I’ll Have What Phil’s Having

I'll Have What Phil's Having at Den

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having at Den

It all started a little over a year ago. An email from a producer in New York City wanting to know if we would help with the filming of a new food show for PBS. The program would travel around the world with Phil Rosenthal. I was more than happy to help and was lucky to film at Nihonbashi Takashimaya as I had worked there about ten years ago in the sake department. It was fun to see many colleagues still there, and to share with Phil the secret rooftop that so few people, even Japanese, know about.

I was happier than a kid on Halloween when I found out we would be filming at my favorite restaurant in Tokyo, chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den. It is one of those spots that is hard to get into, so filming there would be a very special treat. The restaurant would open up for just us before service. The program does a brilliant job of capturing chef Hasegawa’s personality and the cuisine. He was so kind to fry up some Dentucky Fried Chicken for the crew after filming was done.

Then came the tough decision, to ask Phil into our home for dinner or not. Until now we have kept our son’s photo off of social media. Opening up our apartment for the world to see was not as much of a concern as was including our kid. I thought that even if our son was filmed, it would only be in the periphery. You’ll have to watch the video to see his cameo.

I was happy to see that Phil also made it to two other special restaurants, Narisawa and Kyubey. Also places that should not be missed, if you can get in.

The video is here:


I don’t know for how long it will be online, so watch it while you can. It is an hour-long show. We appear at 14:15, 33:30, and 43:15, but please, see the whole show.

The Amazing Crew

The Amazing Crew

We’ve already heard from new clients saying that they are inspired to come to Tokyo. That is Phil’s goal with this program, and how awesome to see it come true. We had a blast with Phil and his team and are honored to be included.

Park Hyatt Tokyo Kozue’s Tohoku Heroes

Hatsumago Sparkling

Hatsumago Sparkling

Kozue at the Park Hyatt Tokyo is a lovely spot for Japanese cuisine. At lunch if the skies are clear you have a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji. At night the city twinkles below you.

Two years ago Kozue did a special Tohoku menu to show their support for three prefectures that were hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami, Fukshima, Miyagi, and Iwate. This year Kozue is repeating the Tohoku Heroes menu, but moving on to the other three prefectures, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata.

Chef Kenichiro Ooe is from Yamagata, as is my family, so we share this connection with Tohoku. At a recent dinner at Kozue chef Ooe introduced many products and sake from Tohoku.

Koji Nishizaki, the manager of Kozue, gave lovely commentary on the sake with each course. We started the evening off with a sparkling sake from Hatsumago. Hatsumago is a lovely brewery from Sakata in Yamagata. I sold many bottles of Hatsumago when I worked at Takashimaya. It means the first grandchild. A lovely gift for new grandparents. It is only 10% in alcohol, so light on the palate and refreshing. A great start to any evening.


Hiraizumi Marubi 15, Yamahai Junmai, Akita Miyama-nishiki rice. The yeast that is used for this sake is called Akita kobo #15, where the sake gets its name. Although it is a yamahai sake, it is not too heavy as yamahai can be. A very food friendly sake.


Chef Ooe talked about visiting the Tohoku region to meet the farmers, ranchers, and fishermen behind many of the products that they are using. For example, the watarigani crab used in this starter has a local name of gazami. I love these local colloquialism regarding food. It seems to be especially prevalent with seafood. The crab is  steamed in sake, spinach, myoga, and Tosa-zu jelly. Tosa-zu is a classic tart dressing made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and dashi. As a jelly it adds a nice texture to the dish. The Hatsumago sparkling paired well with the Tosa-zu jelly, myoga, and crab. Underneath is some kani-miso, or the offal of the crab, a delicacy and an unexpected and nice surprise. The rich kani-miso was rich and paired well with the Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai.


Warm Aomori hokkigai appetizer with seri, maitake mushrooms, ginko nuts, and sansho was served with Hakkoda Oroshi Daiginjo. Both the hokkigai clam and sake are from Aomori, so a natural partner. I also love this dish with the accent on both edges of the bowl. Dining at Kozue is also a delight on the eyes. Each time I am here I come across new tableware that capture my attention. The Japanese eat with their eyes and taking in the vessels are part of the pleasure of dining at Kozue.


Owan soup bowl. Check out this lovely lacquer bowl with silver and gold circles. My neighbor at the dinner, a Japanese travel writer, said, “it is September”, like I should know why this bowl is being used this time of year. Of course, the harvest moon. So here you also get an appreciation that chef Ooe selected this bowl for this dish due to the time of year.


The owan soup course is a famous local dish called ichigoni of awabi and uni. I’ve tried it in the past and have never liked it, until now. Chef Ooe’s soup was rich in umami and the seafood was pristine. It didn’t hurt that there was matsutake mushrooms and other vegetables in the soup.


Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai from Aomori, lucky if you can get your hands on this sake. :-)

PHT Kozue sashimi

Chef Ooe sashimi presentation always has a big impact. How gorgeous is this large katakuchi bowl filled with crushed ice? This is a serving for three guests. Mimmaya bluefin tuna, makogarei, and amaebi. The fresh nori is always a treat. Chef Ooe commented that it is still early in the season and that the tuna was not as fatty as it will be later in the season as the water cools down.


Amanoto made with kuro koji from Akita. This was my favorite of the night. I wonder if it is because of the black koji – as I am a fan of Okinawa awamori spirit, which is also made with kuro koji. It was served with a Hinai jidori chicken from Akita and included a kiritampo rice ball, a classic dish from Akita. It was nice to see it elevated to this level, as it is a dish often made at home. I think this dish that this was presented in was my favorite of the night.

Sadly I had to leave the dinner, unexpectedly, and missed out on the Yamagata Yonezawa wagyu and the Yamagata soba. Dessert was a rice ice cream. I did love being introduced to new sake, a renewed appreciation for Tohoku ingredients, and seeing new vessels. If you go, I highly recommend asking to have Tohoku sake paired with your meal.

The Tohoku Heroes event runs now through November 30th, both lunch and dinner. There will be a special dinner on the evening of November 29th, where some of the producers will be in attendance. For more details:


PBS – I’ll Have What Phil’s Having

Phil Rosenthal at Zaiyu Hasegawa's Den

Phil Rosenthal at Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den

We are so very excited to have been included in Phil Rosenthal’s upcoming food show on PBS, I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. Here is a sneak preview of his Tokyo show:


It was great fun showing Phil around some of my favorite Tokyo spots, including chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den. I don’t want to say too much more. You’ll have to see the show. Phil also travels to other cities around the world. He’s a lot of fun and his commentary is great.

The show premieres on September 28th. Let us know what you think about it.

Making Tofu with Sonoko Sakai in San Francisco

Guest post by my friend, Janice Espa, on a tofu class she took recently.

After years in the film industry, traveling the world, and becoming more and more passionate about food, Sonoko Sakai decided to follow her culinary path, learn traditional Japanese techniques, and start teaching.  She established the Common Grains initiative to teach people about the cultural roots of Japanese cuisine.

Sonoko Sakai Sensei

Sonoko Sakai Sensei

Today, Sonoko runs workshops all around the US – yet her Los Angeles base is where she’s found most of the time teaching lessons on onigiri, soba, umeboshi pickling, cooking with rice in all of its forms, cooking with shio koji, and tofu-making.

I had the opportunity to catch one of Sonoko’s master classes while she was up in San Francisco for a series of events. My appreciation for tofu has been incremental.  It was always present as a ‘bonus’ item: from soups in Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian cuisine) to many South East Asian stir fries and noodle dishes, but it wasn’t until I visited Kyoto that I became aware of tofu as the star, and not a side dish.  Since then, I’ve become picky about the flavor I find in particular commercial tofu brands. Thus, upon coming across Sonoko’s workshop, I was eager to learn hands-on, and understand the tips and tricks behind sweet, smooth, homemade tofu.

Bean to Water Ratio Chart

Bean to Water Ratio Chart

For the workshop, Sonoko introduced herself and described the two types of tofu we’d be making on the day, she briefly discussed the process start to finish, and immediately got everyone on their feet. In a nutshell, making tofu goes like this:

  1. GRIND
  2. COOK
  4. PRESS

In depth, however, the process is specific, measured, and rewarding.

Tofu starts with good soybeans – which Sonoko recommended purchasing online from a non-GMO organic seller. They must be soaked in water for at least eight hours, then blended until creamy, a soybean slurry. This slurry is simmered with additional water, and cooked for about ten minutes. With a colander, the by-products are separated, the okara is reserved for later use, and the milk is transferred back to another pot. Coagulant, previously diluted in water, is added to the hot soy milk and slowly, but surely, curds begin to form.

Ladling the curdled milk into prepared boxes

Ladling the curdled milk into prepared boxes

By paying close attention, choosing the right type and amount of coagulant, and stirring the soy milk closely, tofu is made.   During the workshop, some groups chose to use nigari (magnesium chloride), others gypsum (calcium sulfate). It was great to be able to compare both results and taste the differences.  We also learned that fresh soy milk, comparable to light cow’s milk, is best for firm tofu, while thicker, rested soy milk, equivalent to whole milk, yields better results for silken tofu.

I preferred the nigari, hands down. It is in fact sweeter.  Now, when I’m at the supermarket browsing through brands of organic tofu, I pay closer attention to the label.

Earlier that morning, we had prepared the boxes for the tofu by lining small aluminum trays with holes punched through them, two pieces of cotton cloth lined on top. Traditional wooden Japanese zaru boxes have holes in them, plastic ones are also available, or a colander may also be used. The do-it-yourself (DIY) version is simple to make if you don’t have the necessary tools or can’t access a tofu making kit.

Tofu: pressed and ready for tasting

Tofu: pressed and ready for tasting

For silken tofu, the coagulant is mixed directly into thick soy milk. It is placed into a small container and steamed in a pot with boiling water, just like making chawanmushi, a savory Japanese egg custard.

Steamed cups of silken tofu

Steamed cups of silken tofu

From beginning to end Sonoko made sure we not only understood what was happening to the soon-to-be tofu, but also that the residue resulting from different steps of the process be put to good use.

This was my favorite part of the lesson:

From the whey, we made a most flavorful miso soup.

From the lees (okara), we made croquettes.

From the chilled soy milk, silken tofu topped with sweetened ginger syrup.

Okara and vegetable croquettes

Okara and vegetable croquettes

With the momen or pressed tofu, we served hiyayakko: cold tofu with soy sauce, freshly ground ginger, and scallions. We also made shirae-ae (a tofu and sesame paste) to coat green beans and cherry tomatoes, and serve as a salad.

Pressed tofu, cut into squares for hiyayakko

Pressed tofu, cut into squares for hiyayakko

The rules that apply to great tofu are the same as everything else in healthy, seasonal Japanese cuisine: organic and well-sourced grains followed by personal preference on which coagulant to use.

A fun, eye-opening experience, delicious in every step of the way. I’m ready to start sourcing my utensils to tackle some tofu making at home, and will be raving about the sweetness of the simplest miso soup elevated by the whey of soybeans.

Tools and ingredients

Tools and ingredients

The $160 tofu class was held at the San Francisco Cooking School.


For more on the tofu-making workshop and a recipe request, feel free to contact Janice.

To learn about the Common Grains initiative and Sonoko’s upcoming events, please visit:

Common Grains – http://commongrains.com/about-us/

Sonoko’s blog – http://www.cooktellsastory.com/

Janice Espa photo

Janice Espa

Janice Espa is a Spanish-Peruvian food enthusiast; an avid traveller and inquisitive taster who explores culture through cuisine.  Janice lives in San Francisco where she writes and styles food. Her days are spent visiting grower’s markets, checking out restaurants, and shopping at specialty stores to discover goods from every corner of the world.

Feel free to email suggestions and travel tips, or to contact Janice for her own recommendations, whether you’re visiting Peru, trekking South America or doing a road trip along the east coast of Australia.

Email:  janicespa at gmail.com

Kyoto Honke Owariya Soba 京都本家尾張屋

Kyoto Owariya Tempura Soba

Kyoto Owariya Vegetable Tempura Soba

Owariya is a Kyoto soba shop with a rich history, that can be traced back hundreds of years. I love the branch in Takashimaya as it is near many popular sites such as Nishiki Market and Gion. As the shop is in a department store, it is also kid-friendly.

The vegetable tempura soba (1620 JPY) included sansai, spring vegetables, and the dark red Kyoto carrot. We ordered a kake soba (756 JPY), soba with hot broth, and topped it with fish cakes.

Kyoto Owariya Kake Soba

Kyoto Owariya Kake Soba

Owariya is on the 7th floor of Takashimaya.

Owariya’s website includes photos and an English menu:


If you like shōchū, you should definitely try the soba shochu served with soba-yū, the hot water that the soba is cooked in.

Honke Owariya at Kyoto Takashimaya

Kyoto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Teiammaenocho 52, Kyoto Takashimaya 7th Floor


Kyoto Takashimaya Access:


Imperial Hotel La Brasserie

La Brasserie

Chaliapin Steak

Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin, a Russian opera singer, was touring in Japan in 1936, and was a guest of the Imperial Hotel. He was dining at the New Grill, the predecessor to La Brasserie, even though he was suffering from a toothache, he wanted to have steak. The executive chef, Fukuo Tsutsui, came up with this dish, now called the Chaliapin Steak. Taking inspiration from the classical sukiyaki dish, he put finely minced onions on top of a steak to soften the meat and then grilled it.

The ingredients are simply steak, onions, butter, salt and pepper. La Brasserie uses aged rump steak. The onions are sautéed just enough to draw out the sweetness.

La Brasserie is a nice nod to the classic French brasseries. As it is in the basement of the Imperial Hotel, many visitors never make it down here, which is also part of its intrigue. The restaurant is popular with Japanese and reservations are highly recommended at lunch as it is very busy.

The interior reminds me of a polished up Balthazar. Red banquettes, but these are velvet. Service is professional but without the stuffiness that can be found at many Japanese French restaurants.

If you are craving something more formal, then head to the mezzanine level to Chef Thierry Voisin’s Les Saisons, which has recently started serving breakfast. I am a big fan of his cuisine.

La Brasserie at the Imperial Hotel
Chiyoda-ku, Uchisaiwai-cho 1-1-1 千代田区内幸町1-1-1
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Tower Bldg., LL1


Kokubunji Tonkatsu Katsura 国分寺とんかつ桂

Kokubunji tonkatsu

Kokubunji Tonkatsu Katsura

Katsura is a homey tonkatsu shop about a kilometer north of Kokubunji station on the Chuo line. There is a perpetual line out the door. But the other day while biking by the line was shorter than usual and I joined the queue.

There is a small table in the back and a counter with tight seating. I was seated at the counter with my back to the sliding door entrance. In Japan you get used to the fact that you may have to get up and out of the way, or maybe lean in to allow someone to pass at smaller restaurants like this.

The tonkatsu comes with a generous serving of homemade pickles and a generous serving of julienned cabbage. The tonkatsu is fried in lard and panko crust is lightly colored. The meat is juicy and the portions are generous. As to be found at most tonkatsu restaurants, unlimited rice and cabbage. Budget between 1,500 – 2,000 JPY.

Katsura is only open for lunch. This is an example of a shokunin, doing one thing, and doing it very well. I wouldn’t make a special trip from the city, but if you find yourself in this part of Tokyo, it’s good to have on your radar.

Tonkatsu Katsura とんかつ桂

Tokyo-to, Kodaira-shi, Jōsui Honcho 5-7-20 東京都小平市上水本町5-7-20

Tuesday – Sunday (closed Monday and 3rd Tuesday)

11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.


Gotta Get – Kokuto Black Sugar 沖縄黒糖



Do you know about kokutō? Black sugar that is harvested on the islands south of Kagoshima in Okinawa. It is a dark sugar that is rich in minerals and is 100% natural sugar cane. We often keep a jar of kokutō on the counter. It makes a nice little snack. Kokutō can be cooked with water to make a syrup for desserts. This with some kinako, roasted soybean powder, over vanilla ice cream, is a combination of flavors that most people love.

A friend of ours is an editor of a famous food magazine in Tokyo. He is a fountain of information and I never share a meal with him without my notebook and pen. At a recent dinner party we were talking about kokutō and he said that each island produces a different flavor of black sugar. Of course, that totally makes sense, but how different could the flavors be?

Shinji picked up five different kokutō at the Washita Okinawa antenna shop in Ginza. Each from a different island. First of all, they all look very different from each other. Who knew? And, drumroll…….they do all taste very different from each other.

Kokuto Packaging

Kokuto Packaging

These small packages are 50 grams each and cost about 200 JPY ($2 USD). Our tasting notes counter-clockwise starting at pink:

  1. Ie-shima 伊江島 (pink) *** Our favorite. Light in color, not too sweet and surprisingly salty. Rich in flavor and very natural. Will go back for this.
  2. Yonaguni-jima 与那国島 (yellow) ** Medium in color. Light in flavor, not as rich as Ieshima. A hint of saltiness. Hard texture and cut into squares.
  3. Iheya-jima 伊平屋島 (blue) * Light in color. For both of us it was too sweet, much like sugar.
  4. Tarama-jima 多良間島 (dark orange) * Dark color and very hard texture. Sweet and rich flavor.
  5. Hateruma-jima 波照間島 (light orange) ** Very dark in color. Blocks are very chewy. Rich mineral flavor.

Overall the Ie-shima was our favorite. We loved that it wasn’t too sweet and the saltiness was a surprise at first, but we came to love it. Most people love kokutō when they try it.

Note on the names. Shima means island in Japanese. Sometimes the pronunciation of shima can change to jima depending on what name comes before it.

Shibuya Ore no Hamba-gu Yamamoto 俺のハンバーグ山本

Ore no Hamba-gu

Ore no Hamba-gu

There is a chain of restaurants that specialize in a certain cuisine or a dish. The “Ore no” series includes French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, yakitori, kappō, soba, oden, and yakiniku. There are all in the Oreno Corporation and are casual restaurants, many of them standing only spots, that offer reasonable priced cuisine in a casual environment.

The other day on the bus I passed a restaurant called Ore no Hamba-gu near Shibuya station. I got off the bus and got in line. A good sign that there were people standing in line. Hamba-gu is different from hamburger. Hamba-gu are more like a juicy meatloaf that is served with rice instead of a bun. Hamba-gu is a staple of yōshoku, Western-style cuisine adapted for the Japanese palate. The lunch set is 1,750 JPY and comes with a salad, rice, and miso soup along with the burger.

The Ore no Hamba-gu seems to be not affiliated with the Oreno Corporation, but I could be wrong.

Ore no Hamba-gu has a handful of shops around the city including Ebisu, Kichijōji, and Jiyugaoka. The interior at Shibuya is like being at home with a living room feel in the back of the restaurant.

The menu offers about a dozen different types of toppings for the hamba-gu. I went with the most popular, which was Gorgonzola. The cheese sauce on top was nothing special, but the hamba-gu was stuffed with a rich serving of cheese. The hamba-gu is served in a hot bowl, the type you find at Korean restaurants. The meat is very, very hot. I should have known that looking at the sauce bubbling, but I wish they would have warned me. :-)

The restaurant has its own farm. The small salad that came with the lunch set is made with flavorful vegetables. I can still taste the sweet red bell peppers. I may go back and just ask for a big salad. The lunch set includes a small juice made from seven vegetables and fruit, including cilantro and shikuwasa, a tart citrus.

There is a nice server who speaks English. So even though the menu is in Japanese, there is someone to help you order. I highly recommend a glass of juice and getting a salad along with the hamba-gu.

Ore no Hamba-gu is a great example of a restaurant focusing on one thing, hamba-gu, and doing it very well.

Ore no Hamba-gu Yamamoto 俺のハンバーグ山本

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 3-18-5, Wada Bldg. 1F 渋谷区渋谷3-18-5和田ビル1F



Sushi with Kids

Chiyoda Sushi

Chiyoda Sushi

When I first lived in Japan in the late 80s I would request that the sushi chef not include wasabi on my sushi, “wasabi nuki onegaishimasuI“. At one point an older sushi chef scolded me and told me I was too old to be eating my sushi without wasabi. I can now eat wasabi, but am still not a big fan. You’ll never find me buying wasabi flavored potato chips.

The other day while at our local depachika our son requested sushi for lunch. Chiyoda Sushi is an affordable chain of sushi restaurants with many take-away shops throughout the city. There was a big selection of nigiri, maki, and chirashi-zushi for take-away. The prices are quite affordable starting at a couple hundred yen. He wanted the set that we got above, which included ten pieces of nigiri and four small maki, all for only 498 JPY (less than $5 USD).

Wasabi Nuki - No Wasabi

Wasabi Nuki – No Wasabi

The only problem is that most of the sushi has wasabi on it. I asked if they could make a set without wasabi, wasabi nuki (new-key), and was told it would take about five minutes. We prepaid for the sushi and finished our shopping and then came back.

Sometimes you will find premade wasabi nuki sets at the shops. If not, ask for some to be made for you.