Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tokyo Highlights: FOOD!!

Dear god have the Japanese got the good eats thing sorted! Central Tokyo is positively AWASH in yumminess from all over the world. Decades of prosperity have brought every conceivable cuisine to town to mingle with domestic cookery refined by centuries of thought about how to take pleasure and nourishment from food.

There is little if any ghettoization notable. The French stuff is side-by-side with the local, Thai, Indian, Byelorussian, etc. Heck, we even wandered by a New Orleans themed “Bourbon Street Bar” on a back alley in Roppongi sandwiched between a yakitori joint and a soba shop.

Five dinners & four lunches weren’t nearly enough to even begin to sample the offerings. We concentrated entirely on Japanese food (novelty aside, I can get good pasta in a lot of other places). Thanks to JM’s knowledge of the city and language skills, we were able to get a taste for a lot of stuff we would have missed.

Our lack of experience with Japanese cuisine means that we didn’t bring many preconceived notions of what we liked or didn’t. Thus, the experience of trying new food and new ways of eating played a major roll for much of our trip. We’re usually 100% food-centric – atmosphere plays at most an amusing supporting role. On this trip, some of our favorite experiences were all about (or at least equally about) the atmosphere/experience rather than the food itself. Thus, two lists.

Favorite food experiences:

1. Sukiyaki & shabu-shabu at Roppongi Jidaiya. A basement right off Roppongi Dori houses this comfortable izakaya serving up a wide selection of home-style food. We wandered down the winding staircase from street level through the diminutive doorway and were quickly seated at a comfortable corner table looking out at a room filled mostly with sararīman getting some after-work socializing done.
While shabu-shabu is basically the Japanese version of the “steamboat” dish offered by every East Asian culture, it’s still a fun communal cooking and dining experience. Also, the typical Japanese fetish for the finest quality ingredients really stood out – beautiful meat and produce here. Our favorite taste, however, was by far the sukiyaki.

2. Okonomiyaki at Sometaro in Asakusa. This old school low ceiling joint had a line running down the block for a reason.

Once again, the experience of cooking & chowing down on the crêpe-cum-pancake-thingies was a blast. Just being in the space made us happy. Check out the video below for a look at the process.

3. Wandering the food hall at the Takashimaya department store in Shinjuku. Harrod’s is for wannabes. Seriously, this is the greatest free food attraction in town. All that stuff I said before about the diversity of global cusine available in Tokyo? Yea. Now put it all inside a Sax Fith Avenue and you’ve got an idea of what it is to stroll the food offerings at this high-end Tokyo department store. We ended up grabbing a taste of a lot of things and finding a bench on the roof top to have our experimental picnic.

Roppongi Jidaiya
B1 Yuni Roppongi Bldg.
7-15-17 Roppongi
Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032

2-2-2 Nishi-Asakusa
Taito-ku, Tokyo

Takashimaya Shinjuku
5-24-2, Sendagaya
Shibuya-ku , Tokyo 151-8580

Favorite dishes:

1. Korokke Pan from the 60 year old Nagano Bakery right on Roppongi Dori. JM sent us over here and we’ll never forgive him. That handful of heaven haunts our dreams. Pleen woke up in a jet lagged fog in our bedroom last night and mumbled “korokeeeeeee pannnn”.

Breakfast of champions!!

2. Spicy tonkatsu ramen from Ippudo in Roppongi. This dish was so good that we’re going to New York to try the offering at their US location. Can’t stop thinking about it. Admittedly, the place itself was great with a funky and charming staff of young turks and a common dinning area rambunctious with groups of friends slurping happily away. But the noodles?! Oh, those noodles.

3. Random “shrimp burger” from a tour group rest cafe near the Yasukuni shrine. It took us so long to make our way over to this part of town that we were in serious need of a refuel by the time with got within range. Imagine our surprise when the food turned out to be pretty good. This block of fresh shrimp held together in fried goodness was better than that. Imagine MY surprise when Pleen appropriated my sandwich!
4. Red bean and cream “pancakes” from a street side shop in Asakusa. These are made by pouring batter into a mold, inserting a bit of filling in the center, and closing the mold to yield a sealed snack filled with molten goodness. We used to love the ones at the Japanese department stores in Singapore. Yea . . . we didn’t know what we were doing. These were spectacular. Thin and flavorful and stuffed with high quality fillings. More than worth the stop.

5. Black sesame ice cream from snack shop near the Sensouji Temple in Asakusa. JM brought us over here to visit the “Japanese 31 flavors”. While my Yuzu flavored cone was grand – redolent with the sweet citrus flavor and bits of the fruit itself, JM’s sesame flavored portion was the clear winner. This was adult soft serve – deeply flavored and luxurious.

Nagano Bakery
2-17-31 Akasaka
Minato-ku, Tokyo

4-9-11, Roppongi
Minato-ku, Tokyo

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