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eating in Japan


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#31 nuxvomica

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 04:17 PM

@nux--Yukari Sakamoto is your friend? Cool. She's always been very helpful and knowledgeable. Seems like she'd be fun to eat with!


hi, just saw this. yes, i met her here in NYC and she's terrific. We worked on an event together (or, rather, volunteered for). When i first met her she was Karla Yukari :)
“Eat me,’’ it says. “Eat me and die.’’ -- Jonathan Gold

Everything is always OK in the end. If it's not OK, then it's not the end.

#32 Orik

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Posted 27 May 2011 - 04:45 PM

I'd be curious to see firsthand how the market has suffered/recovered.



I've seen videos of the vendors bitching, but wholesale volumes are virtually unchanged (April volume down 3% vs last year with unit prices up 2%).


sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#33 flushboing

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Posted 30 May 2011 - 03:41 PM

Maisen seems to be one of two Tonkatsu restaurants that are recommended often, the other being Butagumi:

I can think of about 10-15 other tonkatsu restaurants that come highly recommended (like Tonki, Ponta Honke, Hirata Bokujo) and I'm sure there are more if I investigated further.

I'm sort of torn between disbelief that pork schnitzel is going to be good enough that I'll want to have it instead of something else and the thought that it might be that good after all.

What you're asking is analogous to visiting NYC in search of a burger and deciding to go to Old Homestead or one of the Boulud places for their over-the-top burgers with foie gras and truffles, etc. Are these burgers going to give you a real taste of NYC or just something over the top? I guess that's for you to decide. I have nothing against Butagumi in Tokyo, and certainly want to give it a try, but what they're offering is a chance to have the best pork available in the world and frying it up, cutlet style. Gimmicky? Maybe. It reminds me of Sushi Yasuda in NYC and his thing for a horizontal tasting of a single fish (tuna, eel, or what have you) from different parts of the world. Again, if that's your thing, go for it. Most places in Japan won't offer these kind of choices. You get their "osusume" (or recommended) dishes, and if it's tonkatsu, different shops offer slightly different "kodawari" or specialty style of offering, whether it's the source of their ingredients, or in their preparation. If you believe tonkatsu is just pork schnitzel, then it's probably not for you.

#34 Orik

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Posted 30 May 2011 - 04:34 PM

I didn't mean to offend tonkatsu specialists but I don't think describing breaded fried pork cutlet as Schnitzel is particularly inaccurate. The few I've had were similar enough (although the deep frying and the type of breading are different and could in theory lead to a juicier interior, but usually they don't)

I see your point though. I guess I just don't think I'm particularly interested in the genre and that's why the gimmicky version is the only one that appeals. If you want to keep the nyc analogy, if someone was offering not-too-sweet olive oil cupcakes with some very appealing savory toppings I might try that, but I wouldn't go to any of the dozens of cupcake bakeries that have been popping up all over the place, each with their specialties because frankly I have more than 30 other things I'd rather eat in a month in nyc. (apparently I have 3000+ things I'd rather eat here as I've never had a cupcake Posted Image). Is that fair?


p.s. I've been to Yasuda 60+ times and I've never seen that.

p.s.2. I really do see your point, I hope you understand my perspective as well.
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#35 flushboing

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Posted 30 May 2011 - 05:50 PM

Fair enough. In your original statement, you seemed to be blaming the food, rather than admitting that it doesn't match your palate, and reducing the world of tonkatsu to just a form of schnitzel (and I love a good wiener schnitzel). I suppose you can say sushi is just raw fish on rice. What's the big deal? Like with many simple foods (e.g., sushi or BBQ or fried pork), there's an alchemy that happens when all the right ingredients are put together with care and craftsmanship. Tonkatsu is no different from my perspective. If there's a place to give it a try, it's probably in Tokyo, but you probably shouldn't go to extremes to get it since it seems you'll have a packed itinerary as it is. Enjoy the food that you know you'll love. Maybe try some Tokyo specialties at some old-school places like monjyayaki, or dojounabe (though not in the hot summer), or the dozens of new style ramen that's exploding all over Tokyo.

#36 Orik

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Posted 30 May 2011 - 06:30 PM

Right, when I said I couldn't believe it's going to be good enough for me to prefer it over other things I meant I couldn't believe it'd be good enough for me given my preferences and experience, not in some intrinsic way. I make the more or less the same argument as you do here:

http://mouthfulsfood...ost__p__1120776
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#37 Orik

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 10:39 PM

I've been to busy to post so far, but following a night of eating pork offal skewers in a standing bar in Shinjuku (and nearly drowning in sochu), and then another night of sushi at sushiko honten followed by superb drinks at High Five, we had dinner at Ryugin last night - what a charming place (not the decor, but everything else) - those ayu are a real treat and everything ranged from good to extraordinary. I'll post in more detail later today.
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#38 prasantrin

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 11:15 PM

Did the ayu dish you had look like this?

Posted Image

One of my all-time favourite dishes anywhere, anytime.

#39 Orik

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 11:41 PM

They've changed the presentation a bit - there's a stone emulating a river bed surrounded by river stones, but it's the same concept. Someone took a picture:

http://lh3.ggpht.com...As/DSC00107.JPG

A fellow diner, the only other tourist we've seen so far (a wine maker from Los Gatos, apparently sent here by David Kinch) was busy making lip smacking noises over a previous dish (uni with seasonal veggies I think) and we told him it just keeps getting better. After tasting the ayu he asked me "Does it really keep getting better from here?"
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#40 prasantrin

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Posted 04 June 2011 - 12:23 AM

Pretty close! Was that a watermelon-based sauce? When they explained the dish to me, I thought, "This guy is brilliant!"

Looking forward to hearing/seeing more. I miss eating in Japan so much. At least I can experience it vicariously through you.

#41 Orik

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Posted 04 June 2011 - 08:07 AM

Yes it was. It worked very well with the fish although the intrinsic bitter, salty, sweet, smoky flavors of the grilled fish were magnificently well balanced.

Other dishes included:

Sweet corn chawanmushi topped with fresh corn - on the sweet side but nice. (also I think this was supposed to be a cold-to-hot preparation but by the time it got to the table it was hot-to-hot)
Fresh uni from Hakodate in dried shrimp jelly with grilled eggplant, baby corn, okra - the uni itself was superb and everything just worked very well together.
Pilke eel with grilled eggplant in ichiban dashi - this was very delicate - not as delicate as the bass in thickened water sauce (really it was thickened dashi there too) we had in Aida before but still I felt like I'm missing a frame of reference. I think if I were handed this fish together with the kitchen slave to clean it I'd probably make something like a steamed Merluza a la Gallega but I guess there's a point to be made about the intrinsic flavor of the eel.
Sashimi - very impressive - flounder with the texture of squid, squid with the texture of butter, smoked horse mackerel with mustard and fried onions (or leeks?)
Ayu - mentioned above
Oden - of course this was a haute cuisine joke on the dish but a good joke - eight skewers, each carrying a mini version of an oden item, swimming in delicate broth along with two sauces (yuzu mayo and peanut sauce) - fun to eat and scary to realize Sivan and I picked the same sequence of eight skewers and dipped each in the same sauce...
Charbroiled wild unagi from Biwako lake - wow. The quality of the eel and the perfect cooking with crispy skin and soft meat put any other unagi I've had (which isn't saying that much) to shame
Wagyu beef fillet, breaded and served with poached egg, rice with peas and shrimp based red miso soup - I guess punishment for me not planning to have a tonktasu meal, this seemed like a less successful joke on a katsudon set. The poor fillet might have had some flavor but all I was getting was breading, egg, etc. and the rice was just pointless.

Even though we were really full at this point we had cold soba with yuzu, very nice. Dessert was something very frozen from strawberries with something warm from strawberries. It tasted like very good strawberries.


Very nice wine list, burgs were all from top producers and mostly from good years with many bottles ready to drink and some at no markup to current US/UK retail. (I don't know if there was some regulatory change in Japan but wine prices are often not that much higher than in the US now)
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#42 Orik

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Posted 04 June 2011 - 08:29 AM

But back to our first evening - it was pretty late by the time we got here, had our luggage go through full cavity search (retaliation against Israel doing that to Japanese tourists I think), setting up shop, etc. and we didn't really feel up to a michelin type of place, so we headed up to Shinjuku intending to try Shinjuku Horumon that was recommended in Yukari Sakamoto's book for offal. Unfortunately they were out of almost everything and suggested we come back another day, so we went instead to Saiseisakaba - a very happy standing bar also specializing in offal. It's always interesting to see the progression of interaction with foreigners in these places (not unlike in traditional restaurants in Spain) - starting with a stern warning "only horumon, only pig, only yakitori", then an attempt to point you at the safe items, then finally recognition that you can actually eat like an almost proper human being and finally, as mentioned, drowning in shochu. The best items here were small intestine stuffed with fat, rib belly, and whole grilled brain (they also do brain sashimi), cool place.
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#43 Orik

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 01:14 PM

And then, stumbling across Kabukicho, taking the last train back to Ueno, pushing the prostitutes out of the way (they're not nearly as well paid as on the east side of town I think, and far more aggressive, and with an accent), we walked by the location of Ippudo and figured we might as well give it a try (number 60 something in all of tokyo after all these years). The soup is terrific, deeply satisfying, the noodles as bad as in nyc. The extra spicy version was the spiciest thing I've eaten in at least the past eight years, comparable only to the Sri Lankan* joint in Minneapolis, but so delicious that I managed to somehow eat almost all of it.

Then the next morning superb espresso at Streamer Coffee Co. - a clone of an Intelligentsia shop where they serve Doughnut Plant donuts made to their specs.




* where the owner turned out to be a rebel collaborator.
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#44 nuxvomica

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 09:07 PM

so jealous, esp. after a rather unexciting meal at brushstroke here, but having a lot of fun reading. more pictures please!
“Eat me,’’ it says. “Eat me and die.’’ -- Jonathan Gold

Everything is always OK in the end. If it's not OK, then it's not the end.

#45 Orik

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 04:16 AM

Ok, time to try and catch up.

Sushiko Honten - I don't want to sound too negative - the fish were very good and we got a lot of food, they are extremely nice, the sushi chef is a walking, talking nigiri machine, it wasn't even more expensive than places like Ushiwakamaru but I don't think it was substantially better than Yasuda or other high-end nyc sushi. Maybe the toro was better, sliced off a huge loin, carefully cleaned, then the fatty tip served as nigiri, the bit right next to it as grilled nigiri, and the rest found its way into a fantabulous roll with scallions and pickled daikon, or maybe the ark shell clam, still very much alive... well, maybe it was a little bit better but I don't think I'd put it high on the list of must-visits if you're not here for very long. Ginza locals we spoke with love it (as much as they dislike Kyubei) for the combination of relatively sane prices, amount of food and laid back atmosphere.

Then off to High Five - a cocktail bar started by Hidetsugu Ueno of Star Bar fame on the 4th floor of an Ginza office building (along with such businesses as "Generic Girl Bar" and "Generic Girl Bar Too (no tittie groping)". The moment you step in though (and I risk sounding like Daily Candy here), you're transported into a film noir setting, with Ueno-san and his sidekick working the bar like magic, taking care of everyone in their language of choice - recommending Nikka Yoichi to me as I like Laphroaig (comes paired with highly appropriate smoked radish slices), recommending Laphroaig to a Japanese guy as he likes Nikka Yoichi, making beautiful cocktails... not an inexpensive place to go drinking but a great one. Highly recommended.

Fast forward a couple of nights (will get back to them later) - planned to go to Tsukishima and Kachidoki, stop at a well regarded Izakaya or two for a small bite then get Monjayaki. The first stop, on Kachidoki, was a place called Kane Masu - a sliver of a bar, maybe 10 feet wide with standing room for 15 or so (by which I mean standing room, not moving about room).

This might give some perspective on how narrow it is - there's a wall directly behind the woman you see:

Posted Image


The menu presented its usual difficulties - not only did it use Kanji I don't know but it was hand scribbled on a chalkboard. Fortunately a young couple volunteered to help and we ended up with:

Tuna sashimi roll - a mixture of regular and fatty tuna with sprouts in nori, very nice:

Posted Image


Mantis shrimps - these are in season right now and the samples we got here were significantly better than at Sushiko:

Posted Image


Oyster. Oyster? The plate is a 9 inch dinner plate, people came to snap photos as they've never seen anything like it before and on top of that both flavor and texture were excellent (which often isn't the case for something this size). Garnished with spicy fish roe and scallions - good stuff:

Posted Image


Uni rolled in raw beef - I haven't had this combo yet although I've seen it on a few menus. Works much better than expected:

Posted Image


Finally, some yuba for good measure, topped with shitake, shrimp and peas, not pictured. This place is all about the ingredients. Recommended but get there early.

Then off we went to the second destination of the evening - Kishidaya on Tsukishima - this turned out to be a very old place, with a U shaped bar and some extra seating along the wall and just two available seats. Again, trying to order wasn't going to be simple and the owner could only speak Japanese, but two very friendly businessmen offered to help and also told us we were very lucky - "We've been working around here for years and we've never managed to get a seat here until today". The line out the door later in the evening confirmed that. Anyway, a few hours of conversation, one tripe stew, black cod (I think) simmered in soy and something sweet, broiled clams, broiled cuttlefish, and a comped dish of veggies in miso, plus who knows how many bottles of sake we rolled out of there and figured there wasn't any monja in the books for us. Next time. Recommended with drunken company.

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Not related to anything - some random images from the Ark Hills farmers market. There's supposed to be another one in Roppongi Hills with more interesting produce but it runs from 7am until they're sold out and that's just unreasonably early.

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Next - Ishikawa.
sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns