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Long before I started this site, I wanted some way to express my food adventures. While this was technically my second trip to Japan, it might as well have been my first, as it was the first time I really got to experience things there. This is the trip report I wrote via e-mail to my friends.

 

Saturday, December 1, 2001 - 4:13PM


I have a few minutes and I thought I would share with you some of my adventures since I arrived here a few days ago. There are many things I could tell you about that would make (almost all of) you jealous… I’ve stayed in a couple of very cool hotels, not more than $150 a night and the Tokyo one with a gorgeous view of downtown Tokyo skyscrapers. Kyoto was beautiful with a zillion temples tucked into every nook and cranny, including one coated entirely in gold, Tokyo is like a cleaner and safer Manhattan, every cell phone you see in this country is cooler than the next, and the worst one is 10 times better than all of ours put together, getting around is unbelievably easy – the bullet train is so cool, the subways are incredibly well labeled and organized, and all the trains run on time (without that pesky fear I had riding trains in Germany), the stores have a million cool gadgets not to mention videogames that you’ll never see (horseracing), at a towering 5”7 (and a half!!!) my view is never blocked, and everyone is incredibly polite.

But none of that matters to you. So let’s get down to the most important thing – the food.

On Thursday morning I got on the bullet train to Kyoto. I stopped at one of the too numerous to count little stores in the train station selling “boxed” lunches – think Bento, not Eurest provided deli sandwiches. I bought a box choosing (from one of the plastic samples) one that was filled with yummy deep fried items and triangles of seaweed filled with rice and fish. As good as everything was, the rice in the triangles was just bursting with this slightly spiced, slightly salted, yummy flavor. It was mmm mmm good. The only downside was the beverage I bought – looked like apple juice, but it was like a weird pink flavor. I can’t describe it any better than that – maybe some sort of mild flower plus a touch of kiwi and pear… I don’t know, but I drank most of it until I gave up and bought a coke from the cart on the train. The upside? Coke here is really good. I can’t explain why. I don’t even drink it at home.

Thursday evening I was wandering around downtown Kyoto until I found a small restaurant (10 seats at the bar, 5 tables) off one of numerous wide pedestrian shopping alleys. Name of the restaurant? No clue. Name of the kind of food? No idea. Think meat on sticks. Yum yum! Essentially, a long bar with stools. I sit down at one of them, point at chicken with spring onion on the menu. Lots of friendly yelling/repeating between the two waitresses and the three cooks. Skewered chicken and spring onion is pulled out of the cooling area (containing hundreds of skewers prepared for the evening – I think I’m their first customer as it’s relatively early), dipped in yummy sauce, and then grilled right in front of me. After a couple of minutes it’s redipped and handed to the waitress who stands next to me for most of the meal ready to attend to any (culinary) request. I wonder where she’s going to put the food as I have no plate. In front of me and spanning the length of the bar is a stainless steel angled platform with a lip. Sure enough that’s where the meat and sticks go. I dig in. It was perfect. I can’t explain how good it was. Juicy. Tasty. Flavorific. Tender. And cooked exactly just the right amount – just until the last molecule of pink in the chicken was gone – and not one second longer. How he knew when to pull it off the grill I don’t know, but he got it right again and again as I ordered a bunch. I also ordered cucumber on sticks to alternate with the chicken. Crispy, fresh, yummy. :)

Friday morning, I skipped breakfast as I slept in, but poked around another neighborhood in Kyoto for lunch before visiting the old Imperial Palace in Kyoto. First stop was a tiny old lady on a corner with a sushi stand. Sushi is harder to find than you might think here – sometimes it seems that there are more McDonalds than sushi places. I ordered two tuna rolls. What I got (for about $1.50 piece) was two 2/3 length tuna maki rolls (tuna in yummy flavorific rice) each wrapped in this plastic sleeve/envelope that contained the seaweed. I’m sure that there’s some deft move of the wrist that unwraps this thing and extracts the nori from the sleeve rewrapping the roll in one motion – but I was a little more awkward than that. Didn’t really matter as this “street” sushi was so damn good. Better than pretty much any sushi in the US. Nishino and Kamakura are still great, but there is a lightness about the sushi here that just makes it extra yummy. Maybe it’s the rice. Maybe it’s the “snackability” factor. And of course it came with a tiny packet of ginger, and a little plastic fish with a pop top containing soy sauce. Also – you guessed it – yummy! Wandered around a bit more, sampled the yummy grilled ham cubes that the supermarket was offering on the street to get me to buy some ham cube packages. The ham cube lady kept point at her food and saying “Numbah one! Numbah one!” Found a butcher a block down who had more of those meat sticks with spring onion that I’d had the night before – his we’re awesome too! And wound up at a French bakery across the street. There are a surprising number of French bakeries here. The French and Japanese aesthetics seem to go hand-in-hand. The entire bakery was the size of my office. This one was called – “Marry French.” No idea. I picked out this little braid of french bread with 8 loops. Each loop was filled with a little piece of ham/yumminess and some Dijon – all baked in. I also got this soft bread spiral cone thing filled with soft chocolate spread/mousse/pudding goodness. You’re supposed to put everything on a tray with tongs, and then stand in line so you can pay and they can bag it all for you. I saw the tray but didn’t notice the tongs until I got my food. Luckily nobody noticed my faux pas, I could see the headlines – ugly/dirty/smelly American puts fingers all over our clean Japanese food. Nobody wants that! I finally made it to the register and put the lady there in a bit of a panic. She astutely noticed that my bread/ham/Dijon bread only had 5 loops. She did a double take and started heading over to the bin to recheck the official amount of loops allotted for one of these things. She was a half-second from ditching mine for a fresh one, until I sheepishly acknowledged that I had eaten three of the loops while standing in line. This put her and her buddy into a fit of (polite/restrained) giggles.

Friday dinner. Found an entire new neighborhood that I hadn’t seen yet in Kyoto also filled with a million shops, stores, and restaurants. But as cool as it was, even cooler were the million tiny side alleys (narrow pedestrian) containing even more restaurants. Smaller the restaurant, less likely there would be any English in the joint (speakers, menu, etc.). I wandered around for awhile. As brave as I think I am, I’m really a big wuss… What if they ignore me? What if they give me a plate full of eyeballs? They’ll find out I’m really all talk when it comes to trying new things. I finally screwed up the courage to wander into a tiny place that had the word “sirloin” on their menu out front. I figured “sirloin” = no worries. The second I walked in, 3 middle aged, traditionally dressed Japanese ladies cornered me. One yelled sukiyaki, the other yelled for me to remove my shoes, and the other led me into a tiny room with paper walls, and a low table in the middle. I sat down, and she took off. Over the next hour she returned periodically to make me an entire Sukiyaki meal on the spot. We started with awesome thin strips of meet cooked on some sugar crystals over high heat with soy. She gave me a beaten raw egg. I dipped the cook meat in the raw egg and ate. No eyeballs, but a little bit brave. J Then came vegetables. Then more meat. Then rice. Then fruit for dessert. I got video of the whole thing. Not only was the food good, but I felt like I was on “R&R” in a M*A*S*H episode (yeah, I know, they were in Korea, not Japan, but it still felt cool). Actually on a side note, All the while I was in Kyoto I kept feeling like I was in China here for some reason. Or I guess I felt like I imagined I would feel if I were in China. (Since I’ve never been, I guess I don’t really know.) Since there’s significant Chinese influence on the old capital I guess it’s understandable, but it was weird. Going on the tour of the Imperial Palace I had to show my passport, and get “permission” at the special “permission office.” Security dude followed us everywhere. The palace grounds were pretty empty. Whatever… weird.

Saturday lunch. Ducked into a building that said Chinese restaurant in downtown Kyoto before I had to get on the bullet train. I was whisked up 6 flights in an old style elevator by a craggy old elevator dude. I ended up in the penthouse of the building – no more than 15 small tables in what felt like an old apartment. They brought out their one and only dusty/dirty English menu. I knew it had fewer items than the one in Japanese sitting on the table, but what could I do. I ordered crab and egg flower soup, and fried shrimp. The soup – great. The shrimp – unbelievable. Imagine something deep fried to tender perfection and then put next to an oil magnet that removes every drop of oil from the shrimp. I can’t explain it – just light, and fluffy, and tasy, and not greasy. I think I ate 80 of them. And of course, had a great Coke®.

Saturday night – the warmup for dinner. I spent an hour wandering through the Takashiyama department store. Two food locii. The 3 floors at the top of the department store – floors 12, 13, and 14, and the basement with the “traditional” Japanese department store supermarket. There were probably 25 restaurants packed into the floors at the top of the store. Most carried on the dutiful tradition of having plastic representations of the dishes they sold out front under glass. Now, being a private collector of plastic sushi, I completely understand the merits of this art. That said, even I admit, that plastic sushi isn’t necessarily “appetizing.” Plastic pizza and spaghetti is just kind of gross. But still cool!!! The lines outside of every restaurant were out the door as it’s Saturday night and the entire place was mobbed. (BTW, I don’t know what percentage of the Japanese population is Christian, or if bulk of the public even consider Christmas a religious holiday, but damn – Christmas was everywhere. They were piping in English Christmas music, and there’s tons of lights strung up everywhere… but I digress. The coolest restaurant had a plastic display of ~40 sushi hand rolls (temakis). Each different. Each cool looking. Total - ~$70.00 for this handroll smorgasboard. The basement was even cooler. Essentially a fancy supermarket – think Larry’s/Bread and Circus/ or that fancy yuppy supermarket they used to have in Coolidge Corner before they went out of business. The supermarket part was cool, but the endless islands of prepared food counters were unreal. Every specialty – 7 different sweets counters – natto bean, white bean sweets, weird shapes and colors, everything prepared beautifully. More yummy sushi triangles. A “croquette” (deep fried) stall. Cheese stalls. Just amazing. The place was a zoo.

But I ate somewhere else. After wandering around outside in the side streets for a bit (which were also packed with people). I found a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Took me two tries to build up my courage to go in. Hey what’s the big deal? It was clear nobody spoke English. I had no idea how to even get my name on the waiting list, etc. But I figured it out quickly. Essentially, you walk in and sit in a row of seats on the right. Every time a seat at the bar opens up, the person at the far end of the row of side seats gets up and takes the open spot. The rest of us all get up and move over. Neat. No list required. By the time I made it to my spot, I was raring to go. Salmon nigiri. Do they call it “Sake” as I learned? Nope. They call it “Sahlmone.” Two plates into it, I started mimicking they lady next to me. I ordered a Kirin. (Japan Tip™ - most English words become Japanese by changing the ending “L” into an “RU”. So Beer = Bee-ru.) I don’t know what got into me, as you know I’m not a big drinker, but it really was the perfect beverage to go with the conveyor belt sushi. The lady next to me ordered special sushi, and I just repeated to the waitress what she had said. So, she ordered Negi-Toro, I ordered Negi-Toro. I also had red snapper, and a bunch of other yummy goodness. There was also this super good smooth pink fish I had. Was it Tuna? Toro? I have no idea. I forgot my phrase book so I couldn’t ask. But it was soooooo good. 10 plates later, I was stuffed. $15 for the sushi. $5 for the beer. Again, the sushi was low rent. Nothing fancy. Pretty basic. But for someone reason I could eat way more than I could normally eat in the US. The best non-food moment was when the new sushi chef crew showed up. I quickly realized that the three guys stuffed into the tiny island in the middle of the conveyor belt had no way out. That is until the couple next to me was asked to get off their stools. Quickly the three guys crawled out threw a small square cutaway in the wall under the bar, and three new sushi dudes crawled into the tiny space on their hands and knees. The sushi kept flowing and nobody missed a beat.

Anyway, that’s where we’re at for now. If you’re feeling smug, or superior because I have yet to make you jealous – just remember this… I haven’t yet attended the Iron Chef restaurants. I plan to do that this coming week!!! :)

 

Saturday, December 15, 2001 - 1:49PM


I’m on the plane and I thought I would finish my trip report. Most of the people on the trip wrote work-related trip reports. How boring.

Another week in Japan brought a wealth of reasons to love this country… Of all the reasons, two main themes emerged very clearly 1) the Japanese have thought of everything! Go out to traditional Japanese dinner, remove your shoes before entering the tatami room, shoes store in convenient cubbies for post-dinner retrieval, but wait – what if you need to go to pee in the middle of dinner, nobody wants to wear socks into the bathroom, before the thought could even occur to me, I was about to enter the bathroom and staring at me from the floor were special slippers marked “toilet” in embroidery – in other words, they were bought at the store for this express purpose. Or the handicap elevators with lowered buttons. Or the special escalators at the airport so you can and are encouraged to use your luggage carts on the escalator. Or the way the ticket taking machines at the subway have 4 readers installed in the pathway so you can insert your ticket backwards, upside down, or both and it will still be read. Or the flying cars – oh wait, that’s next week. Or the honor system umbrellas at the subway stations. Or the umbrella condoms and cubicles in the lobby of every office building and hotel (condom so it doesn’t drip water, cubicle so you can store it). And then of course theme #2 (which the umbrella example falls into as well) everything is individually wrapped with a zeal that would make even the mildest environmentalist feel very uncomfortable (I didn’t :)). Anything you purchase (gift, food, monkey, etc.) will first be wrapped in tissue paper, then put in a plastic box, then tied with a ribbon, then wrapped again, then put in a bag, then sealed, then put in another larger bag. Wrapping is an art, and possibly an obsessive compulsive disorder for the Japanese. The pinnacle was when a member of our party bought a small charm and loop of material for a cell phone. This item was inserted into a plastic bag which was then sealed. A small pump was revealed and inserted into the bag. The bag grew to reveal it’s shape as a protective pillow completely surrounding the small item, and of course it was transparent so the gift was perfectly visible and admirable in it’s wrapping. This pillow/bag was then wrapped in 3 other forms of paper and bag. We were blown away.

One other note, in my last e-mail I mentioned how amazingly cool the cell phones are. At Akihabara – the electronics district in Tokyo – I found a bin of display models for sale as toys. Even these fake last year’s models are cooler then all the cell phones we have in the U.S. One day we were on the subway when a teenage girl started talking to us in English. We asked her if we could see her cell phone. She brought out an amazing phone with full color display, played games, surfed the web, etc. But just as she was handing it over she pulled it back and said “oh, wait a moment…” She had forgotten to attach the camera module (smaller than a matchbox car) to the phone. Once that was done, she let us play with it, and of course take pictures using her cell phone!!!

But again, I digress, because who really cares about how smart these guys are or their obsession with packaging or their cool cell phones. The most important part was the food. And let me say right up front, that after writing down my first week’s experiences the pressure really grew. As you know if you’ve gone out to dinner with me, I look at every meal as an opportunity. And if the meal is mediocre, or lackluster, then I look at it as a missed opportunity. (Hmmm… maybe I need to look into that with my therapist…) So with the days of my trip dwindling, I got even more serious about having great food experiences.

Sunday I went to the Akihabara district. I especially was curious to try a McDonald’s interpretation of an ethnic dish. But of course it’s not even close to the bar of the rest of my food experiences. I started to get desperate walking around the area as I couldn’t find anything but McDonalds. I will come clean and admit to you that I got as far as the line in the store, when I started to smell that fast food smell, and I realized I couldn’t do it. I left… and happened upon a dumpling joint down the street. OK. Promising. I walked in and they had 5 different dim sum type assortments to choose from. I chose #1, but the lady behind the counter told me that what I really wanted was the buffet. I ran upstairs to check and sure enough she was right. I handed her approx. $4 and as she handed me my tray and receipt she told me I had 30 minutes to eat as much as I could. It was like a starting gun had gone off and I was a thoroughbred. On the second floor there were several tables as well as a bar with stools where I sat. In the center was a small table overflowing with 10 different kinds of dumplings. They were awesome. All different shapes and sizes… Pork, shrimp, as well as shrimp, and pork. Super good. I made it downstairs at 29:57… and slipped out just before the deadline.

Monday, meeting with an OEM in the MS offices in Tokyo. Meeting starts at 10am. At 12:30 we take a break and a series of boxed lunches arrive. All are the same – perfect sandwiches, crusts removed, yummy fried chicken with curry sauce in the middle. We’re they soggy? No. Were they delicious. Damn straight. And of course… individually wrapped – hospital corners and everything.

Monday dinner. My co-workers and I went out for sushi. What can I say. Again great. Novel item of the night? Fried eel guts. Tasty? No. Terrible. Nah. Tasted like liver. But the piles of sashimi more than made up for it. And of course, a little negi-toro maki helped as well.

Tuesday breakfast. Rather than slum it at the hotel buffet, a couple of us decided to explore the basement of the department store with all of the prepared food counters. As I mentioned, the department store basement grocery store is a tradition here in Japan. Why? I have no idea. But the selection and quality were fantastic. We ate here most mornings. Our typical choices included – unbelievable fresh dumplings, just out of the fryer/steamer from the dumpling counter, amazing shrimp and pastry concoctions from the French counter, perfect Scandinavian smoked salmon, and I do mean PERFECT, butteryflakeybutterflakey chocolate croissants, little Italian proscuitto platters, and a variety of other yummy goodies. Weird natto bean desserts, other French pastries/baked goods, and lots of meat on sticks… Perfectly prepared pork and chicken, chunks and ground, some capped by a mushroom, some breaded, some with amazing sauce on these perfect little sticks on which they were cooked some with beautiful Japanese writing on the handles. (They probably said “Hey crude American, throw this in the trash. Don’t litter and shit up our country.”) Every morning was another adventure among the friendly ladies of the prepared food counters.

One other note on the basement markets in the department stores. They sold $500 melons. Now, I know what you’re saying. Crazy. The Japanese give them as gifts. That said… I’ve seen your average cantaloupe and you might ask… what’s the difference. Well there really appeared to be a difference. I’ve never seen a melon so perfectly round and so incredibly even textured. It really was perfection. Worth $500? Doubtful. But I did want to try it.

Tuesday dinner… now we’re getting good. Destination? Iron Chef Chinese, Chen Kenichi’s Akasuka Szechwan restaurant. Now I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to go to this restaurant. I printed out every page on restaurants on the unofficial website (www.ironchef.com) and was armed with these directions as I led my unsuspecting co-workers to the meal. Most of them hadn’t seen Iron Chef, and even the ones that had were not quite as enthusiastic as I was. As Dean would say, I was “vibrating.” I could barely contain myself. We found the building and walked into the lobby to be greated by an aquarium that was actually a tv screen showing a looping tape/dvd of fish swimming in an aquarium. Why have real fish when they require care. Of course, they’ve thought of everything! Anyway, we make it up to the 6th floor to a beautiful restaurant and to our table. At the front of the restaurant they sold Chen Kenichi souvenirs (Chinese cookbooks in japanese, etc.) After getting to know our waiter, and asking if the Iron Chef was there that night – he wasn’t - we ordered about 8 dishes between the 8 of us. And they started coming fast and furious. The first was the weirdest. It was a recommendation from the website. On the menu it was #1 and called “Cold Cuts.” Pastrami and Corned beef it was not. It was a cold combination of noodles, chicken, lemon, peanut sauce, and some weird sea-creature type items – one that made me feel like I had eaten an eyeball (though it was filled with citrusy goodness). This dish was quite good. That was followed by a plate of stir-fried vegetables. We hadn’t ordered it, but ate it. I’m not one who’s big on just eating some vegetables at a Chinese restaurant. My vegetarian friends are never thrilled at the prospect. This was different. Perfectly cooked, still crispy, delicious light sauce, we devoured it. This was followed by a several more perfect dishes… amazing pork with black pepper, chicken with cashews and peppers, fried shrimp – so perfectly fried, not oily, and just hot and damn good. You know how on Iron Chef they always say that the fish doesn’t taste fishy. Well now I know what they mean. We had this sliced fish dish with vegetables. If I hadn’t told you what you were eating you would have guessed the softest most buttery chicken you’ve ever had. Yet chicken it was not. Amazing! We had ordered soup and it still hadn’t arrive. Culturally unsavvy, I didn’t realize that in Chinese meals soup is served last. So when this bowl of liquid with shrimp and other goodies floating in it came to the table with a ladle we debated for a second, and then I started serving it in the bowls we had. Major faux pas. All of a sudden 3 waiters were by the table with the other half of the dish… No wonder it didn’t look like hot and sour soup… it wasn’t. J The other half was these just fried rice crisps which they put in the bowls and then poured the shrimp and sauce over. The heat, the crunchiness, the smooth sauce, the shrimp – <said in a high giggly voice> it felt like the Spring dance festival in Osaka in my mouth </said in a high giggly voice>. No joke, it was awesome. Finally we finished with the hot and sour soup. I love it, but it was more peppery than vinegary, and this didn’t sit well with everyone. Soup aside, this was the best Chinese food I have ever eaten in my entire life. The only thing that comes even close was the Chinese meal me, Debbie, and Victor had in Richmond, B.C. But even that paled in comparison. This was definitely an Iron Chef meal even if he wasn’t there to personally supervise.

Often during the week we would be running around, and I would want a snack to take with me. When meat on sticks wasn’t practical I resorted to the hotel lobby store where they had a wide selection of rice crackers in a store that is only slightly bigger than my office at work. They had one package that looked good, but had no English. I bought it. It was essentially mini-curried Pringles. Scrumptious. I bought a pack almost every day. On the second day the lady behind the counter let me know how thrilled she was that I kept buying them as she personally had decided to stock them. I imagined an ever so strained yet brutally polite discussion weeks earlier between her and her manager where she staked her future career growth at the hotel convenience store on this crazy lark – the curried mini-pringle. Looks like her gamble paid off!

Wednesday night we went out with Sony for a traditional Japanese meal. What can I say, it was great. Sat on mats, lots of toasts. Lots of drinking. A weird sea grass dish that I thought was Roe but wasn’t. Yummy. A small sashimi platter. Yummy. Fantastic tempura (shrimp, and shrimp)!!! And after a bunch more of these small items, they made this awesome soup right in front of us. Beef, vegetables, and these weird rice patties that were chewy and delicious. The soup was warm, tasty, and made right in front of us. I had 3 bowls. :) BTW, this was the restaurant with the specially marked “toilet slippers.”

Thursday morning the alarm went off at 3:45 am. By 4:15 a few of us were down in the hotel lobby. Luckily I noticed from my 29th story window that the entrance to the train station was closed. Who would have thought that in a country where at 11pm on a weeknight the subways are as crowded as at 11am, the subway would be closed. Luckily there were cabs. $35 later we arrived at the Tsujiki market – also known as the Tokyo Central Wholesale market. 1700 stalls, auctions starting at 5 in the morning. We were tired but excited. As we wound our way through the alleys filled with stores opening up, we soon realized that we hadn’t really made it to the market proper. We were somewhere in the outer market. Just as it started to dawn on us that we might have a problem on our hands as we didn’t know which way to go, a small Japanese man appeared out of the mist on a bicycle. He asked, “are you looking for the fish market?” in almost perfect English. After we said yes – wide eyed and slackjawed – he gave us concise directions, and then disappeared. Which way did he go? I still have no idea. It was completely bizarre. The only explanation I can come up with is that when rule #1 fails – the Japanese have thought of everything – elderly Japanese men perform small favors and miracles for people in need.

Off to the market. The market was incredible. Rows upon rows upon rows of stalls getting ready for the day. Weird sea creatures stacked in bins. 400 pound frozen tunas with their tails cut off and their owner’s names painted on their backs with red paint. The tails were laid by their sides and inspected for the quality of the meat. Action action action! Everybody was moving and we always felt in the way… though everyone was very nice. Sumimasen, sumimasen – means excuse me in Japanese. And some of the wider thoroughfares had tons of mopeds, small trucks, and human-powered wagons going through at 20 miles an hour… the causeway of death!!! There were also dry goods areas, fruit and vegetable areas, etc… but the star was the seafood. An hour after we arrived and had traipsed around for what felt like miles, the auctions began. Japanese auctioneers selling off the huge tunas for thousands of dollars. Men taking small samples of the meat from the fish and rubbing it between their fingers over and over again while shining a flashlight on the meat to see what quality it was. Repainting of the numbers and letters on the backs of the fish. After we took a billion pictures, including one with me, a lady in one of the stalls, and her octopus, we started to get hungry. On the menu??? Sushi of course!!! We decided to go to one of the two 24x7 sushi restaurants on the outskirts of the market. There were two!!!!! We sat at the bar, had our own personal sushi chef and gorged on negi-toro, “sahlmone,” anago, and I even tried ama-ebi for the first time – temaki style. It was good. :)

Thursday night and we found ourselves in one of Tokyo’s trendier districts. We had no reservations, no ideas, and too many people to fit into one of the hundreds of small restaurants that dot the alleys, train stations, backs of department stores, etc. We finally found our way to the top (6th floor) of a building that seemed to have some cool looking restaurants. They served more modern, trendier japanese food. It was funny… for some reason I had in my head that all Japanese food fit neatly into types… Sushi restaurant, Soba place, Tempura, and traditional. At this place we had lots of sashimi, these amazing chicken wings (perfectly spice, perfectly deep fried), cheese filled deep fried wonton things, and more. One dish had a beautiful sliced tomato. It’s weird, but vegetables there sometimes feel like a delicacy as you don’t get them as often as you do here. Delicious though.

As you know 3 of the 4 Iron Chefs call Tokyo their home. Everyone but Masaharu Morimoto who recently left Nobu to open a restaurant in Philadelphia. I ate at Iron Chef Chinese, Chen Kenichi’s Szechwan restaurant. And I tried desparately to get into Hiroyuki Sakai’s – Iron Chef French – La Rochelle. No luck. I literally had the hotel staff call to try and negotiate a time – any time – on 4 separate occasions. They were just too booked. We did however get lucky enough to get a reservation at Masahiko Kobe’s – Iron Chef Italian – Massa restaurant in Tokyo. True he’s the 4th of the Iron Chefs, but an Iron Chef he is and we were psyched to go. After a train ride and wandering around the neighborhood for awhile, an incredibly kind stranger called the restaurant on the phone and walked us there himself. To explain where we were going I kept mentioning – “Gyuri Tetsujin” the name of the show in Japanese. Roughly means “Cuisine of Iron.” After he led us there, we finally made it to this small, but beautifully designed restaurant. The door handles were “M”s and there was a big metal ravioli hanging on the wall. There were two prixe fixe choices on the menu. 4 of us did one, and 2 the other. This is hard to explain, but the first half of the meal (other than the soup) was good. But it wasn’t amazing. Needless to say I was getting worried. Now if we were out to dinner in Seattle we would have been psyched with the first several dishes. The plate of crumbled romano they started us off with. A cool potato like thing stuffed with various mushroom, crab stuff with this cool citrusy sauce. A plate of cold appetizers Italian/japanese style - with proscuitto, and shrimp, and tomato with cheese, and peppers, and other yummy stuff. The roasted shrimp with a delicious sauce, and a variety of potato like items grilled and steamed. A seafoody cold pasta and tiny shrimps with heads and legs – yes I ate it all – crunchy!!! Everything was very good. But not unbelievable. The soup was the exception – this orange (colored) soup with an amazing potato-pepper-tomato-squash flavor, with these incredible seared scallops in the middle. But that wasn’t on my fixed menu so I just got a taste. At this point I mentioned to the waiter that we were there because we know Kobe-San from Ryori Tetsujin and if he was in the restaurant we would love to take a picture with him after dinner. The waiter seemed to indicate he would see what he could do, but we had no promises. Next on the menu was the ravioli dish. My god things started to pick up fast and furious. It was delectable. These perfectly steamed raviolis filled with yummy cheese, and little pieces of ham everywhere in the creamiest dreamiest white sauce you’ve ever had. This was the Iron Chef I was waiting for. But then came the entrees. The other meal had this veal wrapped around ham/prosciutto like stuff. With fresh spinach and other steamed vegetables. Mine was a rare beef dish with fresh mixed greens all tossed in a sizzling hot salad style. And as tasty and unforgettable and buttery (and I do mean buttery) as the beef was… the thing that made it best was that Masahiko Kobe himself brought it out and served it to me. It was like I was a judge on the show and the Iron Chef was bringing over his dish for me to taste and render my opinion. We were all blown away!!! Though we did make a bunch of jokes about telling him that “it was too salty” or “he just hadn’t come through on this one” much like they do on the show when the chefs look like they want to commit ritual suicide. But of course, we couldn’t. The dinner had gotten amazing. One final plate of dessert with perfect sliced fruits, this gelatinous raspberry yummy goodness, and unreal silky “baniylla icea creemoo” and it was picture time. And yes, I did get my picture with the Iron Chef. It will be framed soon. J

Not much could really top our experience the night before, but I was ok with that. It was definitely the perfect peak to our adventures, and it was fine to slow down for the short remaining time I was there. We picked a large Korean barbecue restaurant in the same building as our hotel for our final dinner. Again, fantastic. We got our own private room with 2 grills in the center of our table. Course after course of raw meat, and vegetables, and fish, and kimchi, and soup – most of it cooked right in front of us came out. It was very very good.

On my final day, I couldn’t decide what I would have for lunch before I got on the train to go to the airport. A trip to the sushi place I’d been to the week before seemed appropriate. It was street level, nothing fancy, no frills, no English, and I was eating with the regular folks. I spent half an hour there. Did some fancy ordering by myself – “negitoro temaki okudasai.” And I even asked what something was and understood the answer - Kani. This delicious little concoction of crab and spicy mayonnaise, etc. After that it was finally off to the airport and home.

Any time you want, I will go back. Though being away from Debbie and the boy for this long was too tough, so the next trip needs to be a bit shorter. :)

Hopefully I’ll have pictures up soon so you can see the evidence of my fun trip. :)


 

     
     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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