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 4, 2012: Tokyo Day #7! On the home front! L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon! Pieces of the Puzzle!

Here I’ve been wracking my brain, wondering how I could make a living if moved to Japan – when, suddenly, opportunity comes a-knocking: Japan suffers sumo wrestler shortage.  The way I’ve been eating of late, I figure I should be ready for action in about two months.

As much as I’m enjoying myself here in Tokyo, I do miss the dogs back home.  Fortunately, I’m receiving daily updates on the gang from our dog-sitter, Christine – daily updates in the form of email, texts, and, best of all, the occasional pictures…

Jelly. In there somewhere!  Apparently, she’ll head out, rain or shine – provided there are treats involved.
According to Christine, Lulu’s initial enthusiasm for walks has waned as the rain has gotten heavier.
Bubba is apparently just happy to tag along wherever they go.
Hanging out.

We’re slowly adjusting to Tokyo time here, sleeping through most of the night and waking up at a not ungodly hour.  One more week and we should be perfectly synced – just in time to head back home to Vancouver.  Anyway, we went for another morning walk through Ginza.  We had lunch reservations in Roppogni at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Akemi likes it for it’s “cost performance” – in other words, it’s a great deal) for noon.  Rather than walk around for two hours on an empty stomach, decided to pick up a little breakfast.  And by little, I do mean little – specifically a little katsu burger:

Taaasty! I could have eaten a dozen of these. Hey, I’ve still go time.

I picked it up in the basement of the Mitsukoshi department store.  If you’ve never been, you have got to check it out.  The entire floor is packed with sweet and savory ready-to-eat food items, from the casual aforementioned mini katsu burger to high-end pastries.  Just grab your take-out and head up to the ninth floor snacking area.  It’s incredibly child-friendly as well.  Kids even get their own bathroom:

We headed over to Roppongi Hills for another fabulous meal.  Some of the highlights:

My sea urchin gelee/panna cotta.
The sanma (Spanish mackerel) mille-feuille.
My salmon tartare. Akemi changed her mind and proclaimed THIS the best dish of the trip so far.
Foie and fig.
Akemi’s outstanding white fish and mushroom main.
Sea urchin spaghetti with egg yolk and cream.

Foie, double sea urchin, cream – Akemi expressed concern about my high cholesterol meal.  I explained that I actually suffer from low cholesterol and actually need to eat like this to stay healthy.

The chocolate souffle with mint ice cream (that nobody ate. It was so minty, I felt like I was brushing my teeth.)
This super-chocoatey chocolate dessert even outdid the soufflé!
Our lunch guest on this day, Akemi’s friend, Nihei, who graduated from University in Oklahoma.  Oklahoma?

As I familiarize myself with more areas of the city, the pieces of the puzzle slowly fall into place, giving me a fuller picture of Tokyo.  Last night, for instance, I accompanied Akemi to Daikanyama (I call it Dogkanyama because it seems to be pooch central) and happened across Tableaux, one of the very first restaurants I visited on my very first trip to Tokyo some five years ago.  Back then, I had no idea where the place was located – and neither did our cab driver who had to stop and consult a map.  As it turns out, it’s just a few blocks around the corner from the subway station.

A large part of the familiarization process requires me to walk everywhere.  And such was the case later in the night when, after dropping Akemi off for her dinner with the gals, I headed to Omotesando for dinner with my friend Tomomi.  She suggested I take a cab but I decided to hoof it instead, relying on the seemingly crystal clear directions offered up in a Japan Times review of the restaurant.  Use the B1 Exit out of Omotesando station and walk down Aoyama dori, then hang your first left at the lights on Kotti Dori and walk for ten minutes until you hit Roppongi dori.  Take a left at the Fuji Building then wind right down the side street and L’Effervesence will be on your right.  Great.  Except that, in Tokyo, you’ll be lucky to find a street sign, much less an actual address.  Which way was “down” Aoyama dori?  Was that first street actually Kotto dori?  Which street was Roppongi dori?  Miraculously, I managed alright (although, to be precise, the turn is “before” Fujifilm rather than the more nebulous “at”).  I soon found myself walking down a dark alley.  Headed toward me was a middle-aged woman pushing a baby stroller.  If I was writing the horror movie, she would approach me and ask me to help her baby.  Then, the second I approached, a small man who leap up out of the stroller and pierce my eye with a knitting needle.  End scene.

Fortunately, my night was much less harrowing.  I dare say, it was downright amazing.  But the details will have to wait as I’m off to catch the bullet train to Osaka.  Wonder what they’ll serve?

Finally, my sis makes the hard decision for her sweet dog, Aspen, soon.  Sending positive thoughts their way:

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?