Thursday, April 30, 2009

Toritetsu, Otemachi (とり鉄)

Incredibly attentive readers will remember that we've visited an outpost of the Toritetsu Empire before, in the wilds of Inner Mongolia. Lest they take us too much to task for this repetition, we'd like to point out that we're not opposed to reviewing multiple branches of the same chain (case in point, Sushi Zanmai), and also that we decided last week that visiting multiple branches was an important concession to make in order to fulfil our goal of finishing all the places under the Otemachi rail tracks (Kassen Ichiba has two branches there, oops).

But no reader is that attentive, so the prior paragraph was primarily purposed for us to kill some time. Toritetsu isn't bad for dinner - cheap-ish chicken, low-end, slightly dressed up, 'authentic' atmosphere, beer. For lunch, it meets one critical criterion: fried chicken.

For some reason, today was fried chicken day. It was on our mind(s) all morning, and when 2 o'clock finally rolled around, we rolled out of the office and headed for the tracks. (We're going to give up the royal pluralization, seeing as we didn't eat until 2 PM, and that means we ate alone.) I briefly flirted with some of the other places, but ended up back at TT for the FC.

Not a bad FC, must say. There was a big bowl of it, with a bit of sauce, a sliced negi topping, some cabbage salad (which was heavily-dressed and thoroughly enjoyable), and the obligatory mayonnaise sauce. The chiken itself was a little fatty, and of course (it being lunch, and late at that) not fresh enough for the fat to be completely hot and melted. The coating was still pretty crisp though, which was more than welcome. The soup was standard, and the rice deserves a special mention for being cooked nearly to the point of becoming mochi. Other options for lunch included a half-eel, half-chicken fried set, and also a 'yakitori bowl'.

Quite passable when Today is Chicken Day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pizzeria d'Oro, Kanda

How do we feel about chain restaurants these days, my friends? For at least one of us (who's writing this), it still comes as a bit of a shock to realize that the charming and 'authentic' place you just enjoyed is one of 5 or 6 just like it. We'd like it to be unique as well as great, but reality probably dictates that a good thing gets done over. And over. And for those of us who have never been to Italy, the most authentic-seeming places are just as likely to be mere shams, cruel constructs, black-hearted simulacra, vicious automatons. I digress (and use words inappropriately).

Still, Pizzeria d'Oro's Kanda shop is doing a good job of it! The exterior is such that it's been described in the past as "you, know, the lovely place", and it really looks like a pleasant, authentic slice of Italia. The inside is a bit more 'modern Japanese' in its furnishing, but in a nice and relaxingly stylish way (brown cloth stuffed chairs, simple wood tables).

The menu covers the bases with a minimum of fuss - a couple pizzas (the sample outside looked unconscionably small; I couldn't force myself to order one), a couple pastas (normal stuff - for instance swine and aubergine; as long as pigs have become 'swine' in the news, I'm going with fancy words for other quotidian comestibles too), and two risotti. Oh, and a weekly special of baked snapper with vegetables. I went with the simple cheese risotto, which was momentarily disappointing since it included a lot of white sauce or cream rather than relying on the starchiness of the rice to make it gooey. This is perfectly understandable in a restaurant setting, especially at lunch, where you don't have 40 minutes to stir the rice and pour more water on it, and in any event it was quite tasty once I got into it. There are side salads for Y200 (lettuce and fresh mozzarella), and everything seems to come with a small side dish (bits of rosemary-grilled chicken, cabbage, and radicchio, yum). They have a very serious coffee machine, so serious that they don't deign to include a hot bevvie in the lunch set, and also a little freezer full of gelato that looks nice.

So this would almost make it to a recommendation; the food's nice enough, the atmosphere is lovely, and it's a good walk away (or too far if you're trying to detract). Today, all it's done is kindle a desire to make a buncha Italian food for tomorrow's holiday, especially a good leisurely risotto!

Oddly, the company's web page doesn't seem to mention Kanda. Maybe they're embarrassed over the size of the pizzas.

In yet other news, after several walk-bys in the company of those less-interested, I managed to stop into Yanagiya World Wine in Kanda. The staff are incredibly welcoming and helpful, and they have a lovely and offbeat selection of Italian and French wine (1st floor), US/AU/NZ wine and 'cult wines' (2nd floor) and Belgian beer (fridge). Can't really give it a whole review, though we will throw it up on The Map, under the clearly inappropriate 'bars' heading.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kappogi, Otemachi (かっぽうぎ)

A recent spate of mediocre to bad lunches have left us worried, my friends, that we've exhausted all the good lunch options in Otemachi. Today's sojourn at Kappogi did only a little to ameliorate that trend, but it did afford us the opportunity to use 'sojourn' and 'ameliorate' in one sentence.

There's a signboard outside that explains the '3-dish' system, but being fundamentally lazy and illiterit I didn't try to get through it. That means I was a bit puzzled by the cashier demanding Y700 from me as soon as I entered. My bad. Here's how the system works:
1. Enter
2. Pay
3. Select a main dish and two side dishes from the counter.
4. etc, etc.

After a weekend of quiet contemplation of a weekday-macrobiotic lifestyle, I somehow stumbled right into it. Granted, it was very late in the day, so the options were limited. Judging by the paucity of plates present in the place, vs. the cornucopia conspicuously cdisplayed on the web site, I'd say that they make a big batch before lunch, then throw it out there...and that meant I was pretty much stuck with the tofu burger. Not that there's anything wrong with that! It was big and, errr, meaty, and filled with firm chunks of something that was either gobo or else chicken cartilege........[insert mildly unpleasant 5-second reverie] Sides were a very nice potato salad and a further healthy/macro dish of raw mountain potato sticks and sliced okra. All the slimy favorites.

Anyway, you'll have noticed from the price and the mildly sunny disposition of this post (at least, it was intended to be) that I kinda enjoyed it. And killed off another under-track place, ムワハハハハ!

Well, it wasn't UNpleasant!

No connection is meant or implied by the use of lazy and illiterate in the same sentence. I also apologize for the ongoing use of any words that could be construed as harmful to a less fortunate segment of the population, including the 'r' word.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fujimama's, Omotesando

First time. Yay. Now I've been there too. Volumic, dull Asian-global fusion with a Mexican twist. Atmosphere is kinda nice though.

Granted, the review is influenced by the company.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Darts Bar Jam, Kita Senju

Our obsessive tendencies continue with this post on a tiny, dark, 3rd-floor darts bar in Kita Senju. However if you've been for a burger at Sunny Diner (and you should go, you really should), and afterward you want to play darts and have a drink and do some quiet contemplation of how great the burger was, this would be a fine place to do it. The owner is gruff but sorta friendly, and the combination of reggae-fied dance on the overhead speakers competing with MTV on the video screens and speakers is oddly peaceful.

The 3 dartboards, I have to say, don't seem to be in top condition - lots of false positives and dropped darts - but I'm really not such a darts player that I should complain about it (or avail myself of the small 'pro shop' corner). This is more than adequate for hangin' out, and they have a surprisingly wide selection of liquor.

Kick out tha darts, MFs!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mirokuya, Tokyo (もろくや)

Ahhh, is it time to inaugurate a Fukuoka category? No? I didn't think so either.

This is a pure stepping stone along the way to finishing off all the options of the 東京ガード下. It nestles down at the Marunouchi Kitaguchi end, and consists of not much more than a yellow sign, and big round counter...and a perpetual line. Seriously, there are almost always people waiting to eat the Nagasaki specialties on offer here. OK, only 3 when I got there, and it turns over pretty quickly, but still surprising since it looks so ordinary from the street.

It looks pretty ordinary from the counter also, but there 3 waitresses and 2 cooks make a good deal of noise welcoming customers and bustling about industriously. With great industriousness. You can order from a ticket machine, then squeeze into a small, marginally-mobile stool to wait for your food to come.

Nagasaki food - what does it consist of? Well, chanpon, basically. This is a sort of Japanese-Mexican thing, in the sense that every dish contains the same set of ingredients in a slightly different configuration. Chanpon has some kind of noodles, topped in some way with some combination of shrimp, processed fish (thin pink strips and also thin white rings), bamboo shoots, black fungus, bean sprouts, and lots and lots of cabbage. The most common way to eat these delicacies is in a white soup with ramen (chanpon), but I went with the mixed-with-starchy-sauce-and-slathered-atop-a-brick-of-deep-fried-crunchy-noodles version, sala udon. There's also a pan-fried noodle variation. There's also fried rice, which wasn't half bad. Geez is it all filling and monotonous.

What explains the line? It's just possible that every person transplanted from Fukuoka is going there for lunch every day; I've met lots of them recently. Or all the businessmen from Hakata who are up on business trips. Other than that, mysterious, my friends.


If you've read this far, you may be amused to know that I was full but unsatisfied, and thus decamped to sunnier pastures...on the Yaesu side, in the Daimaru confectionery area (if you continue just south past the restaurant strip, there's a funny entrance that goes to the cross-station passage). Daimaru has a number of extraordinary options for sweets; I had been thinking of Pierre Herme and thus finished off lunch with a pair of macarons back at the office. They were:
- Rose. I'm not actually sure if this was an Ispahan macaron; the filling was white but seemed more creamy than lychee. The stores also have these big round Ispahan 'cakes' this season - not the 'jumbo macaron' ones like last year, but 6-inch pucks that seem to have been made by piping macaron shell batter into coils, then used to sandwich the usual Ispahan bits (raspberry, lychee, cream).
- Jasmine. I think a vanilla shell, but with the strongly tea-flavored white chocolate filling stealing the show.
Appearance on these wasn't perfect, but as usual the lightness of the shells and filling, as well as the flavors, certainly were. Really lovely if you're lucky enough to have someone buy them for you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Arossa, Ginza (Velvia 8)

Central Otago. What a great place. Some of my favorite people have been Central Otagans. And when I think of it, I'm inescapably reminded of crashing Jake and Kristen's honeymoon in Queenstown, cruising around on quad bikes in the hills outside town, and stopping off at the Cardrona Hotel for beers on the way home. [Coincidentally, the same trip saw us visiting Ponkan's namesake...Wanaka.] But it was a bit of a shock to sit down at Arossa, look up at the wall, and see a painting of the Cardrona. It made me want to drink a nice bottle of Felton Road.

Well, all this silly vacation posturing is leading up to the plain statement that Arossa focuses on New Zealand (the original restaurant in Shibooya does Australia). It's heavy on wine, mussels, venison, and roast kiwis (they're small, so you have to eat a few to get much meat off 'em). It's also pretty good!

Kidney and I started off with garlicky green mussels, grilled with some bread crumbs on top. They were damn good; I'd had a love-hate relationship with mussels ever since getting a bad one early in my dining career, and these were on the love side. The other starter was a 'creative' salad - mixed greens, a few pieces of fruit, and copious quantities of fried sweetbreads. After the disappointing sweetbreads at Argo, I'm on a mission to recapture the taste of the sweetbreads I've eaten in the past. My memory features them as almost uniformly light, soft, smooth and absurdly delicious, which made Argo's letdown all the more cruel. Arossa's version was back on the road to recovery, but still a little gummy and oddly textured (I know, I know, it's a thymus gland, whatever that is, and you should expect something weird from it).

All of this went nicely with the Mt Difficulty chardonnay; I didn't quite have the guts to go for a bottle of Felton Road, but I think I'm going to have to order some today. Hmmm, maybe right now... The wine list, especially at the Oz outpost, is funny - they appear to source liberally from Village Cellars. This gives it a comforting feel for me, considering that I read those catalogs all the time! The markups don't seem too bad - all I can remember is the Felton Road reisling, which was a little less than 2X the Village Cellars price.

For mains, we went all-out on Kiwi meat products. Caramelized lamb was delightful if a little concerning - they really seemed to have accentuated the, errr, sweetness of the lamb by putting a touch of sugar on it! But it was good lamb and well-cooked. On my side...ahh, I couldn't go past roasted venison with berries. Could you? Venison can be mealy to me at times, but this wasn't over-roasted, and the sauce was suitably thick 'n' sweet, with the cutest teeny-weeny wittle bwueberries...[Did everyone else know that, among more sensible choices, you can configure Google to talk to you in 'Elmer Fudd' language? Or 'Pirate'? For example, 'Advanced Search' --> 'Use Me Better Spyglass', and the second search button is 'I Be Feelin' Lucky'. Those wacky billionaires!].

Prices are actually not bad at all - starters are Y1500-ish, mains are Y2000-2500, unless you go full-bore and get a steak, but even then it's not too bad. The price-quality ratio was quite good too. Service was fine as well, especially considering how rude I was when they tried to serve us, in sequence: champagne, mineral water, bottled water. Kind of a hard-sell on the beverages there, but eventually we got to some glasses of Ginza's finest.

I feel like a recommendation whore this week, so I won't give this a Recommended tag, but I quite liked it.

Hiro Primo, Tokyo (キッチンストリート)

Hiro can't get a break...from me at least. When I went to his Maru Biru branch (Hiro Centro; good lord, I think I didn't write a post on this!) I found it to be over-priced and under-serviced, but such things are natural for the upper floors of the Maru Birus. Today I tried (again) to continue the campaign to eat under the tracks, was again rejected on the grounds that all the places I haven't tried look crappy (true, true), and ended up on Kitchen Street. Again. Seeing Hiro Primo, I thought, I dunno, let's give it a try. I was prepared to be snippy, but it wasn't bad.

The small space has been decorated in very modern glass 'n' steel fashion with several long, high, shared counters. The stools swivel a bit but are otherwise fixed to the floor. And the air conditioning was unfortunately on a mission to phreeze me and my phood, but that was probably not a problem for anyone else. It had a busy and crowded feel, despite not being that bad.

The two daily specials were already done (12:40), so we settled for a meat sauce and a carbonara (do Italians eat these things?). The meat sauce (not mine) was enlivened with some white beans and looked pretty good (aside from the well-deserved comment on arrival: "That's it?!"). The carbonara featured store-smoked pancetta (probably 'chain smoked' would be better, since they probably smoke it for all five restaurants in one warehouse location) and a lot of cheesy sauce; faintly artificial but not bad. In an odd way, once the flavor built up, the pancetta became slightly cloying. The last few pieces reminded me of, get ready, burnt marshmallow. The chain-baked focaccia was pretty good - bits of fresh-ish rosemary and crunchy salt.

So compared to the closest similar place, Bravo, how does this perform? Definitely tastier, a more stylish but less acomodating environment, and equal to worse cost performance considering the extra 40% price increment (bread surcharge included).

I'd rather be eating a Primo Old Italian from Pal Joey's than eating at Hiro Primo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tsurugi, Monzen Nakacho (鶴来)

I admit, I'm not sure if that's the right sound for the name. But it's a nice name regardless. Reminds me of Rio's wedding, where his grandmother sang a little of the traditional 'Crane and Tortoise' song as a sort of long-life blessing for the kids.

Tsurugi is in the line of restaurants going south from Wan Ju (the recommended tantanmen and general Chinese place on my side of the crossing, as opposed to Gomaya on the other side) - which includes that sorta stylish, young-looking 'dinning bar', the pork specialist izakaya Mahoboro, and...the dry cleaner. It also includes some substandard izakaya that I've been to without writing about or mapping, and let's leave them in peace.

Tsurugi is not substandard. It's quite fine. There were some interesting bits, some good cooking, and cheerful service from the master and waitress. I could recommend it for some variety after you had visited about 6 other places in the area, like Ogawa. In short, not a destination (which I maintain some of the places in Monnaka are, and which I recognize is a premise that pretty much...ohh, zero readers can get behind).

The specialty is food from Ishikawa prefecture. This includes Kanazawa, of course, and also the Noto penninsula, and at a stretch could probably encompass Toyama as well. But special foods? In Spring? Not sure. Crab in Winter is all that really springs to mind for me. But there was fish direct from Ishikawa (nodoguro, some other things), and the assorted sashi platter was pretty fresh. The interesting thing was raw cherry shrimp; never had that before. Mostly like chewing the shells, which are small enough to be not-too-hard, as the antennae, which are long and wispy and kinda tickle your tongue. Worth a try.

As for other foods: one gimmick is the country-style (or Kyoto style) bowls of food on the counter, like you'd find around the corner at Hanabishi. From these, EOITwJ ordered the bamboo shoots (fresh, sweet, good) and the lotus roots (still crunchy, topped with sesame, good) but there were also stewed pork belly (with scrambled eggs and vegetables. Hmm.), sweet chicken drumsticks, and various types of snails (small sazae; I don't know the names). A snapper jaw grilled up very nicely, and the beer and small sake selections flowed on request. Quite pleasant on the whole.

Very tsuru-tsuru.

In other news check out this place. Good evidence that, no matter how deep you delve into Tokyo, there's something else under the surface. This place looks like a lovely private house (except for the kappou sign, of course), but has no menu nor people coming or going. Ever. And the price is described as "Ohhh, $200 per person, give or take." I'm faintly tempted, but the food looks ordinary, and for that price one could plan ahead and visit, I dunno, Pierre Gagnaire in Omotesando.

Sabou Oiwake, Tokyo (茶房追分,東京駅)

Fresh from overdosing on chicken, I realized that lunch with Volleyball had been scheduled in for some time. He had overdosed on pork last night, so we set out in a healthy frame of mind. Wandering past the south-of-Eitai-dori options under the tracks, I was struck by the fact that nothing looks good there. It made me question my goal of finishing off the row, but I'll persevere. Just not today.

By the time we reached Bravo! at the end of the line, things looked bleak. We steered left and through the odd entrance passage to Tokyo Station, then hung a quick left and found ourselves approaching those twin bastions of on-train drinking, Enoteca Champagne & 375 and Sho-Chu Authority. And across from them, a dessert-y looking place that, on closer inspection, proved to have a few savory lunch sets as well.

You know how I frequently go to restaurants where the clientele is all women, right? Well, today there were two other table of the separate men's section in the back, where they seated VB and I. There are really only 3 savory sets, all fairly healthy, and then a wide range of parfaits and sugar syrup-based fruit dishes. We ordered a set each, plus the mini syrup bowl for dessert.

The thing we didn't try was the dango nabe - just the titular item (which is small balls made from rice that's been cooked and then pounded until it turns into paste...a beloved tradition of Japan, especially at New Year) and vegetables in a cast-iron pot with a wooden lid. The pot and accoutrements were of course the same for the other soup option - soy milk! I really enjoyed this, and I think seat would too. It was a lot of soy - in addition to the tounyu itself, there was a healthy serving of yuba, a bit of tofu, and then lots of gobo, carrots, daikon, konnyaku...and one lone piece of chicken, which I gave to VB. This came with two kinds of pickles and a bowl of multigrain red rice. Yummers!

The dessert was just a small bowl of fruit and jelly and red bean paste accompanied by a pitcher of brown sugar syrup (anmitsu, on better days) to pour over the top. A very civilized, refershing, and tooth-achingly sweet way to finish the meal...just the way we like it. I'd happily go back here; one thing to note is that you could easily get one pot of soup and two bowls of rice for two people as long as you got the mini desserts as well (and if they'd let you do this).

Any restaurant focusing on brown sugar syrup is bound to be fine with me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tonton, Yurakucho (登運とん)

That name is crap. Nobody could read the kanji without being told. I can't even figure out what they're trying to say - 'rising luck'? But Japan is great, and this place is one of a million reasons why.

Tonton is cheap as chips (or whatever cheap thing you prefer if you're not English), and tasty as...well, as something tasty. Everything is going for it - it's crowded, it's not especially clean, it's located under the tracks of a major railroad, they have an English menu, the waitresses speak English, and they don't feature any offbeat yakitori. I don't even like gizzard and cartilege, so clearly I'm not the person to opine on yakitori, but I'll do it anyway.

As you all know, McNoonan is out of a job. He's responding sensibly by taking his family to Hawaii for 6 weeks, just what I'd do if I had a family and got laid off. But in the meantime, the wife and kids were off doing something else, and he wanted to get out for a cheap reminder of why it's great to live in Tokyo (well, Asia really. He lived in Vietnam for a year too, bastard.) He had some recent visitors who were evidently pretty into partying down, salary-man style, and they had a great time under the tracks in Yurakucho. Being close from work, I was perfectly fine to meet him there. We walked around a little but ended up more or less near Yurakacho crossing, where there's a line of outdoor-stool places and then some more under the actual tracks. And we passed them all and ended up at Tonton, where McNoonan had come twice with his friends (they loved it so much they went back for lunch two days later).

Seriously, the food's good here. I dunno, yakitori for me often suffers from texture issues (cuz I don't like the crunchy bits and the chewy bits. In fact, I would have to say that yakitori contains the most things I don't like to eat out of any Japanese genre.) or freshness issues (not the ingredients, just the amount of time between cook and serve. If it's not instant, it's not good.). Tonton caters to a pretty ordinary crowd, and they get the food on the table while it's still too hot to eat. Or maybe the tiny tables and completely-packed atmosphere conspire to keep things hot on the way to the tables? We ate:
  • Tsukune. I have discovered a universal truth, and it's not just that women don't like steel guitars. It's that while everyone can say their tsukune are their famous item, only Tonton really delivers the goods. Now I know how a tsukune is supposed to be - smallish, spherical, soft and juicy inside, dark and crusted outside. (These are chicken meatballs, OK?)
  • Chicken. Just the regular breast-meat pieces, on a stick. Lovely.
  • Bonjiri - chicken butts. Seriously, both McNoonan and I couldn't remember having better bonjiri elsewhere. They were flavorful, a little meaty, and blessedly free of the cartilege that a true connoisseur probably loves but that give me the willies.
  • Peppers. Like a tool, I had to pick up the one excessively-hot one of the batch right off. These peppers, you know - they're kinda jalapeno-sized, but they're not hot at all. Unless you get the 1 in 20 or so that's brutal.
  • More tsukune. A lot more tsukune.
  • Pork bits. Too chewy.
  • Tuna yukke - raw tuna bits mixed with raw quail egg
  • More chicken butts.
  • Garlic, seemingly two whole heads speared onto kushi and grilled. Mellow but intense garlicosity. Yum. Unfortunately Volleyball insisted at lunch the next day that I smelled like garlic.
  • Pork belly, preserved in miso, then grilled. McNoonan made the pithy observation that it's like pork saikyo-yaki (最高~~~~!)
  • Tsukune. Again.
Special mention goes to:
  • The staff, who were really nice. Especially the waitress who was the same height as a seated customer.
  • The house-blend original drink: Tomato Sour. I'm not sure how they do this, but it's a clear, fizzy drink that tastes like tomato. And apple juice. OK, it's probably a synthetic flavor, but it was still funny.
  • Moro-kyu, cucumbers with barley miso. Lousy miso. Avoid.

Clearly recommended for impressing visitors with an 'I-live-in-Asia-and-hang-out-in-local-places' vibe, and also just on the basis of the tsukune.

And with that, let me sign off to nurse my aching belly. Oog.

Tama no Hikari, Otemachi

Thus far, EOITwJ has done a pretty weak job of bringing you coverage of the 24 restaurants in the basement of the Otemachi Building (that doesn't include Starbucks or the conbini, nor does it include the street-level places like Drunk Bears). Today we set out to change that (for a start, we counted the restaurants). Unfortunately this was not a successful expedition, so all we can say is that we've crossed off another place.

High hopes. High apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes. Sake brewer Tama no Hikari's eating outlet in this basement usually features a line. Usually we take that as an indication of quality. Today we were mildly excited to see no line; after confirming that the udon place at the end was still sporting plenty of waiting people, we went back and settled in. No menu; the waitress showed us her order pad as a substitute, but we picked based on what other people were eating. A lot of sanma sets in evidence, some saba, something that looked like a slice out of a big ol' snapper, and various people eating seared bonito. Just to round out the recent research on how spring bonito isn't as good, we got that.

And it was a pile of fish. You know at the supermarket where they have those pre-seared bonito pieces so you can make this kind of thing at home? It was like a whole one of those. With a hill of shredded daikon, and lots of green onions. And even more rice, and soup, and pickles, and tofu. And it wasn't good. At first I thought it was the fish - this weird rubbery, chemical taste. Maybe burnt skin? Eventually I realized it was the sauce. Bad soy sauce?! Or since they're a brewer, maybe their own custom blend? Vile, my friends. I began to feel sick, ate some rice, and left.

I can't remember the last time eating made me feel sick. Violent regurgitation hours after eating my own cooking, sure...but that chicken tasted great! Not amused. Go on and prove me wrong. Let me know if you have a nice lunch there.

Really not good. Straight up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No-tenki, Tokyo (呑うてんき,八重洲)

Evidently a bit of linguistic confusion on this one - the dictionary doesn't want to admit that the titular phrase exists, and one noted expert around the office says "There's no such word." It's a slight bastardization of a phrase for 'happy-go-lucky', which I guess is as good a phrase as any to convey the spirit of the go-go 50's, when this place opened and since when it hasn't changed a bit (except getting older). This is far away from the office - actually just off the semi-famous 'sakura dori' that runs between the north side of Yaesu and the south side of Nihonbashi Takashimaya - and even farther away from 2009; Zone noticed it lurking down an alley and got all excited by the grubby retro-ness of it.

EOITwJ breaks with tradition a little today by publishing a picture of...well, of the author, wearing a happy-go-lucky smirk and sitting on a stool at a sticky red table in No-tenki. If you look closely at the background, you'll see one of those charming vintage beer ads, and at the top 5 bottles of whisky mounted to speed pourers on the wall. That's dedication to the craft. But that's the kind of place it is - at night it's a standing bar, which I presume specializes in cheap liquor. Early Times was in the rack, yes.

And the food? Today saw only two choices, really: fried stuff or...wait, the other choice was fried too. Yum! Tempura bowl, tempura set, fried pork cutlet with thick brown sauce (ソースカツ丼). Zone and I got through a tempura set and a pork cutlet; both were fairly good, actually. The pork was quite firm, but the sauce was every bit as thick and sweet as it would have to be for me to like it (Nagoya: good only for miso katsu and grandmothers. Oh, and the occasional aunt.). The tempura was frankly, a different species entirely from Mikawa, but at literally less than 5% of the price, you can't expect perfection. Very thick and doughy batter, though not in an unpleasant way, and featuring a raft of big pieces of kisu, squid, and lots of vegetables including 2 tough little asaparagus spears. And when I said earlier that we 'got through...'? I lied. Maybe just fibbed. Neither of us could finish the mountains of rice presented to us.

Service deserves a special mention - loud as hell, in that exaggerated cheerful and polite way that may connote enthusiastic service to some people. But equally, charming because it looked like the head guy had been doing it for 40 years. Be warned - it's high-speed. As soon as we sat, the waitress stood next to us expectantly. No hello, no whaddya-want, just a '......' that clearly meant "Order already, willya?". Also, please pay promptly on delivery of the food - no fancy checks and cash registers here.

This is a nice enough review - good pictures. And the closing is right on: 'Recommended to people who want to eat a lot of tasty food.'

Back to the Future.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Inaba Toshiro, Marunouchi (いなば十四郎、丸ビル35階)

My friends, I've figured out what it is about the 35th floor of Maru Biru. It's 35% overpriced. Everything. Aux Amis I fell for (errr, twice, but the second time wasn't my idea); Hiro Centro I was edgy about but it was recommended (not talking to her any more); Mango Tree is patently overpriced - you can tell from the menu. But for some reason I found myself back on the phone, begging for more abuse at the hands of an upper-floor denizen.

First issue: the staff on the phone told me they couldn't do the entry-level bento on the weekends, so I had to order the mid-level 'theme cooking' course. Interestingly, the other 4 people at the counter were not subject to this restriction.

The atmosphere is very good though, it has to be said. The natural stone flooring spills over slightly into the Maru Biru corridor, inviting you in. Once inside it's almost like a tiny alley in Gion; flagstones drizzled with water, bamboo walls, private rooms, low counter giving onto a raised, tatami-matted serving area with a huge bonsai (haha, really!) and a Boy's Day armor display. The counter looks through this serving area and the next building. Off to the left you also get a slice of northeast Tokyo, e.g., a tiny glimpse of Tokyo Dome.

The food goes like this:

Seasonal starter. All nice vegetables, just barely cooked, and a bit of cooked snapper roe. All nice enough, but a little uninspiring.Salt is not the enemy.

Rice. Wait, rice? I'm a heathen and all, but it feels weird to have rice this early in the course. It's different because it was mochigome (chewy rice that you'd pound to make mochi) and mixed with shiso buds, but...just doesn't feel right. I guess my Japanese dining sensibilities haven't advanced sufficiently to allow for deviations in the course.

Fresh tofu. Yes, this was fresh tofu. It came and went. As did the sumiso and peppers and kogomi.

Steamed fish and vegetables. Fancy stuff here, we're told. The fish is trout from Fuji, and the shrimp are also from somewhere notable, "so fresh you can eat the shells". The vegetables are vegetal. The cooking procedure is notable, and contributes a lot - the staff bring this big earthen donabe pot, heat it to steaming, then carefully arrange the foods on a rack that goes back inside "for 3 minutes". Then it comes out, gets carefully plated, I forget to take a picture, you eat, and are uninspired.

Looking back, I would have to say that this grilled shiitake over rice was the best thing out of the course. The mushroom was fantastic quality, and the sauce in which it had been grilled was dripping through the rice...yummers.

Dessert: sure, rice dumplings and sweet red beans. You were expecting...cheesecake?

Dear Diary: Please remind me not to go to Maru Biru's upper floors any more, OK? It's acceptable stuff, but never extraordinary and always too expensive.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Trader Vic's (Hotel New Otani, Kioicho/Akasaka)

EOITwJ has a somewhat puzzling luv for tattoos, big orange guitars, and...tiki bars. We think it started on our birthday (that may be an excessive use of royal plural. More like rural plural or something.) in 2002, when Suz showed up unannounced at a fancy dinner and made us go to Trader Vic's (which I see is no longer in the hotel where it was then, sorry). It was amazing. To this day I describe it to people, and they're so incredulous that I think I must be making it up. Indoor lagoon? Check. Live band? Check? Live band on a boat on the indoor lagoon? Check check. Simulated thundershower, every hour on the hour? Check, and check.

So at some point I realized there must be a tiki bar in Tokyo. In fact there's a Trader Vic's, and it's in the New Otani. This is only a little bit like having a biker bar in the Okura. But like a lot of these things, it feels watered down. The interior is true to the Trader's vision, the staff are appealingly and tropically dressed, the drinks are served in ridiculous tiki glasses (and, er, festive bowls)...but the windows look out on another building, not a tropical lagoon. Ah well.

As a once-a-year thing, the Trader is a little bit fun. As he'd better be, at the prices he charges for his drinks! Expect to spend about Y2000 per person, because that's what one drink will cost, and you'll probably want to leave after that. It's really nice to walk in the garden before or after; dig the simulated waterfall that you can see from the simulated Japanese-style bridge!

The Trader is waiting!

Argo, Hanzomon

EOITwJ was embarrassed. All set to go to a very nice-looking French restaurant in the decidedly odd neighborhood of Hanzomon (or Kojimachi, more picturesquely and food-related-ly) we...were late and forgot our cameras. Thus all visual correspondence herein is courtesy of GT's keitai; excuse our shocking omission. It's even worse because this was very lovely food - more lovely than tasty, it could legitimately be said - and better pictures would be really nice to have. The environment is also a significant draw; specially-commissioned art objects (cloudy-things on the ceilings, glass plates throughout), a big field-stone wall that would be very appropriate in a California-themed place, architecturally-interesting chairs, the library/lounge space off to the side...
All these are things that we failed to take adequate pictures of. Dinner started with these salty petit-fours. A definite 'curry' slant - one cumin, one actually curry powder. The dark thing in the back was, I think, a dried smear of cheese with something black in it. Creative!

Followed by the first course, I was actually called the 'Amuse-ZEN', a deeply multi-part affair in three plates. In the middle, a small slab of marble got topped with a thick onion soup. To the left, a ball of spinach leaves was filled with...errr, shrimp paste?, then alternate cubes of salmon and cumin-ed potatoes, and a cheesy foam. The other side was tofu! Interesting stuff here - a sakura tofu, lime tofu, and green tofu. They were served in a row of perfectly-formed half-domes, along with some rough salt and chive sprouts. The green one was probably the best because the green flavor was mild (enough that I couldn't tell what it was), but the lime was quite interesting. The sakura one was a bit cloying.

You wouldn't expect a pumpkin soup to be this good. Possibly you could make it at home, but the impossibly creamy texture, delicious pumpkin-y sweetness, and chilled-out...errr, chill, made this very good.

At which point we got into the main action. The star of this plate was ostensibly the shrimp - from New Caledonia, I believe, and coated in a cloak or fried bits. And accompanied by nuggets of breaded and fried sweetbreads. And lovely steamed vegetables, and roasted tiny onions, and a few flowers for good measure. It was really a nice-looking plate (and I'm a sucker for those tiny copper sauce pans, like the one you can see just beyond the plate, holding the do-it-yourself sauce).

But disappointing. The shrimps were flavorless, as was the fry. The sweetbreads were oddly tough and not that tasty. The vegetables were fine, the flowers were fine...overall just OK. This is where an overall theme emerged, however: the shrimp and sweetbreads were distinctly lukewarm. At the time I thought this was intentional...

Fishing time saw us with a fillet of scabbard fish (tachiuo), something I don't think I've ever had in cooked form before. It was nicely cooked, and they had done it so the skin was seared crisp and charred-tasting in places, but from grilling, not frying. Other stuff on this complex plate included a little pile of ratatouille, on the right under the steamed spinach, then some pureed potatoes, some saffron sauce...not sure how it all went together, but it was pleasant. And lukewarm. Very much not hot.

Everyone at the table agreed about this duck: strongly flavored and difficult to cut, it was kinda confrontational for the first bite. After that pretty good, but a real worry at first. Good technique - beautifully shaped, skin done pretty well, meat roasted through without being overdone...and lukewarm. Very much so. By the end, completely cold. White asparagus were tolerable; mushroom duxelle (under the duck) was nice.

Passion fruit sorbet. Good job. Intense but not overwhelming, and really fit the bill for refreshment after the heavy flavor of the duck.

Desserts had me totally excited on the web site. They looked like the most creative part of the meal, and that's saying something since all the photography was pretty good. I had a rough plan to order an extra dessert, but was getting full and reconsidered. Then they brought the wrong dessert, then offered to replace it, then realized their sin and brought the third dessert, comped. This being such an outlandish rarity in Japan, it was all the more appreciated, and everyone got to go home happy since they couldn't serve these desserts much the next day anyway.
First, the 'passage to Egypt'. The green pyramid was tea-flavored, and filled with layered grapefruit cream and on a crunchy, nutty base. The exterior was thicker and cakier than expected, which gave a strange balance of cake to cream (and I'm a creamy kinda guy, so it was balanced the wrong way). The tan pyramid was bitter caramel pudding. Good for me!

Everyone at the table thought we had to get this strawberry tart...because it came with green pea ice cream...which turned out to be pretty weird. It was pea in flavor. And grainy. I think the pea flavor could have been better integrated with the milkiness of the cream, and taking out the distracting vegetality of the remaining pea fragments would have been good too. This would have been better served as a shocking accompaniment to a savory dish, even if savory ice creams are already in danger of being passe. The strawberry tart was a tart with strawberries.

And finally a real oddity. Meringue 'cone', topped with peach ice cream, topped with a crunchy green tea nitro foam (i.e., tea frozen in liquid nitrogen. I'm breaking the rules by eating this before September, when Ferran is preparing a personalized tasting menu for us). The tower was surrounded by a few pieces of fruit and some rice balls (白玉). Then drenched with a sauce of hot milk and azuki beans that made everything smoke, crumble and melt together. Creative is not the word...a really funny perversion of old-style Japanese desserts (all of which are fruit, tea, beans and rice) into a pretty good modern form, complete with a fillip of molgas.

Coffee was lovely but weak; they seemed not to understand how to foam milk or else the proper balance of a cappuccino. But the macarons were actually quite good, and the yuzu jelly squares were nice. The Argo-branded cigarillos were a cute touch (if you squint, you'll see that the labels look like Cohibas), and were more fancy than expected, being not just chocolate, but rolled sheets of chocolate filled with raspberry paste and dusted with powdered chocolate.
This was served in the lounge, which was really, really appealing to me. A lot like the living room I wish I had! Designer chairs, mildly 70's carpet, huge picture windows looking out toward the north...this was after the whole dinner, where the emptiness of the restaurant allowed us to claim a table at the window - overlooking the Imperial Palace gardens and beyond (sort of Ueno-to-Shinbashi in extent). So pleasant, so elegant, so creative, so beautiful...I'd like to go back in a while to see what else the chef comes up with. From the various web resources available, it seems that the forms stay relatively fixed but the contents change a lot (e.g., the amuse always come on those flat black plates, but sometimes there are four plates, and the constituent parts are totally different). I just wish they'd keep the food hotter.

This is right in the zone if you're an MD for FedEx and live in Hanzomon.

Gomaya, Monzennakacho

EOITwJ is in love, my friends. We went to see the object of our crush today (actually we didn't know we were in love until we arrived...):
Went here one time before and remembered liking it a lot; perhaps the only thing keeping us away was the fact that it's on the other side of the crossing, a little far from home when we need refreshment on a Saturday around lunchtime and walking seems...troublesome. But it fulfills a lot of the promises of cheap dining in Japan: stylish, interesting, delicious. You could call this ramen, you could call it tantanmen (I mean, the store calls it that, so you'd be well within the bounds of reason), either way it's really good.
First thing you'll notice if you're lucky enough to enter here: the heavily-spiced smell of eggs simmering on a little induction burner right at the front of the counter. The peeled boiled eggs are stained a deep mahogany [to this day, I can't hear the word 'mahogany' without thinking of that classic drama (no, not Diana Ross) Doctor Who - the beginning of The Sun Makers (Tom Baker, Louise Jameson as Leela) where the administrator says his desk is made from 'ma-ho-gay-nee'. You have to see it. Come over, I'll screen it for you.] that varies depending on how long they've been stewing in the assorted leaves and strips of bark. It's mysterious and seductive. I ordered one instantly. Yum.
Once you settle down from the smell of the eggs, you'll notice the weird bits. This is just a counter place, but they've got 50's and 60's jazz album sleeves on the walls. And a tube amplifier in the corner, driving Spendor speakers to produce quiet jazz of impeccable provenance. There's a whole genre of ramen places that love jazz...and this is one of them. For some reason it seems to go together.
But back to the noodles, huh. Does the picture excite you? These are the 'meat tantan' that they specialize in. Spicy sauce, fresh veg, you can kinda see how there are both fresh sesame seeds and a creamy layer of ground sesame paste... You can barely see how the roast pork is heavily simmered in the spicy soup to increase it's deliciocity. You can't see at all the straight, thin, firm ramen that hide underneath (like Ippudoh noodles), properly cooked so that they start firm and soften while you eat. If the picture doesn't excited you, I think you should visit and explore the reasons for this. Sort of atonement for your sins. Geez it's good.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bomu, Ebisu (韓国居酒屋ボム)

Well, another Friday night, another Korean diner dinner. This was unfortunately way less good (if I may use such language in your erudite company) than Wansu; I kept looking at the menu in the hope of finding some of the things that I ate at the other place. No relation, so I guess it's unrealistic, but still would have been nice.

Bomu has a fairly pleasant aspect, being mostly horigotatsu and semi-private spaces (usually separated by curtains). The web sites and the sign all lead one to believe that the Bommers will specialize in guts, and in fact there's plenty of that on the menu. Fortunately we were able to avoid it.

They also tout the virtues of their store-made namla (ナムラ?Just bits of vegetable lightly fried in sesame oil, the stuff you'd get on top of a bibinbap or with practically any other Korean dish. I'm really not good with Korean food, so I apologize if I'm getting this wrong.) and feature lots of different soups to be made at the table. The notable thing among these, and I wish I could get the picture that one of the other team members took, was a 'junk food nabe'; someone suggested it was a 'GI Nabe' but I didn't actually see the menu either way. The ingredients were: 2 slabs of instant noodles, a few slices of processed cheese, cubed spam and some other kind of cheap sausage. And lots and lots of spicy soup, of course. As these things have a way of being, it wasn't bad at all. The seafood nabe was OK too, but very normal. A few other food items were filling if not inspiring, and of course the whole assemblage was dead cheap. They had beer.

I've gotta say it...this place ain't da bomb. Sorry.

Torahachi, Otemachi (とら八)

Our introduction to Torahachi was momentarily a bit of a worry - the overhead speakers were playing a 70's power pop song that I like but couldn't identify. Really an embarassment. After that it was more comprehensible, if less exciting, as we cycled through late-70's favorites across a number of genres. The Eagles treated us to Take It to the Limit, then War asked Why Can't We Be Friends? Blondie broke her Heart of Glass (just kidding, Blondie Is a Group!) and Crystal Gayle affirmed that 'It' still makes her brown eyes blue. This really reminded me of listening to AM radio as a kid, especially the Crystal.

Oh, was this a restaurant? Yes. And more to the point, it was the next stop on our quest to knock off all the options under the tracks behind the office. Today's cold, so the warm, dark plates of curry on the sign outside called out to us...and did not disappoint. Koala and I each dived in our own veritable ocean of curry; specially-designed plates allowed for enough rice to choke a camel while leaving room for waves of curry to lap comfortably at the sides. The curry actually included some beef-bits, which is always a bit of a bonus. Soup was OK. Salad was forgettable. Tea came in an Iichiko-branded vacuum flask on the table. Not a bad curry lunch. Keep it in mind if you don't want to go far from the office. And if your office is in the same building as ours.

What exactly is an 'adult izakaya'? Anyway, great pictures of the lunches here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sasaoka, Marunouchi (恵比寿笹岡、新丸5階)

High-end restaurants in Japan do funny things. [When I say 'high-end', I only mean at the plebian end of the high market, the part I can access. There's presumably a whole world over that level that I gots no idea about.] One I've noticed recently is opening a larger branch store in a more glamorous location. I'm thinking of that stalwart of grumpy fish, Sukiyabashi Jiro, as well as the relatively charming old-skool tempura Mikawa - who both expanded out of their tiny head offices into the Roppongi Hillz Rezidence. And may be having some issuez now due to the economy, but that'z a different story.

For this place in Shin Maru, the head store is Sasaoka in Ebisu (天現時 笹岡; more like Hiroo really) but is a bit stealthy. The web site is bad - just three little pages, and the one called 'information about the cuisine' is...blank. Not too many reviews. The branch store, however, is on the pack-em-in-but-still-slightly-glamorous 5th floor of Shin Maru. And it's very clean and elegant, with a beautiful pine counter thicker than your head, and light wood and white walls and all the rest. Somehow I've walked by a bunch of times without getting excited, but as soon as we were through the noren it was pretty clear how nice it was.

The menu perpetuates this theme by being...expensive. There are lunch sets that look really lovely at the Y5000, Y4000 and Y3000 price points. Actually the Y3000 one looks like weak value, now that I think back. Anyway, it's not cheap. I think the first time I ate saba miso (mackerel boiled in thick miso sauce) in Japan was very early on when Mini-Me took me to Shiraishi, out the back of Hillz and down towards Moto Azabu. That place is hard core - all sorts of salarymen that you didn't know could work in Roppongi show up to eat there, feasting on fried foods and saba miso ('feasting' is very 'food writer wanker', isn't it?). And the saba miso set is Y800. At Sasaoka it's Y1600. Ohhhh, this discussion is so vulgar.

Thing is, it's a definite cut above. The mackerel was excellent, and the sauce was lighter and more flavorful, and it wasn't cooked all to hell either. Is it 100% better? Of course not, but if you have any interest in luxury items I don't think I need to digress into a discussion of diminishing returns. The saba was actually Suika's lunch, not mine; I was seduced by the weekly lunch - two rice bowls, one with half a dozen small-but-perfectly-formed slices of spring bonito (I've decided Fall is better; spring isn't strong enough) and the other with a fried puck of cherry shrimp (桜海老かきあげ). The accompanying soup and the rice were also high quality.

Overall, good stuff. Certainly subtle, certainly not cheap, but if you're feeling rich and refined it's worth your while.

They have an English menu!!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bravo, Marunouchi

Bravo! Actually the praise runs out more or less right there, scotching my budding plans to make this a hilariously positive joke post. Bravo is an adequate pasta-pizza lunch spot.

It's almost the last thing in line under the train tracks leading north from Tokyo station, on the Marunouchi side. Mildly inspired by my crazy colleague Tez (colleague in the sense that he writes a food blog, not that he has the slightest clue who I am), I think it might be time to set some goals for this blog - eating at all the lunch places under the Marunouchi tracks seemed like a good place to start. Tez has gone one better by polishing off huge targets like Shin Maru - that's a lotta lunches to get through, and you're going to have to take the unappealing right along with the bad. Much love. I've gotta go small and achievable; the string of under-track places is doable, although it includes a Nakau (なか卯) and another branch of Kassen Ichiba. And a depressing looking Nagasaki-style place. And a couple other yucky looking ones. Is this really a good idea?

I digress.

Bravo gives you about 6 pastas (you can guess this offhand and be right, but they include carbonara, clam, spicy penne, chicken cream and mushroom) that you can get as they are, with a salad and coffee, or with S+C and dessert. There's also pizza if you go all the way up to Y1100. Gita did this and said the margherita was good. From my side of the table, it looked like papery-crisp thin crust and American-style mozarella (which I regard as a prefectly OK thing. You don't need gin-u-wine imported water buffalo foolishness all the time, right?). My carbonara was somehow quite OK; not especially eggy and rich, but that's probably because there wasn't any real egg in it. It compelled me to add copious quantities of tabasco, which was very enjoyable but always reminds me of the the first time I came to Japan. I ate to much new and weird stuff, developed a powerful craving for foreign food, had an omrice, and made myself sick by putting too much tabasco on it.

Anyway, if you've been to one casual Italian, you've been to most of them. With some obvious exceptions - Savoy or Baggio are the same price for a pizza that you can tell is better across the room with your eyes closed. Bravo could be adequate for dinner, but I think I've now worked this post around to the point where I can say "Eh. Another day, another place visited." If you read all the way to this point, you could well be thinking the same thing.

Bravo doesn't sleep. It waits.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Uossu, Otemachi (魚っす!、新大手町ビル)

This is one of those places that I walk by frequently and never go into. Usually I'm walking by coming from the train, when they're not open, or going to the train, when I'd like to stop in but am trying to avoid extraneous calories when alone. Today lunch had to wait until almost 1:30, and at that point this place tasted pretty good. Perhaps an old shoe also would have, but I think it's genuinely decent.

UPDATE May 27, 2010: Seriously, the fish here is good. A clear cut above normal seafood bowl lunch places.
UPDATE June 3rd, 2010: Seriously, the fish here is good and cheap - quality servings of buri and madai, $6 each, on ice with various garnishes including chrysanthemum leaves (which go surprisingly well with sashimi!).  And at night, the drink situation is great - in keeping with the casual 'fisherman' theme, they have 30 types of cup sake. Fun to look at, fun to drink, fun place. Crowded and noisy at night.

OK, back to the April 09 post:

This is one of those places that makes a point of getting their fish from non-standard sources (by which I mean 'not Tsukiji'). Without taking pictures (it's a weekday. No pictures for you.), I'll say it's a tiny bit like Tobishima - fishing boat banners on the walls and various other fishy appurtenances. The daily (evening) specials including fugu karaage (blowfish fried-chicken style?) and various seasonal shrimp fritters. The lunches are more standard; I meant to have the mixed tuna rice bowl, but I just asked for the tuna bowl, and that's what I got - saved a few hundred yen through carelessness! The akami was soft, without any tendon or chewiness, and had a decent flavor. The rice and nori were also kinda fresh and tasty (this is when I started to suspect that I was just ril ril hungry).

This is not one of those places that costs a lot of money. The ordinary rice bowls are under Y1000, and come with a bowl of soup and some ordinary cold udon as well. Things are working out well on the money side today - first I lost two EBay auctions, saving a huge amount of money, and then I ordered the wrong lunch, saving Y300. Must be my lucky day. I should go to pachinko later.

Now that's what I call music!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rigoletto, Marunouchi (新丸7階)

Shin-Maru's 7th floor is an adequate late-night destination, should you not be the old, withered type who prefers to be safely tucked up in bed by 1, 2 or 3 (like me). The semi-open plan and plethora of mildly-interesting destinations, few of which EOITwJ has yet visited. The year is young...

Rigoletto also has an outlet in Roppongi Hillz, which we have thankfully not blogged about previously (though certainly we've visited). It opened in the 'renewal open' period a few years after the main complex (seems like only yesterday) and was briefly popular for offering decent burgers and lunch sets at cheap-ish prices. And then it became the in-building drinking locale of choice - site of going-away drinks and going-out-of-business drinks for various friends and firms.

The two outlets are linked by their menus, but also from the outset due to their entrance styles - they make you walk through the wine cellar to get in. This always seemed funny in Hillz, because the wine cellar would be cold and a little cigar-smelling - were they trying to make you happy to get into the warm restaurant? - and in point of fact you could have walked more easily through the bar to get to the restaurant. But that's not stylish, and we sacrifice uncomplainingly for style. The Shin-Maru store is of a completely different shape and size, but you still walk through a chilly wine cellar-like corridor, with the same rough floor, to get in. Oddly, the line to get in forms in this room, which sorta defeats the purpose of temperature and humidity control...but not style!

Today a large crew met to celebrate Shaft's birthday (surprise!) in the private room, so we were able to slip around the side of the cold, unhappy people who were discovering that the restaurant was already full at 11:40. In fact, as we walked to the private room, there were already people finishing their lunches. What is wrong with these people?! Lunch should be 2 hours starting from 1 PM, in EOITwJ-land. Ideally followed by an afternoon off, but that's a completely different kettle of nabe. The private room was entertaining - one large oval table in a huge booth, capable of seating about 14, a very high ceiling, pretty mosaic patterns on the walls, and a big 4-panel screen that I suspect was for karaoke (or, as they say in America, カリオキ).

The menu is divided into 'pasta/pizza', 'course' and 'salad'. Burgers are inexplicably absent, which I don't think is an excusable oversight. Having gotten a salad today, I can safely recommend that you not repeat my mistake. But having seen the pizzas, that seems like the clear way to go. With the extra Y300 pizza supplement, you get a massive and tasty-looking pie (my end of the table didn't have any to steal from!), plus a 'Wonder Salad' (that's what they call it!) and a coffee or tea. The salad lunch did come with a nice piece of bread, some oil, and a cup of good soup, but the quality of those items wasn't sufficient to outweigh the blanditude of the salad itself - American-style grilled chicken slices, slightly yucky orange dressing, very average lettuces, other chopped items.

This has been a fairly overblown review; I'd summarize with "go here for a normal lunch, and make sure to get the pizza".

Here, this link for the 7th-floor 'House' complex is kinda cool and interactive...
But this is the official group link

Agoo, Daimon

At EOITwJ, when it rains, it pours. And when it pours, it's generally Belgian beer. We like to think that we know a lot of the Belgian places around Tokyo, so as a nightcap, we were excited to hear that there was a hitherto-unknown outlet nearby the Hippo. Unknown to us at least...Metropolis reviewed it previously (and I now feel good about my writing style. I think the adjective you'll be looking for there is 'florid'.).

Almost full when we got there, Agoo was pretty happening on a Friday late-ish night - crowded, smoky, noisy, beery. Hey, it's a bar! (Although I have to give props to Delirium Reserve again for the non-smoking room.) Another thing I'd like to grumble about is the metal 'tractor seat' stools (does that only make sense to country boys like me?), which are hard on the bum for extended sitting.

The beer menu is in the mid range - several pages, probably nudging 30 varieties, with only a couple on tap. Nothing too far out of the ordinary, but all the basics are covered (and Kwak in appropriate glasses, which is always fun) and the prices are...well, stratospheric, but if you didn't know that, you haven't been to a Belgian bar in Tokyo. Unfortunately we didn't get into the food, but my opinion of these places is generally that you should go for the beer only, so anything else is a bonus. I miss having frites at Les Hydropathes. Why did they close?

Kwaks like a duck...

Kaba, Daimon (かば)

Only on the way out did I notice that the kaba of the restaurant name was in fact 河馬 - hippopotamus! What relation does that have to fish flown in daily from various markets around Japan? Not much? With its noisy, crowded atmosphere and long, iced 'fish market' counter up the front, Kaba is a casual, homey, fishy sort of place. Plenty of fish was getting eaten.

The Hippo came to enter the EOITwJ ranks through the auspices of Suika, who was mildly offended at the paucity of Daimon destinations covered herein. Never one to refuse a restaurant recommendation, especially one with no bill attached, we got ourselves verily along for some fishing.

Where's the style of this post going?

Eaten items on the day included a decent plate of sashimi (very good hirame including some OK bits of engawa on the side; decent squid and madai; katsuo that looked OK but was a bit watery) and some fried bits (a whole fried flounder that was crisp and salty - even with spicy grated daikon and sauce, still more of an accompaniment to drinks than anything else). Skillet-fried potatoes (yamaimo though, so interestingly-textured) were peppery and pretty good at first, but after a while I realized that they tasted like canned demiglace sauce and got less excited.

Meanwhile the drinks kept coming, the people kept yelling, and Friday night among the salarymen proceded to a peaceful conclusion. Kaba was reasonably-priced and fun, the kind of place you can sink your teeth into for a Friday night. Would be great with visiting company too.

Stores in Gotanda, Shinbashi, Shinjuku, Hamamatsucho - gives you some idea what it's like.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Shanghai Dining, Tsukuda (上海ダイニング,佃)

Geez, when the weather turns good, it brings out the dogs. And the dogs, and their owners, want to sit on cafe terraces and sip lattes, and the like. Barring that, for instance if they're unfortunate enough to live in Tsukuda, home of huge apartment buildings and not much else (and a short walk only to the mythical Land of Monja), they want to sit in any ol' outside place and do whatever. If they went to Shanghai Dining, they'd be sitting outside eating...dim sum.

The terrace was full when Maccha and I arrived, so we sat inside. I did really want to sit outside though, and when a table opened I asked. The waiter immediately launched into a semi-tirade about how outside was extremely windy, and the sun was very strong, and if we moved, and the inside tables filled up, and we decided outside wasn't good, we would not be able to come back in. Under no circumstances. Suitably chastised, we stayed put, repentant for even thinking such selfish thoughts.

The menu is big in a Chinese way - Ye Olde Beef Section, Ye Olde Chicken Section, etc. There's a decent dim sum selection (as if I would know a decent dim sum selection) that we got into in a good way - fried tofu skin and shrimp spring rolls; steamed shrimp and rice dumplings; regular meaty steamed wheat dumplings. All decent stuff. Crab fried rice was adequate, and chinese sausage with onion and spicy sauce was good, in that uniquely disturbing way that Chinese people have with meat products - the texture is somehow different from meat in any other culture. Hmmmm...

This is actually worth a return visit, but mainly if you can sit outside. That's not to say the inside isn't nice, and there was a table of 20 that turned over only to be replaced by another table of 20 - a popular Sunday-lunch-with-the-family kinda place? It's open straight through, for everyone who wants to lunch outside at 3 PM. Not sure about the latte situation though.

Phew, watch out for the sun and wind! Nature is a harsh mistress.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Budoya, Kanda (葡萄舎,鍛冶町)

EOITwJ doesn't mean to harsh your mellow if you're having a bad day, but we're having some very good days here. It may be mostly the weather that's suffusing us with contentment and feelings of well-being, and to that we say, "shine on!" No meditation or psychotics are involved (最高~~!). Nor aura therapy.

Ahhhh, the Japanese obsession with...well, whatever. In the case of Budoya it's clearly an obsession with curry, and it's led to product that's fresh, unique, tasty and affordable. This has gone straight to the top of the list of places to go back to if we ever lift the restriction on repeat-venue lunching (although with Spring vacation now locked in at 19 workdays away, it seems like it's probably a worthwhile goal to hold out until then. Certainly no lack of outlets for that particular urge.).

If you've been reading all week, you'll know that this is the place that turned the team away on Tuesday. Because they ran out of rice. The owner remembered that today, apologized, and laughed when asked if they still had rice. Seems like this older, slightly hippie couple run the place (they both have gray ponytails, which in Japan is more than enough to justify the description) - do they love curry? Do they just find it relaxing?

Fer sure they've set up the shop in a very relaxing way; in fact I'm inescapably reminded of 'Japanese mountain resort', e.g., Karuizawa. There's a lot of wood, communal tables, some old license plates, a small bundle of pheasant tail feathers, and an open kitchen. The windows were open and it was breezy; after eating Zone and I camped on the benches by the window and talked to the owners. They brought the chai over there, and it was good. The jewel was in the lotus.

The food is definitely curry. It's thick, rich and vibrant - both in color and taste - in ways that you don't find in other Indian restaurants. Including in Bombay. But I think this represents their own unique vision of what Indian food should be like. Zone and I stuck mostly with the veg curries (and you know, it's rare to find that in Japan, isn't it?). To remind you that you're not in Kansas, there was no dhal; the bean curry was chick peas. The eggplant curry was tomatoey, and the okra curry was spicy and oily. Since I became an overnight expert on curry-making (irony alert) courtesy of the lovely and hopefully-new-mothered Malika, I would guess that the odd flavor in these curries is due to an improper balance of spices and/or adding the dry spices to a wet mixture. They don't taste that integrated, but they do taste very good in their very own way. A return visit is very desirable.

Other people were turned away today before 1 PM. Make sure you get there not-too-late.

Ten Shan Fei Wei, Nihonbashi (天香回味)

Before you ask, no, this is not the normal Nihonbashi shop. They opened another one right behind Coredo, on the little block to the left of Saint Pau where the Italian place is. And now that I've got that gratuitous "Gosh I'm so well informed and knowledgeable" posturing out of the way, on to the review. It IS the first time I've been to one of these places, after all.

TSFW specializes in Taiwanese 'medicine soup', which is done nabe-style at the table. They bring you a big pot split down the middle (not quite evenly, I should add) and filled with mild soup (the larger side) and spicy soup. If you want an explanation, and we did (although Koala must surely know the drill, since she goes every week and all...), they'll run you through how everything is good for you. The soup contains 60 medicines, "some you can see and some you can't". There are all sorts of bits and bobs, shoots and pods, floating in each side of the pot. You can't dispute the medicinal qualities - as soon as you're in the door, it smells like Indian food mixed with Chinese medicine. In a good way. In an exciting way, if it's your first time.

Then there are the vegetables (although I did see a Japanese TV show one time where they showed how goats will eat any crazy food you put in front of them, but won't touch a mushroom since they think it's not food). It's a massive plate of vegetables, all of which look excruciatingly medicinal. OK, not all of them, but there are a good 5 varieties of mushroom that I had never seen before (all I remember is the yellow ones, "from whose roots baseball bats are made". What?! And the 'giant nameko'.), and half a head of cabbage (lots of cabbagin! Good for you!) and a few big leaves of bok choy, and winter melon slices, and other things I can't describe. The vegetables are sided with a small plate of pork for shabu-ing and another plate with 4 scallops. Mysterious.

Ahhhh, geez the soup is good. I don't so much need the other stuff, especially the meat, but I could sit there and drink the soup for hours. Such a complex, spicy, interesting taste...which I guess is bound to happen when you've got all these weird thingies floating in a pot of boiling water. At the end they give you yet another excuse to drink soup by bringing these nifty green chlorophyll-enhanced noodles - I presume they're healthy, but I was more interested in the texture, which was like very firm curly ramen, and the flavor, which was solidly wheaty (makes sense considering the explanation of their origins). The funny thing is that these looked like the green version of konnyaku, so at first I thought they were chlorophyll 'miracle noodles', but no, full calorie presence.

With this opening, they now have 9 shops around the city, in places that you'd expect. There are two in Ginza (Velvia and g-Cube), 2 in Akasaka, one in Roppongi, 2 in Nihonbashi, 1 out at Takashimaya Tamagawa, and one outlier in Kanagawa (not to be confused with Shinagawa).

Recommended by all the Japanese women I know who have fathers at Sumitomo and have lived in West Lafayette. Which is not only one.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Steak Peter, Tokyo

Mom has always been a big fan of health food. Some of my earliest memories seem to be of hanging out in health food stores, trying to get some carob snacks. Or yogurt raisins (do those ever get anywhere near yogurt?). Some kids take this as a prod to go in the direction of anti-health food, and are delighted whenever they cross paths with junk. Fortunately I never felt much this way, but I do remember an odd fascination on the 2 or 3 occasions when I ate Chef Boyardee canned pasta products. The sauce was bizarre, some sort of meaty-tomatoey concoction loaded with sugar. What's even weirded is that Steak Peter has got it, and they put it on their hamburgers.

EOITwJ gets weird ideas, and ever since we saw a restaurant called 'Steak Peter' in the basement of the Nippon Building, we've been itching to try it. This despite that fact that it's just normal-looking yoshoku. Finally managed to go today, like an idiot didn't even remember to order the eponymous item, and confirmed that it is indeed a normal-tasting and kinda sad salaryman hangout. But that Boyardee's not bad tasting!

In addition to the steaks which I didn't eat, you basically choose between sets of fried things and hamburgers in sauce (every set is a hamburger plus some fried stuff, I mean). I chose the fried fish, of course, because it's more healthy, and got two largish filets and a big red hamburger. Also a mound of lettuce and a small serving of cold pasta. OK, whatever! The burger was fine and maybe even good, the fish were quite OK too, and, well, it was OK. Why did I forget to get the steak though?!

The steaks are in your choice of sizes, normal and bigger, and then you can also pick between 'Beef' and 'Psycho' versions. (OK, OK, it's really 最高, but isn't it awesome that people yell 'psycho!!!' on TV when they think something is great?). Expensive steak sets come in around Y1400, everything else is more like Y900. Everything comes with terrible soup also; I tried it just to make sure it was terrible.

Another sad installment on our pilgrimage around the churches of Otemachi.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Yuru-Yura, Kanda (日本橋本石町)

This is a bit of a genre unto itself, isn't it? By that I mean not the 'Kyo Banzai' that Yuru and Yura specialize in, but rather "Dark wood bar with good snacks run by women and playing reggae". The food's good, the atmosphere is pleasant in a weird 'tropical Kyoto' way, and it seems worth a dinner visit (if your tastes run toward Kanda).

EOITwJ has to confess that we get a kick out of filling in areas on the map, as well as 'discovering' new and interesting locales. The few blocks of Kanda just east of the station contain a bunch of pleasant shops that we're now busily busying ourselves with...and having a bike parked just outside makes it even more pleasant to nip off halfway to Timbuktu for lunch. YY is on the street with all the restaurants, and it has a clever sign and an appealingly woody exterior, so it catches one's attention.

Inside is lots of dark wood and a low counter that's hard as hell to sit down at, even with your shoes off, which is mandatory. But above the counter is some lucky bamboo and a massive traditional-style umbrella, which establishes the tropical atmosphere right off. In a Japanese way. The counter doesn't seem to have room for the banzai (family-style dishes) that should be there at night; it's about half full of shochu and plum wine. The walls are black, the staff is young, female and sorta hip in a grrrly way, and the overall effect is relaxing. Except for the obnoxious Japanese reggae overhead (inexplicably mixed with an oldies song called Poetry In Motion, I think the Bobby Vee version since it was so bland and smarmy).

For health reasons, I chose the 'buta kakuni', a Japanese specialty consisting of pork belly made more healthy by long, slow simmering in sugar seriously, it's something like that, but it's good. Their version was in the 2nd quartile, I'd say - the fat was all metingly soft, but not quite rendered away as much as I'd really like. To enhance the health benefits, it was served with a half-boiled egg that featured the pretty orange yolks one sees in Japan. The broth was a bit lighter and sweeter than expected (and it was in broth, which is not a given either). All sets came with, count 'em, 6 side dishes - pasta salad, pickles, boiled burdock root, sesame mizuna salad, pork soup (tonjiru) and rice. I love a lotta side dishes, don't you?

Nice place. Relaxing. Worth your while if you can swing by someplace as far away as this.

The fish are cute, right?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Vin de Reve, Ginza 1-Chome (東)

Vin de Reve gets high marks in some quarters, and I've been itching to try it for some time. A casual Tuesday night proved too much to resist, so I cruised down to The Wine of Dreams for a quiet glass and some nourishment. When I say 'cruised', of course I mean 'rode my pearl-white mamachari with the chopped top, extension fork, and flamed fenders'. Sort of. How cool would it be to have a low-rider charinko?

Navigating through the mild confusion brought on by being in the dead zone east of Ginza, I found VdR pretty readily with the aid of a map. (Handy things, those! They still provoke a mild amazement in me that they show things just like they are, and if you follow the map you'll end up where you want to go.) You too can find it - would it help if I mentioned that it's near Loco's Table Mahana? I've seen that Hawaiian place a TON of times from taxis and such, but never gone in. The exterior is narrow, dim and a little featureless - despite the map, I almost walked (errr, rode) right by. Look for the faux stained glass, and of course the obligatory bistro sandwichboard sign. The interior is dominated by a huge, wide, black, curving counter that's topped attractively with empty bottles of Krug and other such trifles.

If you check out some web pictures, you'll see a fairly extravagant style of food presentation - lots of rolled things, segmented things, long bits, splashy sauces, etc. These are usually warning signs to me in a mid-priced restaurant, but it's not so bad in practice. The cooking had bits to recommend it, and bless their hearts, they have convenient half-size portions too.

The onion tart was a little weird (there he goes, complaining right away) in that the filling was pureed very finely, so there was no onion texture left. Instead it looked exactly like (and the texture of) a pumpkin pie. Crust was nice and crumbly, flavor seemed lacking in onions, but maybe I was just confused by the lack of visible bits. The shrimp-vegetable terrine was better - vibrant in color and taste, with a dressing enlivened by a bit of yuzu (that was a food-writer sentence). As a main, the roast pork filet wrapped in bacon delivered handsomely, being both well-cooked and full of umami.

Wine is the real point here though. On the menu, there are mentions of only 'glass white' and 'glass red'...but when asked, the waiter (sommelier? owner?) said "Well, what kind of white do you want? Sauvignon Blanc? Chardonnay? Pinot Blanc?" This surprised me a bit - can they really have that much on tap? - so I said Chardonnay to see what would happen. And he said "OK, what kind of Chardonnay? We have Rhone, Loire, Burgundy... [or words to that effect]". And when I said "Burgundy", he brought two nice bottles, a Macon and a Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru, and I chose one and it was good. A glass of red burgundy after that was good too, so I think this is the real source of fame and high ratings for this place.

Don't go expecting value, however. The wines may be fairly-priced, but they're not 'budget sleepers' or 'hidden treasures' - just 1er cru wines priced appropriately. Still, if you're faintly in the neighborhood, they're open late (L.O @ 1AM, which is why they made it into the Tokyo Calendar late-night features) and are ready and willing to accomodate. Worth a visit.

Le Reve Gauche? Geez, oyaji gags in every language this week...