February 16, 2012: Marty G. tries to continue his Road to a Dream! Tara’s long-awaited Dark Matter review! Top Ten Tokyo Pleasant Surprises!

Quelle surprise!  The day after my Toronto nemesis, Tara Yelland, makes a bid to be cast in the potential Dark Matter television 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).

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?