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, 2012: Tokyo Day….? I’ve lost count! Star Bar! Nodaiwa! Nakajima! Quintessence!

When I travel to Tokyo, I usually stay at The Imperial Hotel.  The service is great, the rooms very comfy, and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather spending my nights. With the exception of Star Bar, a truly awesome basement bar Ivon Bartok and I discovered on our trip here a couple of hears back.  Like The Imperial Hotel, the service is great and the room is comfy.  Also, the drinks are outstanding. Whenever I’m in town, I make it a point to drop by.  Master bartender Hisashi Kishi and his right-hand man, Yamasaki Tsuyoshi, are now like members of my extended family.  I’m always thrilled to see them and, conversely, sad to part ways with them whenever my trip comes to its inevitable end.

I stopped by twice on this visit and, as always, Master Kishi-san was always at his warm, jovial, and welcoming best, whipping up killer cocktails and Moscow Mules that I’ll dream about long after I return to Vancouver.

Master Kishi-san rocks the shaker:

Yamasaki-san follows suit:

Beefeater Gin with fresh muscat grape juice.  Deceptively smooth and delicious.
At the conclusion of my visit, I always leave Master Kishi-san with a little something – in this case a bottle and a selection of olive oils (because, in addition to being a great bartender, I hear he’s also a terrific cook).

And Master Kishi-san ended up surprising me by presenting me with my very own Star Bar copper (Moscow Mule) mug.  It was totally unexpected and greatly appreciated.  Oh, and much needed.

Star Bar Ginza, B1F Sankosha Building, 1-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku,Tokyo; (03) 3535-8005 

Night time view by the Pensinsula Hotel, Ginza.  Christmas is almost upon us!
Rooftop park on the 9th floor of the Shinjuku Isetan.
Unagi at Nodaiwa.
Iwasha (mackerel) sashimi at Nakajima.
Faux ice cream bar from Sebastien Bouillet.
Chiffon cake with sweet potato and maple butter cream (disguised as a soufflé).
Choux creme from Seijo Alpes

Last night, Akemi and I dined at Quintessence, a 3-star Michelin restaurant and, apparently, one of the top ten hardest places to book.  Dinner was outstanding. Unfortunately, because of the no-photo policy (it may annoy the other guests), I wasn’t able to snap any pics of the culinary highlights.  Fortunately, I was able to source some photos of the said culinary highlights from the internet:

Goat milk bavarois with lily root, olive oil, and rock salt (photo via http://www.qliweb.com/food/Quintessence).
Another instant where I’m uncertain of the English name of the fish, but it was perfectly prepared – crispy on the outside and rare at its center – accompanied by a duo of sauces.
The incredibly airy meringue ice cream.

After we were done and on our way out, the restaurant’s chef and owner, Shuzo Kishida, came out to meet us.  At 34, he’s already been awarded 3 Michelin stars (four years in a row) for his work at Quintessence.  We chatted, mostly in French, a language I assume he mastered while working in Paris at the 3 Michelin star l’Astrance.  Unfortunately, I spent little time in Paris and it’s been a while since I practiced my French in Montreal so I was a bit…oh, let’s call it rusty.  Still, I managed well enough to let him know what a spectacular it was – every dish brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed – as great as our first visit/my second date with Akemi three years ago: (December 4, 2009: Tokyo Travel Day #10 – Quintessence, Monnalisa Marunouchi, I hit the wall – and I’ve still got 11 restaurants to go!)

Well, looks like our Tokyo Trip Late 2012 (not to be confused with Tokyo Trip Early 2012) is drawing to a close.  I can look forward to three final no-doubt-memorable meals (and maybe about a half dozen notable desserts) before I head off.  And I look forward to them.  But for now, I’m looking forward to a nice change of pace breakfast:

Plain oatmeal, sliced bananas, and a half a grapefruit.

February 4, 2012: Day #8! Considering a change in location! Visiting Geek Central! Dessert for dinner and dinner for dessert! Make your own ice cubes – Star Bar style! And a mini mailbag!

The more I consider it, the more I think I could actually give it a go here in Tokyo.  Of course, the move wouldn’t be as simple as just picking up and shifting my life over to the other side of the world.  Some issues would have to be addressed.  Chiefly: 1. What would I do with my days?  2. What would I do for work?  3. How would I get the dog shere?  Well, last things first.  I won’t compromise the safety of my dogs so flying them over from Vancouver presents a bit of a problem.  I can’t see them flying carry-on, nestled under the seat in front of me for the 10+ hour flight, and given the horror stories I’ve heard about dogs flying cargo, I’ll dismiss that option outright.  Short of chartering a private jet, that leaves me with no other options.  But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Air Canada adopts that pet-friendly policy I’ve been talking about for years now, and they suddenly realize the financial benefits of offering pet-friendly flights in which pet owners are actually permitted to purchase seats for their furry companions.  In that case, problem is solved and we could all fly in style.

Which brings us to issues #1 and #2.  Well, I’m sure I could always find something to occupy my time.  I could look into the dark, mysterious and oft-frightening world of freelancing.  Granted the type of money I’d make would be nowhere near the sum I could bring in show running, but certain sacrifices would have to be made.  Hell, I’ve calculated that if I sold my place in Vancouver, I could make enough money to rent a very nice place and live comfortably for quite some time.  QUITE some time.  But that’s defeatist thinking.  IF I can make a modest living, find a nice place, and can move my dogs without hassle, Tokyo could be a viable option…

In which I’d enjoy days like the one I enjoyed yesterday.  Following a leisurely morning spent updating this blog, Akemi and I dropped by the Pierre Marcolini Cafe, her former haunt, to say hello to her former co-workers…

The Maroclini Gang: Keiko-san, Akemi, and Dr. Yukina.

From there, it was a short, three-block walk over to my favorite sushi-ya: Sawada.  It was my third visit there in as many years.  The first time I went, I was blown away.  The second time, I brought Ivon along and he was so impressed that he declared it the best meal he’d ever had.  Yesterday, I brought Akemi along for my third visit and she was blown away by the quality of the sushi, the presentation, and Sawada-san who a delightful host – friendly, humorous, and full of fascinating information on the various ingredients and the painstaking process by which he produces his delicious creations.  For instance, he had a special refrigerator to allow for ice-cooling, lets certain fish rest for days before serving, and prepares his rice thirty minutes to an hour before each service.  Any rice that is left over after lunch is thrown out because he feels the flavor is compromised after an hour, and he starts from scratch for the dinner service.  He served us two types of sea urchin and explained how he washes one with water from Hokkaido because that’s where that particular uni hails from, just north of the island where it feeds on its famed kombu (seaweed).  He served us some otoro, aburi-style, and told us how it was the inspiration for kobe beef.  And the taste, texture, and look of the aburi proved remarkably similar to the famed, well-marbled beef:

There was a strict no photo policy in place so as not to distract the other customers so I can’t offer the visual rundown I’ve done with previous restaurants, but suffice it to say we enjoyed yet another remarkable meal.

After lunch, I finally got to hit Akihabara, aka Electric Town, aka Otaku Central, home of the electronic deals, anime merchandise, and roaming geeks. On our way out of the station, we stopped by Doughnut Plant and picked up two doughnuts: the tiramusi and the vanilla.  Fondy remembered these doughnuts fondly from her days in Tokyo.

My emphatic sampling.
Results in a mess. You can't take me anywhere!

The verdict?  Meh.  Even Akemi was somewhat disappointed, claiming they weren’t as good as she remembered.  Alas, they never are.  We gave the doughnuts to a homeless man and moved on.

The streets of Akihabara!

After picking up a new Evangelion cell phone case for my iPhone (it’s nowhere near an effective protective cover as the one I was using, but it’s an Evangelion cover!), we headed over to the Sega centre where Akemi sought to recapture some more fond memories (these from her high school days) by doing some purrikura which, it turns out, isn’t a hallucinogenic but Japanese slang for “print club”.  We went upstairs and entered one of the numerous little photo booths, then used to the touch screen to select our picture frames – something suitably saccharine – then posed for various shots.  It took me a while to get the hang of it as there was a full one second disconnect between the sound of the click and the actual flash –

I'll go with the plain silly, thanks.

Once we were done, we proceeded to a second booth at which you input your various little doodles, comments, drawings, and symbols onto the picture.  Once that was done, you proceeded to yet another booth at which you input your email address (so they could send you tiny, poor quality copies, natch) and printed up tiny, poor quality copies of your session.

I must say, I was dubious at first but I think it did a really great job of capturing my youthful exuberance and big brown eyes…

Damn.  If only I’d known about this when I was here with Ivon last year.

After that, we walked around Akihabara and checked out some of the shops (or, should I say, giant multi-level complexes).  I’d like to bring a new anime series back to Vancouver with me but there are so many of them, I’m having a hard time deciding.  Anyone out there know what’s new and great in the world of anime?

Well, I didn’t find an anime series to check out, I did come across plenty of interesting sights…only in Akihabara…

This guy was a having a great old time on the drum game.
One of the neighbourhood's many maids, trawling the streets for potential customers. I told Akemi that, if we moved to Tokyo, she could work at a Maid Cafe and I could work at the neighbouring Butler Cafe. I'm sure I would be quite popular!
Check out the howitzers on that kid. Something you rarely see in North American cartoons.
The sommelier would like to recommend a Dragonball 1989. Or would you prefer the 2002 Sailor Moon?

We ended up running out of time as we had to be in Roppongi to meet a friend of Akemi’s for dinner, so we hopped on the metro and caught the Hibiya line to Midtown.  Inside the station, I snapped pics of some of the subway warnings.  Check out the smart Japanese raccoons schooling the dumb foreigner…

Look at this moron - all relaxed. He's just asking for his elbows to get clipped by a passing train. Don't they have subways where he comes from?!

Seriously.  If not for stupid gaijin, these warning signs would be wholly unnecessary.

By the time we got to Roppongi, it was already dark.

The streets of Roppongi.

We ended up meeting at the Jean Paul Hevin cafe.  Dinner consisted of a chocolate extravaganza: four chocolate cakes, chocolate ice cream, and chocolate sorbet.  Oh, and  a Perrier for me as I’m trying to watch my girlish figure.

The cakes ranged from great to incredible.
Surprisingly, I preferred the sorbet over the ice cream. Not that the ice cream was bad. The sorbet was simply that good.
And...done. Sort of. If Ivon had been with me, we would have polished off everything.

Akemi got the chance to catch up with her old friend and I even managed to catch a few words here and there.  I think that the only way I’m going to improve my Japanese conversational and listening skills is by going full immersion.  Similarly, I think the only way I’m going to really learn to read Hiragana and Katakana is by picking up some Japanese manga and going through the laborious process of translating each and every panel.  It’ll be difficult at first but, eventually, much easier in time.

We left Midtown and Ayaka, then headed outside where we grabbed some dessert –

Takoyaki! A.k.a octopus balls filled with octopus bits, flour, baking soda, bonito stock, green onion and cabbage. We had two kinds: original (takoyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed) and mentaiko-mayonnnaise (marinated fish eggs and green onion).
They're always half-cooked to produce a molten center designed to deliver maximum mouth burn.

We were on our way back to the hotel when I received an email from my friend Moro-san.  She was interested in hitting Star Bar after work.  How could I say no?  We met up.  I had a couple of Moscow Mules.  I practiced my Japanese and we were treated to a demonstration of ice craftsmanship:

The Boss! Hisashi Kishi!

Mini mailbag:

Major D. Davis writes: “ALL THAT FOOD.”

Answer: Yeah.  It’ll be oatmeal for breakfast when I return to Vancouver.  By the way, Major, nice to have you back.

Lewis writes: “How different is the weather there from what it normally is in Vancouver this time of year?”

Answer: It’s actually much colder here in Tokyo!

JeffW writes: “I’m thinking about trying LDP’s Kale Chips this weekend.”

Answer: How does he make them?  I like them oven roasted after being tossed in olive oil and a bit of sea salt.

Kabra writes: “The purple yam thing, hmmm can we get those here?? Are they really grown in that colour??”

Answer: They’re pretty damn purple naturally but I think that, in the case of the cakes, their color may have been enhanced.  I think I’ve seen them in Vancouver.  Akemi claims purple potatoes are healthier.  As a result, I no longer feel guilty eating those cakes for breakfast.

for the love of Beckett writes: “Akemi, has Joe said anything funny or amusing in Japanese recently?”

Answer: Akemi says to stay tuned for her Shit My Canadian Boyfriend Says twitter account.

for the love of Beckett also writes: “Do you see many dogs strolling Tokyo? Any Shiba Inu?”

Answer: I’ve seen a surprising number of dogs strolling about, mainly small breeds (chihuahuas, shibas, a couple of french bulldogs yesterday) but a couple of bigger dogs as well (a doberman and a golden retriever).

Shiny writes: “I’m going to move to Japan and sell cute wool caps to all these folks wandering around in the cold with not hat on.”

Answer: Great.  Let’s go into business together.  It’s either selling wool caps or working at the Butler Cafe!

Kathode writes: “Anyway, my suggestion for another superhero-of-the-week movie would be “Super Fuzz.”

Answer: Why have I never heard of this movie?  It looks absolutely dreadful – and thus perfect for our SuperMovie of the Week Club!

dasndanger writes: “Oh, forgot to tell you what the dream was about. You updated your blog saying you were back in Vancouver, and I was baffled because I never saw an entry saying that you had actually left Japan.”

Answer: Weird!!!  Were you able to get back to sleep?

SebiMeyer writes: “The legends surrounding the Kappa are quite disturbing. It feeds on human large intestines, which it accesses by crawling up their butt. The cucumbers are just offered so if doesn’t do that to you.”

Answer: Thanks for that educational – and disturbing – tidbit.

Sue Jackson writes: “How do eat all this stuff and not get fat? Do you jog every morning?”

Answer: The secret is in walking everywhere.  It just eats up the calories.  One year of this and I’d probably be at my peak physical shape, ready to box Carl Binder for the championship belt.

ILyes D. Vex writes: “and the pudding cake thing, isn’t it called Anpan or something???”

Answer: Anpan is something different.  I believe it’s a sweet bun filled with red bean paste.

max writes: “Has your dog-sitter mentioned if your other dogs look confused that maximus isnt around anymore?”

Answer: She says they’re doing great and don’t see to be acting or reacting any differently.  Of course that may change when I get back.  I took Maximus away with me for the Christmas holidays so they may well be expecting his return with mine.

Debra writes: “You can have a vacation home there, but we won’t get you back on US TV shows if you move there full time so not going to encourage THAT.”

Answer: I have been considering going the alternate route of simply getting a vacation place.

Pontytail writes: “What do you think Akemi’s mom thinks of you?”

Answer: She seems to think well enough of me to not force Akemi to pack up her bags and move to Osaka immediately.  So far, so good.

Jenny Robin writes: “I’m so sorry.”

Answer: Thanks, Jenny.  Long time no see.  How’s the book business?

 

January 31, 2012: Tokyo Day #4! I discover the world’s greatest pizza, check out some ukiyo-e, partake in more desserts than most eat in an entire week, do some sushi, then cap the night off Star Bars style!

I woke up from my previous night’s sleep well-rested, with ten hours of uninterrupted snoozing under my zzzzz belt, ready for a big day.  The  great thing about traveling to Asia is that jet lag actually works to your benefit provided you’re not a night owl looking to party.  By the time 10:00 p.m. rolls around, you’re utterly exhausted but when the sun comes up at 7:00 a.m., you’re ready to go!  Or, in  my case, update my blog!  One of these days, I’m going to take the aryl morning stroll down to the Tsukiji Market for a sushi breakfast or actually hit the hotel gym for a rare vacation work-out or, at the very least, put on my running shoes and sweat pants and walk down to find out where the gym is located.

Anyway, yesterday, following a leisurely morning lounge, I met up with my good friend Moro-san, my guide on this day…

We headed to Naka-Meguro - a first for me.

It was my first time visiting the Naka-Meguro neighborhood which, I suppose, I would have enjoyed more had it not been so damn cold outside.  And windy!  Moro-san was surprised, assuming I’d be used to this sort of weather coming from Canada and all.  I informed her that, while certain parts of Canada are certainly much colder, Vancouver is actually much more pleasant – minus the rain.

Moro was calling the shots on the day and suggested we go have pizza for lunch.  I’d had pizza for dinner the previous night so I wasn’t as enthusiastic as I could have been but, hey, I’m just a guest.  And so, we wound our way through Naka-Meguro to find the unassuming little Pizza Serinkan…

We were greeted by a gentleman - the owner I presumed - presiding over a pizza oven who directed us up the spiral staircase to the second floor...
Our menu choices were simply: Margherita or Marinara.

Although the menu offered  host of starters, when it came down to the star of the show – the pizzas – there were only two choices: Margherita and/or Marinara.  No “pepperoni and cheese” or “well-dressed” or “with corn and mayonnaise”, the topping I’ve heard the Japanese enjoy but that every Japanese person I’ve ever mentioned it to denies having ever eaten.  I needed some convincing…

Moro-san - also notoriously camera shy.
The Margherita
The Marinara

And boy, was I ever convinced.  I guess simple is best because the pizza at Pizza Serinkan was the best pizza I’ve ever had.  Fresh tomatoes, cheese, garlic, basil and olive oil topping an astoundingly tasty pizza dough.  It was all about that delicious, slightly chewy dough!  These pizzas were nothing short of revelatory and I vowed I’d be back!  Provided I could find the place again!

Chef and Owner Kakinuma Susumu

We headed downstairs to thank Chef and Owner Kakinuma Susumu.  I waited patiently while he manned the oven, carefully turning a pizza, eyeing it’s progress, before pulling it out and depositing it onto a plate – then moving onto the next one.  He took a break to say hello.  On my second day in Tokyo, my French came in handy as most of the chefs I ended up speaking to – including Le Bourguignon’s Japanese head chef – spoke French.  In this case, thank goodness for my Italian as Kakinuma-san had evidently spent some time in Italy and we were able to communicate just fine.

Anyway, there you have it: the greatest pizza in the world.  And it’s in Tokyo.  You’re job is to find it.  I leave you this clue: 聖林館 (せいりんかん)

After lunch, we ventured out into the Tokyo cold for dessert at Cacahouette, a tiny little patisserie on a side street in Naka-Meguro.

I didn't know the next time I'd be in the Naka-Meguro area so (as I often do when I'm on vacation) I made the most of our visit, ordering us two desserts each and a yuzu hot chocolate (which, in retrospect, sounded a lot better than it tasted. And it tasted VERY sour!). Unfortunately, I can't provide a thorough rundown of what we ate as none of the descriptions were in English - nevertheless "delicious" transcends many languages.On the left, a deconstructed/reconstructed Paris Brest and, on the right, a delicate, multilayered chocolate dessert with a praline base. Both of these were outstanding, especially the latter.
My chocolate cube filled with maple cream (left) and the Baba au Rhum (right). Both were very good - although I think Moro-san's selections were superior. That little plastic thing behind the strawberry actually contained a shot of rum. Once squeezed, the rum was released, injected into the cake and giving it a rum wallop!

We worked off our meal and dessert by grabbing the metro to Roppongi where we checked out a ukiyo-e (Japanese wood-block prints and paintings) collection by Utawa Kuniyoshi.

The place was packed!  We wound our was through the gallery, taking in the 420+ works on display.  A truly impressive body of work.

One of my favorite Tokyo landmarks: the Roppongi Spider!

Having worked up an appetite walking around the exhibit, we headed over to Tokyo Midtown for a quick pick-me-up at Sadaharu Aoki…

The Bamboo has long been my favorite Tokyo dessert. I loved it so much on my very first visit to Midtown that I actually considered buying a cake and transporting it back with me to Canada. Had customs stopped me, I would have happily sat down and eaten the entire thing there. While still very good, however, I'm not quite as enthusiastic about it as I once was.

We also sampled some chocolate-dipped macarons which sounded a lot better in theory than they actually tasted.

Fortified, we caught the escalator up to the next floor to visit the Pet Station, a pet boutique offering pet food, treats, outfits and – the reason I was there – spa services for dogs.  You can watch the dogs being clipped, manicured and blow-dried behind a glass wall.  Well, my gamble paid off.  As I walked in, two dogs were being walked out of the spa area – an English bulldog mix and a boxy French bulldog with who I instantly bonded!

We ended up running into Akemi and her mother who were spending some quality catch-up time together.  We said our hello’s, then went our separate ways, they to enjoy a vegetarian meal at Yasaiya Mei, we to enjoy a sushi dinner in Ginza.

Akemi doing her own thing.

For dinner, Moro and I went to Harutaka.  The sushi was very good.  Rather than give you the blow by blow, why not just check out some snaps of the evening’s offerings…

By the time we were done, it was still early.  I asked Moro-san if she wanted to grab a dessert and, not surprisingly, she declined.  And so, we went for dessert of another sort instead, heading over to my home away from home in Tokyo – no, not The Imperial Hotel…Star Bar.

We arrived early enough that we were the only ones at the bar.  We chatted with Yamasaki-san who made us our drinks (a Moscow Mule for me, natch).  About a half an hour later, Master Bartender Hisashi Kishi arrived.  He’d just come back from an event in Osaka where he’d been mixing drinks to accompany a special meal at one of the city’s 3-star Michelin restaurants.  For my money, I couldn’t think of a better person to do the honors.

Apparently, Kishi-san has been checking out my blog, on and off, since I lasted visited with Ivon (both he and Yamasaki-san say “hello to my tall friend” by the way).  Being a dog lover himself (he has a six year old Shiba who greets him without fail upon his late-night returns home – while the rest of the family sleeps) he asked about my brood.  I told him about Maximus and he was very sympathetic, passing along his condolences – and almost choking me up.

We stayed for two drinks and then called it a night.

Back at the hotel, I checked out some chocolates I picked up from a Kyoto-based chocolatier…

The chocolates are little edible works of art.  Much prettier than they were tasty.

Today, it’s L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon for lunch and Ishikawa (third visit!) for dinner.  Wish me luck!

December 21, 2010 (again): Back home! Tokyo Travel Day #16!

We made the most of our final day in Tokyo, sleeping in late and lounging about the hotel until early afternoon before finally heading out.  We headed over to Roppongi where we enjoyed a double lunch.  Ramen –

Not sure what they mean by "painful". I assume it's spicy as opposed to containing, say, ground glass or coming with a complimentary thug who kidney punches you whenever you take a slurp. Anyway, I tried to convince Ivon to try it, but he elected to join me in going tonkatsu.
And a side of melt in your mouth pork cheek. Could've used about ten of these last night.
When I have ramen, I always go tonkotsu with its hearty, rich pork bone soup base flavors.

Thumbs up from both us.  Not as great as Hokkaido Ramen Toro in Shinjuku, but still pretty damn good.

We took a break to head on back to the shop at the Mori Arts Museum where we both picked up multiple copies of a book highlighting Odani Motohiko’s recent Phantom Limb exhibition (which was one of the high points of this trip).  It offers a terrific overview of the his works, in both Japanese and English, and includes photos of almost the entire collection.  My only minor quibble is that it should have included a DVD of the bizarre and bewildering Rompers video.

Pleased with our purchases, we headed back out for lunch#2 and R Burger’s weirdly white offerings –

The chicken burger with ume. We both liked the burger and bun, but found the ume chotto suppai.

After that, it was back to the hotel for some R&R.  We had a big night ahead of us!  An okay yakitori and then, the main event:

Star Bar! Our home away from home!
Our new buddy Vincent from Malaysia. Done in by the one-two-three-four-five punch of scotch, Dark Manhatten, sherry, Milky Way, and Stueben. Lights OUT!
Yamasaki-san works a little magic of his own.
One of the Master's award-winning cocktails: The Milky Way. I wasn't sure at first became a quick convert. Damn tasty drink!

The master at work:

We closed down the bar and then, as a farewell gift, presented themwith ice wine we’d brought with us from Canada.

They honored us by allowing us behind the bar for a photo!

In typically grand Tokyo host fashion, they saw us off –

And Ivon and I bid Star Bar – and Tokyo – a fond farewell.

An awesome trip!  I couldn’t have asked for a better travel companion!

December 12, 2010: Tokyo Travel Day #6! Sawada! More Star Bar! We eat a half pound of fat for lunch! Strolling down Ginza Dori!

First, the Jelly update.  She’s on her way home today!

So last night, I paid a return visit to one of my favorite sushi restaurants in Tokyo: Sawada.  I figured that since this was Ivon’s first visit to the city, he should be treated to a true sushi feast.  And Sawada did not disappoint…

It's a tiny sushi-ya with counter only seating. Master Koji Sawada, with the help of his lovely assistant, works his magic on the other side.
After starting with some salted gingko nuts, we moved onto steamed abalone and abalone liver.
Then some sweet tako (octopus).
Sawada-san's more labor-intensive aburi method...
Yields delightfully delicious results. Here, the saba (mackerel).
The bonito was possessed of a sweet smokiness that lingered long after it had melted in your mouth.
Sawada-san at work on our maki.
Baby snapper maki with shiso and Japanese chives.
A first for me: cooked sea cucumber eggs. Texturally very close to crispy tofu skin but with a wonderful savory flavor all its own.
What looks like well-marbled beef is actually an expertly carved slab of toro (fatty tuna).
The toro was roasted over an open flame. And, yes, it tasted as good as it looks. Unbelievably good.

Then, we moved on to the nigiri.  We had ika (squid), what I believe was saury, two different kinds of horse mackerel, clam, ark shell, various tunas, hirame…

We were presented with a couple of the biggest prawn I've ever seen. Note the rainbow coloring of the tails.
And served.
Gorgeous gizzard shad.
Chu-toro. The wagyu of the sea!
Chuo-otoro.
And Otoro.

We were served up several more nigiri, then capped our meal with a terrific tamago.  The verdict?  Ivon said it was the best meal he’s ever had.  Mission accomplished.  Since it was my return visit to the restaurant, I gifted Sawada-san a bottle of ice wine and then we were on our way. 

We were feeling pretty good, partly due to the incredible meal we’d enjoyed, partly due to the three carafes of premium sake we knocked back.  And so, following a late night stroll through Ginza…

…we found ourselves back at what is fast-becoming our favorite watering hole, Star Bar, where we sampled a few more of Master Kishi-san’s creations…

My new drink of choice: the Moscow Mule. Served in a copper cup!
The Star Bar version of the Dark and Stormy made with dark rum and fresh pomegranate juice.
On Ivon's insistence, we tried Abstinthe. Kishi-san had to open the bottle for us. We likened it to the flavor of Pernod with a turpentine kick.
Hair of the dog

It was admittedly a rough night after that and I ended up sleeping in to 9:00 a.m. the following morning.  Ivon was up at 8:00 a.m. and took a stroll in nearby Hibiya Park where he claims he saw a family of feral cats living in the park.  We walked through later that day but there was no sign of feral cats.  I wonder what color these feral cats were.  I’m guessing pink maybe?

We headed out at about 11:00 for lunch.

As the stores set to open, people line up outside the entrances in anticipation. In anticipation for what, exactly, I'm not sure. I guess they simply love their shopping.
Speaking of line-ups, there's always a line-up at this waffle place so, on our way to lunch, Ivon decided to find out way. Well, it turns out it's because their chocolate waffles are awesome. We breached strict etiquette by actually eating them on the go.

After looking for an appropriate lunch spot, we settled on a yakiniku/barbecue grill join on the seventh floor of some building.  We were seated in a tiny two-seat table and presented with a menu that broke down the entire cow by cut.  We ultimately setttled for something called the “premium” cut.  To Ivon’s horror, we later realized that, apparently, “premium” is synonymous with “fat”.

That is some major marbling!

Following lunch, Ivon was feeling a little on the queasy side, so he decided to head back to the hotel for an hour or so to recuperate.  For my part, I decided to counter the fat I’d just consumed with my go-to cure-all: sugar!

It looks like a sandwich but the meatballs and baguette are actually cream-filled choux pastry.
Feeling much better later, I stopped by the Pierre Marcolini Cafe and dropped off some doughnuts for the gals, then took a stroll through Hibiya Park. Didn't spot any feral cats.
Wonder if Ivon meant these guys.

Ivon was also feeling much better later, so we decided to check out the Ginza area – specifically Ginza Dori which is open to foot traffic on the weekend.  As we were walking along, we were stopped by a Japanese television crew and interviewed about the differences between Christmas in Japan and Christmas in North America. 

My impression was that, while North American Christmas was a time for family, Japanese Christmas was a holiday for kids and couples.  Still, for what it was worth, Tokyo out-Christmases any North American city I’ve ever visited.

Our interviewer

They asked us if we were familiar with Christmas cake.  Apparently, it’s tradition for the Japanese to eat strawberry shortcake this time of year (which I’d choose over fruit cake any day).  They also asked us if we were familiar with the tradition of the Christmas boot, a small plastic boot that is filled with traditional Christmas treats (ie. seasame crackers) and gifted to kids.  I pointed out that we hang stockings instead of boots but it’s a testament to the spirit of Christmas that we can come together in communal footwear-stuffing.

We walked around some more and saw this.
And this.
And this lovely pantsuit.

And then it was back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. 

Next up: Pachon!  My toy store haul!  Out and about with Keiko!

December 11, 2010: Tokyo Day #5! Tofuro! Star Bar! Pizza Salvatore Cuomo! Akihabara!

Last night was one of those reservationless evenings designed to allow us to play things by ear, get some local input on our eating schedule.  And so it was that, following a recommendation from the hotel concierge, we found ourselves at Tofuro izakaya.  Now, the first thing that struck us was the ancient Chinese prison-like cells, I mean dining rooms.  We were told to take off our shoes (no doubt to make it tougher for us to make a break for it) when the time came, then seated in a tiny room after which the (cell) door slid shut behind us.  I half-expected a group of waiters to come rushing and beat the soles of our feet.

Sorry. They won't let you out until you've finished your veggies.

The second thing to strike us was the size of menu offering everything from Chinese dumplings to hot dog salads. Hell, there were so many dishes that they needed THREE menus to cover them all. 

We sat there for some fifteen minutes, wondering where the hell our waiter had gotten to, when we noticed a lone button on the wall. We hesitated to push it. Sure, it could have summoned our waiter. On the other hand, it could have set off the fire alarm. Eventually, Ivon pressed it. Coincidentally, or not, the waiter showed up soon after.
Tasty flash-fried tuna.
Glutinous rice pumpkin skewers. Ivon was pleasantly suprised by these goopy offerings.

We had various skewers, some fried squid paste, and I got Ivon to sample grilld beed tongue for the first time.  All in all, an interesting meal but not a place I’d pencil in for a return visit.

So far in Tokyo, we’ve hit our share of lame bars: Peters in The Peninsula (tries so hard to be hip it’s kind of embarrassing), and the Old Imperial at the Imperial Hotel (smoky as hell, the seats and tables are so small you’d think the lounge had been designed for hard-drinking children).  But, last night, we found ourselves at a bar that instantly became our new Tokyo watering hole.  Tiny and unpretentious, Star Bar is owned and operated by bartender extraordinaire Kishi Hisashi who prepares every cocktail in the house with deft but easy-going precision.  Each drink commands his full attention and it’s a marvel to watch the man work – deftly icing, stirring, shaking, and pouring his creations, then serving them up just so.  Ivon had a couple of Whiskey Sours while I started with a Gin Gimlet, then followed with a Sidecar.  The Moscow Mules he served up in copper cups to the couple beside us looked great, definitely something I’ll order on our next visit.

I was seated at the bar in front of THE wall of scotch.
Gin Gimlet
Sidecar
In addition to being a master mixologist, Kishi-san is an expert ice carver. Check out the ice cube in the glass - a perfect fit.
The man himself - Kishi Hisashi

After drinks, we took a stroll through Ginza –

This city out-Christmases Vancouver by miles.

 I woke up the next day feeling refreshed and ready to hit the streets.  Ivon, marginally less so given he was still smarting from the previous day’s massage.  Apparently, that seventy year old masseuse may have looked weak, but she worked him over like stubborn pizza dough.

Hey, speaking of pizza, we finally checked out that pizzeria Akemi has been raving about since arriving in Vancouver.  Apparently, Vancouver pizza is crap and doesn’t hold a candle to Pizza Salvatore Cuomo.  So, we went there for lunch and you know what?  Akemi’s right.  Vancouver pizza doesn’t even come close.  The pizza is fresh, tasty, perfectly cooked, and inexpensive.

Ivon's Capriccsiosa with mushrooms, tomato, prosciutto, and mozarella.
My Porcini and Rucola

 

Uni Spaghettini - the sea urchin was sweet and creamy, the pasta cooked al dente.

From there, it was off to Akihabara (Electric Town).  It was a full sensory overload of garish signage, flashing neon, people shouting, car exhaust, and the smell of the nearby river. 

One of the huge electronic stores with some eight floors packed full of everything from cellphones to t.v.'s. Sadly, I couldn't find the robot section. What self-respecting Japanese electronics store doesn't have a robot section?
Akemi's favorite doughunut shop: NY's famed Dougnut Plant. We had three - the chocolate blackout, the salty caramel, and the green tea - all good but not great.
Chocolate Blackout!
Buy!Buy!Buy! Consumerism at its gaudiest and I refuse to be a part of it.
Except to buy an awesome Vash the Stampede/Trigun t-shirt and this NERV iPhone case.

Akihabara is teeming with maids.
And interesting fashion. Moments later, two middle-aged dudes strolled by, hand in hand, dressed as schoolgirls. Sorry I didn't have my camera out for that one. Actually, in retrospect, not so sorry. Shudder.
What adorable toys!

We stopped by one of those noisy pachinko parlors where Ivon tried his hand at the game.  But first, he had to learn the easy to follow rules…

 With the rules clear in his hand, Ivon threw his money away put his money in the machine and away he went…

As far as I can tell you feed those little silver ball bearings through the machine while intermittently hitting that rotating thing on the right.  Some balls will slip through to the next level but most won’t.  You take those remaining surviving balls and feed them through again, repeating the process until you’re out of ball bearings.  Then you go home.

We headed back to the hotel for some much-needed R&R and psyched ourselves up for a sushi feast at Sawada.

Finally, the Jelly update: She’s doing well, taking little steps, but still needs to be supported.  She’s very quiet in her cage, enjoys snuggling with her stuffies, but always perks up whenever someone visits. The staff have fallen in love with her.