Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sakura no Mi, Maebashi

So many things in Japan are just the talk show that I'm watching while I wait for my yakisoba here in beautiful downtown Maebashi. They seem to be doing 'weird body facts', and had a guy trying to eat udon while standing on his head in front of an xray machine so they could watch to see if it works. It does, of course. In other weird body facts, the staff wants to know if I can eat seaweed and pickled ginger. Who doesn't eat those things? I said I eat anything except those bugs that grow in rice fields (inago) and they agreed this was a sensible course of action.

Good yakisoba though. A freakin' mountain of noodles, cabbage and meat with lots and lots of special sauce. I could have done without the tasteless tofu, the tasteless soup and the tasteless rice. The onion-cabbage-egg salad was strangely good though.

Now the talk show is exploring the effects of huge amounts of habanero powder. First we learned that it hurts like hell on the tongue. Then we learned that if you bathe in a concentrated habanero solution, it ALSO hurts like hell. Remind me not to try this.

Ooh, we've moved on the effects of random sounds on crying babies - mobile phone vibrations on a table, frying meat, jet engine, dribbling basketball and Rod Stewart music. OK, the Rod was a commercial, but I'd love to see what the baby thought.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ohmiya, Marunouchi (新丸5階)

My friends, we are indeed on a tear with Shin Maru. I'm finding the walk down there from the office sorta pleasant, and the shot of mid-day glamor is most welcome when the rest of the day is a monotony of worn carpet, uncomfortable chair, and interminable passage of time. Ohmiya delivered a strange and altogether mixed experience, but this is why we dine out frequently - we never know when we'll be pleasantly surprised, and I at least prefer the surprise of the unknown to a meeting-high-expectations performance from a known standout.

Wow, did I just write that? I'm not sure I believe it.

I've had my eye on Ohmiya for a couple weeks now, strictly in a post-modern, uber-hip "I bet I won't like it but I have to try it anyway" sort of way. Every time I go to Shinmaru I dither and ultimately decide against it. Today with Lin-ji, we made a beeline for Igrek, found it packed out and expected to remain so for the forseeable future, and walked around to the other side of the floor to check out Ohmiya. Lin-ji wasn't so picky (yes, folks, there's someone in the party who's picky about what restaurant to go to, and it's me), and I was dithering again, but the charming French waiter coerced us with halting and somewhat desperate English to come in.

There are about 5 lunch specials - chicken with brown sauce, chicken with white sauce, beef curry, etc. All of them come with bread and a drink. All of them are Y2000 (unless they're not, in which case they're more). This strikes me as excessive. On the flip side of the menu are the a la carte dishes, which are mainly around Y2000 without the drink and bread (bread is Y350). This too seems a little egregious for yoshoku, even if it's deluxe yoshoku, even if there IS such a thing.

I haven't explained yoshoku, sorry. This is not something that's going to feature on the menus of aspiring Japan food travelers (unless they, like me, want to eat a curry omrice as an ironic post-punk deconstructionist statement). Yoshoku can be described as "foreign food made by Japanese people who have never left the country" (obviously the chefs these days have left the country, but their illustrious predecessors probably didn't). Imagine those terrific woodblock prints showing foreigners, but they have ears the size of sunflowers, or an ancient map that says 'Here be dragons!'. I think the men who invented yoshoku were trying their damndest, but going hard astern at some point in their quest for True North. (Phew, the metaphors are thick today, aren't they?) I still haven't explained yoshoku (although I realize that I've talked about it at least once, a few weeks ago). The basic elements are omelettes, curry, hamburger patties, cheese and rice, but in combinations you don't expect. Omelette goes on top of rice (perhaps napped with a delicate yet robust curry). Curry goes with rice (duh). Cheese goes on top of rice and is thereupon baked ('doria'). Hamburger patties go with...nothing (Salisbury Steak, a favorite from the Hungry Man years). Vegetables wait in the hall while all of this happens.

Look, I'll stop digressing. Lin-ji had the grilled chicken breast, which was atop ketchup rice (make rice, fry it in a pan and mix in lots of ketchup. Yum!) and subsequently drenched with a white sauce of terrifying thickness, then dribble upon with green peas. Funny to look at, really not all that bad to eat. Jon (I've been working with a guy who refers to himself in the third person a LOT; please keep it from rubbing off on me) had the...foie gras don. Yes, it's a big bowl of rice topped with two massive slices of poached (I think) foie. The foie was adequate but not overly flavorful (like the foie burger at Yoshi's, if you're going to give out that much liver, you've gotta find a pretty cheap supplier). It was topped with cresson (which was excellent!) and bottomed with slices of pickled yamaimo (disturbing look like raw chicken skin, but lovely taste, gingery to me. I should try to make this since I'm getting bored of the homemade yamaimo shoyuzuke inspired by Onodera. I should go back to Onodera too. Any takers?). But the worst thing was the red wine reduction poured over the whole thing - strong and tannic, it really knocked over any remaining flavor that the foie had. Come to think of it, the cresson and pickles weren't that friendly either.

Phew, that was excessive (like eating a foie don for lunch). As I've been saying pretty much every day, I cannot in good faith recommend Ohmiya, except to make a shout-it-out-loud, two-middle-fingers-to-the-sky statement to the world - "I eat yoshoku."

What's a 0038?

Foie-don pictures here

Delirium Cafe Reserve, Akasaka

My friends, do you like beer? 4 out of 5 dentists agree that men like beer, in a strictly clichéd and stereotypic way. But I like beer, and my good friend McNoonan also likes beer, and we were having a little reunion last night involving the usual lunch cast-of-characters plus McN, and we went to this place that we've all been meaning to go for ages, in Biz Tower or Sacas, or whatever you call the newish Akasaka complex (actually it's right next to Jim Thompson's).

Yay, we like Belgian beer a lot. The benefit of Delirium is that they're in good with the manufacturer. Or they ARE the manufacturer. Or something. In addition to being a nasty symptom of alcohol withdrawal, Delirium Tremens is of course the flagship beer from a Belgian brewery (whose name I've just looked up but won't put in here to try to make it look like I'm terribly well-informed about these sorts of things) and was voted best beer in the world in at least 2 semi-reputable venues (seriously). And it's good. And they have several varieties, like Dark and Christmas, plus about 10 other beers, all on tap. Plus a medium-size bottle list with a number of items not overlapping with other outlets around town.

I'm more excited about this because the food was actually good! Belgian beer is a pretty commoditized commodity, and it comes out of the bottle well at any number of places around Tokyo. But the food that goes with it is often heavy and lackluster. At Delirium Reserve, the food is heavy and tasty! We got through several plates of fries, a half-kilo of mussels (enough for 4, I'd say, unless you're really into them. I remember sorta fondly the time I ordered moules frites in Versailles, and was stunned at the size of the pot and the length of time it took me to get through them. Too much for my non-French sensibilities.) and a gratin of endive and bacon to start. After that, we moved into serious eating - several plates of big, juicy sausage, and 4 enormous skewers of meat (deer, boar, pork belly, pork). Split between two men and two women (who ordinarily eat pretty well but were holding back), this was a lot of meat. Good thing I'm vegetarian the rest of the time.

Add to this plenty of service, even if they were always rushed by the size of the place and the crowds, a non-smoking room in the back that doesn't feel like a ghetto, and the interesting location in Akasaka, and you've got a winner.

Oh, and they have beer.

Bastide de Crillon, Otemachi (オアゾ5階)

"Crillon's Castle", or words to that effect, is tucked high in a mountain aerie where only eagles and brave or foolhardy men tread. Errr, flap and alight. And peck. Or something. Actually it's just on Oazo's 5th floor next to Amalfi Moderna, and its tablecloths share the same slightly vomitous shade of green. I was worried that they're in the same group, or share a kitchen or something. Actually, I'm still worried, but Crillon seems a little better than Amalfi.

Yer basic lunch sets are Y1500 (meat) and Y1800 (fish), but the increment gets you a small starter (soup) instead of a basic (salad). Yesterday's meat was chicken, as I suspect it often is, and this was a big leg-plus-alpha piece with a thick layer of fat under the brown and crispy skin. Not bad, not bad. The fish was a piece of snapper (姫鯛, I think they said?), again with the skin crisped, accompanied by a lonely scallop, and topped with a tangle of crisp-fried negi rings, tiny dried shrimp and mizuna. I must say - points for creativity and making some effort there. Coffee was strangely good, but I think this is just because I haven't been drinking much coffee this year. No dessert . Things also came with tolerable baguette slices and real, genuine butter!

This is the kind of place that makes an amusing diversion for lunch if you don't mind the price, but I couldn't in good faith recommend it for dinner regardless of price (brief conference with others outside yesterday's dining team confirmed this suspicion). I have a feeling it will be OK, but you could spend your yen and calorie allotment more sensibly elsewhere.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tenpachi, Tokyo (天ぱち, 東京駅キッチンストリート)

Tenpachi only gives out half-size business cards, so I'll keep this brief.

So I had lunch with Gita, who doesn't eat animals (fish are OK) and we went to Kitchen Street in Tokyo Station. Something about that place makes me eat fried food; I would have been tempted by the beef-focused places if not for the company. And out of the two places with 'fry', one was a soba specialist whose kakiage looked quite tempting, and the other was pushing out the door delightful waves of frying sesame oil smell, so they won.

Tenpachi is pretty basic, which is the main reason I'll keep this short. It's 'Edomae Tendon', meaning they specialize in tempura-on-rice bowls featuring produce from the greater Tokyo area (in theory). In practice, the food is exactly what you'd expect from tempura. The tendon looked pretty good (especially after Gita went nuts choosing exactly what he wanted, and seemed to end up with a better bowl as a result!), but I had the extra-ebi teishoku. Three shrimps, eggplant, peppers...basics. Bowl of rice, bowl of grated daikon for the dipping sauce. Only thing I can really comment on is the fry itself.

They had nice frying hoods going behind the counter, and the food was definitely served asap, so the hotness, freshness and crunchiness was all there. The batter was somehow thicker than expected, and cooked up in a nice meaty way. The shrimps were a little mealy to me; maybe that's because they were caught in Chiba Bay or something? Anyway, nothing much to recommend this one way or the other except the lovely sesame oil smell!

While I do so hate to be crass, the tendon are Y1050, and the extra-ebi was Y1180. I left unfulfilled on a quantity basis.

More foooooood!

Bistro Columbus, Kanda

I'm not at all sure how I came to be in Kanda. No altered states were involved; I just started in Ochanu, disgruntled because I couldn't find any of the things I wanted to look at in the guitar stores, thought of a place I wanted to go, found it full, kept walking to Akiba, and kept walking until I found myself in Kanda, thoroughly chilled and miserable. Columbus looked modern, stylish and clean in a way that said "We're modern, stylish and clean, but we've deliberately styled ourselves to look country-inn, and plus we have a kerosene heater that you can sit in front of". Thanks guys.

Once I got in, sat down and looked at the menu, it hit me - this place was previously recommended. It came up while discussing beer with one of my newer colleagues. I looked at the somewhat perplexing menu on the Internet, and I was somewhat perplexed as to the attraction. It's just big and complicated and perplexing and seems to lack focus - large sections for various themes. The decor doesn't help either.

From the outside, it's sort of stucco, or at least light and 'country' looking. Inside, there's a long light-colored wood counter, nothing fancy but with a bit of organic curve to it. The tables are also light wood, and with the low ceiling and dark trim it achieves the classic Japanese 'mountain home' decor. But the counter gives way to a pretty impressive bar - in some places these 8 seats, racks of bottles, and wooden cabinets are a whole store unto themselves. And the kerosene heater at the end of the bar goes right back to the country theme. But the whole thing is cozy, don't get me wrong.

To my mind, the menu maintains this multi-themed theme. There's a huge drinks menu, a lot of which is cocktails (big single-malt section, even, and a fair number of the display bottles are this). But they seem to have some wine focus, as brochures advertised Hiro's Vinos Yamasaki (though I would recommend the Yurakucho wine bar branch!). And they have a bunch of varieties of global beer, plus Japanese specialties on tap. The food is split up into, I think, sections to go with various things, like the 'Eat with NZ Pinot!' section. In the end, I just ordered ji-beer (Japanese country beer Echigo on tap, pretty darn rare) and a quick selection of items.

Yet another wacky 'theme' - pick two starters and get a discount. Geez, I can't believe I now think that's wacky. Has Japan really softened my brain to the extent that I no longer think volume discounts are normal? In yet another unrelated aside, someone at work recently forwarded a piece written by a consulting firm called 'Softbrain'. I explained that this sounds like 'mentally deficient' in English, but that's their name... Right, starters - marinated paprika and cream cheese was roasted peppers in oil with nice herbs and cubes of...cream cheese. But in a fresh and satisfying way. Cold seared horse (ahhh, I haven't acclimated to Japan to the extent that I don't enjoy the novelty of eating horse tataki) was excellent - soft, flavorful, and well-met with some oroshi ponzu.

As a main, I couldn't exit the NZ Pinot! section and its veal options. Yet another weirdness - veal is really rare in Japan. In this case it was with mushroom sauce, and was delicious. I have a feeling that some of my earnest Eating Out colleagues would describe this food as 'pap', and on a warmer, less rainy night, I might also. But it sure tasted good after walking in the rain for an hour! After, they have half a dozen store-made cakes and tarts, and the Dark Cherry tart was also very nice - not-quite clafoutis, a little heavier and maybe with some almond, a healthy sprinkling of cherries, and a thin layer of clear jelly on top.

While I rarely discuss such gauche matters as price, preferring instead to concentrate on the finer points of the search for perfection, all of this was surprisingly cheap. And the staff were attentive and friendly, with the bartender attempting to strike up a conversation in English at the end (not in a bad way). I may change my mind if I go back again, but for now this is an extremely pleasant neighborhood-place-plus-alpha (friendly, but with a lot of little touches to recommend it) and I recommend it!

Nothing to do with centuries of native exploitation, I promise

E'tavola, Otemachi

Much to the delight of colleagues, I still haven't been to the same place twice in Marunouchi for lunch. OK, I'm more delighted about this than anyone else. Most people think it's funny but a little...obsessive? Yup.

Today was a ladies-in-black lunch, as Ponkan, Ponyo and Koala were all in mourning due to the fact that it's only Tuesday (and some of us worked all weekend). Nevertheless we managed to get into a somewhat festive mood by getting out of the office at 11:30 and walking around for hours underground until finding our way to the Sankei building, wherein reside a French place and an italian place side by side. This review is the Italian place, you know.

Ponkan had been for lunch recently with Kuma kun, and pronounced it 'ordinary', so I was mildly surprised to find myself there. However it's quite nice looking, so was firmly on the list of places to try (and incidentally, the 17 people waiting to get in when we left also seem to agree).

The menu has 5 options for lunch. These were 1) natto, squid and seaweed (a classic Venetian recipe, I'm told) 2) bacon pumpkin cream 3) tomato something 4) broccoli pepperoncino 5) can't remember. Everything comes with a few side dishes: a little wedge of pita-like bread that's actually quite good; a few chick peas cooked in tomato sauce; some okala (which I actually mentioned a few days ago, the tofu byproduct made from the husks of beans that have been squeezed to produce soy milk which is then curdled to produce tofu); and a cup of chicken soup. The side are good! Large size pasta is free. This paragraph sounds like Seat's writing style.

So what did I have? Koala said "haha, you should have the natto", so I did, and supersized it. So healthy...It's really not that bad - I like the taste of natto, it's only the texture that gets me (and mixed with a raw egg and soy sauce and stirred so it gets more, and the seaweed fills out the flavor palette or something. The squid looked like it may have been (seasonal) firefly squid, but there was so little of that I can't reliably say.

We finished up, realized that there was no coffee and the staff pretty much wanted us out the door to make room for the next people, and left. A weird experience, this popular-place dining. I prefer to linger a bit, don't you? This could be better at dinner, since it's fairly stylish and subdued-lighting inside. Let me know if you go.

Ahh, the tabelog pictures are just what we ate...this is a place that doesn't change much.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Urizun, Marunouchi (うりずん、新丸5階)

On a tear with the Shin Marus these days, aren't we? In response to a recent conversation with one of our most dedicated and fatherly readers, I counted the actual number of restaurants. Minus the 'specialty shops' and coffee places and supermarkets and dedicated bars, Shin Maru alone has 4 restaurants in the basement, 1 on the ground floor (hello Pierre Gagnaire), 1 on the 4th floor, 27 on the 5th floor (!), 5 on the 6th floor and 7 on the 7th floor (though part of the overall 'House' complex). I fear it may yet take some time to get through the remainder of these 45 places, and the map will look like all hell before it's over...but Urizun is great, so maybe I'll just keep going there!

Early signs today pointed to Igrek as Tex and I set out from the office, cleverly taking the 'we forgot our umbrellas' route underground and adding 15 minutes to the walk. And I looked seriously at Delizioso Firenze last week with Ponkan. In the end we were scared off both by the Y1800 price tags, and settled in at the surprise choice: Okinawan specialist Urizun.

I didn't know it was Okinawan-themed until we got in. Then the awamori bottles, the Okinawan singing on the overhead, and the sanshin in the corners clued me in that there would be chanpuru in store. The staff denied us the opportunity to sit on actual chairs, being only two people, so we settled on the stools by the window (good view of the Mitsubishi Trust building) and looked at other customers, mostly women, being seated at tables and in the semi-proate horikotatsu areas.

There are 5 or 6 lunch sets, all variations on the theme of chanpuru. OK, not quite. But there IS goya chanpuru, and fu chanpuru, and tonkatsu chanpuru...OK, not quite. Just regular agu, black pork from Okinawa. In addition to tonkatsu, there was a sort of kakunidon (stewed pork belly slices on rice). All were around Y1250, and the sides were excellent.

Each set came with the flavored rice (we thought it was chicken, but I'm not so sure now), a sort of meaty gomoku concoction that was so good I had to ask for a second bowl. And a massive serving of some type of Okinawan seaweed that's like mozuku, but bigger and brown and a little les slimy. I can't believe I actually like mozuku's that sweet, slimy, vinegary goodness that works so well together. And so healthy! My fu chanpuru came with a battered and fried fish piece and a battered and fried green vegetable - shishito-ish, but I'm sure it was more Okinawan than that. On the table was a bottle of soy sauce and another bottle that I thought was vinegar with tiny hot peppers, until I put some on my chanpuru. Now I think it was awamori with hot peppers! Or maybe Okinawan vinegar made from awamori?

The quality of the cooking was pretty good - chanpuru had lots of egg cooked in an appealingly scrambled way, and no goya but some nice strips of fu (which I should have pointed out is some type of wheat gluten by-product. It's usually used to make colored things for decorating soup, or exceedingly dull traditional sweets.). The tonkatsu was good, but unfortunately below the quality level in breading and fry that you'd expect if you went to a specialist. But the rice...I'd go back for the rice.

Damn, I had to inaugurate an Okinawan tag just for this place.
Open 'til 4 AM! Shin Maru is definitely the late-night place to go in the Tokyo Station area.

Broza's, Nihonbashi

Lo, many many years ago I went to Broza's and ate a burger and left. Actually that's a little untrue - I waited for an hour in an extraordinarily dull neighborhood on a summery Saturday afternoon, then ate a burger and left. It was a nice day, but there wasn't a thing to do around there, and in my memory the burger didn't make up for it.

Well, I had another Broza this weekend. It was delivered and sat around a little bit - the fries were honestly inedible. But the burger was OK. I was reminded of nothing so much as Carl's Jr. You know those? The last time I was in California and ate some, their slogan was something like "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face" and they were appropriately big and messy-slidy. The pictures of the burgers on Broza's menu show towering stacks of fixinz, and these get predictably askew when you try to eat them. Still, even with the sloppiness, it was a pretty good burger.

I'd hit Sunny Diner again before I waited at Broza's, but it's sure a lot closer to home. If they could just do something about the neighborhood. Inner Ningyocho isn't known for...well, anything, is it?

Wow, Carl's Jr has a terrific history! This is not a link to it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gare de Lyon, Hatchobori

You know that little area on Kajibashi Dori where you cross the bridge, go under the highway, and emerge from Takaracho into Hatchobori? Right, me either, in spite of going through there any time I took a taxi home from work (not that often). So I'll forgive you for not seeing this place from the street, especially since it's also on a minor street and currently hidden behind a large construction project. Why someone picked this area for a budget-level French bistro is beyond me - there aren't even any shops on the main street in that area. This should be the point where I say something about how it's well worth seeking out, worth the long walk from Hatchobori station, etc. It's pretty good, and certainly friendly, and refreshingly inexpensive, but I can't in good conscience tell you to make a trip there (you might consider the Higashi Ginza honten, which is probably closer to somewhere else you're going).

From the outside, you're immediately greeted by beige walls, red woodwork, curtained windows and chalkboard. Hard to describe how incongruous this is when surrounded by small office buildings and large apartment houses! For some reason they also have a noren inside the glass door, but once you get inside the decor is a sort of weathered bistro immitation - bare floors, bare tables, a little dusty feeling (or that could have been my allergies acting up). The small room's left wall is completely taken up with the wine list - a big rack of bottles with the prices written on them. This is where things get fun and good - most (all?) of the wine is bio, and the majority of bottles are around Y4000-5000, which is an equally pleasant way to be treated in a restaurant these days. We asked for a recommendation, got 4, picked one, and got to work.

For some reason the Menu Perusal Team declared that Saturday night was Meat Night. This meant that we ordered up things heavy on the dead animal, and the kitchen obliged by returning to us mainly dead animal without any fluff. For starters, a huge piece of faux-campagne terrine was somewhat reminiscent of chopped meat, with a bit of jelly in the texture and some pink peppercorns on top. The other starter was ratatouille, a big plate of stewed vegetable and heavy on the celery.

Mains got super meaty. The 'pork belly sausage lentils' was a massive block of stewed pork that had been rendered almost fatless (this is good if you've been previously scarred by cha-shu with too much tough fat banding left in it), a foot-long sausage that was soft and deeply scented with pickling spices, and a smattering of cooked lentils. The beef cheek, as it said on the menu but I didn't notice when ordering, was stewed in chocolate sauce, which was not like mole but also not bad, and came with a hillock of thin and crisp fries. For reference, these were Y1600 each.

In point of fact, we just couldn't eat all of it. Got through about half the meat and called a surrender, though we took pains to comment to the waiter on the good elements. He said we ordered too much...

Another fun touch was the projection of scenes from the Gare de Lyon that took up half the wall opposite the wine. Looked like someone just parked their video camera for an hour while eating lunch on a terrace so they could get footage of TGVs coming and going, people milling around.

Vive la France!

Fukagawa Tei, Monzennakacho (深川亭)

This little place popped up a while ago, perhaps as much as a year, and it looked like the sort of simple izakaya that would deliver some fresh and tasty food. I put off going for a long time because it doesn't look that exciting, but when I was feeling tired and just needed to study some things for work, I decided it was a good time to hang out there.

I wanted to peek in and take a look, but you can't. In some ways, this is cool, but of course daunting in others. You open the door and see mainly a shoe rack and a short hallway leading to a wall. Once you get your shoes off and get inside, it's just a generic room with white walls, some timber beams, and only 5 tables, all of which are horikotatsu (floor seating with holes in the floor). I think three tables were full when I got there, and they let me install at the smaller of the remaining too.

The menu is kinda limited. Usually I think that's a good sign. It also has a few specialty sections, which is also good, unless one of them is motsu-related, and here it was motsu nabe. In fact, the tables all had induction heating elements built into them. I know there are lots of people that love it, but equally I know I'm not an outlier even in Japanese terms when I say that the idea of eating various intestinal products just doesn't do it for me. For completeness, I've tried motsu a fair number of times (grilled, sure. Stewed, of course. Sumotsu (cooked, then chilled with vinegar), that too.) and always found the flavor OK but the texture somewhat mealy in a way that I don't enjoy. Ah well.

But the other specialty section of the menu was karaage, so I started there! Can't even remember what the choices were, but I didn't have the standard chicken and instead had the other standard, octopus. Damn was it good...they did something to the breading, perhaps the old wet-dry-wet-dry double-coat, that made the breading thick and delicious, and the octopus itself was also very flavorful. As Andy Hayler would say, "It did not escape a slight chewiness", but for god's sake, it's an octopus, and making it un-chewy is something of a violation of its rights as an ingredient (though of course is a valid option too, like that method of boiling octopus where it ends up having a taste and texture kinda like chicken. I like that.).

Other items that passed my somewhat-sick-and-not-overly-discriminating-palate were a store-made satsuma age (big, fluffy, fresher-tasting than I'm used to in the presumably outside-made version), a very nice aspara bacon (meeting my meat and veggie needs all at once) and a disappointing turnip salad that turned out to be...a turnip, with miso on the side. I can do that at home, guys, and the turnips in the supermarket taste better than the one you served me.

Sake and tea were served in little 'buckets' styled after the wood-and-brass buckets that you'd use to wash at a nice bath (but I'm sure there's an actual name for them that I in my ignorance don't know). Service was by one sort of funny guy, and cooking was by another guy in the tiny kitchen. This seems to be two guys (a couple? Could it be?!) doing something they love, and doing a pretty good job of it. Value + flavor!

There really doesn't see to be a good web page for this one.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cita Cita, Marunouchi (丸ビル5階)

How many Citas does it take to screw in a light bulb? How many dollars will it take to save Citabank? Hopefully it's only 2, because the Soho Restaurant Group has only one outlet of this marque (the group also includes Roy's, Xen and other Roppongi Hillz dwellerz). On a dark and rainy day when we ventured all the way down to Maru Biru only to find a solid 15-person line outside The Papaya Leaf, Cita Cita's 2 citas more than met the demand for pan-Asian ethnic cuisine.

The 5th floor of Maru Biru also hosts Labyrinthe, West Park Cafe, Kua Aina and that nice-looking casual Italian place near the escalators. Cita Cita is near Kua Aina and the 'outdoor' seating area. They're going for a sort of 'darkly elegant Southeast Asian' theme, and it's done fairly well - the black and red entry, big flowers, and long communal table in the front are good. The table in the back are a bit more worn, and the atmosphere feels crowded and rushed, but you'll survive. Like the pre-cut sushi I had yesterday, the lunch rush forces certain sacrifices, and we're all part of the problem.

I like the menu, let me put it out there before I sound too grumpy. They have full-meal options from Y800 to Y1500, and between the 5 of us we ordered almost everything. At the low end, Choco had the Healthy Salad Plate, which was a big mound of Chinese-style cold chicken (steamed, with lots of cartilege still in and chopped onions on top, you know?) and some other salads - substantial quantity for the Healthy option. At the high end, The Zone had the Y1500 Gai Yang, which was more exotically-spiced than any roast chicken I've ever had in Thailand, but equally was very juicy. In between, Wolf and Ponyo and I had meat/curry/rice options that were all Y1250 and fairly authentic (at least the green curry was, and none of the sweetness that plagued Bamboo).

Bottom line, a very tolerable establishment, especially when the more well-known place across the floor is packed to overflowing!

Delicate scent of lotus blossoms, right this way:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taruzen, Marunouchi (たる善, 新丸5階)

My friends, not eating a lot of meat has several strange effects on a person. The main one that I always notice is a powerful craving for meat, and over the past few days it's been no exception. After a big beef-oriented Saturday night, I didn't eat much protein for a couple days, and yesterday just had to break down and have sushi for lunch and dinner.

I guess there's not a sushi place on every corner in Japan, but there IS a place in every major building. I checked quickly and found that both Maru and Shin Maru have nice looking sushi places (and by nice I mean "not the budget places in the basement, and not the overpriced places on the 30+ floors", though Maru has a place up there whose sushi lunches start from Y5000. More power to you if that's your thing.). Shin Maru is closer, and somehow, I dunno, newer, so that got the nod.

Feels weird to go to the 5th floor of Shin maru for lunch - such a different world! Kinda busy and bustling in a very pleasant non-officey way, and chock full of great-looking restaurants (which are mainly Y1800 and over for lunch, be warned). Taruzen is around the back, and they have several Y1000 lunch sets - nigiri, kaisendon, and Women's (3 nigiri, nimono, rice). It's quite spare and modern, but was packed when we got there at 12 so felt a little loud and restless. I admit to some poor feeling when I saw that some of the fish was pre-sliced, but I assume this is a lunch-only thing. I don't think they have a whole ton of branches, and the head store is in Sapporo.

After briefly flirting with the extensive and more expensive menu options (several other sets at Y1900, some at Y2500-3000, some at Y5000+), Ponkan and I settled, surprise surprise, on the Y1000 nigiri. This was about 8 nigiri plus soup, and good value at that. The ikura were good-quality, the akami was in the surprisingly-good class, the shrimps were fresh and minimally slimy (although it's a raw shrimp, you've gotta expect some of that), and the egg was nicely fuwa-fuwa. The only complaints I can raise are that the size of each piece was too big (a high-class problem to have, certainly), and the buri was a bit off. Maybe it's just too late in the season so the buri tastes fishy? That's a joke. haha.

Right, please go about your business. If you're craving sushi for lunch, Y1000 at Taruzen will be well spent (better then the Sushi Sei outlet in the Nippon Building that I went to a few weeks ago).

Better bury the buri.

Eiraku, Otemachi (永楽)

This place is uncanny - how do they pack so little flavor into every bite?! I think they've perfected a Sino-Japanese version of FRT (Flavor Reduction Technology). Then again, I'm learning every time I visit that the JA Building is good for a laugh, in a depressing and age-yellowed way, but not a place to go for things like quality lunch.

Eiraku has one advantage - it's open. I went at 2:30 on Monday, in large part because I thought it was open, and noted that it seems to be always-on between 11 AM and 10 PM. Keep that in mind if you're in a weird timing situation and are in need of mediocre Chinese in a depressing setting. They use a fun 'ticket' system like many other places in JA, and once I selected my dish I received two tiny blue pieces of plastic and an instruction to sit wherever.

Something possessed me to eat noodles, and more to the point ja-ja noodles. That sounds weird now that I've written it; you may know them as the sorta Korean cold noodles topped with meat miso (a good thing in my book), cucumbers (I love cucumbers) and some other bits and bobs. In the original version I had, at Pairon in Morioka, where they're famous, the noodles were thick and chewy, the miso was chock fulla meat, there were liberal lashings of vinegar and ginger, and you could more of any topping at will. It was delicious. And Eiraku wasn't it. The miso was more like miso ankake; I couldn't tell if there was miso in it. And I kept putting vinegar on, but never seemed to taste it. In the end, I doused the remainder with la-yu and black pepper, scarfed it down, and left.

Some things you can chalk up to experience, some times you should have known better.
But it's cheap and it's open.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wine Bar Kay, Monzennakacho

I know what you're thinking - it's really quite uncanny what a great place Monzennakacho is! I can't understand why it's not a regular stop on the circuit for visiting foreign dignitaries and food writers. Not only is there great sushi and kappou, there's good French and Italian, and some award-winning bars.

Kay is not one of them. But actually, that's a good thing! The award-winning bar I'm thinking of is called Opa, and I dislike it because the head bartender is so conceited-looking. There's another bar that's featured in some magazines recently called 'Bar C', but I haven't braved the cover charge / drink charge dilemma and tried it yet. Kay is right across the street from C, sort of two streets behind the huge Stardust pachinko hall if you're standing in Monnaka crossing. It's pretty unassuming from the street due to the small sign, narrow stairs and 3rd-floor location, and despite all my marginally-serious posturing about how great the town is, I'd be pretty surprised to find a nice wine bar in Monnaka. So I was pretty surprised, because it's pretty nice.

I had the distinct feeling that I was in a club in this place. Something about the lighting, the overtly deferential service, the split-level arrangement between the bar and seating area, and most of all the wide array of hostesses scattered about the place. I kid, I kid. But the blue couches and chairs are bright yet shabby in a way that would distinctly say 'club' to me, had I in fact ever been to a club, and I'm not kidding this time.

None of this is bad though. The bar is a nice wooden affair with the bartender and assistant (I'd guess wife) behind it, the floor is nicely polished, and there are various brass fixtures and miniature wine casks around to further enhance the clubbiness, er, classiness. You can tell by the shibori that they're making a serious effort - thick, soft, pleasantly moist, and very nice smelling...I don't always go around sniffing towels, but it seemed appropriate.

All this garbage text about a wine bar and there's no wine yet in this post...There were 7 glass wines, 1 sparkling, 2 white, 4 red, and a sizable menu that's heavy on Italians. From the few price comps that we knew, the bottle prices didn't seem bad at all. Three glass wines that we had (all ca. Y1200) were all tolerable but somewhat suboptimal in a way that I associate with larger-scale wineries in France and Italy - I think you can recognize that they're imitating a quality style, but there are some strange flavors in the mix. Drinks came with gougeres, which I'm not really fit to judge through lack of experience, but they seemed light at first and then collapsed in the mouth into mochi-mochi cheesy packets. That sounds about right.

As bar-going experiences go in Japan, this is a normal charge, normal prices, some good-looking food, and nice service. Plus it's in such a great town! I'll go back when I can devote more time to it.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monsoon, Minami Funabashi

Not exactly a name to conjure with, Monsoon...for me it brings up memories of a trip to Tokyo a long, long time ago (relatively) in a distinctly weird period of my life. I had lunch with my former boss, generally known as Indian John, which is weird enough in itself - careful reflection over the intervening years has convinced me that the 4 months I spent on a project with him were the worst of my life. The whole company-flameout and everything else last year actually wasn't as bad!

Anyway, Monsoon - cheap faux-Southeast Asian, done in a big, friendly format with big, friendly service. A funny thing at Monsoon, at least the Minami Funabashi LaLaPort branch that I went to, is that they ask for your name on the way in. I thought there was a wait to eat, which was a bummer, but it turns out this is just a unique service element. After learning your name, they shout it at you at every opportunity, either to show that they remember or that they care. It's sort of a funny trick, but altogether too American for a Southeast Asian-themed restaurant in Japan.

And it's clearly Southeast Asian Themed (capital T). We had a green curry, which was more of a grey curry, but that's more or less normal, except that it was extremely sweet and quite a bit spicy. Some members of the party found it less than platable. The other item was a yam woon sen (the Thai salad of clear bean noodles with various seafood and vegetable bits, and lime juice). This was OK; it only sinned by being boring. Tellingly, there's a big menu given over to drinks - again I felt like I was at Applebee's - and we ordered up some mojitos. One should probably take counsel not to order Cuban theme drinks in a Southeast Asian theme restaurant in a Japanese-themed country, but there you are, and the results were predictable.

Should you in fact be out in the hinterlands, and at the mega-LaLaPort of Minami Funabashi, there must surely be better options than this...and in point of fact, if you're in The City, there's probably also no need to go to the Monsoon branches there. Tinun will put you right if you're in need of an SEA fix, or there are a few places on the guitar street in Shin Okubo that are genuinely Thai, right down to the waitresses. Please consult the map for further information...

Ahhh, Global Dining - Monsoon, La Boheme, Zest, Stellato...all your ethnically-themed favorites!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kushihan, Otemachi (Tokyo Station)

Tokyo station has a wealth of dining options, my friends, and is well within your purview if you're one of the lucky, elite few that work in Otemachi (Or Tokyo. Or Nihonbashi. Or Marunouchi. They're all so close that it's almost pointless to differentiate. What a great city!) Outside the station are the Sapia and Trust buildings, which have a few destinations each, but inside the station are the aforementioned wealth of options, as long as you're crafty enough to delve deep into its bowels. (Digression: Daimaru, on the middle of the Yaesu side, has a very significant sweets section - Pierre Herme and many other luxury brands represented.).

On the ground floor you'll find Kitchen Street, which for some reason seems to feature a disproportionate number of beef-themed restaurants. In the basement under there, you'll find another 8-10 outlets with relatively higher quality and relatively more Japanese outlook. There are several fried-food denizens, some upscale noodle-yas, and an Okinawan. Kushihan, of course, is in the first category.

This is the kind of place to take visitors who are nervous about Japanese food (or those who aren't but should be!). What's not to like? "We take normal ingredients, dip them in batter, roll them in bread crumbs, and throw them in the fryer until they taste like fried food! It's the Japanese healthy diet!" Especially for lunch, the ingredients seem to be fairly standard (based on the two stores where I've had kushi lunches!) - you'll get some kind of shrimp, some pork, some fish, some scallops, and a couple others. Like many sub-genres of Japanese food (and many sub-genres of anything, come to think about it), you need to have a bit of knowledge to understand what's different and potentially special about it.

My only point of reference for kushi lunch is Kushinobo, on the 5th floor of Roppongi Hillz. Their Hillz Lanch, for Community Passport holders, remains a benchmark of value and taste at only Y1050. Part of the attraction is definitely the side dishes - pickles, tsukudani fish bits, ochazuke instead of rice, ample fresh vegetables to cut the grease, and 8 skewers of fried goodness. I'm not trying to sound like an expert of anything here, really I'm not, but Kushihan seemed to be a clearly different approach.

+Y500. No pickles. Less vegetables. Fewer saucing options. Plain rice. Better ingredients. Better ingredients. This, and the different order that things came, seemed revolutionary to me on Friday. The shrimp came first, not last, and was wrapped in shiso. The scallops were huge and meaty, not the kobashira-sized morsels at Kushinobo. There was a big round tsukune (you might well call it a breaded, fried Slider, but it was as thick as the meat from 3 or 4 Sliders) with sauce. And there were other things, but they were good.

Two final thoughts:
1. You may be thinking 'Get a life! It's just fried food!' I agree to some extent, but we do love our lunch...
2. You may also be thinking "Eating Out In Tokyo recommends Isomura in Ginza or Higashi Ginza for the best in this type of food. Why haven't I been there yet?" Or you may not.

Wow, Tabelog has a field day on these guys. I don't think that's justified, but perhaps I don't appreciate the finer points of deep-fried bread crumbs?

Toritetsu, Kayabacho (とり鉄)

After a precipitous departure from Feh! The Gyoza Bar, we were left in the wilds of Kayabacho with not a plan in the world. Pisser. I remembered that Maru was just around the corner (OK, I never forgot...I've been meaning to go to Maru's 2nd or 3rd floor for ages, but at this point the 1st floor standing bar seemed like a good idea.). As befits a good thing, Maru's 1st floor was packed, and we wandered on.

Further down the street (towards Shintomicho, I think?) is a building with a Takadaya and another place in the basement. I suddenly conceived a strong desire for yakitori, and we headed for the basement (digression re: previous post: clearly Takadaya is a big chain. I'm not sure what's up with the Otemachi branch that I went to; just a different and rarer format, I think). There was a tout working the stairs, and he tried to steer us into the Takadaya, saying "Oh, we have yakitori here too!" but I stuck to the plan and went into Toritetsu. Oddly, he announced us there, so maybe the two places are related, or else he was just being polite.

Toritetsu - like Ryori no Tetsujin? Is this place the Iron Man of Chicken? Well, it wasn't bad, I'll tell you what. I admit that I went there almost entirely out of an obligation to complete further research, and in fact my companion didn't eat anything. But a few nibbles never go astray...

Toritetsu is one of those casual places that's gotten their act together menu-wise and has a bunch of glossy pages of food pictures. There are special spreads for the chicken products, and I ordered two of the sasami kushi and two tsukune, purely for research (they have about 6 types of each, plus the normal yakitori stuff). These looked a little more creative - sasami is the 'tenderloin' of the chicken, and I got one with wasabi paste and seaweed, plus another with plum paste. The tsukune were better - one with cheese stands out in my mind, while the other is a grilled blur.

Nuts, I just realized that I'm blogging about a visit to Applebee's, or thereabouts; there are at least 50 of these in Tokyo. Well, as a place to take your visiting friends and family, or when you desire fairly cheap eats of a bird-influenced and chicken-infused nature, with a heavy Asian influence, this is an OK destination.
八丁堀ファーストビル B1F

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gyoza Bar Fei, Kayabacho

It just came to me as I was conducting the zen-like preparations to write yet another review. The bare, semi-Chinese interior of Fei reminds me quite a lot of Australia! When I lived there, it seemed like there was a tendency to make things cool by leaving the floor bare concrete and just clear-coating it, then having things decorated in primary colors. Sort of like that place in Surry Hillz that's kinda famous and that I went to last time I was in Sydney, but whose name I've forgotten.

But that's not to say it wasn't enjoyable. As befits a 'gyoza bar', the gyoza were really, really good. I'd been craving gyoza for several weeks, enough that I had actually tried to make them for myself the night before (uck), and these were big, meaty, fresh and hot. They gave an extra two for service also, which is always exciting when you've lived in Japan for a while. Other than gyoza, we had a 'chimaki', which is mochigome mixed with dried squid and mushrooms and steamed - a big lump of sticky, squiddy-smelling gloop. Pretty good. With the addition of a few weak chu-hais, that was it, and we moved to another place (I would have stayed, but the rest of the party seemed eager to go - some sort of Colorado-IBM issues?).

Due to the location, it's unlikely that you'll be hitting this one any time soon, but if you're lucky enough to looking for dining options in Kayabacho, it's good.

あ~~, 粽 is actually Japanese for 'bamboo leaf-steamed cake'  

Wolfgang Puck Express, Otemachi

10 minutes of dithering about which place to visit on Thursday led us past a succession of mediocre-looking washoku places and eventually to Puck's. I think everyone has been to a Puck's outlet once; the notable one is surely the cafe right at the top of Takeshita Dori in Harajuku (also known as 'cosplay street', and if you get one of the few window tables you have a ringside seat for girls coming from the station and beginning their strolls.). I've just remembered that I actually went to the Spago in Roppongi in 2004 before it closed / moved / whatever, good riddance. Even with a Y10,000 discount coupon, I wasn't that happy with it. All this must be a far cry from what made Wolfgang famous back in the day in LA.

These places are best described as 'upscale fast food', and I guess the Express in the name should lead one to expect such things. You have your burgers, you have your pastas, you have your salads, and it's all tolerable. I had a honey-mustard chicken burger (extremely sweet, "It's honey mustard" as Wolf pointed out); Ponkan had a regular burger, while Wolf and Choco both went the daily pasta (green; pesto-ish), which I think came with free oomori. I need to say, lest I sound too negative, that the fries are quite good. When Puck used to have a regular Cafe, non-Express, in Roppongi Hillz, the fries were fresh and came in a paper cone; here not so much but still good, with their dusting of green herbs.

I won't tell you now to go; consider yourself warned and know what you'll get. Within those bounds, nothing wrong with it. Oh, except that it's kinda expensive, with the burgers around Y1250.

In bocca al lupo!

Taverna Messina, Jiyugaoka

My friends, I've figured out what I think of Jiyugaoka. This is not to say that I don't like it, but the plethora of cute cafes, homewares stores and clothing boutiques says nothing to me so much as 'rich housewives'. Perhaps in the same way that Sugamo is Obaa chan's Harajuku, Jiyugaoka is a housewifve's Harajuku?

But still an exceedingly pleasant place. What self-respecting modern middle-class man doesn't like a nice cafe and a bit of a browse for dishes and placemats? I for one am not going to admit to that. And after a pleasant wander, I'm certainly not going to say no to a pleasant Italian lunch in a bustling, Tuscan-themed basement space.

Taverna Messina is clearly a favorite in some camps, and delivers a decent experience with some good food. The Y1900 lunch sets (cheaper ones on weekdays) feature three courses with a decent variety to choose from (entree or pasta + pasta or main + dessert and coffee). The EOITwJ team got through two solid courses: the mixed appetizers (+Y500), a selection of 5 things including some potato soup, aranciata, and another type of doughy, herby fritter whose name I should know; the polenta and bacalao mille feuille (my current Japanese menu peeve - anything in layers is a mille feuille. In this there were deux, not mille, which leaves us almost a thousand short, but the polenta was nicely-fried, and the bacalao was mild and good. With fresh tomatoes); a pork cutlet, fried a la Terry, that was strangely thin but exceedingly sweet, especially at the edge where the strip of fat was to be found; and a Marinara pizza (better known as "Hey, you forgot the cheese!") that was frankly too thin, so that it cracked rather than being biteable and chewable, and got cold instantly. Desserts sounded nice, but for the set menu were limited to only the pear... mille feuille, which was pastry, pear and ice cream on a huge plate with liberal lashings of powdered sugar (usually a cover for bad food, don't you think? In this case not so much, as it was pretty good.)

With a crowded, warm ambience, fresh rosemary focaccia, and tolerable house wine, this is a fine way to spend your Jiyugaoka dining time.

The stars seem to shine like you've had too much wine

Oteru, Monzennakacho (お照)

The personal email issues are almost solved, my friends. The IT team is starting to get things under control.
After Ojisan and I left Hanabishi, I thougt I was going peacefully home. It was not to be, as he had his claws into me and insisted that I join him at another geisha-run place. This one is a tiny place near Goroku; I've thought many times about stopping in there but always been put off by the smallness and fully-frosted windows; just a little too scary. Strictly speaking, I know I should sacrifice for the art and go in, but it's also oden, which kina puts me off also.

Surprise, surprise, Ojisan is a regular there. The three people at the counter immediately warned me in a friendly way that I shouldn't be associating with him, we ordered some atsukan, received a bowl each of steamed pumpkin for otoshi, and got down to business.

There was a lot of chatter, which I understood about half of. Based on that half, it was pretty much obscene and insult-laden, but in a nice way. Let's not dwell on the details, OK? I'm sure if you stop by, you too will find yourself an immediate regular. Mama presides over things from behind the counter with a pleasant and placid deanor, which is a good attitude to have when you're about 4 feet tall. Not much you can do about it, right?

The food's basically oden. For the uninitiated this is where the shop has a big pot of soup and keeps it hot all night, gently simmering a wide variety of tasty goodies to juicy perfection. Or something. It's also the kinda nasty smell that you smell when you go into a conveniece
store in the winter (in Japan). Some people swear that these conbini oden are actally quite good, and to them I say "You can have 'em". At this place, I tucked in to a few of my favorites purely for research. The Shirataki were stringy and starcy (which is fine since they're strings made from starch), the daikon was actually pretty good, and I've forgotten the third thing I had. One of my issues with oden is that all the normal-looking things have 'trade names', like condiments at
sushi places, and I don't feel like learning them. One other thing I like is a piece of mochi wrapped in tfu skin; by rights, this should be called 'Buddha's Sack' or something equally graphic.
Oden, and this place - still don't quite understand the attraction, but they're OK once in a while. And the name - I forgot twice today to see what it was, but I'll update when I do remember.

Not much of a web site really

Hanabishi, Monzennakacho (花菱)

EOITwJ is not dead, my friends, merely having computing problems. Thanks for your kind wishes. There is now an unfortunately huge backlog of eating out 'experiences' to get through, from Tuesday night, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Argh.

Hanabishi turned out to be more of a history lesson than a culinary extravaganza, but since it was history of Monnaka, I was happy. It's also a strange and fascinating place that everyone should experience once (keeping in mind that it's generally full). I've popped my head in a number of times and been rejected, so I was mildly surprised on Tuesday night when they let me set up shop at the far end of the counter, right in front of the beer fridge.

Let's just dispense with the food and get on to the really interesting stuff - it's very competent izakaya, although the publicity does describe it as kappou. In a style whose name I should really know, there are at least 10 snack-y dishes arrayed in large bowls on the counter. Then there's a menu with a number of fried and grilled things, and fairly limited options for drinks. Had I more energy, we could use this time to go through the list of items on the counter, which would serve as a great primer for home cookin'/izakaya cuisine, but suffice to say...

I ate some type of boiled beef and peppers (first beef I'd had in weeks!) that was soft, fatty and excellent (seemed like slices of brisket, now that I think of it). Unohana was also quite good, much better then what you can get in the supermarket's pre-made section (this is a tofu byproduct that's sorta dry and crumbly and gets mixed with a variety of vegetables. Sort of tofu couscous, if you will. A quick google in English points up the fact that there's an anime character named Unohana (as in "I'm going to cosplay Unohana this weekend!"), but in Japanese it seems the basic (less flowery) name for it is 'okara', and it is indeed what's left behind after you press soy beans to get soy milk. What level of parenthetical nesting am I on now? I digress). Ojisan next to me had kinpira, which looked fresh and good.

Separate orders turned out well - kanburi, the 'midwinter' version of adult yellowtail (although the recent weather has given the lie to the 寒 part) was extraordinarily fatty and delicious, as it's meant to be. A skewer of oysters and okra turned out to be grilled, not fried, but was still very pleasant. Someone else ordered a menu item that was lost on me but made sense once I saw it - 'kitsune yaki' (can I translate this as 'fried fox'? Not really). Kitsune is the sheets of fried tofu that you get on top if you order kitsune soba, but in this case it was a couple big sheets wrapped around a log of cabbage and negi (I think). Kinda healthy looking!

As I said, drinks were limited, but they did have a brown beer (I think it was Ebisu Dark - not the stout, but a brown). With my four items, and I think I'm forgetting one, plus a beer and a half-bottle of nihonsh, my bill was about Y5500. I regarded that as pretty good at the time.

So, enough of this food stuff. What I'd heard in the past was that Hanabishi was 1) expensive (which seems not to be true, but it's also not very fancy food-wise) and 2) owned by a famous actor. Inside there were a few posters and things from an actor, 石倉三郎, whose name I cleverly misread as 'Mitsuro', and some comments on Tabelog seem to confirm this after my crappy attempts at translation. And the waitresses wear kimonos, and a lot of makeup, and have an elaborately forced politeness that doesn't seem to extend too far past their teeth. (This is what I experienced when I stuck my head in before and heard they were full; sort of like a French maitre d' saying "Je suis desole" when he's really thinking "Yankee go home".)

So Ojisan next to me, he of the kinpira (and nishin zuke, incidentally), started talking to me since he was by himself. Hesitantly at first, then in the flood of speech that old people get into once they realize you're listening (or at least your listening posture has a lotta verisimilitude even though you're only getting half of what they say since it's a foreign language). And actually, I was pretty interested, once he got through the stuff about how his wife is too noisy so he prefers to go out to eat and drink.

Ojisan told me a number of fun facts, in no particular order. He's been going to Hanabishi since it opened - in Showa 40! I've learned to use the 'compare to your birthday' approach on this, so I can calculate that it's 1965, and I think a 40+ year patronage deserves some recognition. Back in those days there was no subway in Monnaka and, he claims, it was still a geisha neighborhood (incidentally, I've also heard that it was the center of less savory pursuits in the more distant past, before there was an Eitai Bashi). He started (and kept) coming because he "liked the proprietor", I think in a 'liked' sort of way, back when she was a geisha.

After that, I learned that Ojisan used to be a sento proprietor, and his son still runs one of them (this is the sento in Botan, just over the bridge south from Monnaka). He complained that "Three things used to be the same price - soba, sento and [something I've forgotten] - and now sento is practically worthless." Ahhh, I too wish we could abolish showers in the home... Unfortunately he had few recommended sento; in addition to his own, there's another one in Fukagawa, sort of near the highway and Akafuu. This could be a fun project.

And still further after that we moved to an oden establishment run by (he claims) another ex-geisha. More posting later, my friends.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nenohi, Otemachi (ねのひ, Oazo 6th)

Someone wiser than myself once said "You get what you pay for". This has been repeated ad naseum but still holds water, as recent Otemachi dining experience has shown. Fortunately there are still gradations within the spectrum of getting what you pay for, and today's lunch was a good example of paying a healthy amount but possibly getting more than paid for.

I've been excited to try the French place on Oazo's dining floors for some time now. Thus I was disappointed when The Zone said that wasn't where we were going (The Zone is a nickname, yes). I was pretty much lost right up until we turned the corner into Nenohi, which is a sort of dark, brooding, stylish washokuya. If you're a big Roppongi Hillz expert, I'd tell you it's a bit like that Roku-roku izakaya on the 5th floor, but better-decorated. We got there a touch before 1, and there were plenty of empty tables spread widely apart in the hushed atmosphere. Nicely, the staff seated us by the window, so we had a view of the terrace outside, a few plants, a slice of sky, and the next building. Can't complain.

For those of you that wants 'em, they've got English menus. The lunch sets are only a few; we went with the Banzai and the Red Chicken (really, おばんざい善と赤鳥善). These came with, ahem, Japanese tapas for the table, which included some asazuke cucumbers, misozuke daikon (I think - the bright orange kind) and nantokazuke turnips. [Aside: have I inflicted on the story of my recent turnip consumption? After eating two pieces of incredible raw Kyoto turnip at Quintessence, I've been thinking about them. Now must be the ideal season, as big white turnips started showing up, stalks still attached, in the vegetable store near the station in Monnaka. I took one home, peeled it, sliced it...and fell in love. They're really good, albeit with an incredibly subtle taste that doesn't take well to anything I've tried except salt (soy sauce, olive oil, sesame oil - no.). One or two of these, in small cubes and with the chopped stalks added, is constituting an OK dinner recently. Even simmering in dashi lat night ruined the flavor.]

Right, back to lunch. The Banzai set (Y1360) must really have meant 'long life', because it was reprehensibly healthy - fresh tofu (good, served only with salt), some tamagoyaki, spinach with katsuobushi, a single whole grilled baby fish (maybe three inches; not even smelt-sized), some boiled gobo and konyaku with sesame, rice and soup. The chicken set (Y1575?) featured a few pieces of chicken that The Zone pronounced 'very tasty' as well as a breaded and fried cutlet of some description; I didn't see what was in it, but the dark miso sauce on top was the first clue that this place originates in Nagoya.

The rice and soup deserve special mention. The rice was too soft, but beautifully shiny and delicious. I think you've been in Asia long enough when you start to appreciate good rice, or at least when you're unhappy that the rice is bad. And the soup - special recommendation from the waitress (I know, they were trying to get rid of it...) was the sake lees soup (粕汁), like miso soup but made with the spent rice and yeast from the sake brewing process. For any Australian readers, this is sort of like Vegemite but good, and is used for a couple things - preserving fish and making amazake chief among them. This soup was thus an interesting twist, although not the most delicious one (but the pork, carrots and daikon were all simmered just enough).

Add it all together, stir into a pot, and you have high quality food with attentive service in a relaxing atmosphere, for a reasonable price. I can't figure out why this place isn't crowded. From the 杉玉 outside (the brown balls hung over brewery doors to indicate that the sake is ready (and that you're likely to be getting kasu stirred into everything at restaurants in the area!)), the liquor selection should be pretty serious too.

Ahhh, the mysteries of Japanese life...

Tabelog score is really horrible. Can it be that bad? I feel like Tabelog is biased in favor of foreign food. Snobs.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Takadaya, Otemachi (高田屋)

Y'know, for some reason I thought this was a huge chain. I feel like I've seen tons of them around town. Now, I'm not so sure - the card lists only 4, and a quick googling produces mainly some stores in Hokkaido (which seem like the main part of the chain, but only 6 or 8 of them). The atmosphere and quality are also higher than I expected ☆♪★. There, now this has become a regular OL lunch blog.

Basically what we seem to have here is a 'Hokkaido grilled seafood' specialist izakaya. I apologize if everyone else knew this already; there's just too much to learn. For lunch, you have a choice of about 6 sets plus the daily special. These are mainly some combination of seafood and noodles, or more precisely grilled seafood and udon (hot or cold).

My oyakodon (slices of seared salmon which some might call たたき, a spoonful or two of salmon roe, and another spoonful of flying fish roe for good measure - or to fill in some of the gaps more cheaply, I thought) was fresh and tasty. I've been avoiding salmon for a while now (not that I've stopped eating it, just that I prioritize other fish) because it so often tastes farmed - soft, a little sweet, very fatty. I'm sure this was farmed also, for a Y950 set, but it had good texture, adequate but not excessive banding of fat, and a real salmon-y flavor. The hot udon were frankly pretty dull. Other bowl sets today included soy-cured tuna and avocado, Hokkaido chirashi (included salmon, ikura, shrimp and something else), salmon and snapper with sesame sauce, or the daily special of negitoro.

With most seating consisting of semi-private booths, all of which have grills in the middle, this looks like a real winner for small-group evening dining. Especially if there's a broader variety of fish. At the risk of not providing any penetrating analysis, and also of leaving you hangin', I'd better sign off since I'm about to pass out on my keyboard from food coma.

Nothing like a good fish, is there?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tanta Papatoria, Monzennakacho

Many's the time I've been to Papatoria, my friends, many's the time. Usually I've gone to the main restaurant in Tomioka 1 as opposed to this second store in Monzennakacho 1. Some would say it's a fine point to differentiate between similar restaurants that are only separated by 3 minutes walk, and some would say 2 stores doesn't make a chain. They'd be right.

The style of both places is the same - sort of 'dim Italian trattoria'. I can't explain this, but the lighting is low in a way that's not romatic but more like the darkness of a Mexican saloon in a western movie. The tiled floor, stucco walls and dark wood furniture extend the theme. The tablecloths are cloth, I think, but of a peculiar consistency that looks cheap to me. One of my main objections to Papatoria in the past, I now realize, is that I felt it was cheap because of the table coverings. Weird.

After someone chef-like served as a few of the dishes last night, it seemed prudent to ask how closely related the two stores are. Turns out that they have different menus, and are up to the whims of the chefs that run each of them. Tanta Papatoria's chef was on good form last night! Being fairly late, we limited our ordering, but San Danielle ham, rucola salad and liver paste were all tasty, as was the bread (which kept coming, two hot pieces at a time, whenever requested). Scallops and eggplant came chopped in chunks and sizzling merrily away in anchovy butter in an escargot dish; the butter was every bit as worthwhile for bread-soaking as your average garlic-parsley butter. Finally, fresh pasta with duck and potato was surprisingly tasty; the pasta was the highlight, consisting of small sheets of pasta rolled into cylinders that were very nicely firm to the tooth, but the duck was stewed to soft, falling-apart goodness.

The wine list is 'carefully chosen', as food writers like to say, by which I mean it's medium size and is mixed between things you've never heard of and famous things (prices aren't bad either - Sassicaia 2001 was Y24,000, barely above retail), and the price range goes from quite low to fairly high, including carafes.

The Papatoria's aren't anything to rhapsodize about, but as neighborhood Italian goes, they're quite tolerable and great for a casual night out.

Fork it over, Luigi!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Yuboku, Marunouchi (遊牧, Shin Maru 5)

My friends, I believe I have uncovered the secret of receiving a good and worthwhile lunch in the Otemachi Metro Area (OMA, not to be confused with 鮪で有名な大間市). It is a simple secret, but one that has been known to man since the beginning of time.

Pay for it. You get what you pay for. I like a bargain as much as the next guy, but they're in short supply around here.

On the other hand, when considered the atmosphere, view and food at Yuboku, you could easily be forgiven for thinking it wasn't substantially more expensive at Y1300-2000 than the Y1000 you paid for a katsu curry in a basement elsewhere. Should you, like certain people I could name, be a big fan of grilled meats, this might even appeal to you for dinner.

Shin Maru's 5th floor has an abundance of Asian Dining options, as well as the previously mentioned Le Remois and the somewhat-attractive-but-not-accomodatingly-priced Igrek. On today's trip we walked half of the floor before the selection team suddenly reached a unanimous conclusion to steer us into a surprise destination. This may well have been influenced by the massive cuts of Yonezawa beef sitting in the window display case, 釜知らない.

Inside, Yuboku goes for the modern Korean/Yakiniku feel, very polished. We were fortunate enough to be seated at a table at the window, screened slightly from other patrons, where we were afforded a clear view of today's brilliant blue sky and the emerging outlines of the Tokyo Station construction project. The food came with disturbing rapidity.

The plates massed at the kitchen counter near the entrance tell part of the story. All lunch sets come with a solid 8 small-bites (which Google confirms are called panchan) including the usual bean sprouts, kim chee radish and kim chee cucumbers but also some pieces of roast pork and kim chee shiitake. Ponkan had a bibinbap, which seemed to sizzle along nicely in its bowl, but she's promised to write her own comment on that. I had the reimen set, which included the titular reimen (metal bowl, cold ginger broth, chewy soba-derived noodles, kim chee, cucumbers, boiled egg) as well as a mini beef bowl. The noodles were fair, but the gyudon was a good sign of what would be in store if you went to this place for a more advanced meal - soft, tasty beef marinated in sweet sauce, combined with strips of bamboo shoot and jiggly bits of konyaku. Pleasantly, there was only the barest hint of rice in the bottom of the bowl. This was a good thing, because all of the above added up to a ton of food - I forgot to mention the plate of salad and the two fried items, chijimi and egg-battered pumpkin.

A yakiniku lunch would set you back Y1880 or more, but looking at that beef in the window (which is set there precisely to lure you into ordering beef, although you won't get that stuff because it's at least Y1500 for 100g at retail) I was tempted. But with sufficient time for the walk down and a leisurely sit-down, this one's a keeper.

The name means 'nomadism', evidently, and I love the image of imported Mongols wandering the wilds of Yamagata, living in yurts and tending cows that will eventually find their way to table in Tokyo.

I'd also like to point that Monzennakacho is such a fantastically ii toko that Yuboku has a branch one stop away, in Tsukishima. Perhaps, good as it is, Yuboku wasn't allowed to locate within the hallowed precincts?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Day Nite, Otemachi

There are always those days when it's rainy and cold, and no one feels like going out, and you just want to stay in the building. Today wasn't one of those days, so I'm not sure why we stayed in the building, but I got to have my first experience with the wacky cafeteria-style place in the basement of UrbanNet, Day Nite.

In a weird, Tardis-like twist, the unassuming exterior leads to a small entry hall wherein are exhibited about 5 suggested teishoku. I still don't understand the system entirely, but in essence you pick the genre you want (Japanese, Chinese, Indian), then pick the main you want within that (Chinese today included ma po eggplant, some kind of tan tan men, and one other; Indian included such traditional Indian favorites as katsu curry, etc.), order from the genre-specific counter, and pick up genre-related side dishes at the same time (Chinese: harusame salad, butashabu salad, agegyoza, ageharumaki...) before proceeding to the register to pay the (surprisingly low) bill. Ma Po Nasu + agegyoza + soup --> Y880.

Bargain basement stuff, predictably filling and tasteless. The place is huge - I bet it seats close to 300 (hup, says 340 on the web site!), but spread out across a bunch of different rooms. and predictably crowded with guys in dark suits. The low ceilings and long, narrow shape don't help the atmosphere.

I'd like to make a special mention of the grilled chicken that Ponkan had, mainly because she complained about not being mentioned in yesterday's post despite actually being included. The chicken (from the Japanese counter) didn't look that good, and she didn't finish it, which is rare for a country girl with a hearty appetite.

Scary stuff. Convenient and calorie-packed.

Mizuki Sushi (水喜), Monzennakacho

One of my colleagues was looking at the map-and-pin system last week and said "So, you don't have any recommended sushi places?" The reason for this is more a result of Google's functionality than anything else; I didn't see a suitable icon for recommended sushi. But to a certain extent I didn't have any sushi recommendations either. Until now. Unfortunately it's not Mizuki.

Mizuki has some things going for it. It's been around for a good long time, judging by the pleasantly dark and aged interior. There's a tiny little counter (I counted 7 seats) and two tables. The master is young and intense; the waitress is a bit dark and brooding. There's a fish tank, with some shellfish bubbling mildly at the bottom and some eels fishing around. And some shrimp, but they were dead.

In classic style, the master asked if we wanted to start out with some sashimi. He had a broad range of shellfish, and we asked for some varieties of these plus some white fish. These turned out to be torigai (the black and white one) and tailagai (the 'pen shell' once featured on Iron Chef, which is like a huge, meaty scallop once prepared), tachiuo ('scabbard fish', I can't believe I'm remembering these...) and something white-and-red like kawahagi. These were all a day past fresh, like the shrimp, god rest their little shrimpy souls.

We moved directly on to nigiri. Some confusion about availability - we both thought there was buri, but there wasn't when we ordered it, so we had three types, all white. Of these, the lightly-seared tachiuo with salt turned out pretty well, but the others were forgettable, and I've forgotten them.

By the time we were halfway through the sashi, we both felt like the master was pressuring us to order more, and by the time we finished we were ready to go. The nigiri was really only for completeness. 4 types of sashi, 6 nigiri, 1 bottle of beer --> $60. Fortunately, right around the corner is Sushi Yata.

The difference in freshness was almost mind-numbing. I'm still mind-numb thinking about how fresh the akagai looked when the master presented them along with the other shellfish and blue fish in their wooden cooler box, and the taste was all that and a bag of chips. As I've said before, being related to a fish company has obvious advantages. Another of these is the incredible quality of the tuna; I got through a quick 'tuna tasting' of akami, chu, oo and smoked. As noted on the first visit, even the akami is good. I usually dread the akami on a lunch sushi set, because it's a watery-yet-waxy slice of nothingness, but this akami was tunalicious. The chu was perfect, and the oo looked like nothing so much as perfectly marbled beef - none of that thick-lines-of-fat-falling-apart stuff you get at lesser places. The house-smoked (akami?) was a pleasant and creative twist. It's worth noting that the master has a distinctive style - his white and blue fish are pretty normal, but he cuts the tuna thick and square, then scores it longitudinally for a little easier chewing, like most people do with squid or mackerel. This is a good thing.

Yata is also distinguished by the variety and creativity of the cooked-food menu; last time the fried tuna cheek (breaded, skewered, deep-fried), this time the oyster-sauce grilled version. The toushi included three elements - two snail-like beasties (like little sazae) out of their shells, a few sprigs of just-boiled nanohana, and a mouse of something tofu-related - whose presentation would not be out of place in a much longer course. Even the condiments reflect an interesting sensibility - the ginger may be made in-store since it's less sweet, a little firmer, and, well...gingery, and it came on a separate plate along with some soy-pickled wasabi leaves. I once went to Matsumoto in the spring, and at that point acquired a deep, deep love of all things wasabi, especially pickled leaves and stems.

As a result of all this, I feel comfortable escalating things and saying - I think Sushi Yata is worth a trip. No idea how it compares to a ridiculously expensive sushiya elsewhere, but I promise you that it's a worthwhile destination for fish lovers even without considering the prices, which are certainly much cheaper than they might be elsewhere.

Sushi Mizuki

Previous Sushi Yata post

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

La Verde, Otemachi

Today, rather than continue the addled and uninformative style we adopted yesterday, the Editorial Team feels it's only proper to address a more serious subject - gnocchi. And more generally, the paucity of good Italian food in the places we've been frequenting for lunch.

Admittedly, one shouldn't expect too much from 'red tablecloth' Italian (not red and white checks in this case, but solid red plasticized covers). One should certainly expect large portions, and La Verde delivers that (ouch, does it. The lunch pizzas would be dinner-sized at most places, and even the regular pastas are pretty mammoth.). One should also expect convivial atmosphere, and that was pretty good too! The table of four next to us was sharing all four of the dishes they ordered, which was a great idea and very cute too. I was jealous.

Actually, what shouldn't one expect? The next thing I was about to say is that one expects hearty flavors with plenty of tomato and fat (or whatever you feel appropriate for hearty Italian cooking). La Verde was pretty lame on this front. I had a pumpkin gnocchi (have to draw some minor link to the theme initially proposed...) that was pretty bland except for the bright-yellow cheese sauce. Wolf had a shrimp and bacon pizza that was really, really weak (but big). Ponkan had a massive plate of tarako cream spaghetti that was...I won't bore you any more.

The funny thing here is the line outside. We got there at 11:40 and snagged one of the last tables. I'd estimate that the place seats 100 (and I'd be wrong because Tabelog says 120), and by 12 there were about 20 people outside. It's sick, and it's wrong. They also require you to pay the check together at lunch time - I know this is normal in most countries, but in Japan we feel our god-given rights include paying the check separately and seeing menu prices that include tax and tip. Or maybe that's just me, the curmudgeonly diner in the corner.

Geez, this is a huge chain under the Officina group. That explains a bit.

One final note: Yankees' Stadium was opened on Opening Day of the 1923 season, after the Yankees purchased the land from the estate of William Waldorf Astor and mandated a construction period of less than one year (really amazing for 1923). Interestingly, the need for the stadium was created in part by Babe Ruth. Previously the Yankees were sharing the Polo Grounds with the Giants, who owned the field, but when Yankee attendance outstripped Giants' attendance, the Giants ordered the Yankees to vacate. Even more interestingly, one of the Yankees' owners at the time was named Tillinghast l'Hommedieu Huston.

Ahhhh, it'll be opening day before we know it!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Polestar, Marunouchi

Truly, the Otemachi metro area is a mysterious place. Things are not always what they seem, so watch out! Strange beasts infest the darkened crevasses, gnashing their nicotine-stained teeth as they drink weak coffee. Weird sounds emanate from the ghostly security men who guard the entry gates at the fortresses of corporate Japan. And restaurants abandon all sense of decorum to serve nothing but teishoku and curry for lunch!

After venturing deep into the forbidding valley under the Mitsubishi Trust building and finding buried...well, something buried, the Exploration and Discovery Team here at EOUITwJ was bold enough to try again. Today featured a choice between two warring kingdoms distinguished only by the colorful standards they flew overhead, the light blue nautical motif of 'Polestar' and the darker, richer blue of 'Vin de Vie'. When we radioed back to the Wine Consumption Team at headquarters, they advised that VdV was a pleasant name that promised all the delights of the table, while PS was, frankly, kinda weird, and light blue was for sissies.

Unfortunately, by enlisting the services of the Katakana Menu Reading Team, we were able to decipher the hieroglyphics (all the ancient-civilization metaphors are getting confusing now) at VdV. We discovered that this bastion of commodious comestibles, featuring a dark-wood interior and copious quantities of emptied wine bottles that spoke of days gone by, nous proposon for lunch...a choice of 4 curries. Mmmmm-hmmmm. We went to Polestar.

More like a cafeteria with tablecloths than anything (except said tablecloths are green and plastic-impregnated, for easy washin'), Polestar is one of those places that's less impressive on the inside than the outside. It's enormous in a faceless sort of way.

The lunch choices revolve around those Otemachi yoshoku standards: pasta! san-do-wicchy! fry! They come in various combinations for Y1000 to Y1600 (that's for the steak, cooked 'a la Civilization Ancienne', no less). I had the Mixed Fry, a favorite of the Mayans, while my companion opted for the Sauteed Salmon with Spinach and Mushrooms, much beloved of the Inca people. In fact, today Chile contributes roughly 25% of the world's salmon production (Norway is the biggest at around 40%), mainly in offshore 'farm pens' used to produce Atlantic salmon. Pacific salmon (Chinook, Sockeye, etc.) are raised primarily through ocean ranching, wherein the salmon are partially fished at sea but allowed to continue the migratory breeding patterns made famous by Marty Stouffer's Wild America and other wildlife documentary programs. But I digress.

The mixed fry was fine - two shrimp, an oyster and a crab croquette - but I felt compelled to drown the whole thing in sauce, so perhaps there was something lacking. Flavor, maybe? The salmon was described as 'flavorless' and 'tasteless', variously. The sandwich/pasta set that I saw go by looked quite passable, almost like a pastrami sandwich.

Being part of the way down to the Maru Biru's, this is a healthy little walk from central Otemachi, and a healthy walk is just what the doctor (errr, medicine man? Shaman?) ordered after a big fried lunch. Polestar - a tolerable diversion, but far from the long-dreamt-of hidden jungle clearing hiding a city of gold...

Based on this post, I've got to suspect they're putting something funny in the coffee.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Michikusa, Otemachi (道草)

まず, readers should remember that the initial impetus for EOITwJ was actually to create a Roppongi Lunches site, as suggested by Shaklee long ago. Given the coverage of expensive restaurants in many quarters, sniffing out unusual lunches around the office seemed like a more worthwhile and socially-useful function (if blogging ever is). With the move to Otemachi, the Research Team has been focused on finding Otemachi lunches. The expensive stuff is more fun, but also in some ways peripheral. Anyway, it's a broad target audience, and we'll continue working to meet its demands.

Another day, another funny expression in Japanese. While this will not be news to any Japanese readers, if such a species exists, Michikusa's name means something like 'loiter' (in addition to the more obvious 'roadside weeds' sort of meaning).

I guess the implication is that you can just hang around in this relaxing environment, or perhaps "Please enjoy this food for your relax time", or other aphorisms appropriate to omiyage packaging. I must admit, I was strangely attracted to the concept, which I didn't expect from a restaurant with open seats at 12 PM in the greater Otemachi area. But, company or environment, I was pleased to hang around this place today.

Funny system - pay for your teishoku at the counter on the way in, then get a ticket and a little tag of plastic (smaller than, say, the tag on a locker key) color-coded to your choice. Snapper Teriyaki's tag was pink. The snapper itself was moist, very fatty, mildly flavorful, and (deeply joyous from Koala's perspective) bone-free. The accompaniments (you know them by heart, it's a teishoku) were in general quite cheap and artificial-tasting. Ponkan's pork (sort of tamago-toji tonkatsu, I didn't see what they called it) had a sweet and spicy taste buried in the fat.

Hey, they were Y850. Whaddya want?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Richart, Ginza

My friends, the whole editorial team here at EOITwJ has been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the amount of eating we've been doing, as well as the precarious nature of the world economy and its follow-on effects for our earning and saving potential. As a result we're on a self-imposed vegetarian, no-alcohol, no restaurants kick for a few days (2!). Nothing but lentils, spinach and cabbage. Well, almost nothing.

Fortunately, chocolate is vegetarian, or at least I don't know about the meat in it. That means the lovely little chocolates from Richart that I've been thinking of trying for several weeks now are quite acceptably on the menu. And when they showed up unannounced at my door on Friday...well, it would have been impolite not to invite them in and eat them. In keeping with house policy of reporting on expensive chocolates along with food, here we go...

These are beautiful, aren't they? I love the look (silk-screened cocoa butter), and I love the aesthetic. Each one is a dark chocolate shell filled with a ganache or praline, and they only come in flavor-themed collections. This is the, er... Green collection. No, it's actually not - it's Les Herbaces, the Herbals (sorry about the missing accent). Other collections include Spice, Floral and Balsamic, as well as the more traditional Fruit, Citrus, and Grilled (nuts). Herbal probably would have been my first choice (because it sounds weirdest), so I'm pleased that that's what eventuated.

The shells were quite fresh. I assume they were delivered from Paris, but Richart seems to be very picky about freshness - one of the products on display in the store is an $800 set that includes one of each flavor collection plus a customized humidor to store them in. I suppose the humidor is reusable, but how long do you really want to keep these things around? The fillings were also fresh, clearly better than the Theobroma chocolates from a few weeks ago.

For the record (and excessive completeness), Herbal includes Jasmine Tea, Green Tea, Thyme, Anis & Fennel, Basil, Rosemary and Herb Bouqet. Jasmine Tea was weak, Green Tea was artificial matcha-tasting, and Herb Bouqet was dull. Basil was decent but tasted too much like dried basil (maybe it's not possible to make them from fresh?). Anis and Fennel was delicious, and Rosemary was wonderful - these are things that should go with chocolate more often.

You won't understand the size until you see them in person - the photo is fully macro-ed, but the real things are cubes of about only 15mm. If I could buy a whole box of A&F and/or Rosemary (which you can't), and the price was a lot, LOT lower, I would love these. But at Y55 per gram, they're almost 3 times as expensive as the jou-est wagyu I've ever seen (that's Kobe beef, Mr. America). I'd still like to try Oriol Balaguer for completeness, but I don't see the value equation in high-end chocolate. Pastry, sure! Chocolate, no.

Emphasis on the Richart...

Some final, self-serving, and unnecessary notes unrelated to eating out in Tokyo:

If we're on speaking terms, I'm sure I've already regaled you with this, but the saag paneer I made from the lovely and entertaining Mallika's recipe (except with fresh spinach, thank you) was revelatory, for me at least. Who knew saag paneer could taste like spinach? Certainly I've never had such a thing in a restaurant.

As for the paneer, observant readers may be wondering where I got it. Paneer is a truly wonderful thing when cooked properly, and I've spent years in Tokyo wondering where to get it. Restaurant experiences have been mediocre, and the Indian groceries I've visited haven't had any. Well, the search is over, and I have found an excellent source. It's in my kitchen. A batch of fresh paneer takes all of 30 minutes to make, and is fun too. Next step - cheddar?!