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!

Elevator Beauties

elevator3There are many things about Japan that remain decidedly “old school”.  Takashimaya Department store in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo is a bastion of such tradition from last century, with its ubiquitous flower elevator2arrangements, gilt elevators and omnipresent staff.  The elevators themselves are perfectly modern but they have beautful touches of bygone eras.  Chief among those touches is the concept of the elevator girl.  She is immaculately dressed in a uniform complete with the pillbox hat. She has to manually close the bars before the official elevator door will close.  She uses a lever to stop and start the elevator.  She steps out on the floors to announce where the elevator is and where it is headed, along with what is located on that particular floor.  It is truly a gorgeous throwback and a sight to behold.  I highly recommend a trip to Takashimaya’s flagship store in Nihonbashi – go ride the elevator.

Aquavit – A Scandanavian Dining Experience in Tokyo

aquavit11

Our waiter, searing the beef with alcohol, right by the table, before serving.

Aquavit, a fixture in the New York restaurant scene since the late 80’s, opened in Stockholm and Tokyo in 2008.  The restaurant spoils diners with its fusion of traditional Scandinavian fare with Japanese-style presentation and flair.  The restaurant itself, located in Kita Aoyama, is a showplace of Scandinavian furniture and decor, which creates an ambiance of warmth throughout the dining experience.  The wait staff was skilled in white-glove service, and was omnipresent without being overbearing.  The dinner was a bit pricey, but considering what we ate and the way it was presented, we felt it was well worth the expenditure.

We ordered the tasting menu, listed here with a few of the photos:

CHEF’S NORDIC TASTING

Smoked Cod Roe and Cereal Bread
鱈 子 の ス モ ー クとシリア ル ブ レ ッド
aquavit1
Amuse of Puree
beet, sweet potato, carrot, amaretto mascarpone
4種のピューレ ~ビーツ、安納芋、人参、アマレットマスカルポーネ~
Parsnip Puff and Goat cheese
竹炭のシュークリームと山羊のホイップバター
aquavit4Herring and Bleak Roe
cucumber and elder flower granite
鰊 のマリネ 胡 瓜とエルダーフラワーのグラニテと供 に
王様が愛した白鱒の卵 ロイロムを添えて
From Garden
季節の野菜料理
aquavit2foie Gras and Chestnut Dacquoise
フランス 産 フォアグラと栗 のダックワ ーズ
Monk Fish and Crayfish
leek, sea urchin, stout beer
鮟鱇のムニエルとクレイフィッシュ 黒ビールのアメリケーヌソース
西洋葱と焼き雲丹添え
aquavit8Broccoli, Herbs, and Fresh Cheese Sorbet
ブ ロッコリー のピューレとハ ーブ の 菜 園  フレッシュチ ーズ のソル ベ 添 え
Hokkaido Venison
berries and smoked beet
北海道産蝦夷鹿の低温ロースト
スモークビーツと赤いベリーのジビエソース
OR
または
aquavit12Beef
Fillet
shallot and red wine sauce
熟成牛フィレ肉のポアレ マルシャンドヴァンソース
Fingering Apple
林檎の木のアヴァンデセール

aquavit15We ended up with a dessert sampler that included a little bit of all of several types of berries and sorbets, accompanied by a bit of strawberry nougat.
We paired the entire thing with a rich Oregon Pinot Noir, which added a deep finish to each of the dishes.  If you are in need of a beautiful restaurant that takes its food seriously, then consider Aquavit as your top choice for dining.

Obento – How Very Japanese!

obento2My daughter, Sydney, has lived all but three of her eleven years in Tokyo and considers herself very Japanese. Almost daily this is reflected in the lunch she brings to school from home. Many obento1days our wonderful nanny, Minnie, makes Sydney’s lunch, but over the years, the two of them have learned to create beautiful obento lunches together.  Here is yesterday’s example: It’s little sausages over rice, with each sausage cut to look like an octopus.  Proper Japanese mums would put seaweed “eyes” on each one, but I’m not that detailed.  The top box is full of finely sliced cucumbers. And it all fits together like a little puzzle in the little Japanese box. Tabemasho! Let’s eat!