sunday, October 13th.  This way, my football buddies can partake in that most American of Thanksgiving holiday traditions…the turducken!

via 4505meats.com
via 4505meats.com

And what, pray tell, is a turducken?  “Turducken is a dish consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which is in turn stuffed into a de-boned turkey.” (Wikipedia).

The first time I ever laid eyes on a turducken was when former football analyst John Madden prepared one prior to a game.  A chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey.  I mean, you couldn’t get more Madden than that.  And then, the more I thought about it, the more I thought: “Why stop there?”  Why not get a pheasant in there?  And inside the pheasant, a cornish game hen?  And inside the game hen, a squab?  And inside the squab, a quail?  How awesome would THAT be? The correct answer is: VERY!

But maybe I get a little ahead of myself.  First thing’s first.  Let’s start with the simple turducken.  And I do mean “simple”.  I won’t be doing any of the actual deboning and stuffing myself.  I’ve ordered one up for next weekend from my local butcher.  All I’ll have to do is pop it in the oven for 5-6 hours and then enjoy with a side of Joel Robuchon mashed potatoes (the secret is in the butter and LOTS of it) and maybe something Canadian as well.  Maple fudge? I don’t know yet.

So, how many of you have tried your hands at turducken?  Any suggestions?  Tips?  Warnings?  Do I roast it?  Or do I incorporate yet another most American of traditions and drop it into a giant pot of boiling oil?

May 20, 2013: The Supermovie of the Week Club reconvenes! Cookie Monster reviews X-Men: First Class!

X1 posterWatching X-Men: First Class like dating smart, beautiful she-monster who be fantastik company – until she drink too much, start rambling, talk about her ex, linger over espresso, and leave you wishing date could have ended sometime after dessert and before she vomit in your cabriolet.  Disappointing because movie start off VERY strong but, sadly, overstay it’s welcome like a visiting uncle Herb.

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Guess what number me tinking.  Wrong.  Blue!

Movie open in WWII concentration camp where boy, Erik, demonstrate superpower of magnetism when he get angry – much to de delight of evil Nazi, Professor Footloose (second worst miscasting in recent supermovie memory), who kill his mother to reawaken his abilities.  For some reason, Erik destroy room, crush nazi soldier skulls, but leave mom-killer alive – even tho monster pretty sure professor’s glasses could have been pretty effektive/gruesome weapon.

Meanwhile, in England, another boy, Charles Xavier, who have mind-reading/control powers, walk into his kitchen and befriend shapeshifter-burglar, Mystique.  Awww.  You see?  Mebbe you can make friends wit a burglar too if you only make de effort.

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Magneto, Master of Tai-Chi

Twenty years later, everyone grown up (Which, incidentally, make dem in deir 20’s in de 1960’s.  So, doing de math, Professor X and Magneto be around 75 years old in de X-Men movies.).  Erik trying to track down Professor Footloose who, for some reason, look twenty years younger den he did during WWII.  In addition to better looking, he also got hisself three mutant assistants and plan to start WWIII.  He really tinking BIG!

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Smiles, everyone.  Smiles!

Wit help of Charles Xavier and Mystique, CIA go after Professor Footloose.  But he eskape in sekret submarine which, incidentally, be standard on most supervillain yachts.  On de bright side, Charles make new ally in de process = brooding Erik.  BFF, dey team up and recruit teen mutants.

While teen mutants settle in and play Big Brother, Charles and Erik go to Russia where dey capture Professor Footloose henchwoman, Emma Frost (WORST miscasting in recent supermovie history) who about as interesting as a fish ice sculpture – and learn of his plan.

While Charles and Erik be in Russia, Professor Footloose attack teen mutants.  He kill one, take another, and massakre many CIA agents.

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Believe it or not (and you probably not believe it by dis picture) but she one of de worst tings about dis movie.

Lots of time wasted wit secondary charakters.  Mutants train.  Den put on new team uniforms and go after Professor Footloose and co. while trying to head off nuclear war.  Plenty of action!  Explosions!  Cool visual effekts!  Erik finally get his revenge on Professor Footloose and steal his hat.  Charles paralyzed.  Nuclear war averted.

In movie’s final scenes, wheelchair-bound Charles open up school for gifted mutants.  Erik (aka Magneto), meanwhile, wit support of mercenary mutants inkluding Mystique, break White Queen out of jail. Presumably so dat she can get de help she needs.  Me hoping acting lessons!

Verdikt: A good movie dat about a half hour too long to be a great movie.

Rating: 7.5 chocolate chippee cookies.

Past supermovie reviews here: http://cookiemonstermovereviews.wordpress.com/ (Thor, Megamind, Green Hornet, etc.).