February 1, 2012: Tokyo Day #5! Catching up with my old friends Joel Robuchon and Ishikawa-san,

The second issue of my comic book series, Dark Matter, hits the shelves soon (February 8th last I heard).  If you haven’t picked up the first issue yet, I strongly urge you to do so as reports have it selling out.  This, of course, means it is a sought-after collectible no doubt destined to be worth A LOT some day.  Squirrel away a few copies under your mattress now and the lie back on your nest egg and prepare to enjoy your early retirement later!

In Dark Matter-related news…

My full podcast interview with SciFiTalk is up.  You can find it here: Joe Mallozzi | Sci-Fi Talk Podcast

Also up is an early, spoiler-free review of Dark Matter #2 here: Dark Matter #2 Spoiler Free Review by Ryan Porter – The Pop …

One of the main reasons we’re here in Japan is so that Akemi can visit with her mother who has made the trip over from Osaka.  Yesterday, they had a girl’s night out.  Today, all three of us hit Tokyo.  We had a big day ahead of us so we wasted no time gathering down in the lobby (after I’d finished updating my blog of course) and headed out to brave the blustery late January weather.  For a single block anyway after which we ducked into the entrance to the Hibiya subway station and made the underground walk over to the Peninsula Hotel where Akemi and her mother intended to pick up some treats.  Unfortunately, the shops wouldn’t be open for another hour, so we had to settle for what may have been…

...being prepared right behind the big window. So near and yet so far.

I’ve been toying with the idea of making the move to Tokyo.  Of course, there are things to consider (ie. getting the dogs over and what the hell I’ll actually be doing here beside browsing that big anime complex in Akihabara) before I pull the trigger.  First and foremost however – I’ll have to decide where I want to live.  I’ve narrowed it down to Roppongi or Aoyama, but am leaning toward the latter because the former, while a beautiful neighborhood, is full of henna gaijin (translation: weird foreigners.  “Like you,”Akemi helpfully reminded me.).  Well, it just so happens that we were in Roppongi today, strolling the streets of my potential future hood.

The streets of Roppongi. My future neighbourhood?

I’ve been meaning to check out local chocolate shop Le Chocolate De H for a while now, always missing out on my previous visits.  Well, not this time.  We were there when the doors open, snapped up some outstanding yuzu macarons and a chocolate assortment.  Akemi was especially satisfied as she has been trying to track this place down since our arrival.

Akemi, the triumphant hunter.
The killer 16 piece assortment. The banana-dark chocolate was amazing, as was his yuzu and milk chocolate. Akemi feels these chocolates rival those of her long-time favorite La Maison du Chocolat.

For lunch, we headed over to Roppongi Hills for lunch at L’Atelier de Robuchon.  Akemi was a little leery after our last Robuchon experience – a stupendous feast comprised of 16 courses at the Joel Robuchon in Vegas (where we were joined by Golden Boy Martin Gero).  Yes, it was a lot and it’s understandable that Akemi felt stuffed – especially when you consider that, upon our return to our hotel room at the Venetian, she also polished off the entire top of the complimentary pistachio cake we were gifted after our meal.

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that – for Akemi’s sake – our lunch was comparatively modest…yet just as wonderful.  And the restaurant itself…absolutely gorgeous.

We were seated at the long counter that runs the length of the room…

The view to my right.
And the view to my left.
Mrs. Aota makes the trip from Osaka to spend quality time with me. And, I suppose, her daughter.
Cauliflower soup with Iberico pork chips. Akemi couldn't stop talking about it.
Poached egg, butter foam, and croutons atop cumin-scented eggplant.
Oooh. Delectably oozy!
Greenling (yes, a first for me too) is seared, then finished in a steamer, served atop poached leeks and topped with chives, parsley, mint, and crisp green onions. Fish is one of the many things they do very well here in Japan - even the cooked variety.
Duck foie gras on parmesan risotto. Rich, decadent, and all sorts of wonderful.
And to finish: Basil and lime sorbet top orange and grapefruit in syrup.

The lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a terrific deal.  Head on over and try one of the set menus.

We skipped the dessert at Robuchon so we could head on over to the famed Toshi Yoroizuka instead.  In retrospect, I should have gone with Robuchon.

Toshi Yoroizuka

For some reason, they were only offering a scaled-down version of the dessert menu.  The varied cakes, normally on display, were not to be seen.  And so, we ordered from the menu.

The Mont Blanc. Good.
Strawberry millefeuille topped with home made pistachio ice cream. Also good.

Not bad.  Good.  But all I could think of was heading over to Jean-Paul Hevin and sampling about a half-dozen of their chocolate desserts.

Which, by the way, I fully intend to do before week’s end.

Then, we were off for a little more strolling in another neighborhood…

The streets of Shinjuku

We stopped by the Isetan (sight of the Salon de Chocolat) where I picked up a couple of treats from the Sebastien Bouillet boutique: pistachio and cotton candy macarons for me, and a chocolate lipstick for Akemi.  Yes, you heard correctly.

Akemi applies some Sebastien Bouillet chocolate lipstick

We returned to the hotel for some R&R, then headed over to the big seven-floor toy store in Ginza where I tried, in vain, to locate a new Evangelion phone cover for my new 4S, and some anime t-shirts.  Maybe I’ll have better success at Kiddyland.

We took the metro over to Kagurazaka and, for the third time in as many years, I enjoyed a memorable kaiseki dinner at Ishikawa…

This quaint Michelin 3-star restaurant is tucked away on a side street in Kagurazaka.

We had a private room.

Mrs. Aota feigns innocence. In reality, she is well into executing her master plan to pay the bill before I'm any the wiser.

Our nine course meal was designed to show off Japanese seasonal offerings, from fish and veggies to fresh fruit and herbs….

Cod milt and simmered Japanese mountain potato with steamed eggs and ginger-flavored sauce. Akemi and her mother declared themselves not fans of milt - until the arrival of this dish which turned out to be everyone's favorite of the evening.
Deep-fried pomfret and monkfish liver with lotus root garnished with baby turnip. Served with seaweed sea salt (another first for me) and a chive-ponzu dipping sauce you wanted to sip once you were done.
Turnip in white miso soup with whale skin. The broth struck a nice balance between sweet and savoury. As for the whale skin...not a fan of its pronounced fishiness.
Flounder sashimi garnished with fresh sea wood and Japanese herbs. The surprise of this dish was the nori. Why can't we get seaweed preparations like this in North America?
Young tuna mixed with minced kelp. The dark speckling is salt-cured seaweed.
Charcoal-grilled scabbard fish and shiitake mushroom. I've had this long, eel-like fish once before, in a Portugese restaurant in Toronto and loved it there too.
Freshly harvested bamboo shoots, wagyu, cucumber and spinach from Kyoto with Yuzu-scented sauce. The yuzu nicely complimented the well-marbled richness of the wagyum.
Grilled conger eel, komatsuna greens, white leeks, and tofu hot pot. A relatively simpler dish but nevertheless possessed of flavor complexities.
Steamed rice with Maitake mushrooms and diced white radish served with pickled vegetables and miso soup. I was stuffed but could have kept on eating. Redolent with the earthiness of the Maitake.
Strawberry and grapefruit with white wine jelly and sherry mousse. I'm usually not a fan of fruit-based desserts but, of course, fruits in Japan are nothing like the sour North American cousins.

We enjoyed two bottles of sake with our meal and Akemi was absolutely toasted by her second glass.  The service was top-notch – professional and pleasant.  No sooner did we finish one course than the door to our private room would slide open and our server would sweep in and clear away the dishes.  In less than a minute, she would return with our next course.  It was a nicely paced meal that covered a quick two and a half hours.

Ishikawa-san and Sugi-san bid us a fond farewell.

We returned to our hotel room where I uploaded by blog pictures and watched a tipsy Akemi struggle to dry her hair after her shower.

I received a call this morning informing me that Maximus’s ashes were ready to be picked up.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and merely having him come up in conversation is enough to start me tearing up (as was the case at dinner last night when I had to use the “I’ve got something in my eyes – both of them” dodge).  While I appreciate everyone’s support concerning my decision, I’ll always have my doubts about certain things.

Last night, I dreamt that I was grocery shopping with my late father who bought me an enormous bag of ripe persimmons.  Okay all you dream analysts, what does it mean?

December 1, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day #7 – Gordon Ramsay, Mo Shibuya Stroll, Ishikawa (and I mean it this time!)

Success!  Following five success days of post-feasting pre-day sloth, I actually managed an entire half a work yesterday morning!  After showering up, I peeked outside and noted it was overcast, gambled, left the sunglasses behind and donned my coat.  Later that day, as I was walking through Omotesando, one of my coat buttons came off in my hand.  Now I have to track down a needle and black thread – AND find someone to run me off some business cards as I am now dangerously low.  It seems that everyone you meet in this city expects you to exchange business cards with them.  I figured I could play it safe by bringing along thirty and, with my trip almost at the halfway mark, I’m down to two.

Oh, to those asking the prices of the meals I’ve been enjoying – keep in mind, these are all Michelin starred restaurants, the very best that the city has to offer.  They’re also, but for a few cases, fine dining establishments.  In order to afford the meals, I booked my flight on points, got a deal on my hotel room, and am actually using the subway whenever humanly possible (ie. if it’s not too late and I’m exhausted).  So, how much are these meals?  Well, they range from the reasonable to the outrageous.  Let’s put it this way.  Many lunches are a steal at a little over $80/person.

Speaking of lunch – yesterday, I enjoyed a group outing with return diners Satch and Uccalele.  We were also joined by Gregor Andreewitch, General Manager of the Conrad Hotel in Tokyo.  We gathered at the Conrad’s 28th floor restaurant level to enjoy a meal at the famed Gordon Ramsay’s cool Tokyo eatery named, appropriately enough, Gordon Ramsay.

A spacious room offers a breathtaking (in my case, harrowing) view of the Tokyo skyline.

To start: Tian of crab, sweet corn and tomato with avocado puree and spicy vinaigrette. A fresh and refreshing start to our meal. Loved the tiny whipped avocado dollops lining the side of the dish.
Gregor was full of stories about his travels and time in my hometown of Montreal.
Sauteed foie gras with spiced prune, glazed chestnut and chestnut puree with espresso syrup and almond foam. My second experience with the foie gras-chestnut cream combo and it's been nothing short of revelatory.
Pan-fried sea bream with fondue of Welsh onion, cepe puree and claret sauce. Also known as tai, the fish is very subtle, some could argue neutral, in flavor, so much of the success of the dish depends on its texture (crispy topped yet tender) and its accompaniments. A flawless execution on both counts here.
Braised lamb shoulder with crispy bacon and herb gremolata, grilled potatoes, braisd lentils, and braised jus. Nicely marbled and topped with crispy bacon. What more could you ask for?
Pre-dessert: Liquid mango and jelly shot. Can I just say that I love the idea of a PRE-dessert.
One of the most delicate and elegant (not to mention tasty) desserts I've had the pleasure to enjoy - Earl Grey tea parfait ice cream of liquorice and milk chocolate with hibiscus granite.
After lunch, we were joined by Gordon Ramsay's formidable Chef de Cuisine, Shinya Maeda.
And then, to end the meal, some terrific little mignardises.
As we were preparing to leave, we were each presented with a framed photo of our table (subarashii 0-miyage, as the Japanese would say). I was also gifted this incredible - not to mention enormous - hardcover Gordon Ramsay recipe book that I will gladly lug back to Canada where it will find its place among my other half-dozen Gordon Ramsay books.

From the dizzying heights of Gordon Ramsay  to the street level chaos of Omotesando, I was crosstown in a little under thirty minutes to meet my friend Akemi.

We strolled past the university located across from Pierre Herme (only after stopping in for some macarons and hot chocolate of course)…

Akemi strikes the traditional Japanese photo pose. As opposed to m traditional pose which involves me either squiting at camera or looking slightly inebriated.
Hey, it's Christmas in Omotesado! They turned on the lights lining the street and there were about a dozen camera crews on hand to cover the occasion.
I gave them an interview on consumer spending habits and the economy. When asked if I was planning on making any big ticket purchases in the near future, I informed them I hadn't planned on it...but it would seem I should be in the market for a new coat as my old one is falling apart.

I eventually headed back to the hotel where I updated my blog, recharged, and headed out for dinner at Ishikawa.  No, really.  I realized yesterday morning that the restaurant I had assumed was Ishikawa the other day was, in fact, Kadowaki.  I read the wrong restaurant date and, on the night, there was nothing in the way of a Kadowaki sign to tell me otherwise.  My bad.

Ishikawa is one of the city’s (actually, the world’s) top-rated restaurants, a three-star Michelin pick located in quaint Kagurazaka.

Quaint Kagurazaka. I was early, so I took a stroll.
And found the famous tea shop my friend Keiko was telling me about. There, I purchased about 400 grams of their top matcha (green tea).
We dined in a small, sealed-off private room where we were served by charming kimino-clad servers.
We started off with an appetizer of blowfish skin, fresh sea cucumber, monkfish liver, white radish and carrot. Now blowfish is one of those things that, despite my adventurous ways, I elected to never eat simply because of the horrific manner in which its neurotoxin affects its victims. I was a little leery, but decided to take the plunge. Still, I remained paranoid for those first few moments, imagining I was having trouble breathing or experiencing dizziness. I warned Satch I might keel over and leave her stuck with the bill to which she replied: "No, problem. I think I know how to find your wallet."
Sliced duck, gingko nuts and gingseng with home-blended salt. A wonderful dish and my very first duck tempura-style.

This was followed by a delicate and delicious soup of scallops, leeks, shiitake mushroom, mizuna green, and deep-fried tofu, then an equally delicate sashimi of flat fish – another subtly flavored fish but one possessed of a nice, meatier texture.

Snow crab with broth jelly. Yes, topped with crab guts. One of my favorites of the night.

Charcoal grilled kinki fish served with a plump shiitake mushroom.
Wow! Coe roe, oyster, spinach and turnip from Kyoto with melted tofu skin sauce. I repeat. Wow!
By this point, I was stuffed and couldn't eat another bite - but I made an exception for exceptional: Steamed rice with dried mullet roe served with egg yolk and dried seaweed. It was accompanied by miso soup and homemade pickles.
Easily the greatest Japanese dessert I've ever had: Persimmon, rum jelly, and brown sugar jelly with cream cheese soup.
I'm a very happy man.
One of our servers - and Ishikawa's Service Manager - the absolutely beautiful Chihiro Sugizaki.
And the owner and master chef himself, Hideki Ishikawa. What a delightful, self-effacing, incredibly genial guy. He came by the room several times to check up on us and chat about our travels, our interest in food, and how I happened to decide on visiting his restaurant. He seemed genuinely touched and humbled by the accolades being heaped upon him by the gourmet community.

After our meal, both Chef Ishikawa and Manager Sugizaki walked us out to our waiting taxi., putting the capper on a lovely evening.   I felt as though I was saying goodbye to the comforts of a home away from home and extended family.   I’m definitely coming back next year.

Finally, to Das who was asking about tipping.   It’s not expected but those who’ll tell you it’s frowned upon or insulting are attempting to asuage their own guilty conscience.  I make it a point to tip and, from my experience, the Japanese like it just fine.