November 10, 2013: Tokyo Day #5! Shaky shaky! Pork and promenades! Dinner at L’Effervesence!

Roppongi toilet art
Roppongi toilet art

We sure are experiencing a lot of turbulence, I thought to myself in my sleep-addled state.  Suddenly, I stopped brushing.  Wait a minute.  I’m in my hotel room.

“Did you feel the earthquake?”asked Akemi as I stepped out of the bathroom.  The national news was already reporting on the 4.0 quake, a relatively minor that, to me, felt a little more significant.  But business as usual here I suppose.

Eggplant so purple they're black.  Or maybe just black eggplant.
Eggplant so purple they’re black. Or maybe just black eggplant.

Yesterday, Akemi and I headed over to Roppongi for a little pre-lunch stroll through Roppongi (it of the giant spider art, Das).  The plan was to check out Le Chocolat H but, alas, our favorite Japanese chocolatier had packed up and moved to Shibuya.  So, instead, we walked back to Mori Hills and checked out a two-day farmer’s market.  It was just like back home complete with food trucks and guys dressed up like giant vegetables.  I am a sucker for samples and try to avoid them as much as possible, especially here in Japan where everything is delicious.  On this occasion, I didn’t – and ended up buying a bag of oranges to take back to the hotel with me.

Not a lot of trunk space in this baby.
Not a lot of trunk space in this baby.
Eggplant and turnip = BFF
Eggplant and turnip = BFF

Oranges in tow, we made the fifteen walk over to Nishi-Azabu where we were meeting Akemi’s family for lunch at Butagumi, my favorite tonkatsu restaurant.  Situated in a quaint old building in a back alley, Butagumi specializes in crispy, almost ethereal, fried pork cutlets from all over Japan – and beyond.  On this day, we enjoyed three different varieties along with the traditional slaw, pickles, rice – and one of my very favorite dishes: the braised pork appetizer.

Butagumi, where pork is king!
Butagumi, where pork is king!
I would come to Tokyo for this dish alone: the braised pork appetizer at Butagmi.
I would come to Tokyo for this dish alone: the braised pork appetizer at Butagmi.
Crispy pork tonkatsu
Crispy pork tonkatsu

The talk of the table was, of course, Akemi sister’s, Hiromi’s, upcoming wedding.  The ceremony will be steeped in tradition.  Everything will be exact, from the exchanging of the vows to the specific envelope in which the money gift is presented.  Unfortunately, Akemi hadn’t a clue which of the dozens of money envelopes on display at the local Ito-ya would work, so she had her sister and mother pick one up for us. Elaborate, no?

The personalized wedding envelopes Akemi's family prepared for the wedding. is this a subtle hint?
The personalized wedding envelopes Akemi’s family prepared for the wedding. is this a subtle hint?

After lunch, we sent Akemi’s family off with some oranges, then Akemi and I headed back the way we came, making our way over to Tokyo Midtown…

Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate art
Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate art

I was in the mood for a little dessert but, it being the weekend, the place was so crowded I gave up in favor of some chocolate-covered waffles at the little stand-up shop in Ginza.  Which also had a line-up, so we returned to the hotel where I ate a couple of oranges.

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But not before taking a stroll up Ginza dori that is shut down to car traffic on weekends.  Here I snap a picture of a crowd snapping pictures.  What’s so interesting?
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This family of cats hanging around.

For dinner last night, I paid a return visit to one of Tokyo’s most dynamic restaurants, headed by one of its most creative chefs: L’Effervesence.  It’s a bit of a walk from Omotesando, tucked away in a little alleyway – but if you can find it, it’s well worth the trip!

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Yep, keep going, right past the cemetery.

I met up with my good friend, Tomomi. who introduced me to the place last year.  And, like last year, the meal was nothing short of spectacular.  Some of the highlights included:

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This McDonald’s apple pie-inspired appetizer comprised of oxtail, taro and rosemary – that, nevertheless, possessed flavors surprisingly similar to the original.
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Pan-fried scales-on tilefish “Amadai” and mussel from Mont SaintMichel, kohlrabi, Manganji pepper, chanterelle, and kabosu. The fish was crisp and tender, the broth subtly sublime, but those mushrooms stole the show.  

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Other standouts included an appetizer mousse made up of Hog’s head cheese and Japanese sweet potato, the restaurant’s signature whole cooked turnip (slow-cooked for four hours before being simmered in butter and served, incredibly flavorful and, amazingly, still firm), roast Hokkaido venison served with a fig and red wine reduction, chanterelle mushrooms, and yarrow leaves and –

Pictured above, the house signature salad that includes 50 different salad, fruit, vegetables, and herbs.

For dessert, a ginger milk mousse with Darjeeling tea ice cream, apple jelly, lemon preserve, and this favorite:

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Fragments of chestnut creme brulee, rum raising ice cream, wild grape jelly, and olive oil steamed buns.  

And, to end things:

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Pop rock chocolate pops, macarons, and a lemon meringue dessert you assemble yourself by squeezing the lemon custard out of a tiny tube and into a tiny pie shell.

After dinner, the ever-humble Chef Shinobu Namae stopped by the table for a quick chat before heading back to the kitchen to complete the evening service.  It turns out Chef Shinobu will be heading to our North American neighborhood to take part in the Culinary Institute of America’s World’s of Flavor conference alongside the world’s culinary elite: http://www.worldsofflavor.com/schedule/presenters.  Now THAT sounds like fun.

http://leffervescence.jp/en/

Alright, time to get ready.  I have a Japanese wedding to attend. Apparently, I’m going to be asked to sign my name name in hiragana today.  With a calligraphy brush no less!  So, let’s practice…

Picture 1Fish hook with eyes, small L wearing a sun visor, bent t.v. antenna, big-nosed 3, and fish hook with eyes.

October 31, 2012: Tokyo Day #3! Sawada! Shinjuku! Butagumi!

Last night, Akemi and I returned to our favorite sushi restaurant in Tokyo: Sawada. It’s always more than dinner, it’s a show, with Master Sawada-san presenting a feast of varied sushis and sashimis, from sweet Hokkaido uni to grilled sea eel, all expertly prepared and utterly delicious.  The restaurant itself is small, seating six at its modest counter, but this, says Sawada, is ideal as it allows him to give each diner his fullest attention.  The meal isn’t cheap, but it is always one of the culinary highlights of my year.

On this visit, we were seated beside a solo diner, Jeff, who was in town from London for two days of business.  We chatted film, television, and, of course, food.  The remaining counter seats were occupied by three 50-something Japanese women whose conversation grew more raucous, their laughter louder, as the evening progressed – no doubt owing to the amount of sake they knocked back.  At one point, one of them got up to use the bathroom, stumbled and almost ate tatami – but found much-needed support in the form of the opposing closet door that almost buckled under her weight.  Once our dinner had ended, I made sure they left first. The last thing I needed was an inebriated avalanche of drunken older women tumbling down the stairs toward me.

Anyway, no photos of the meal itself (Sawada-san enforces a strict no-photo policy – unless you get there early and there are no fellow diners to offend), but I did snap a pic of our new friend, Jeff with Akemi:

Today, we did a little shopping in Shinjuku…

The streets of Shinjuku

I touched and got “Make a mountain out of a molehill”.

Then to Nishi-Azabu for tonkatsu lunch…

Our walk from the metro station takes us by Aoyama Park.
Lunch at Butagumi with our friend, Masa.
The menu offers a wide variety of pork (breaded and fried to golden-tender perfection).
Let the pig-out begin!
This appetizer was the surprise star of the meal and probably the most delicious thing I’ve eaten all year. The pork is braised for eight hours, then cooked with garlic, green onions, soy, and shichimi (a Japanese spice made up of some seven other ingredients). I ended up ordering a second dish – and then a third. Unbelievably tasty.
We ordered three different tonkatsu’s. This one was the thickly sliced, medium-rich pork sirloin from Kagoshima prefecture.
This one was the Imo Buta from Chiba prefecture and was our favorite. Surprising since it was a filet and the leanest of the three.
The super rich Meishan-Ton from Ibakari prefecture. Akemi and I were expecting the marbling to be more evenly distributed. It was a tad queasifying. Is queasifying a word?

We worked off lunch with a walk down to Roppongi Midtown and stopped by Jean-Paul Hevin for macarons before heading back to Roppongi Hills – only to discover that the Mori Arts Museum is closed until mid-November.  WTF?!

Tonight, it’s dinner with my friend, Sachi, at Pierre Gagnaire and then tomorrow, it’s a LATE blog update as I spend the day (and early evening) with my friend, Moro-san, in Yokohama!

How are our friends on the east coast?  Hope you’ve all ridden out the storm and things are returning to normalcy.