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


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.

December 10, 2010: Tokyo Trip Day #4! Butagumi pork-out! Omotesando dessert run! Izakaya Tofuro!

My feet hurt.  I figured this trip would be a great opportunity to break in those new shoes but, instead, they seem to be breaking me.  We’ve been doing a fair amount of walking these past couple of days and if it weren’t for the endless array of desserts that have given me the much-needed energy boosts I required to complete these seemingly endless strolls, I don’t know what I’d do.  Probably do less walking for one.

Yesterday, we had lunch at Butagumi, a tiny refurbished house turned tonkatsu restaurant serving up the most unbelievable array of crispy-fried pork goodness.  The great thing about traveling with a friend is that it allows you to rely on one another’s strengths and weaknesses to get around.  I, for instance, lend my experience and expertise on the city’s food, subway system, and strict rules and regulations ranging from not eating in public to not sleeping on the subway platforms.  Ivon, on the other hand, can actually read a map.  And so, it was mainly thanks to Ivon that we finally arrived at our lunch destination in Nishi Azabu.

It was cool outside but inside was a pleasant tropical temperature.  Pleasant when you initially walked in to the place, then really freakin’ hot as the meal progressed.  Since we wanted to sample a variety of porkly offerings, we decided to go with the Butagumi-Zen platter comprised of five kinds of pork, three sirloins and two filets (Iwachuu, Ryuuka-ton from Okinawa, Imobuta from Chiba, Eishow-ton which hails from China and is 80% fat, and the grand-daddy of pork – Iberico from Spain).  To further hedge our bets, we also ordered a katsu curry of Matsuzaka pork from Mie.

Matsuzaka pork

Butagumi-Zen sampler platter.

 A good time and a great meal. I very much enjoyed sampling the various offerings and sussing out their porkly nuances.  For his part, Ivon enjoyed the meal as well but wished at least some of the variations had been grilled rather than deep-fried.  But then, that’s tonkatsu.

Afterwards, we took a walk up to Roppongi station where we caught the metro to Omotesando…

I wish to hire this dog to investigate a case on my behalf.

As far as great pants go, this pair stood out on Day #3.

More awesome architecture.

More low-grade bad vacation karma. Ivon loses his passmo and must buy a new one in order to ride the subway.

We stop by Pierre Herme for some of a plate of my favorite macarons (and a couple of other desserts). They were, as always, terrific - in stark contrast to the dry, chewy macarons I picked up the previous night at the Shiseido Buildling. Awful.

This one's for Akemi. Her favorite dessert: the Isphahan.

After dessert, we crossed the street to sample more dessert - the popular Tomonama Doughnut.

Ivon marveled at closely they resembled their lurid plastic display counterparts. I took a bite of one and discovered it was partially frozen. Ivon claimed it was their way of dissuading consumers from eating on the go, ensuring they would have to return home and eat the doughnuts once they'd thoroughly thawed. I did upon my return to my hotel room. I was less than impressed. These doughnuts were the biggest disappointment since my failed marriage.

Tokyo out-Christmases Vancouver. And it aint even close.

Platform for Women Only subway car. To be fair, the gropers get their own car too.

An awesome assortment of Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate macarons. My midnight snack.

Next blog entry: Prison-style izakaya!  Star Bar!  Electric Town!