As many of you blog regulars who have followed my Tokyo exploits are already aware, I am a HUGE fan of Hattendo cream buns. They are one of the high points of my annual Japan trips – fluffy cream-filled buns available in various flavors. ]On my last days in Tokyo, I always make it a point to swing by the Akihabara subway station so I can pick up a few for the flight home. But, as of today, I will no longer have to go to Japan to get my Hattendo fix because they are now available here in Toronto at the Hattendo Cafe (15 Baldwin Street).
They had their soft opening today, so Akemi and I swung by to sample the goods.
Ah, natsukashii. This brings me back.
Also available: matcha, adzuki, and custard melon pan, various coffees and lattes, and a Hattendo ramune.
I’m considering putting in an application for the Hattendo mascot position. They can pay me in buns. What do you think?
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 PartsUnknown. 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!
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.”
The temple grounds.
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.”
Kamakura. View from the hilltop.
That’s what SHE said!
The giant bronze Buddha
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.
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 –
I’d been thinking about it since my last trip here and, finally, yesterday, I finally got a chance to pay a return visit to Pizza Seirinkan. Joining me this time were Akemi and her friend Yukina…
The place is surprisingly easy to find, a mere two minute walk from the Naka-Meguro subway station. It opens at 11:3o but, on this day, we got in early at approximately 11:26 a.m.
Yukina (the strawberry princess) and Akemi.
We did the octopus starter. Tasty but a tad chewy. Mogu-mogu as Akemi put it.
There are only two types of pizza on the menu at Seirinkan. But, really, you don’t need anymore. Why mess with perfection? The Margherita is my favorite.
While Akemi preferred the more garlicky Marinara. It’s all in the dough.
After lunch, we headed over to Electric Town, Akihabara, so I could track down a new Evangelion iPhone case and, of course, one of my favorite desserts –
I had the matcha coming and the custard going. They’re sweet, cream-filled pillows from heaven.
Akemi and I kept the subsequent snacking to a minimum because we had a 6:00 p.m. dinner reservation at The Molecular Tapas Bar. This would make my fourth visit, but we really went because Akemi was dying to try it. It’s always an experience…
The view from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel lounge. Akemi called it beautiful. I’d lean toward terrifying.
The Sparkling Muscat. Like eating sweet, carbonated jelly.
Autumn Forest Snacks
From left to right: A porcini puff, mushroom cappuccino, crispy gingko, truffled potato, hunting pig (a bacon biscuit), matsutake gohan (a matsutake mushroom rice cracker), and an apple-manchego cigar.
Please, don’t eat. The dry ice is just for show.
An incredibly aromatic shitake mushroom soup. Akemi says it was the best thing she’s eaten so far on this trip. Totemo natsukashii!
Passion fruit caviar. They burst in your mouth like fruity salmon eggs.
On to the mains…
Smoke (and smokey) tuna.
Akemi usually isn’t a fan of smoked foods so I thought I’d get to finish hers off. Unfortunately for me, she loved it.
Langoustine Suquet – scampi in a Catalan broth.
Braised Iberico pork cheek. Guess what the cauliflower-looking stuff is. If you guessed cauliflower, you’re right.
Siu long bao. Actually, a reverse take on the Chinese soup dumpling. The lamb chop holds a pocket of the hot broth that has been injected directly into the meat. You’re cautioned to eat it all in one bite at the risk of making a mess. Accompanying the chop is a yogurt dipping sauce and some baby peach.
Wagyu cooked sous-vide for six hours.
Dobinmushi. Their take on the class soup sees its main ingredients encapsulated in a translucent globule created by dropping the soup in calcium water.
And then it was on to dessert. We started with the “puff”, liquid nitrogen-dipped meringues that literally puffed in your mouth when chewed, venting its smokey self out of the nose’s of unsuspecting diners.
An intricate and beautiful dish. Those maple leaves are painstakingly constructed from wonton wrappers. But the highlight for me was the acorn ice cream.
Clockwise from the top: Buttery-great popcorn cotton candy, a lemon-olive oil gummy, szechuan meringue, uber-tart raspberry soda (in wafer for), and chocolate pumice.
And we finished with the restaurant’s trademark miracle fruit closer.
We were instructed to sample the various fruit – sweet orange, tart lemon and lime – then told to pop the little red miracle fruit into our mouths. We chewed the fruit around the stone, moved it around our mouths and then, when a minute was up, we spat out the stone and tasted the fruit again. The lemon and limes were miraculously sweet. How is this possible? Oh, you can read all about it here: Miracle fruit – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
I’ve got to find a source so I can throw my own miracle fruit party where I can serve lemon wedges and vinegar shots.
Another day in Tokyo, then hopping on the bullet train and heading over to Osaka for a couple of days.
Quelle surprise! The day after my Toronto nemesis, Tara Yelland, makes a bid to be cast in the potential Dark Mattertelevision series (based on the comic book of the same name) by posing with a copy of the first issue, which came two days after Carl Binder did pretty much the same thing, which came a day after Alex Levine did the same thing, which came a day after Ivon Bartok did the same thing, which came a day after I opened this blog up to casting suggestions for the potential Dark Matter television series, I received an email from our old friend Martin Gero who wrote: “I haven’t had time to do the Q&A yet. Cause I’ve been busy reading both the print and iPad versions of Dark Matter.” and included the above pic as proof. And, quite obviously, as a not-so-gentle reminder of his acting roots. Yep, it’s true. After writing and exec. producing on Stargate: Atlantis, co-writing, directing, and producing the feature film Young People Fucking, writing and producing on HBO’s Bored To Death, and now writing and exec. producing The L.A. Complex, the Golden Boy has set his sight on far loftier goals. It’s no secret where his true passion lies…
Hey, speaking of Dark Matter, my Toronto arch-rival, Tara Yelland, offers a (spoiler-laden) review of the first two issues over at her blog, here: Dark Matter. Check it out. Then peruse some of the other entries that deal with things like highly illegal birthday gifts (The Best Gift), bizarre personal factoids (The Facts), her creepy Winners encounters (Your Kids Will Break Your Heart), and her even creepier tribute to The Shining (A Tribute to the Shining).
So, yesterday, I gave you a list of my Top Ten Disappointments (in no particular order) from my recent Tokyo trip. Today, I offer you the flip side and give you a list of my Top Ten Pleasant Surprises (in no particular order) from the same trip. Keep in mind, these are surprises, so meals at places like Nodaiwa and Ishikawa don’t make the list simply because I was expecting them to be as excellent as they were!
10) Hattendo cream buns!
I happened across this little stand in the Akihabara subway station and, after some consideration, decided to try one of the chocolate cream buns. Then, another. Then a matcha (green tea version). Then a six pack of various flavors! Sweet, creamy, alternately dense and airy, they were a remarkable discovery. I felt like that archeologist who discovered the remnants of Noah’s Ark on Mount Etna!
9) Lindo purple and golden potato cakes
I shouldn’t try the free food items at Japanese department stores because, half the time, I end up buying what I sample. Like, in this case, these wonderful sweet potato cakes that tasted like a cross between cake and ice cream. I’ve never had anything quite like them – and wager I won’t again until the next time I hit Shinjuku Isetan.
8) Henri Le Roux white chocolate/matcha bar
I’ve tried match (green tea) chocolates from many chocolatiers, but none have attained the level of Henri Le Roux’s smooth, creamy, melt-in-your mouth white chocolate and matcha version.
7) Ikura (salmon roe) at Sushi Sawada
Sushi don’t get any better than this. I love taking first-timers to Sawada because the meal is always an adventure – entertaining, informative, and, of course, delicious. Sawada-san serves up an incredibly wide variety of offerings: two types of sea urchin (purple and the famed variety from just north of Hokkaido, (tuna) toro aburi with the texture of marbled wagyu, enormous kuruma ebi, and the finest ikura I’ve ever had.
6) The Kobe Kitano Hotel/igrekplus Bakery’s white chocolate brûlée cup.
An original creation for the Salon du Chocolat. I’m not a fan of strawberries so I decided to order something else. Fortunately, my friend Keiko did order it and was kind enough to allow me a taste – or two (okay, three). Japan is really the only place where my “no fruit with dessert” rule goes out the window simply because their fruit is always so sweet and always so good (a far cry from the sweet and/or sour product you’ll find at your local supermarket). Loved the the brûlée. Loved the cotton candy crown. Loved the liquid chocolate that is poured over top. And, yes, loved the strawberries!
5) Pizza Seirinkan
Who would have known that the world’s best pizza can be found in Naka-Meguro at a place called Pizza Seirinkan. Your choices are simple: Margherita or Marinara. But, really, when the pizza is this good, you don’t need any other choices. It’s simple but delicious and, if you’re going to go, make sure you get there early. Once they run out of pizza, they close up shop for the day.
4) Dim sum at Fook Lam Moon
When Akemi told me she wanted to go for dim sum, I was less than enthused. I mean, how good could dim sum be – even in Tokyo? As it turns out, VERY good. We ended up going to Fook Lam Moon in Ginza where we enjoyed a fantastic meal that covered all the usual suspects: barbecued pork, siu long bao, turnip cakes, and sticky rice purses. I’ve been to the original, in Hong Kong, and have to say that the Tokyo branch beats it handily.
3) Wasabi seaweed (side) served with the tonkatsu at Wako in the Shinjuku Isetan
I mean how typical of dining out in Tokyo. I discover one of my Top 10 Pleasant Surprises at, of all places, a chain tonkatsu restaurant in a department store. And it’s a side dish that accompanies the main! Unlike the neon green version that many North American Japan serve you (purchasable in handy squeeze containers), the wasabi you’re served in Japan is fresh, tasty, and possessed of a borderline sweetness. In this seaweed dish, it was incredible – and actually blew away both the Iberico and Kurobuta pork!
2) The yuzu chocolate at Le Chocolat de H.
More craziness abounds! Turns out my favorite chocolate on this trip was actually a fruit/chocolate combo, a creation of leading Japanese pastry chef and chocolatier Hironobu Tsujiguchi. Sublime. His banana chocolate is also something else.
1) Berserk on the big screen!
“Who goes to the movies while they’re on vacation?”you may ask. Well, I do if it turns out my visit to Tokyo happens to coincide with the release of a feature based on one of my favorite anime series of all time: Berserk. It wasn’t subtitled and most of the dialogue went over my head but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of Berserk: Golden Age I (Egg of the Supreme King).
Hey, I hear what you’re all saying. There’s a big difference between visiting a place for two weeks out of the year and actually living there, however I am a creature of habit. I adjusted quite quickly to Vancouver after the move from Montreal and then adjusted to life alone with the dogs. When Akemi came to visit – and ended up sticking around – I adjusted, and I was even able to adjust to life in Toronto last year. In fact, by about the middle of August, I was, admittedly, enjoying myself (Miss you, Buca!). So I imagine that if I moved to Tokyo, I would adjust in time. Sure, there would be things I’d miss (ie. friends, English, clothing my size) but I’m sure I would readjust. On the surface, money would seem to be the biggest hurdle but I’ve given it some thought and, even in the event that I don’t work for quite some time, after selling the house in Van I could get an apartment here and live quite comfortably for a good long while. Nope, the biggest issue is still the dogs – not only getting them here but finding a Tokyo dog-sitter in the event I ever want to take a vacation.
Anyway, at this point this is all just fantasy given that I have some plans for a few projects this coming year. First and foremost is my comic book series, Dark Matter, that launched last month and that, if all goes as planned, will make the transition from the comic book page to the small (depending on the size of your t.v.) screen. The second issue hits the shelves this Wednesday (February 8th!) so be sure to pick it up and be the first to know what the pilot episode will be about (including the shocking last minute reveal).
I’ve also good a horror script to finish up (hopefully by month’s end) and that historical mini-series I should get back to researching (and, eventually, pitching).
But all that’s for Vancouver. Here in Tokyo, I fast approach the end of my vacation. I’m thinking that, depending on my schedule, I may come back in September. My new buddy, Koji, gave me a link to a place that rents furnished apartments. I perused the site and realized that renting a place for a month would actually be less expensive than staying at a hotel for two weeks. What better way to get a feel for life as a native than by having to make your own dinner reservations?
Today, I did something I’ve never done in Japan: eaten at a Chinese restaurant. Akemi felt like Chinese food (specifically, mango pudding) and booked us lunch at the famed Fook Lam Moon. I’ve been to the one in Hong Kong and, gotta say, the one here in Tokyo is better. We ordered a set lunch and were stuffed well before the arrival of the sticky rice purse. We started with some of the best barbecued pork chau siu I’ve ever had, then followed with Peking Duck, four kinds of dim sum, a scallop and noodle dish, some curry rice with almonds and raisins and, for dessert, that mango cake for her and some peanut and sesame balls for me.
The chive dumplings
The siu long bao.
After lunch, we split up and went our separate ways – she to Shinjuku, me to Ueno and a return visit to Akihabara.
I'm not sure I get it.
Is that guy on the tracks dazed, drunk or both? As for jumping into the path of an oncoming train to save someone - yeah, won't have to worry about me ever breaking that particular rule.
I went to Ueno Park because the Tokyo guide books say it’s always packed with all manner of weird-looking individuals on Sunday afternoons. Sadly, on this day, it was unremarkable – not a weirdling in sight (present company excluded).
Who says the Japanese don't like whales?
Apparently, hot sweet potato vendors are fairly common.
I wandered the busy side streets. Check out this guy shilling his wares –
Eventually, I was done with Ueno and hopped on the subway. Two stops later, I was back in Akihabara.
The wide open streets (on a Sunday anyway) of Akihabara!
One of the many multi-level complexes packed with everything from anime-related merchandise to videos of models in small, ill-fitting bikinis.
Check out the line-up outside the Gundam Cafe. You'd think Amuro Ray himself was pulling barista duties.
Anyway, I walked around and blended in with the geeks, becoming one of THEM for the two hours I was there. At one point, I think a couple of them got suspicious of me so I purchased some otaku goods to throw them off:
A new Neon Genesis Evangelion cover for my iPhone, a Gintama t-shirt, and the first issue of some manga called Baby, Please Kill Me about an elementary school assassin.
So I head back to Akihabara station and I’m walking along when I happen to notice a little dessert shop called Hattendo selling the most delicious looking cream buns. I had at least a three hour window either way between lunch and dinner so I decided to sample one.
A revelation! The second I bit into it, it assumed a top five position in my Top 10 Foods I'd Bring With Me To A Deserted Island. Luscious chocolatey cream packed into a sweet bread, contradictorily light airy and airy, yet dense and chewy.
I was so excited that I picked one up for Akemi and brought it back to the hotel (where I ate half). My favorite dessert of this Tokyo trip! And only 200 yen (roughly $2) a piece!
For dinner, we once again met up with Akemi’s friends – minus the intriguingly enigmatic Ayaka who had to work…
We went to a called Satouyousuke that specialized in Akita (“casual countryside” was Akemi’s definition) cuisine. I had a few beers with Nanako (doing the gentlemanly thing since she didn’t want to drink alone) and sampled a wide range of interesting items – some of which I still can’t identify. At one point, Nanoka was perusing the menu and came upon one of her favorites: the chicken sashimi! Akemi was horrified and vowed not to eat it for fear it would make her sick, then encouraged me to try some for a long overdue weird food purchase of the week video instalment…
The chicken sashimi!
With most everything else shut down, we ended up settling for not-so-good desserts (stale pie and crystallized ice creams) at a cafe called Aux Bacchanales. It was inching toward 11:00 p.m. and we were about to call it a night when a guy walks in (not Japanese – he looked mixed), holds out his hand for me to shake it, and asks (in English): “Do you remember me?”. I stare back at him blankly, trying to place the face as the rest of the table falls silent. “Do you remember?”he asks again. “No,”I finally tell him. And, with that, he turns and leaves the cafe. “Maybe you did know him,”Akemi suggested, pointing out I’m terrible with names and face. True, I conceded, but given my response, I would think that any normal person would have followed up with an explanation of who they were and how they knew me rather than simply turning and leaving. Akemi realized I was right and then was suddenly freaked out because the mystery man had let the cafe and taken a left turn – toward our hotel! I assured her it was an honest – albeit weird – mistake.
Anyway, we returned to hotel safe and sound and turned in much too late for our planned early morning Tsukiji sushi breakfast.
The Sony Building hosts some sort of Snoopy event.
Received a text from Robert Cooper informing me that I’m missing a Superbowl Chilli Cook-Off. Damn!