Cold Stone Creamery or Tipping, Tokyo Style

2015-05-10 19.57.38Often we find American stores or restaurants in Tokyo, but there’s always something just sort of “off” about them – the clothes are sized to the market, or the desserts are a bit less sweet, or something of that nature.  It’s really fine, though – companies have to cater to their clientele in the location.  We have come to accept that we get authentic Americana in…, well, America.  This little oddity at the Cold Stone Creamery, though, really gave me a giggle.  The ice cream scoopers at the Cold Stone always sing if you put a dollar in their tip jars in the U.S. but in a culture like Japan, where tipping is not customary, it seemed pretty weird to have a tip jar on the counter.  And then I put in Y100.  The video shows what I saw!  Not quite the same as the bit of hokey-ness at the American counterpart.  You decide: better or worse!?

Click the link above for the video!

Kanda – A Restaurant That’s The Best of the Best, Says the Michelin Guide

2014-09-17 19.31.35Just this week the 2015 Michelin Guide came out and The Japan Times reports that Tokyo has retained its spot as the best city in the world in which to eat.  But back in September, Marc and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, and in lieu of presents, we decided to go experiential, and we made reservations at a restaurant called Kanda.  In the new guide, Kanda is listed as #4 on the list of the twelve best restaurants in Tokyo.  It deserves the rank; it was a food experience like no other I’ve had.

Kanda is located in Moto Azabu just off TV Asahi Dori, near the fire station, if you know Tokyo.  It is on the Michelin guide 2015bottom floor of an apartment building and the sign is out of the way and very unobtrusive.  It is only in Japanese.  If you were not looking for it, you’d never find it.  I did not take photos of the sign, the door or the restaurant in general because they only allow pictures of the actual food.  The restaurant is small and spare, but elegantly decorated.  There is one table in a side room behind a curtain that seats about eight, but the main dining room consists of twelve seats at a bar.  It is done in light wood with bamboo-backed chairs.  The walls have a few small paintings and Japanese sayings in Kanji adorning them, but otherwise the focus really is meant to be on the food, not the place itself.

This is how they serve the sake - on a bed of ice to keep it chilled for us.

This is how they serve the sake – on a bed of ice to keep it chilled for us.

But what food it is!  We had a total of eleven courses.  Remember, each course in Japan is small, a few bites at most.  As is common, we chose the middle course menu and we picked it ahead of time when we made the reservation.  The only menu we ever saw was for drinks, and even that was small in number.

Since we were truly celebrating, we started with a glass of champagne, but that and a small bowl of sake were our only drinks.  We felt it was too important to focus on the taste of the food and did not want alcohol to dull our senses.

Here are the 11 courses:

First course: a mix of fruit and vegetables - mostly fig and onion

First course: a mix of fruit and vegetables – mostly fig and onion

Hamo - lightly cooked. In English it's conger pike.

Hamo – lightly cooked. In English it’s conger pike.

Otoro - fatty tuna - the very best part of the fish.

Otoro – fatty tuna – the very best part of the fish.

Soup with a dumpling made of yuba - skin of the bean curd - with decadent matsutake mushrooms, available only in September and October.

Soup with a dumpling made of yuba – skin of the bean curd – with decadent matsutake mushrooms, available only in September and October.

Anago - eel, perfectly grilled.

Anago – eel, perfectly grilled.

Suzuki fish grilled, but then only the top is gently fried for a mix of textures that melt in your mouth. Surrounded by ginko beans and rinkon - lotus root.

Suzuki fish grilled, but then only the top is gently fried for a mix of textures that melt in your mouth. Surrounded by ginko beans and rinkon – lotus root.

Nasu - eggplant - perfectly grilled and seasoned

Nasu – eggplant – perfectly grilled and seasoned

The most precious, delicious and succulent piece of Japanese beef we have every had or may ever have again.

The most precious, delicious and succulent piece of Japanese beef we have every had or may ever have again.

Rice with egg and nori (seaweed) on top along with more Hamo and pickled chestnut

Rice with egg and nori (seaweed) on top along with more Hamo and pickled chestnut

A sweet taste of pistachio pudding - it tasted like we were eating the nuts, just softened.

A sweet taste of pistachio pudding – it tasted like we were eating the nuts, just softened.

One last tiny taste of sweet - chestnut ice cream - which was the perfect ending to the meal.

One last tiny taste of sweet – chestnut ice cream – which was the perfect ending to the meal.

This was truly the meal of a lifetime – so far at least! It was pricey for sure, but worth every yen for the experience of it.

 

 

 

Lunch in the Sky

ph6Today my little lunch bunch ate at Kozue, the Japanese restaurant at the top of the Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku.  It was a magnificent experience! The entire wall is windows looking out onto the city.  It wasn’t clear enough to see Fuji-san, but from our perch on the 40th floor, we could see straight through to Yokohama to the north.ph1

If the view wasn’t enough, the food was exquisite.  Served by beautiful young women in stunning kimono, the black lacquer bento box practically told a story in its intricate design and contents. The first course was a bit of egg tofu in a soy milk sauce, and a clear miso soup with a dumpling made of flounder, along with a taste of burdock and ginger in it. And then came the big, two-story box.  On the top there was katzuo (bonito) sashimi, and other small delicacies including a tiny squid, a shrimp head, a bit of egg rolled with cheese and a miniscule mound of sauteed spinach.  The bottom layer held some grilled mackerel, simmered vegetables and two small dumplings of shrimp and corn.  We paired it with a decadent glass of

The contents of the bento - both levels.

The contents of the bento – both levels.

Sancerre from the Loire Valley of France.

Mango tart and the sugary-est whipped cream I've ever tasted!

Mango tart and the sugary-est whipped cream I’ve ever tasted!

After we lingered over lunch itself, we repaired to the lounge on the forty-first floor where we had coffee and

dessert.  I chose a mango tart, but one friend had chiffon cake and the other had strawberry ice cream and

Close-up view of the intricate design of delicacies.

Close-up view of the intricate design of delicacies.

raspberry sherbet served in a large martini glass.  In the lounge, which had floor-to-ceiling windows, we were able to see more around the building to various other sites of the city, including all the way toward the Imperial Palace.

It was truly an unbelievable afternoon and I am privileged to have shared it with good friends. This was a celebratory lunch for our last meeting since one member is

Shrimp and corn dumpling

Shrimp and corn dumpling

repatriating shortly.  But if I know us, it’s just for now. As expats know, it’s never goodbye for good – it’s just for now – more of a see you later.  And it’s said with all the love we can muster.

Egg-cellent Japanese Device for Egg Eaters

egg1This morning my friends and I had breakfast together at a new restaurant in Roppongi Hills called “Eggcellent“.  They specialize, not surprisingly, in egg dishes.  They had eggs fried, scrambled, over easy, etc.  Their real specialty is different types of eggs benedict, which you could order with rincon (lotus root) or crab or a myriad of other ways.  On weekday mornings they have  two breakfast specials also – one with pancakes and over-easy eggs, and the one I had, with bacon and a poached egg. egg2

The plate with the over-easy eggs and pancakes came with the tiniest little server of syrup that you’ve ever seen! It was adorable and perfect for a doll’s house milk jug.

egg3

The opened egg

My plate with the poached egg came with a side of what looked like a small bell with a long, metal stick in it.  We realized that it was meant to open the egg neatly.  Watch the video to see what happens!

It was such an easy way to open and eat the poached egg – no mess whatsoever!  Leave it to the Japanese to figure out that one.  The whole breakfast was yummy though.  The coffee was rich and the egg itself was cooked to perfection.  Being an American, I prefer crispy bacon, but that’s a rare find in Tokyo.  And I’m not exactly a fan of salad at breakfast, but it was still good.  The English muffin and homemade blueberry jam were just amazing, sweet with just the right amount of tart.  Not only was the coffee perfectly brewed, but the cup was bottomless, another rare find in Tokyo.  My friend tells me that there is often a line out the door for this restaurant on weekends, so if you can, try for a weekday – it opens pretty early.  I’d highly recommend it.  And be sure to order a poached egg for the fun of opening it!

Art and Artisans in Akihabara

akihabara1In an area of Tokyo mostly known for its electronics, it was a real treat to find 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan, a large warehouse-type structure located under the tracks near Akihabara and full of shop after shop of beautiful works of art.  My friend Jill and I set out to find it on a rainy Tuesday and the whole day turned out to be a treat for the senses.

The concept itself is from the JR East Company and according to CNN, the name comes from the 2.54km it takes to get to Tokyo Station and it’s location between Akihabara and Okachimachi stations.  Jill and I took the Yamanote line to get there, but we realized that the walk to get there from the Akihabara station on the Hibiya Line can be much simpler depending on where you start, so that’s how we got home.

As we walked toward the art center from the station, we ran into a fantastic shop calakihabara5led Chabara that seems to have every Japanese food curiosity in the country.  It even has a sake tasting table and all different types of sauces and tsukemono, pickles.  Of course what fascinated us was the tasting bar for the flavored nut snacks – they came in 20 different flavors, from honey to wasabi to cherry and we tried many of them.

Unfortunately you can’t take pictures along most of the lane of 2k540, but the entire lane is lined akihabara3with storefronts of every type of Japanese are imaginable.  There are several shops of ceramics, many of hand-dyed cloth, and quite a number of shops showing jewelry all hand made.  My favorite place was the umbrella shop.  The entire shop was full of handmade umbrellas in every color of the rainbow.  I have a few special occasions coming up and I found one shop that specializes in wedding gifts – personalized, of course.

There were only two small cafes in the entire place, which is almost as long as an American football field, and we did not eat in them.  But rest assured, they looked funky and interesting.  On our random Tuesday, the place was mostly empty, but I imagine it would be quite busy on the weekend.

2k540 Aki Oka Artisan is an oasis of calm and beauty in the midst of the craziness that is Akihabara. If you need any type of gift, I’d highly recommend a trip.

A New Meaning to “Food on the Go!”

The machine from which the traveler orders his food.

The machine from which the traveler orders his food.

At Shinegawa Station, in Central Tokyo, a traveler can have lunch on the tracks. I don’t mean that anyone can just eat on the platform while waiting for a train; I mean that one can have a hot, hearty meal right there at the train tracks.  It’s a whole new meaning to fast food.  First one picks and pays for a dish from the vending machine – the choices are all some sort of ramen noodle bowls with various accoutrements such as pork, tofu, scallions, etc.  A ticket pops out of the machine, and the hungry traveler hands it to the chef

Check out that proximity to the tracks!

Check out that proximity to the tracks!

behind the counter.  Within a minute, the chef has assembled the food and handed it over.  This is by no means a method of food preparation reserved for the train tracks – these types of vending/casual counter joints exist throughout the city of Tokyo for various types of food such as Indian and Chinese dumplings, in addition to just noodles.  The proximity of the tiny restaurant to the train tracks, in addition to the

Diners at the counter

Diners at the counter

speedy service – it really is JUST for travelers waiting on a train – struck me as quite convenient and much healthier than lugging junk on to the train.

I was headed to the airport via the Narita Express and watched several hungry people eat and then jump on to the train.  It was convenience in action. Yum!!

Chef Hiroshi Nagashima Shares the Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving

decoration food 5I had the fortune to attend a cooking lesson of sorts from internationally acclaimed chef Hiroshi Nagashima, the head chef at Shisui in Tsukiji.  If you’ve ever wondered about how the Japanese learn to decorate their plates of food so beautifully, look no further.  Nagashima sensei showed our group how to push a carving knife delicately into a carrot slice on an angle to create a flower and to cut a notch out of a slice of daikon to make a butterfly’s wings.  He made frogs out of cucumbers and a beautiful basket out of a huge slice of daikon that he patiently cut around until it was translucent and then rolled back up to form the inside of the basket.  His hands patiently formed each creation, slowly and gently rounding the cucumber to form the back of the frog.  His knives were sharpened to a fine point and edge and he wielded them expertly in ways that I couldn’t begin to replicate.  Included in the cost of the lesson was a bento lunch for each participant – photo of the gorgeous and delicious creations below.

Nagashima sensei hard at work

Nagashima sensei hard at work

Nagashima-sensei's book in English

Nagashima-sensei’s book in English

Just a few of his beautiful creations

Just a few of his beautiful creations

The bento lunch he brought for each person

The bento lunch he brought for each person

Our group of intrepid carvers!

Our group of intrepid carvers!