Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Category

A Taste of Spain in Ueno

March 20, 2008

Unplanned excursions should be celebrated. Whoever made up the phrase “Spice of Life” was probably a fan of spontaneity.

Last Sunday, my boyfriend and I decided to go to Ueno park after getting up around noon. I took the Nikon D200 that I am borrowing from a coworker hoping to capture the scenes of the park. Knowing me though, the highlight of the photo session ended up featuring our lunch – a random stumble into a 7th floor Spanish restaurant called Val. It had been over a year since going to Ueno. Just going to the East side of Tokyo is a huge deal for me. Val made it worthwhile.

The mix paella was wonderful – perfect for two for Sunday lunch. Consisting of mainly seafoods, what better place to indulge than THE place for seafood (Tokyo)? With the abundance of seafoods in Spanish food, I would like to see more Spanish-Japanese fusion foods. C’mon Tokyo, wow me with some Uni-Shiso paella!

For now, I’ll settle for Spanish style Spanish food though…

White asparus salad

Hors d’oeuvres plate

Mix paella

Healthy Cake – Too Innovative

February 26, 2008

I am in Tokyo. Day 2, and still waking up way too early in the morning. This morning I was watching a morning TV program, which was full of information from concerts to new restaurants, and bakeries.

This one shop caught my eyes and ears. It was a “healthy pastry shop”. Japanese turn things into some unbelievable ways. Beans become sweets, tofu turns into milkshake, miso becomes ice cream, etc. But this was the most extreme way I’ve ever heard of and had to try it.

People on TV were a bit skeptical in the beginning, but when they tasted it, they were like “OMG, these are light, not too sweet and great!”. So I went to the shop.

This looks just like a pastry shop shelf, right?

Of course, they pack it so nicely, and put some extra cardboard so that cakes won’t move. Plus they put a tiny ice pack, so that cakes will be kept cool. How Japanese!

This looks like strawberry mouse, right? No, think again. It was red pepper mouse and jelly.
As a summer appetizer at an Italian restaurant, it makes sense. It was subtly sweet, but very red pepperish. Mousse was very light, but definitely red pepper. I like the shape, but had very hard time believing this as a dessert.

Strawberry short cake? But it’s not a strawberry on top! Yep, it was tomato short cake, with some green vegetable in the sponge. I don’t know how to describe this. It was tomato and whipped cream, and a bit greenish sponge. Definitely odd, definitely tomato. For some reason, however, it kind of tasted interesting. I heard this shop only uses items in season, and once strawberry season was over, the chef tried out different types of seasonal vegetables and tomato apparently matched the best.

Cherry tomato looks like a cherry, but it IS TOMATO ON TOP OF A FUCKING CAKE! WTF! Slices of tomato in layers? I admire their daringness to put things like tomato in cake, but I must say, this is something you want to try once, but I don’t think I will go back to this shop craving for tomato short cake…

This chocolate dome thing was of course chocolate mouse outside, but inside was daikon radish mouse. Hello, people, no matter how you try to turn things into something else, radish is radish, and it is weird. Chocolate mousse was very subtly sweet and nice, but mixing chocolate with daikon? I don’t know, I am pretty daring when it comes to food, but this wasn’t my favorite.

This is mille feuille with corn… Um, well, I mean, it was very crisp puff pastry, but cream tasted like corn chowder. There is no egg in this, and just mushed up corn and milk… At least it was very smooth, not corny. Description of this cake says “natural sweetness”, but it was NOT SWEET. It tastes like a very bad creamed corn layered between puff pastry.. Of course the yellow dot on the cream is pieces of corn..

This was chocolate layered cake with pureed chrysanthemum leaves. It’s not literally chrysanthemum. We eat this leaf in hot pot and is pretty popular. This puree was actually the most subtle flavor and kind of good with chocolate.

Chocolate cake with burdock. Burdock is used for Japanese home cooking often. Kinpira gobo is one of the most popular dishes in Japanese home kitchen. This was sauteed with butter, sprinkled on top of chocolate cake, baked together. Definitely burdock flavor was strong, and it takes some time to get used to it, but it kind of tasted good after a while..

This was definitely one of the weirdest food experiences I have had in my life, and I think once is enough. No matter how you say it, vegetables should be used as vegetables, and I think there is a limit for it to be used in some cooking, such as cake..

Patisserie Potager
2-44-9, Kamimeguro
Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0051
Tel: 03-6279-7753

What I Ate in Tokyo – Onihei in Asakusa

December 16, 2007
Professor A took us to a restaurant in Asakusa called “Onihei”. The food was very very good. Small tatami room in the back, a counter in the front, where perhaps 5 to 6 people can sit. Reservation a must.

Run by a woman who does EVERYTHING. She does not even have any waiting staff. According to Professor A, she was an OL (office lady) and really wanted to start her own resturant. She took courses, learned the trade and opened the restaurant many years ago. Professor A has been going there for a long time. Well, English is not spoken, so, if you want to go, please go with a Japanese speaker. It also looked quite discreet from the outside, just a plain door.

Persimmon with something mayonaisey inside
Preserved egg yolk
Little fish with white radish
Other stuff I don’t remember
Sashimi all the way

Housemade ankimo, baby (monk fish liver- my favorite!)

Can’t remember what it was. With shrimp inside- it was good.

Iso no kaori tappuri (literal translation: full of seashore aroma!)
Tempura with shrimp, veggies, and nori
Duck wrapped naganegi (japanese scallion)

Shimeji (mushroom) rice

Grilled oysters

La noche a Asakusa

Address 3-5-1 Asakusa
Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telephone +81-03-3874-7765

Second House Shimokitazawa

December 2, 2007

My friend from San Francisco was visiting me here in Tokyo last weekend and to cure our 3 o’clock sweet tooth, I did what everyone in Western Tokyo should do: go to Second House in Shimokitazawa. Originally a bakery from Kyoto (never been to that one), this piece of heaven serves up delicious (both in taste and presentation) cakes and coffee delights in a bright, clean atmosphere for half the price you’d expect to pay at a department store or some upscale place in Ginza or Omotesando.

This is the type of place you realize that the French and Japanese have a serious love affair with each other… and are thankful for it.

We ordered the pictured:

Pear Tart

Custard Cream Puff

Probability Out of 10 I Will Eat this Animal Again

October 23, 2007

After hearing this NPR story about the last horse slaughterhouse in the US closing, I thought to myself ARE there such things as horse slaughterhouses in the US? Growing up in California, certain animals seem to be OFF limits, meaning, animals included in “Save the insert animal – usually a mammal with pretty eyes – here” series. In the 80s we saw “Save the Whales”, “Save the Manatees” and “Save the Sea Turtles” to name a few. Anyone caught killing these animals were seen as individuals equally appalling to those listed on the National Sex Offender Registry.

Of course, I am not advocating the clubbing or the brutal treatment of any animal (and my diet rarely consists of animals with legs), but my eyes have been opened to just how brainwashed I was as a westerner. Take eating whale, for example, as an American, this is atrocious and barbaric – insensitivity and carelessness rated on a high scale.

Yet, after living in a country that has been eating whale for thousands upon thousands of years, it doesn’t look as reckless. Something like the headline “Japan and Iceland refuse to give up their right to eat whale,” makes the people of these two countries look like ravenous killers who indulge in unnecessarily gluttonous practices. When in fact, communities have depended on the industry of whaling for thousands of years, and if they had been oblivious to the currents, migrations and breeding patterns of the whales, they’da been gone way before America was there to school the world.

That said, this might just be my argument for feeling better about eating the following foods I would probably never get to eat in America (or announce that I did too loudly in America, especially California):

Kujira – Whale (barbequed whale-steak on a grill)
Setting: Last Saturday at a outdoor BBQ for a friend’s birthday in Shimokitazawa, brought by my Icelandic friend Arnar.

Verdict: Like a perfect combination of T-bone steak and lamb. There was definitely a gamey essence to it – perhaps an aftertaste of grass or some kind of ruffage.

Probability out of 10 I will eat this animal again: 10, the first taste sparked my interest in trying whale prepared in different ways.

Basashi – Horse sashimi (thinly sliced raw horse meat)
Setting: Town izakaya during a festival in Koenji, ordered because my friend Kishi visiting from SF, had one thing on his list of things to do in Tokyo – eat horse.

Verdict: Quite heavenly – like sashimi in 4 dimensions. Again, it gives off a gamey scent that I can’t quite pin point.

Probability out of 10 I will eat this animal again: 8, I wouldn’t order it – it’s actually quite delicious but it’s a bit intense psychologically. However, it’s probably gonna be hard to avoid given that this is pretty common most Japanese-style restaurants.

Suppon – Snapping turtle soup
Setting: Chinese restaurant in Hatagaya. I reviewed this visit here

Verdict: A bit too knuckly for my taste and the meat was extra chewy and dense. I was told it’s good for you when you get sick and I believe that.

Probability out of 10 I will eat this animal again: 3, I am not into knuckly things. I would however, happily indulge in Suppon broth.

Judging by how exciting these culinary delights were, I hope this list grows…

How One Becomes Spoiled in Tokyo

September 27, 2007

This sushi was mediocre. But you can’t expect that much from Bikkuri Sushi – a chain restaurant. There was a bit too much rice for each nigiri. However, this is relative – if I had this in the States, I would be ranting about it for weeks. My taste buds have become extremely discriminating since living here for a full two years. The stuff on the top left were a bunch of little slimy baby fishes that were a bit disappointing. I had never tried this before and was expecting a texture/taste explosion, but it didn’t leave much impact.

This was NOT enough for 6 people (5 hungry guys PLUS me). We killed this in less than 10 minutes and they satisfied the rest of their hunger by blowing this pop-stand and going somewhere else (I had to split at that point).

Tokyo DisneySea Food Report

September 18, 2007

Unfortunately (fortunately maybe), I don’t have the pictures to prove it – but I ate three meals just to confirm that Disneyland and its affiliates (DisneySea in this case), regardless of which shore it’s on, serves food so mediocre that it sides on bad.

I ate the following:

Lunch at the Mediterranean Harbor:
Potato Salmon Pizza – definitely previously frozen
Prosciutto salad – iceberg lettuce, reminiscent of Denny’s

Excellent view of the Tower of Terror and “Harbor” – I have to give it to Disney as far as really trying their best to make everything perfectly Disney to the bone. Disney knows itself better than I know myself.

Early Dinner at the American Waterfront:

Fried Fish burger with fries – really unoffensive, semi-enjoyable. At least you could have unlimited ketchup. Anyway, you’d have to try really hard to fuck up fried food.

Meal interrupted by two schizophrenic 5-minute sets involving Donald and Goofy fighting over a mermaid and then Donald giving a diving lesson quickly leading to Chip & Dale breaking out into song and dance (in Japanese, very surreal).

Late-ish Dinner at the Lost River Delta:
Fajita plate with beef, shrimp and chicken – precut meats anally placed on an “Aztec” patterned plastic plate – this was across the way from the Indiana Jones ride.
Tequila slammer – alcohol, yes, alcohol is served at DisneySea, I had two and proceeded to ride Stormrider and got mildly sick.

Impression: Japanese people really don’t have a thing for Mexican food – this was the only place the whole day we didn’t stand in line for (including restroom visits).

Pictured are some dessert thingys I didn’t eat. It probably looks better than it tastes – given the above report:

Tower of Terror at the American Waterfront:

Mediterranean Harbor (if you look closely, someone is actually getting married on the deck – eeeeek! – I just wanted to eat ice-cream):

TPS Report: TGIF

September 14, 2007

I realize how slobbish I am when I am at work – self-consious that my colleagues turn away from my desk in disgust. When you pretty much live at your desk, habits are revealed, you get lazy in your own routine and bottom line, you get comfortable and think no one is looking.

My worst habit is putting food on documents I am working on. Although I have enough sense not to put lasagna, curry rice or other “wet foods” on papers, I find myself pushing the limits. Nuts and dried fruit are no problen – casually strewn across TPS [sic] reports without a concern. These foods hardly leave a trace and do not reveal any slobbish behaviors.

But perhaps the most embarrassing foods are fried and oily – namely potato chips, fried flourish snacks like Japanese “karintou” and cookies, that you think you can get away with. But not only do these foods leave a big splotchy, translucent mess on the confidential files that the client gave you that morning, but you are left making a ruckus dusting off the crumbs that ultimately don’t make it into the garbage can even though you strategically bend the stack of papers and tap lightly. So your slovenliness is apparent on the papers you were grazing off of (which can be put away) AND all over the floor that surrounds you (which can’t).

I recently tested the limits when some sweet, saintly soul placed bite-sized pieces of green tea cheese cake by the coffee maker. There was a gram-cracker crust cradling this pale green piece of heaven which was quite effective in preventing total saturation. Still, there were traces left on the papers – like smeared creamy, green boogers.

But then again, when there’s cheese cake involved –
F*** TPS reports.
Long live creamy, green boogers.

Finding Baby Creatures

September 8, 2007

Cafe Nid is a little cafe in Omotesando serving mainly Italian dishes. It’s a cozy little spot with some tasty finds. Last night – we were lucky enough to snag a seat on a Friday night (probably because of the typhoon).

Anyhow, we ordered karasumi pasta among other things. It was really delicious – morsels of savory karasumi perfectly distributed along the pasta, tossed with sauteed crunchy slices of celery. Mmmm. But the revelation of this pasta were the four little guys hanging out tangled within. I took a portrait of one of them (second picture).

Natural Lawson Love

September 5, 2007

Up until Tuesday, I had to cross the street to go to nearest combini (convenient store) at work. In Japan, combinis are rampant – and don’t get the bad rap that convenient stores in America get. They sell a wide assortment of lunchables, drinks, magazines, etc. It’s also a great place to make an emergency bathroom stop.

So I was absolutely ecstatic to see one open up in the lobby of my work building. And it’s not just a regular one – it’s a Natural Lawson’s. Lawson is one of the most common combini’s in Japan. Recently there have been variations of the regular Lawson’s popping up around Tokyo – Lawson 100 (100 yen Lawson), Lawson Plus (Lawson with expanded specialties – i.e. produce) and Natural Lawson. Natural Lawson is my favorite – especially as a Northern Californian.

The marketing ploy is similar to say, Whole Foods, with Dr. Bronners toiletries and onigiri made with brown rice (instead of regular short grain white rice). I would only come across a Natural Lawson’s when I went to trendy areas such as Omotesando or Akasaka-Mitsuke, but now that it has become just one elevator ride away, I will probably become very well acquainted with all of their stock.

My first purchase was Lavender hand soap produced by a brand I had come across for the first time called Leaf & Botanicals for 700yen (about $6). It was a little pricey – but that’s also part of the package of purchasing something at Natural Lawsons in Tokyo. I sneakily snagged some photos of the shelves with my phone.

Baked goods

Usual Starbucks stuff on the left, Soy milk and Natural Lawson exclusive smoothie fruit juices on the right.