Sunday, August 14, 2011

Merveille, Nihonbashi

What would YOU do if you were returning to America after 7 years in Japan, leaving behind a visa-less fiancee and going off to get a real job? I hope you'd get an excellent bottle of champagne at Takashimaya, go to Merveille, and then take a taxi to Haneda (unless your flight was leaving from Narita).

I've posted about Merveille more than any other restaurant, so I don't have much to say. Just barely holding back the tears.

Fangs for the memories.

Abura Soba, Akasaka (油そば 東京油組総本店

Fattay, fattay, fattay. It had been a while since I 'challenged' the abura soba. I say 'challenge' in the Japanese way, meaning to try something new or perhaps distasteful. There's nothing distasteful about this shop (except perhaps the pained expression of the guy looking at my camera), but I generally don't see the need for non-ramen noodles (other than soba, you know?). Abura soba is better for me than tsukemen, because it doesn't make any pretense about being hot.

Well, this is certainly hot. Not 'Poland 1939' hot, but a bit of a tickle. We had to wait a fair while even though it was Sunday (I believe) and the shop is in the night-time entertainment area, so it must be popular. It certainly hews to the modern aesthetic, what with all the black clothing on the staff, bare concrete and brick, and bare bulbs. Carefully-calculated industrialism.

I'd like to make a joke about the noodles being carefully calculated too, but I can't remember a damn thing about them. The sauce is on the bottom, and it's a really thick reduced ramen base, and you have to stir it up, but I can't tell you beyond that. I'd just go to Junk Garage if I really wanted to eat this stuff. Or this place in Akiba.

Heavens to Betsy, they really do claim that they're the dog's bollocks in this stuff - the full name of the store is sorta like "the original inventor and main store".

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rusticanella, Akasaka (ルスティカネラ)

Many times I've scoured Tabelog for dinner places in Akasaka and come away disappointed. One that was always on the cusp but never got picked was Rusticanella; here it is. (Incidentally, if I was looking now and had the money, I'd try this Uoshin place. It's almost across the street from Rusticanella, which is why the latter was on my mind after lunch with Chewy at the former several weeks before).
Someone looks excited. It's a nice-looking place.
And pretty empty on a Saturday night. Hmmmmm. When it's empty and the patrons are all old, you can't be too doki doki about the food either. Maybe that's what made this picture crooked.
We had the course - I can't remember if there were many options, and to tell you the truth I can't remember what many of the courses were. Considering the crazy stuff I remember months later in memorable meals, I guess that's all the review you really need on this place. But I'll show you the pictures anyway, because there's nothing really wrong with going here, at the price.
Plain gnocchi with cheese sauce. It cracks me up, as an American, when Japanese-Italian restaurants do this. I mean, it could be normal in Italia for all I know. In America, it looks like they took three out of the pot to see if they were done, and the other 27 will be following shortly.
Looks a lot like a canned tuna risotto, but I'm sure it's not.
This is pretty cool for a fish course - two pieces of grilled white fish and half a scampi.
Wagyu with a slice of foie? I mean, I'd never say no to that. The yellow puddle pooling at the left of the plate is just fat running off the foie, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
And ahhhhh, there it is, the crappy mixed dessert plate. It wouldn't be an Italian dinner without one.

Another thing this place has going for it is that it's on the Eatpia site, which has a limited selection of quite good places (Merveille used to be there). Not sure what happened in this case.

Honu Cafe, Wako (ワイン食堂honucafe,埼玉県和光市)

This is really it - the last day I spent in Tokyo. Someone and I spent it like a lot of days before - pottering around a suburb, looking for excitement and not finding any. Unfortunately our bikes were already abandoned back in Monnaka, so we took a train somewhat at random and got off in Wako.

As I said, looking for excitement. We visited a nice preserved Edo-era farmhouse, but other than the simple pleasures of sitting on the porch there, the grooviest thing we found was this sign. Pa-Pooh indeed.

I like to theorize that there's a French bistro in every decent-sized town; the one here was closed when we visited. We walked around a bit before concluding there wasn't much to see, and we ended up at this cafe.
I must say, this is a very appropriate place to find yourself considering the distance from Tokyo. It's even date-friendly. I bet the beautiful young people of Wako come here of a Saturday night. Both of them.
Since I was going back to America, we got burgers. You just can't get Japanese-style burgers in America. Or something. These were quite worthwhile. Not like you're going to visit Wako for the burgers or nothin, but they were good. Note the daring side of raw, dressed goya.
Well, last day and all that...Figured we might as well celebrate and get all festive. They have a nice-looking bar here, so why not get a cocktail? Campari soda is the thing for days as hot as this one. I asked for the drinks, and they said we couldn't have them with the lunch set. This is when I went a little overboard on the celebration thing.

No problem! We'll have the drinks separately.
Errrrr, ok. What soft drink would you like with the set?
Oh, I don't need a drink with the set, just the Campari.
You can't have the Campari with the set.
I don't want the Campari with the set, I want it separately.
But then what drink do you want with the set?

Sure, it's a small point - but over the years, it's actually been rare that I've been confronted with the much-vaunted tendency to inflexibility of Japanese businesses. And with this being my last day and all, I just decided to go for it and not give up. It must have lasted for 5 minutes, with the waitress escalating to the manager and someone finally ending it by ordering an iced tea for me.

Still not sure if I'm proud of myself or not.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Kuroza Akatsukirou, Akasaka (赤坂馳走屋 黒座暁樓)

So here we are, all moved out of the apartment and into the last few days of life in Tokyo. In a really weird twist of mind, we stayed at the New Otani, which left us in Akasaka once someone got back from work. The walk around to pick a restaurant for dinner was protracted - partly because it's always that way with me, and partly because I've always thought Akasaka is boring. It's very much there to take money from salarymen, and you have to work hard to separate the worthwhile from the mediocre and chain.

Case in point, it turns out that this charming place with ample style, nice calligraphy, and a fake well in the entryway is a Kiwa Corporation outlet (I didn't know until I looked it up just now, 6 months later). This is Kiwa of 'We have the frontier spirit!' fame, with roots in Chinese food (and several major brands and 100+ shops in that genre) and sub-brands spanning French, Japanese, Italian, 'Asian', American and Foreign. Still, this looks cool, don't it?
Inside too - definitely cool. I guess the chain-ness explains why the staff were more distant than I expected, but that meant they left us alone to cry in our beer.

Or rather our sake, because I've given up on ordering a beer to start things off. This is a perfectly nice list, even if it features a few too many big names for my liking and the prices are a touch high. Anyway, I remember we drank a delicious Kuroushi, and I think that's a good showing for 6 months later and no notes. If I squint, I can see the Daishichi Kimoto in the rack in the picture above, and I think we might have had that too. Despite it being August, my love of kimoto takes preference.

Voila, some food - all reasonably good if not reasonably-priced. Can't remember if we went anywhere after this, but there are no more pictures, so I don't think so. The dark picture is raw octopus bits with wasabi - something I used to choke down when forced to be polite, but now order willingly (it's a great tsumami, you know?). Bottom left, I can never go past mackerel 'log' sushi after the time I had it for lunch on a workday at Kurosawa in Roppongi. And bottom right, it was a sad summer this year since the water eggplant harvest was sharply curtailed. Last year I was eating it for dinner all the time, even at home.

A lot of things were different last year, I guess.

Napoli Napoli, Monzen Nakacho

If you remember that old, overpriced sushi place called 'Tamon' that used to be just north of the, no one's going to remember that. I talked to people who lived in the neighborhood and didn't know it was there. The point is that it disappeared, and was replaced just before I left with pizza place - a brick-oven, chef-trained-in-Italy, Napoli-fuu pizza place. What a weird idea. I had lunch there after throwing out the rest of my belongings and throwing up my McDonald's breakfast, but before the landlord's agent came to try to extort thousands of extra dollars from me for 'cleaning fees'.

Not everyone was impressed to know that this was my possibly last-ever lunch in Monzennakacho.
Wow, water. I think I was in a peculiar state of mind, or else maybe just trying and failing to be artistic. Other people were drinking bottles of wine, which seems an extreme thing for business lunch.
The chef was in a peculiar state of mind too, which is why the pizza was preceded by a mayonnaise-y salad of gobo. It might be traditional in Italia for all I know.
Bacon and tomato pizza, I don't know. Oh, white pizza with bacon and tomato. I see on their web site that they're into a sorta fusion thing, with Japanese style pizzas (crab and shrimp gratin) on Neapolitan crust. This wasn't, say, Tamburello class, but for a Y1k lunch pizza right next to my apartment, it's a hell of a thing.
So's leaving. It's a hell of a thing.

McDonald's, Monzennakacho (マクドナルド)

Ahhh, here we go. Really winding down now. I dropped someone off at the train station just like always, but couldn't engage in my customary multi-hour bike ride around Tokyo - it was moving day. I lived in that apartment for 7 years, which is the longest I've ever lived anywhere, except my parents' house, by a long margin. And if I think about it, we moved when I was 2 or 3, and again when I was 10, and I went to college at 7 years really could be the longest I lived anywhere. So it was a funny feeling to leave.

That's the only way I can explain what I did. Just a little past the station is the McDonald's. This would have been the first time I visited that McDonald's; I've typically eaten something of theirs about once a year, and always breakfast at Narita on the way out of the country. Fat give you power, you know? Something like that. I just hit this big sandwich and headed for the park.

You can see that I'm already a bit unexcited about eating it. And that's nothing compared to the weird feelings that followed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bistro Bar Ku, Shibuya (ビストロバークー)

You know how much I like my powers of observation, right? I always maintained I could spot good places from half a mile away in the dark. As a second place for this evening, I realized that we were just around the corner from a really cool-looking place that I'd been eyeing for years but never found myself in Shibuya of an evening in the right circumstances to visit.
Ku is on the street that I like to think of as "Ikebe Music's street", because they have 4 or 5 shops there. The general one is OK and big, but undifferentiated. There's a drum store, a dedicated amp store, and of course a sweet high-end guitar store. But in between, across from the crappy Chinese place and just down from where someone got her last pair of running shoes, is this place. How cool is this? The low entry, the big slabs of stone, the vegetation, the empty bottles?

Moody lights on the stairs inside, since we were ushered past the nice downstairs counter. They don't offer hookahs, but they might as well.

Because that ashy taste in your mouth might be better than the boring, crap food here. It's a darn good thing we were already well into the evening and just wanted to sit and talk.

And it's certainly a cool place to sit and talk, right? Coming up the stairs, you turn a corner and go past two horikotatsu booths before wobbling down the stairs (your mileage may vary, but I was wobbling) into the other seating area - just another two tables. Congenial, stylish, pleasant.
And not at all recommended. 

As an aside, look at their gurunabi page. When one of their lead pictures to demo their warez is the mixed dessert plate with happy-birthday chocolate plaque, you know you shouldn't have high expectations. I can say that with the benefit of hindsight.

Fujiya Honten Dining Bar, Shibuya (富士屋本店 ダイニングバー)

On the road again...this time taking the train down to Shibuya to celebrate a last night as a resident of Tokyo before taking up residence at the New Otani. I still can't believe I stayed at the New Otani.

You'd also think this was the Tozai line, because almost every train trip I've taken in my life (by %) started on the Tozai line. But it's not, it's the Ginza line. You can tell because the stripe over the door is yellow.
And you should know where this is without asking. Pulling into Shibuya at twilight, seeing the buses, the crowds, getting ready to pick up underage girls at 109 and then drinking until dawn, that's what it's all about!

Unless you're me, and then what it's all about it meeting Poshand and looking for a place to eat. Someone came later since she was working.
Here it is. I've never been a fan of standing and drinking (the two kanji of the sign), and while I'm a fan of DINING, I certainly don't think standing and dining go together. So I was skeptical. But I liked the back-alley appeal of the place, and it was early so it wasn't crowded.

Plus it looks pretty stylin', doesn't it? They've done a thing like at my favorite bar, Fal, where the wood is chipboard, but some stain and varnish and soft lighting makes you think it's polished oak. And the brassy fittings help.

You know what, maybe they actually made good on it - this looks pretty 'dining'. I mean, putting some sauce on the sashimi and calling carpaccio is sorta destined to annoy me, but it was good. And macaroni salad is a lame thing to serve, but it was tasty, and that tomato coloring in the mayo is just a little kick. The tuna steak buried under the salad is nicely grill-marked, and the burnt mackerel with the green sauce is really pretty. So yeah, this is pretty cool now that I think of it. Wow, blogging sure can open your horizons.

It looks very dignified and refined at this semi-official link. Not quite THAT good.

Taiyo, Monzen Nakacho (海鮮立飲み 太陽)

A final joke on my Japanese capabilities, which were mostly a joke anyway, along with a fond farewell to this street leading to Hachiman Bashi, and an even fonder farewell to standing bars that open in the afternoon and getting drunk therein.
My last evening in Monzen Nakacho, and I spent it in Shibuya with Poshand and someone. But first I got hammered at this place, one of the highest-ranked in Monnaka.

What's the joke? The name evidently means 'sun'. For years and years I've been thinking it meant 'fat intestine'. I dunno why.
And it's this kind of place - a much cheaper and somewhat more cheerful Kanemasu. Same really old master who has a hard time hearing you, or at least a hard time caring after all these years. Same snacky food. Same limited selection of sake.

More cheerful, as I said. One patron here is really into the whole experience. The other is wondering what's going on, and feeling fairly strange in light of the need to leave soon to go to Shibuya and then return to sleep on the floor of an apartment already ravaged by movers.

Also feeling fairly strange in light of pounding several glasses of room-temperature sake. But hey, look at that fish! Sure, I'm writing this about 22 weeks after the fact, but I can tell you without looking that the lighter one at top right is kisu, and you never get that. The other one is probably kohada, don't you think? Below that is tailagai, and to the left some nice, soft stewed octopus. And Edamami Beans. I wasn't terribly excited by this, but it's also quite cheap. Value gets high ratings.

While again, I'm not getting high ratings for friendliness. What can you expect - it's 5:30, it's hot as a dog's nuts outside, and I've been drinking warm sake and talking about how I come from America? I do hope everyone else enjoyed meeting a real, live foreigner though.

I usually hope other people had fun, actually.