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:

111Followed by a romantic night-time stroll through Roppongi:

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

November 18, 2013: Tokyo Day #13! The Fine Art of Ramen! H.H. Giger prepares my meal at Chikuyotei! I finally pay the price!

Nobody appreciates the fine arts like I do and it should come as no surprise that there’s nothing I enjoy more than hitting the local museums whenever I visit a foreign city.  Such was the case yesterday when Akemi and I woke up early so that we could catch the bullet train to Yokohama and check out one of its most famous museums: The Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum.  There, we checked out the masters who dabble in oils, broth, and noodles…

On the shinkasen, headed to Shin-Yokohama
On the shinkansen, headed to Shin-Yokohama

Truth be told, it’s not really much of a museum.  The educational portion is scant, but the hands-on experience is plentiful with a wide variety of ramen to choose from.  The lower level of the museum has been transformed into a latter-day Japan complete with winding back alleys, shuttered old time bars, and numerous ramen-yas.

Night falls on old ramen town...even though it's broad daylight outside.
Night falls on old ramen town…even though it’s broad daylight outside.
The back alleys remind me of some of the old Stargate sets.
The back alleys remind me of some of the old Stargate sets.

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A chart at the entrance gives you a rundown of the dozen or so chefs and their respective ramen.  Then, it’s up to you.  Choose a place and enter your order at the little machine outside the restaurant.  Then, all you have to do is grab a spot in line and wait to be seated.

The choices were overwhelming, so I simply went with what I thought looked good.  We started at a place called Ganja where we ordered…

Thick noodles and a slice of pork...
I had the thick noodles and a slice of pork…
...with spicy broth.
…with spicy broth
While Akemi went with the thin noodles
While Akemi went with the thin noodles
...and the regular broth.
…and the regular broth.

It was, hands down, the best ramen I’ve ever had.  Both broths were incredibly complex, rich with levels of flavor.  The thick slice of pork was incredibly tender, the egg I got with my broth perfectly cooked, and the noodles terrific.  I honestly could have ordered another bowl – not because I was still hungry, but because I didn’t want the meal to end.

We ordered two small bowls so that we could sample some of the other ramens being offered.  The busiest ramen-ya by far was Sumire that had a line-up that snaked around the corner.  We dutifully lined up, placed our order, and gradually inched our way toward the entrance…

Order your ramen here.
Order your ramen here.
I had the miso ramen.
I had the miso ramen.
Akemi's shoyu ramen.
Akemi’s shoyu ramen.

Wow.  And not in a good way.  After Ganja, what a letdown.  My miso ramen was fine but I found Akemi’s shoyu ramen was possessed of an unpleasant, oily flavor.  In fact, both broths were surprisingly oily.

There was a couple standing behind us in line.  She didn’t want ramen but he did.  Unfortunately, the house rules state that everyone taking up table room must order ramen.  So, they compromised.  He sat down and ate his ramen while she stood outside and watched him.  Weird.

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Uncle Charumera, former mascot of an instant noodle company.  And Jim Beam whisky.

We finished up by taking a tour of the “museum” section and shop that offered everything from ramen keychains and chopsticks to your own personalized box of ramen.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum: 2-14-21 Shinyokohama, Kohoku Ward, Yokohama

111We took a little stroll through Shin-Yokohama, then caught the bullet train back to Tokyo where we took an even longer stroll through Tokyo Station.  An unintended one as we got turned around at some point and spent close to an hour trying to find the subway back to our hotel. The place is huge!

1Finally, we made it back!

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LIGHT at the end of the tunnel!

I arrived back  at the hotel to discover a package awaiting me.  It was from Akemi’s mother and it was filled with what I estimate to be about a year’s word of matcha (ceremonial green tea)!  Between this and everything I’m planning to pick up, it looks like I may have to invest in a second suitcase.

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We tried to work off dinner with a walk along Ginza-dori…

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These guys were very popular.
Akemi getting into the Christmas spirit
Akemi getting into the Christmas spirit

For dinner we went to Chikuyotei, one of the country’s oldest unagi restaurants.  It holds special meaning for Akemi because it was a favorite of her grandfather’s who used to take her there when she was young.

Alas, no tables available so we had to settle for floor seating.  And by “floor seating”, I mean we sat on the floor at a low table.  Apparently, this isn’t terribly uncommon in Japan and many Japanese have mastered the art.  I, unfortunately, have not and spent much to the meal shifting uncomfortably between kneeling, sitting cross-legged, and stretching my legs out underneath the table.

We ordered from an English menu that helpfully warned us to “be careful for the eel bones”.  So we were.  As for the meal…

Grilled eel "kabayaki".
Grilled eel “kabayaki”.
The eel guts soup.  From the kitchen of Chef H.R. Giger
The eel guts soup looks like a prop from the last Alien movie.

Another great meal and, I’m sure, very natsukashii for Akemi.

Chikuyotei: 8-14-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Well, I think the law of averages has finally caught up with me.  I fear I’ve done in – not by the little aliens in my soup or the countless cream-filled desserts or even the chicken sashimi.  It was the ramen!  I woke up this morning feeling like my stomach has undergone a mochi massage…

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 15, 2013: Tokyo Day #10! Line-ups, Geek Central, and Chicken Sashimi!

If there’s one thing the Japanese love, it’s a line-up.  And this fact was reinforced as we strolled through Ometasando yesterday where we noted not one, not two, but THREE line-ups.  The first for a newly opened popcorn shop (?), the second for some other presumably new shop of indeterminate nature, and the third…for a Shakey’s Pizza!  I mean, come on!  Shakey’s Pizza?

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Line-up for the popcorn shop.  Really?  Popcorn?
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Line-up for…something else.  I suspect that half these people didn’t even know what they were lining up for.
Okay, come on now.  When there's even a line outside Shakey's Pizza, then you know someone is screwing with you.
Okay, come on now. When there’s even a line outside Shakey’s Pizza, then you know someone is screwing with you.

We had lunch at a yasai-ya (vegetable restaurant) where we enjoyed a very healthy-tasting meal after which Akemi headed off to a head spa while I caught the subway to Akihabara, Geek central:

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My future apartment building?
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Customers line up to input their orders outside a ramen restaurant.
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Akihabara – an anime enthusiast’s dream.
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Pillows of your favorite anime characters!  Never sleep alone again!
A little artwork for Carl's new office perhaps?
A little artwork for Carl’s new office perhaps?
My guess is...Box Man?
My guess is…Box Man?
An ad for Akihabara's many maid cafes.
An ad for Akihabara’s many maid cafes.

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A maid rustles up a customer for the cafe.
A maid rustles up a customer for the cafe.

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The doorman at the Gundam Cafe - Akihabara (Tokyo, Japan)
The doorman at the Gundam Cafe – Akihabara (Tokyo, Japan)

And, this time, I didn’t return empty-handed.  My new purchases:

New cell phone covers.
New cell phone covers.
New t-shirt.  Bonus points if you can guess the anime.  Randomness, you got this!
New t-shirt. Bonus points if you can guess the anime. Randomness, you got this!

For dinner, we met up with my friend Koji, man about town and Tokyo expert, who took us to one of the most happening yakitori restaurants in town: Morimoto in Shibuya.

The master of ceremonies: Koji.  He paces himself at one skewer per glass of sake.
The master of ceremonies: Koji. He paces himself at one skewer per glass of sake.

It was an excellent meal, highlighted by some noteworthy menu selections, among them the house tsukune (minced chicken), the crispy bonjiri chicken butt), chicken heart and even some chicken sashimi…

The chicken breast, served medium-alive.
The chicken breast, served medium-alive.
And the sashi trio: breast, liver, and gizzard.  Koji assured me they had been blanched in boiling water before serving...in case you were worried for me.
And the sashimi trio: breast, liver, and gizzard. Koji assured me they had been blanched in boiling water before serving…in case you were worried for me.

The verdict?  I preferred the chicken butts.  Overall, a terrific meal.

1Morimoto: Hamanokami building 1F, 2-7-4, Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

From there, our host, Koji, took us to Nombei Yokocho.  Located down a side alley, it’s a block made up of a host of tiny stand-up bars and eateries evocative of old Edo.  As we walked down the street, Koji gave me the rundown of the various establishments.  “This place is owned by an old high school friend who serves up excellent meguro.  That one is owned by a very nice Russian woman who tends the bar.  This one is run by a former French chef and serves some amazing cheeses and wines.”

1We ended up at Saya, a tiny bar belonging to an old friend of Koji’s. And I do mean tiny.  About the size of my bathroom, it has counter seating for four and standing room for another three.  Still, the cramped confines are conducive to a real get-to-know-you atmosphere.

Our friendly bartender.
Our friendly bartender.

Four sakes in and I was ready for bed.  At approximately 8:00 p.m.  I felt like THIS guy –

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AND I had the munchies.  So I stopped off at McDonalds and grabbed an ebi (shrimp) burger.  Then, a mini tonkatsu (fried pork) burger at some other place.  Oh, and a chocolate eclair.  To help soak up the alcohol and prevent hangovers.  Works like a charm.  You should try it some time!

An early night as as I have  big day ahead of me.  Details to come!

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 9, 2013: Tokyo Day #4! Japanese convenience store breakfast! Kaiseki at Kurogi! Rustic and Raucous at Kabuto! Eel-gutting 101!

Yesterday, Akemi and I did breakfast Tokyo Convenience Style, sitting down to a lovely spread: spicy orange-hued chicken nuggets devoid of any real chicken taste or texture, a soggy pork bun, another much better barbecued pork bun we received instead of the actual pizza bun we had ordered, an alarmingly runny aloe yogurt (with the fruit plant at the bottom) and, to wash it all down, a bottle of milk soda.  The verdict?  I was pleasantly surprised by the milk soda that tasted like Japan’s famed Calpis soda.  As for the rest….Well…

With our breakfast sitting in our stomachs like quick-drying cement, we headed to the Yushima neighborhood for lunch at Kurogi, a popular kaiseki restaurant.  Having never visited Kurogi, or the area, before, we decided to get there a little early and walk around…

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The Men’s Slope and the Women’s Slope

A map of the area showed what appear to be two stairways, one named The Men’s Slope, the other The Women’s Slope.  Not sure whether there are any hard and fast rules about men walking up the women’s slope (and vice-versa) but, according to Akemi, word has it that anyone who fall while climbing up either will die in three years – or lose three years off their lifespan.  “Where’d you hear this rumor?”I asked her. “Not rumor,”she informed me.  “It common sense.”

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The cool-looking Hotel Pine Hill.  Maybe next stay.
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The streets of Yushima.
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All the rage here: elaborate French toast.  I don’t get it.

As we continued our walkabout, I noticed Akemi slowing down.  It turned out her feet were killing her.  Her boots were NOT made for walking.  And so, we ended up stopping off at a discount shoe store where Akemi bought this – er – stylish pair…

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Sprinkled with actual stardust

Ultimately, she wasn’t that worried about how they looked so long as they were comfortable.

Well, they were comfortable for about a half an hour – after which she had to purchase some band-aids to keep the inside of the shoes from chafing her heel.  That helped.  For maybe fifteen minutes and, soon, Akemi was back to strolling in her original boots.

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Yeah!  Party ’til you yak at the Yak Bar!
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KISS spicy fried chicken.  While quantities last!

We wound our way around the small side streets and alleys, brimming with character and tiny restaurants.  I stopped to help a middle-aged woman who had slipped and fallen and couldn’t get up.  She thanked my while her friends remarked what a gentleman I was.  Oh, tondemonai!

We finally arrived at our lunch reservation and discovered other diners awaiting the 12:30 seating…

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Tickets?  Tickets?  Anybody need tickets?

We filed in at a little after 12:30 and were seated at the main counter where we were presented with our lunch.  No ordering.  It’s an omakase (chef’s choice) set lunch comprised of snapper in a sesame-based sauce, pickles, salmon roe, miso soup, and rice.  And we were informed we could have as much rice and sashimi as we liked.  Akemi had a second bowl of rice.  I did both rice and sashimi.  The two older women seated to my right had three bowls of the sashimi.

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While we ate, we watched the chef’s prep for the more elaborate dinner service.  Here a chef prepares the delicacy Bottarga, the salted and cured roe of the mullet fish:

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He uses a special instrument to prick it full of holes.  This bleeds it, releasing any unpleasant flavors, and facilitates the salting and curing process.

A quick and casual kaiseki meal but no less delicious.  And one of the most economical I’ve ever had at roughly $10 per person.  Dinner is roughly double the price – but an equal bargain considering the expanded menu.  If you’re in town and want to try kaiseki (traditional Japanese meal) without breaking the bank, be sure to make a reservation: http://www.kurogi.co.jp/pg14.html

Well, I haven’t tracked down that Neon Genesis Evangelion cover for my new iPhone, but I did find THIS equally cool substitute:

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Attack on Titan

We unwound back at the hotel, then walked over to the Matsuya department store for a snack at La Maison de Chocolat.  A couple of hot chocolates, a chocolate-pistachio macaron, and –

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A milk chocolate tart.
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Department store forest denizen.  I think.
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Akemi hits it off with the ramen-ya mascot.

I was especially looking forward to dinner because the place we were headed – in the city’s rougher, working man’s section of Ikkebukuro – was a far cry from most of the high-end eateries I’ve visited over my many trips to Tokyo.  We were going to Kabuto, a tiny, family-run restaurant specializing in grilled eel.

The place was even tinier than I expected, comprised of two tiny tables and a long counter.  The customers sat on one side, offering about two feet of clearance behind them for people to negotiate the room, single file.  On the other side, the unagi master ran the show while (I assumed) his wife and son, did the honors: taking our orders [you have a choice between the small (one eels), medium (one and a half eels), and large (two eels) meals], pouring the sake, plating the food and, in son’s case, gutting and cleaning the eel that were kept in a bucket below the counter.  He would pull one up, kill it by severing its spinal cord with a quick slash, then nail its head to a designated area.  Thus secured, he would use his knife to slice it neatly in half, remove its spine in another expert stroke, trim off any inedible parts, and then skewer the meat, ready for eating.  Oh, he also demonstrated his knife skills by divesting the eel of its heart which is served raw and still beating.  But don’t take my word for it.  Check out the videos below.

Meanwhile, the unagi master, the star of the chef, grilled the eel, fanning the morsels.  Our fellow diners were positively raucous – and super friendly.  It was like one giant friends and family dinner.

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This is the customary sake pour – filled to the brim and literally overflowing.
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Grilled eel head – crunchier than…
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My favorite – the eel tail.
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I sample a unique sake that, I was told, was actually very good for me.  It was likened to yogurt and did possess a disquieting sourness.  Not my good-to drink.

Eel-gutting 101:

Akemi has a heart:

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Shirayaki-style: simply grilled.
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Kabayaki-style: grilled with sauce.

Rustic, raucous, and utterly delicious.  By night’s end, I was thoroughly stuffed – and a little tipsy.  I bought a round for the two boisterous salarymen we had befriended (“From Canada,”the woman who took my order informed them), then paid the bill (cash only) and headed back to the hotel for my first blissfully deep and interrupted sleep in days. Restaurant Report – Unagi Kabuto in Tokyo – NYTimes.com

November 2, 2012: Tokyo Day #5! Actually, Yokohama Day #1!

Yesterday, I ended up going to Yokohama for the day.  It was my first visit to the area and I was wowed.  It’s absolutely beautiful, alternately reminding me of New York in parts, Paris in others, and even San Diego at times.  My friend, Moro-san, was my tour guide for the day, taking me absolutely everywhere.  We walked all day, from the moment Akemi dropped me off (she insisted on accompanying me for the 40 minute trip from Tokyo because she didn’t trust my metro-switching abilities) to our climb up the steep street to our eventual dinner destination.  Yes, we stopped for lunch, but it was a short reprieve.

Moro-san calls Yokohama home as do many who make the aforementioned 40-minute commute to Tokyo for work every day.  According to Akemi, much of the Tokyo workforce prefer the less costly option of living in the outlying area surrounding the city proper, something that is  referred to as “donuts kagensho”, aka “the donut situation”.  And, I have to admit, was weighing this fantasy option during my stroll through Yokohama.  Over the course of my day, I picked out a potential apartment building, a local supermarket, a dry-cleaner – even a prospective doggy daycare.

Akemi and I arrived thirty minutes in advance of the appointed meeting time so we headed up (and up and up) and out and checked out Yokohama’s famed Chinatown.

The streets of Yokohama’s Chinatown district.

The area is Panda-crazy, with all sorts of Panda-related merchandise for sale, from panda hats and slippers to panda pyjamas and oven mitts.
The Panda Store. Unfortunately, the one thing they didn’t have was the one thing I was looking for = panda cufflinks.
Even Kitty-chan gets in on the panda action.
Street vendors abound selling various delicious-smelling dim sum items.  In addition, there’s a guy/gal hard-selling roasted chestnuts every three paces.
Cha siu! Get yer cha siu bao’s here!
Crackhead Panda says: “Pssst. Hey, buddy, wanna buy some pork buns?”

Akemi grabs some lunch to-go.

I accompanied Akemi back down to the station where I saw her off, then awaited Moro-san’s arrival.  While cooling my heels, I checked out some of the advertised activities the area had to offer…

Like this one, a foot spa of sorts that involves dipping your feet in a tank so that hundreds of little “doctor fish” can nibble away the dead skin.  Enh, I think I’ll stick with the  Swedish massage.

Finally, camera-shy Moro-san arrived and we headed up (and up and up) and out once again for the grand walking tour.

First stop, Yamashita Park:

My future dog park.
A far cry from the hustle and bustle of crowded Tokyo.

Then, we headed back to Chinatown for a more thorough walking tour of the district:

The Hotel Oriental – located in the heart of Chinatown offers quick access to dim sum, fortune tellers, and panda-related wares.  Maybe cheaper than The Imperial.
We stopped for a Halloween-themed snack. I gave Moro-san the choice between sweet or spicy. She chose spicy – and, boy, was it ever. So much so that she teared up and had to stop for a drink.

We moved on and into the shopping district:

A Santa-themed heist. “Nothing to see hear, folks. Just delivering presents. Ho ho ho!”
Ronny takes a load off.

We then proceeded though the quaint, winding backstreets of Moro-san’s neighborhood:

We stopped off at Sakura, a tiny neighborhood ocha-ya (tea cafe). The owner was incredibly warm, stopping by to chat and gifting me a bag of green tea and cookies on my way out.

We had lunch at an Italian restaurant called Rega.  As we settled in, I complained about how hot it was.  I mean, I was really burning up.  As it turned out, it wasn’t me, it was my phone.  It had remained on camera mode since my last photo and the damn thing was sizzle-hot!  I turned it off and set it down on the table, hoping that would forestall any imminent explosion.  Fortunately, it did.  Unfortunately, the battery was almost completely drained.

We continued our stroll and I continued snapping pics until my phone died…

Wait, is that…?
Yeah, thought so.

The Hotel Suica (watermelon), so-named because – well – it looks like a watermelon slice.
Visit the Hall of Confiscated Contraband!

And that’s about when my battery tapped out.  After a full day’s walk, we sat down to a wonderful kaiseki dinner at a place called Chatubo.  The chef went to great lengths to achieve the autumn theme, featuring seasonal ingredients and decorating each dish with fall leaves and a sprinkling of fresh water with the shake of a matcha whisk to approximate the look of rainfall.

By the time we were done, I was exhausted.  I checked my phone, discovered it had reacquired enough power for me to check and respond to Akemi’s email, assuring her she didn’t have to come all the way to Yokohama to pick me up.  I was competent enough to brave the Tokyo subway on my own.  And I was – with the exception of the moment I got off at the wrong station and had to wait for the next train.

An early night meant another early wake-up.  6:30 a.m. for me.  Plenty of time to upload this entry, set my line-up for this weekend’s fantasy football league match (My Snow Monkeys take on Tebow Sucks and I’ve been deliberating over whether to start Dwayne Bowe as my WR2), and indulge in some in-room dining:

The matcha cookies from Sakura had a wonderfully intense green tea flavor. The chocolate moon cake from Chinatown, on the other hand, was a dry disappointment.

Today, we head to Naka-Meguro for lunch at my favorite pizza place, Pizza Seirinkan, and later tonight to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for Akemi’s first visit to The Molecular Tapas Bar.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has left kind messages for my sis.  The prognosis for her husky, Aspen, is not good and it looks like she’ll have to make the most difficult decision this weekend.