Saturday, May 14, 2016

McDonald's, Akihabara

I've been accused before of over-posting, and commenting on a McDonald's isn't going to sway any opinions to the contrary. But to the contrary, you may well need to know about this.

Because you can go to McDonald's across from Yodobashi Camera in Akiba, buy a soda, go upstairs, and look out the window at this. The Tohoku Shinkansen tracks, and the Tokaido Honsen train tracks, big as life, right in front of you.

So if you're the kind of person that likes a train now and then, this is crazy cool.  And the crazy weird thing is that no one I can find (in English) mentions the existence of this. How can everyone have overlooked it? Look how close the train is! How close?

That close! Look at it! And you know how frequent trains are here, so you never have to wait more than a minute for something to happen, especially with the local and express trains on the higher tracks in the background.

The only thing different/better is buying a platform ticket at Tokyo Station, whereupon you can go out on the platform and walk right up and touch the big trains without needing to pay and go somewhere on them. But this is said trains in motion, including the wacky teal/mauve Hayabusa.

And you know I know the names of them trains. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Touka, Arakicho (鯛塩そば 灯火)

"Daaaaaddy, ramen again?" said no kid ever. Especially not Catfish.

All the times I've been in Arakicho, I never knew that the Tokyo Fire Museum and Toy Museum are both there. I have undoubtedly stood in front of the fire museum (I first met Common right across the street). Now I have been there. And I will say unto you "Free admission and an unlocked fire helicopter on the roof overlooking traffic are a totally sweet combination." As is a day in the city with your little boy. I'll remember going here, and the fire museum, and Shinjuku Gyoen, forever. I wonder if he will.

No blogger ever said no to ramen that's rated so high on the ramendbs either - a 95, placing it at #13 on the salt ramen subscale. This is the second shop, the first is only a block away and you'll pass it coming up from the Arakicho triangle (or not if you walk down from Akebonobashi). As you've seen from the name, they specialize in snapper - in the soup, as a side, to slap unruly customers.

Of which I suspect there are exactly none. This is an elegant, clean, subdued place for a ramen shop. I felt pretty bad about inflicting an under-3 toddler on them. But I did it anyway, and they were totally gracious. I felt bad for Catfish too, because we had to sit at the counter, and it's a high counter, and he had to perch on a high stool. He was a champ about it, as he can be, and I was proud of him for being so well behaved and enjoying his noodles so much, as he does. Plus the high stool meant he couldn't get bored and jump off to explore, bonus.

Kid's ramen! Bonus II! I think it's really a 'tasting size' ramen, because they'll also serve you a snapper chazuke bowl (ordered but not pictured).

This is pretty much the light, clean ramen of your dreams. I wouldn't want to compare it to the competitor that I had recently. Comparing implies similarity, and they're different enough that I don't think it's productive. You should go to both!
Elegant, right? And delicious. You definitely need to be looking out for the flavor, because it's not going to beat you about the ears like fattier, saltier, porkier styles do. Elegantly delicious. I like places that make this effort to arrange even the noodles.

Extra points for the fuu flower, and a nice egg, but the cha shu was disappointing and the menma was enormous. Maybe a zero overall just for the presence of such a huge menma.

But 110% for the presence of such a nice little Catfish. 


Monday, May 9, 2016

Onyasai, Center Kita (しゃぶしゃぶ 温野菜)

Hard rain, high wind, two kids in a stroller, one asleep, dinner time, nowhere near home. That wasn't the best planning ever. And that's how you end up at chain restaurants.

Which I don't care about any more, because when you have an enormous private room like the one below, how can you care?  I didn't mind this at all, and I'd eat here again.

I lived near an Onyasai branch forever. Probably everyone lives near a branch - there are 89 in Tokyo and 36 in Kanagawa alone. I never went though. Turns out their thing is all-you-can-eat shabu shabu. We were (rightly) nervous about having to affect a quick exit at some point and thus went a la carte. I didn't think the pricing worked out too badly. Energetic, cranky little kids and hot pots, the jury's still out.



So, you know, get a pot of soup and start swishing raw stuff in it until it's cooked. Shabuっ.....shabuっ.....

Does it matter what kind of beef this was? We ordered it more than once.
Pork, once only, I think.
Fattier beef. Shabu shabu doesn't have time to render the fat, so it can be a little confronting. I tend to like it anyway.
Their other thing is that you get to split the soup pot and choose two. A konbu thinger on the left, a yuzu thinger on the right. Nifty.

And at some point you need the 'yasai' portion of the experience to enter the bath. Not that we weren't eating vegetables, just that, you know, it's not that exciting.

Sort of like this review turned out.
045-910-0311

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Il Fait Jour, Shimoasao (イルフェジュール 本店)

You know I strive to bring you only the finest culinary experiences in the greater Hakusan area of Asao-ku. This is yet another of them. What the hell is this place doing here? It's 15+ minutes to the nearest station by bus. I only found it while random-walking with a sleepy Catfish, who was passed out by the time I strolled by here and thought "That's new...and different."

Because it looks like it dropped in from France, right? Right?! WHY DO JAPANESE PEOPLE DO THESE RIDICULOUSLY COOL THINGS?

This place is so worthwhile. I'd go all the time if I permanently lived within walking distance, instead of just temporarily.

Inside is like a little farmhouse. It's also spacious; they should squeeze in a couple tables and have tea time. But they're probably too serious about what they do.

Since its opening, this is the official head office of a 4-store unit run by a famous patissier whose name is going to escape me permanently.

The niceness continues unabated.


The niceitude only increases inside the display case. Gorgeous little confections, much as you would hope to get if you were strolling the Ginza.


And surprisingly good value. This whole chocolate cake was $9, which may not get you too fired up in America but is a wonderful deal here, let me tell you. We buy these things in part for the art value of their construction and presentation, and this has some serious impressiveness value.
These tarts do too, although I can't remember what they were. I think the white one was orange flavored, and I know it was their signature item. Which I supposed means I could look it up.

But instead I'm going to let you do that. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fukutaro, Oshiage (福太郎 東京ソラマチ)

There we were, up in Oshiage to go up the Sky Tree for the first time. I've always avoided that stuff, it seems like a lot of waiting and paying to look out some windows, but I do love high-floor views, and how can you not go to the Sky Tree at least once? For the record, let me say totally worth it. I would even do it again. It may help if you love Tokyo as much as someone and I do, but I just loved looking for landmarks and thinking about all the fun stuff we used to do near them.

One thing I don't think we ever did before was eat okonomiyaki. This is Osaka-style, from a place that's maybe famous there (according to them, right?) and it recreates the ambience of the original store.
Which if true means that the original store has the same ambience as every okonomiyai everywhere.

Speaking of which, why is okonomiyaki so formulaic when the very name implies 'your way'? I never hear about people customizing it. At this place, possibly due to the kinda posh setting in the Skytree 'Skytown' shopping floors, they don't even let you cook. They cook on a big griddle behind the counter and then bring it out to slide onto your only-warm griddle. I have to admit this provided a slight peace of mind benefit considering that we were crammed in with not-quite 3 and 1-year olds
Here it is. It tasted good. Everything tastes good in this country since we don't live here and can't eat it all the time.

Let's just reflect on everything.
+81 3-5610-3050


Friday, May 6, 2016

Blue Bottle Coffee, Kiyosumi


We only go to the coolest places. Bringing up Catfish and Mrs P. right, as coffee snobs. Not that we are, but I like to take someone to surprising places. And since we were staying in Monnaka, and I keep hearing how hip it's getting north of there, I thought we should check it out.

For the record, it's not any different than it was 5 years ago when I left, and it's not any different than 12 years ago when I got there.

But Blue Bottle is there now. Stores in Aoyama, Shinjuku, and...Kiyosumi. Iitokorone!
Totally sweet atmosphere, if you're into converted-warehouse industrial. Which everyone is these days. It's big and clean and spare and open, in a really nice way. You never get big, airy spaces in Japan, at least not in small, post-industrial neighborhoods. But here's one.
And here's their coffee machine, looking for all the world like it just landed after a mission to Mars.

We just got a regular coffee to share. What do they call that, a holdover? Combover? I thought it was delicious, but I'm no coffee snob. You don't need to see a picture of a to-go coffee cup.

Go for the atmosphere and coffee, stay for the high prices. 







Thursday, May 5, 2016

Arabashiri, Monzennakacho (居酒屋 あらばしり)

Well, where are we? I've come to the point in life, at least my Monnaka life, where I see slow change over time. And it's all slow, this being Japan (at least until it goes hyper, like the new Shibuya buildings, or Shimokita). So when I go to a new place like this, I have to wonder what it used to be. I was thinking at first that it was the old Shoujou, but now I'm more sure that it used to be this kushiage place Nagomi, which was good and deserved to stay in business. But hell, something else could have come and gone while I wasn't looking. It's been years since I had nights out in Monnaka, even though I've been back every year to say a little prayer at the shrine.  I've been making a big deal of this recently, I know. Bear with me.

Bear with this, alright? I thought the vibe here was funny. Oh, and there was some smorking. I'm so unused to smorking that it really puts me off now, even more than usual, and I don't ever want Catfish and Mrs. Peel to think I smell funny because I was around it. If they think I smell funny because of saki, so much the better.

Anyhoo, funny vibe, kinda distracted staff, and I suppose they didn't know what to make of us, which is very fair. Two white guys in t-shirts (mine, I believe, proclaimed my allegiance to a certain 'Nomura', which is even more confusing) acting like there's nothing more natural than them kicking back at the bar ordering some saki and snaxxx.
Something is clearly going right for them though. They filled in both eyes, which means they made good on whatever wish they expressed when they filled in the first one.

Speaking of which, I still have my old Daruma with the eyes filled in. Next time we go to Japan, maybe the kids will be big enough for a road trip and we can go to Daruma-ji and get it ceremonially burned? It's gotta be bad luck to have it after all these years.
No bad luck here, just the usual clever bottling of Aramasa on the left (they've always got something interesting brewing, don't they?) and the 'Michiko 90' from Yuuki on the right. Any port in a storm. I don't remember much about these.
I remember this though. I took a clever little video of how it jiggled when it was set down, but it's been so long since I used my youtubes account to upload anything that I don't even know what the ID was, let alone the password. But suffice to say that this skybean tofu jiggled comically when it was placed in front of us.
I just love quirky snaxxx, and whenever I see a smoked assortment I have to get it. Because one time I went to a new place and it turned out to be Ishii, and the smoking is amazing there. This was not, but it reminded us of the greatness that exists elsewhere.
You know I don't usually get tokubetsu junmai, but what the hey, it was Taka, and they don't steer you wrong. The one on the right I was going to say I can't remember, but then I realized I can read it, and it's Dai Shinshu. I like knowing the old names for places, it's like a little inside joke that youshare with the whole region, so I have a soft spot for stuff like 'Shinshu' and 'Mutsu'.
I also have a soft spot for strong hands gently molding batter and bits for frying.
But in practice this wasn't impressive. I mean, who can stop eating fried food once it's in front of them? Who can stop eating food once it's in front of them? Not me. Was I starved in a former life when I was a dog? It's been a curse all my life. All my adult life. As long as I can remember. Which isn't that long, really.

Need to get some more steps. Health.
And more sleep, that's what I need. This guy has the right idea in that regard, but unfortunately there was no one in this restaurant and I'm forced to conclude that it's his place and he was passed out from lack of patronage. As we say in the trades, 'Bankruptcy is the likely route,' for him if not for the guys here.

Although it's only 2 months for them as of this visit, so there's still time. 
03-5875-8633


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nikuzushi, Monzen Nakacho (肉寿司 門前仲町)

This is a new one to the neighborhood, at least since last time I scouted. It was already pretty late, and a lot of stuff was closed or closing (or full, which is how my life continues not to include the experience of entering Shot Bar Funx).

This place had the dual advantages of still being open and available and being called MEAT FRICKIN SUSHI. I did a double take when I read that, because it's done up in such a classic signage style. MEAT SUSHI. And the Sagittarius logo makes it even funnier. Wait for it.


It's nice inside. It really is. Fairly spacious, bright, modern without being off-putting. The staff is young and energetic and decent-looking, in matching outfits. There's a bunch of smoking, unfortunately.
Probably because there's a bunch of MEAT SUSHI being eaten here.

I was stunned when I realized that it's not just meat sushi. It's HORSE MEAT SUSHI. HORSE. It's not all horse, but it's a LOT of HORSE. Here, look.

'Horse Bomb Roll', can imagine seeing that at your local sushi 'joint' in America? I wish.
I've been a fan of 'taco-wasa' in the past, which is what happens at cheaper izakayas when you chop the cheap bits of octopus and mix it with a lot of cheap horseradishy wasabi substitute. It's the kind of thing you can start off eating as a challenge or a joke but after a couple years decide you like.

I would not get this 'horsey-wasa' again. It had too much of a grainy texture and livery taste for my delicate sensibilities.
Sit for long enough on a backless stool and you get desperate for something to distract you.
Spend enough time in Japan and you start ordering things just because they're funny. In keeping with MEAT SUSHI, you'll notice that this beverage is called MAN PLUMS.

OK, the plurality in that sentence is mine, but the thought is the same. It's a salty plum liquor that they mixed with soda. There was an OK little selection of saki here (Bird was drinking Kuheiji's, which were their weekly special) but I was in that wacky kinda mood where I get a different weird drink every round. Fortunately we weren't here long enough that it would seem like a good idea to get shochu.

For the record, I LIKE MAN PLUMS.
I'm not all that sure how I feel about man plum sushi though. I wouldn't tell you to go here, except for novelty value. Maybe you can tell that it's not all horse; there's a duck sushi and also the famous 'Rossini' with truffle and foie gras. Not unexpectedly, the best of the sushi was probably the upper-right horse diaphragm. Who doesn't love a good hanger steak? As I always say, if you like it cooked, you'll love it raw!

By the way, can you eat rare horse?

050-5785-9519

Yatsushita, Monzennakacho (和食 やつした)

It's quirky, right? You stay down in southwest Tokyo, Kanagawa really, for 4 weeks, but something draws you back. Inexorably. Through mysterious circumstances we found ourselves staying for three nights in Monzennakacho, 2 minutes from where I used to live. Incidentally, I totally recommend this hotel. Amazing location, and the Japanese-style room was really sweet. I would not be surprised if I had walked by this place, literally, in actual fact, 1,000 times in my life - it's right between home and the station, I lived there for over 2,500 days and went out most days, so there's 5,000 potential sightings right there, yes my mind works this way, let's move on. The picture has nothing to do with the hotel.

Evening saw me out on the town, once the kids were asleep. As usual a quick recon stroll under cover of dark, once the lights were up, showed where the interesting new places were. Yatsushita was one of them, and was open on the night - this was Golden Week, so closing times (and opening at all) were not givens. The picture has everything to do with Yatsushita, which is a new place on the south street of the two running parallel to Eitai Dori on the south side.  I felt like I'd been in this space before, but it's not this place and I don't think it's this place either. It was so weird to walk around during the day with someone and the kids and point out stuff that was 'new', ie 'I remember when that opened in 2005' and the like.


What you have here is your basic, good quality neighborhood izakaya, but since this is Monnaka it's a higher cut than you might expect. I love love love the fact that good-looking, stylish guys are choosing careers in running izakayas. I mean, I would be just as happy if it was women, maybe happier, but the fact that running an izakaya as an art form isn't dying fills me with hope for humanity.

The level of smoking in here did nothing for my faith in Japan though, and Bird and I didn't manage to stay long.
What we did do was have a saki or two and some snaxxx. Cooked and pickled fukis.
And a still-life featuring some saki and some soy-preserved long potatoes. I have to order them when I see them, right? I have to make them too, every time we go to the relevant grocery store here in Chicago and come across them.

The saki selection was...present, let's say that. No particular inspiration or quality or anything. Nothing you'd want to stay for.
This fish seemed good. I honestly can't remember if I ordered sashimi. I thought I did, but then maybe they were out of what I ordered, and after a while no sashimi had showed up, and then one of the guys gave us a sample of the two fish they had on offer, and maybe we paid for it and maybe we didn't. If you're going to get upset about this stuff, you shouldn't be going to quirky little places.

This was seaweed-cured snapper, which I always enjoy and was evidently a new one to the Bird, as it may be to you. Wait wait, am I making that up? I think he thought it was new, but I know we had it together before.
And I can never go past this, which Bird definitely said was new to him. What, haven't I taken you anywhere good? Geez. Water eggplant is a mysterious and delicious thing. Whenever you tell someone about it in America, you can see the fear in their eyes and, either voiced or not, the thought "Christ you eat some weird stuff over there." But Jesus it's tasty. I would grow this myself if I could get seeds, I would.


I would not go back to this place. I'm sorry. There are better places remaining in Monnaka, and a few promising newcomers that I didn't even get to try. And many of them will undoubtedly feature far lower levels of smoke than that which afflicted us here.


We all have our afflictions though. 
03-5245-6151



Sunday, May 1, 2016

Taisetsuken, Shin-Yurigaoka (旭川ラーメン 大雪軒 新百合ヶ丘VIVRE店)


As usual I'm left wondering if this name 維sスッポセdとべあぷん。Oh, sorry. Is supposed to be a pun. Is it like an 'important' joke, but it's 'Big Snow' instead? I bet not. It's just that everything's a potential pun to me. Jokes aren't the same in Japan. This ramen is Asahigawa-style (here, read all about the three distinct styles of Hokkaido ramen and a bunch of others in this article by Nate, who's way more authoritative than I ever hope to be), and lord knows they must have big snows up there.

One funny service they provide is laundry! Before you place your order, they bring you a hamper, and while you eat they speed-wash any clothes that you need done. 
I wish they did that after you ate, because eating noodles with an almost-3-year-old is not a recipe for cleanliness. Maybe yours is different than mine, but Catfish likes his noodles, like his soup, and has no compunctions about digging in.

Since it was just him and me I forewent some of the potential pain, ordering him this nice pork-and-egg rice bowl and then helping him out by eating half of the pork (which was belly) for him. Can't have getting spoiled eating only the good stuff, right?

Try as we might, he got kinda spoiled on this trip. Basically he only wants to eat protein now. Or protein and pasta, I suppose. 
And he needs his own Catfish-ware too. Points to this place for having these ready, although some of the time it's just as effective for us to snuggle up and me to keep my arm around him and use a separate pair of chopstixxx to feed him. 
Because he needs feedin' up. He's gettin' to be a right skinny Catfish, and I like to see a nice round belly on my kidz. What he needs is more ramen, and more fatty ramen at that. Was this review about ramen? I think I'm just enjoying eating out with Catfish.

Considering this is on a high floor in the lowest-quality of the malls abutting Shin-Yuri station, this is a very tolerable ramen. I'd be happy with it any day of the week, if not overwhelmed. The soup was prolly the standout thing. The pork was a little too much on the spongy side for me, one of those textures that I don't know how Chinese people get into their food.

Huh, I thought it was a chain, but it's just sorta part of a small group of different-styled shops. I guess the ramen-and-laundry thing is too quirky to go national. 
044-959-3391